Luis Suarez has backed fellow Uruguayan Darwin Nunez to hit the ground running at Liverpool.

The Reds this week confirmed the signing of the 22-year-old on a "long-term contract" from Benfica. Nunez is costing Liverpool a reported £64million (€75m), with a further £21.4m in potential add-ons.

The striker joins after netting 48 goals in 85 appearances for Benfica, finishing as last season's Primeira Liga top scorer with 26 strikes.

He also scored in both of Benfica's Champions League matches against Liverpool and has begun to make his mark at international level.

Suarez spent three and a half years at Liverpool before moving on in 2014 to Barcelona, where the goals continued to flow as he teamed up with Lionel Messi.

He later moved on to Atletico Madrid, whom he left at the end of the 2021-22 season, with the 35-year-old now seeking his next challenge.

Responding to a message on Instagram from Nunez which showed the young forward in Liverpool, Suarez wrote: "I was the first one too! But I hope you are the first in GOALS."

Suarez, 35, scored 82 goals for Liverpool, which sets a high target for Nunez.

Reds newcomer Nunez replied to Suarez by writing: "It is an honour for me to follow in your footsteps! I hope I can perform like you did in Liverpool!"

Darwin Nunez is "more flexible" than Erling Haaland and an ideal fit for Liverpool, according to one of his former coaches.

Nunez joined Liverpool from Benfica on Tuesday, with the Lisbon club confirming the fee to be £64million (€75m), and a further £21.4m (€25m) in potential add-ons.

The Uruguayan striker netted 34 times in 41 games in all competitions for Benfica last season.

Meanwhile, Manchester City - who pipped Liverpool by one point in a compelling Premier League title race last month - clinched the signing of Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund after triggering his release clause of a reported £51.2m (€60m).

Haaland scored a monstrous 86 goals in 89 games for Dortmund during two-and-a-half seasons in the Bundesliga, and talk has already begun about whether he or Nunez will do better in English football.

Former Almeria assistant manager David Badia worked with Nunez during the 2019-20 season in the Spanish second tier, with the forward netting 16 goals in 32 league games before a €24m move to Benfica.

In an exclusive interview with Stats Perform, Badia said he believes Nunez is a different type of player to Haaland, and backed him to settle quickly into Liverpool's system.

"I don't want to say they are similar because I think Darwin could be maybe a little bit more flexible," he said. "He's a player that can change the direction a little bit faster than Haaland.

"Maybe Haaland is a little bit more powerful and when he starts [running] he breaks everything in front of him, but I think that [Nunez] can change direction a bit faster and, for the style that Liverpool has, I think he is more of a fit."

Badia, who has been managing in Cyprus since leaving Almeria in January 2021, believes Nunez could be in the conversation for the Ballon d'Or during his time at Anfield.

"I think that nobody spoke about Darwin," he said regarding whether he can challenge Haaland and Kylian Mbappe in future for the prestigious award. 

"I mean, maybe in the publicity, he has not [got] the brand that the other two have.

"It's going to be a very clever move from Liverpool, because it's looked like everybody was looking [at] Haaland... nobody was saying nothing about Darwin.

"But I know him, I follow him, and I knew that the [club] who is going to take him is going to [get a] cheaper [deal]."

Badia also outlined his first impressions of Nunez when he joined Almeria from Penarol in 2019, when he worked as an assistant to then-head coach and former Real Madrid midfielder, Guti.

"In a few training sessions that we took... we could see that [Nunez] had something special. We saw that the Almeria was [too] small for him," Badia added.

"Everything that he was doing was on another level. The speed of execution was completely [different] compared to the rest of the players of the league, not only in the team of the league of the second division in Spain.

"He was a really important player for the team, also his team-mates knew that he was going to leave earlier, that he was not going to stay longer because everybody was watching him in the stands.

"We knew that this team is coming, the other team is coming, and then in the end we knew that in a short period he was going to leave and he was going to go on his way."

Darwin Nunez has similar characteristics to former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres, but may actually be even faster, according to one of the Uruguayan's former coaches.

Nunez's move from Benfica to Liverpool was confirmed on Tuesday, with the Portuguese club revealing the fee to be £64million (€75m), with a further £21.4m (€25m) in potential add-ons.

The 22-year-old enjoyed a prolific 2021-22 season, finding the net 34 times in 41 games in all competitions.

Torres, who played for Liverpool between 2007 and 2011, scored 81 goals in 142 appearances for the Reds before making a big-money move to rivals Chelsea, and at his peak was considered one of the best strikers in the world.

Comparisons have been made between Nunez and Torres, with similar statures and explosiveness, and former Almeria assistant manager David Badia believes the former is actually the quicker of the two.

Badia worked with Nunez during the 2019-20 season in the Spanish second tier, with the striker bagging 16 goals in 32 league games for Almeria before a €24m move to Benfica.

Speaking to Stats Perform, Badia said of the comparison with Torres: "Of course, Fernando is a Spanish guy, [so] I will protect him, but I think that Darwin is a little bit faster than him.

"When Darwin has the possession of the ball, he is a very good player, he can control the ball, he can protect the ball.

"Maybe Fernando [was] doing the same actions at a little bit lower speed, that also is good because you can do many other things, but in my opinion, Darwin can do the plays faster."

Badia also outlined Nunez's characteristics that should make him an ideal fit in Jurgen Klopp's side.

He added: "I think it's the combination of many things.

"It's not only just one thing that he has, but if I have to say something among the others - it's the change of the pace that he has, and the speed that he can maintain over a long distance.

"He can keep this speed for 30, 35, 40 metres, and then when he arrives at the end of a move he can finish it inside the box."

Klopp regularly refers to his players as "mentality monsters", and Badia is certain Nunez will fit in at Anfield in that respect as well, pointing out how the player came back from serious knee issues early on in his career.

"One hundred percent [he has the mentality]," he added. "I think he had one of the worst injuries that a player can have when he was 16 or 17 years old. And after that he became stronger.

"It's very important when a player has these injuries that he can develop himself and keep working to have this character, this mentality.

"I think the mentality he has, the ambition he has and the focus he is having through the years, he is working for that.

"If there is one coach that can improve the players, that one is the coach of Liverpool [Klopp]. In the end, I think he's in one of the best scenarios, or maybe the best team in the world right now where he can keep improving, and I think that he still has a long way to improve."

Darwin Nunez is "mentally strong" enough to deal with the pressure of playing for Liverpool, according to an ex-coach of the Benfica star.

The 22-year-old has been widely linked with a transfer from Portugal to join Jurgen Klopp's Reds in the Premier League next season.

Already regarded as one of the world's most-promising young strikers, hopes are high that he can help deliver the sort of impact Erling Haaland is anticipated to at rivals Manchester City.

Leonardo Ramos, who gave the Uruguay international his debut at Penarol before his move to Europe, certainly feels Nunez is ready to back himself, adamant his previous experiences with injury problems have only strengthened his resolve.

"I think that he is more mentally strong now," Ramos told Stats Perform. "Because I can tell you that he was suffering a lot.

"[He was] suffering at the level of running and training while crying all the time, so he knows what suffering is, he knows what constant pressure is.

"At that moment, me and his representative didn't know [the injury he had] and probably we put a very big pressure on his head because his career as a footballer was at stake with all the conditions he had.

"It seems to me that, the fact that he was in Portugal and he was on a level where everyone was talking about him – because really everyone was talking about Darwin Nunez – it seems that today his head is ready for that, to withstand that pressure."

Nunez struggled with injuries during his breakthrough at Penarol, making just 15 league appearances before leaving for Almeria in 2019.

But Ramos believes the experience helped him gain an edge on team-mates, with a recovery routine that added more bulk to his physique to compliment his impressive skill set.

"Darwin ended up being what he is today, an incredible player," he reflected. "We saw him and he saw it too, and especially enhanced, because Darwin gained a lot of muscle mass in training separate from team-mates.

"He changed his physique a lot. Today, he is much more athletic, but he was already an outstanding player. He showed that when he debuted, he showed all his level."

Darwin Nunez is reportedly on the brink of joining Liverpool and was left out of Uruguay's 5-0 friendly win over Panama on Saturday.

The striker's absence from the match in Montevideo was confirmed following the announcement of the teams.

A short message on Uruguay's Twitter page simply listed Nunez among four players who would play no part in the game, with no reason given.

That development came as speculation mounted around a mooted move to Liverpool, with Benfica reportedly set to receive an initial fee in the region of £68.3million (€80m).

The Reds have seemingly won the race for one of the most sought-after strikers in world football.

Nunez scored 34 goals in 41 games for Benfica in 2021-22 – including six in 10 in the Champions League, as he netted in both legs of the quarter-final against Liverpool.

The 22-year-old's signing would seemingly accommodate the sale of Sadio Mane, who has been the subject of interest from Bayern Munich ahead of his contract expiring next year.

In Nunez's absence on Saturday, Edinson Cavani struck either side of half-time for Uruguay.

The veteran front man linked up with Giorgian de Arrascaeta to net from close range six minutes before the break, then had his second within three minutes of the restart, converting from the spot after winning the penalty himself.

Further goals followed from substitutes Nicolas De La Cruz, Maxi Gomez and Diego Rossi to ensure a one-sided final scoreline.

Darwin Nunez can be a hybrid of fellow Uruguayan strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, according to a former coach of the 22-year-old.

Nunez has been heavily linked with a big-money move from Benfica to Liverpool or Manchester United ahead of next season, with a reported fee of up to €100million (£85m) being touted.

The young forward produced electric form for Benfica in 2021-22, scoring 34 goals in 41 games in all competitions, including six Champions League goals against Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Ajax and Liverpool.

Leonardo Ramos coached Nunez during his time at Penarol in Uruguay and told Stats Perform of his belief that, while the player still has a lot to learn, he is showing similar traits to legendary La Celeste strikers Suarez and Cavani.

"Everyone compares him a lot to Cavani," Ramos said. "They have a similar style. It seems to me that Darwin is faster and more powerful than Cavani. Cavani, maybe now he is a more experienced player and knows the moments where to press, when to attack, when to go back, when to be able to play and associate with his team-mates.

"Today, Darwin seems to me to be much more explosive, but apart from that explosiveness, he obviously has already shown unbelievable a scoring ability. 

"It is the same scoring ability that we saw in Uruguay when he was in the bases of Penarol because he scored many goals there. And the truth is that if you ask me about a player who looks quite similar to him, I would say Cavani."

When asked if there were any similarities to former Liverpool and Barcelona star Suarez, Ramos said: "I think he has two parts, it's half-and-half.

"He has the power that Suarez had to go for everything, to go to the clash, to be a fighter with the rival. And he also has the part of Cavani, of being a much more athletic player, more physical, more intelligent, and I think it's a union of those two things that are important.

"Let's see, Darwin is still a very young boy, he has to learn a lot. It is not to discredit the Portuguese league, but [he will be judged] playing in Spain or Italy, which along with England, are the places where he will surely need much more of his characteristics and his strength to perform much better."

Reports suggest that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp sees Nunez as an ideal replacement for Sadio Mane, who is being linked with a move to Bayern Munich, and Ramos can see why the Reds are interested, though does think it could be a bit early for the player to move to such a club.

"Darwin is a player who can help a lot in the recovery of the ball," he said. "With Uruguay, he does it and does it very well.

"Yes, he is a player who has to play near the area because there he is lethal, he has no regard for the opponent, he knows in advance where the ball is going to fall and where the goal is, [but] I don't know if it's time for him to go to Liverpool now. Not because of his conditions, but because [Liverpool] is a very big club.

"There have been players who have been very important in world football who have gone to play for Liverpool and they have failed.

"I think it would suit Darwin, and I have to say that this is just my opinion, it does not mean I am right, but I think that it would be better for him to go to a lower team to gain experience and explode at another time.

"Although the moments are now and Darwin's time is now, so if he goes to Liverpool, it seems to me that if Liverpool takes him it's because they really believe he can work in their team."

Uruguay's run of five straight wins came to an end after they were held to a 0-0 draw by the United States in an international friendly in Kansas City on Sunday. 

Diego Godin saw an effort cleared off the line by DeAndre Yedlin as Diego Alonso's side started brightly, while at the other end Jesus Ferreira had an effort pawed away by Fernando Muslera.

FC Dallas striker Ferreira continued to look sharp during the first half, yet he was unable to find an opener before the break.

Christian Pulisic fired wide and Darwin Nunez lashed a strike just past Sean Johnson's left-hand post during a lively start to the second period.

The USA goalkeeper then made himself big to keep out Nunez's close-range effort as Uruguay looked the more likely side to seal a win.

They should have done exactly that in stoppage time, but substitute Edinson Cavani inexplicably clipped wide of an open goal after being teed up by Nunez.

Uruguay head coach Diego Alonso feels his Qatar 2022 World Cup plans will come into focus with games like Thursday's 3-0 win over Mexico in Arizona.

Matias Vecino was on target before Edinson Cavani struck twice to help La Celeste cruise to victory against El Tri at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

Five months out from the start of the World Cup, Uruguay will hope to find success in the first major test of the post-Oscar Tabarez era.

For Alonso, matches against sides of a similar quality who will also be there are crucial for him to gauge where his team stands ahead of a Group H tussle with Portugal, Ghana and South Korea.

"We found ourselves [against] a very good team," he told reporters after the game. "We are also a good team, and we simply played a good game. It is preparation both for us and for Mexico

"The most important thing is six months from now. Surely this game will help me to draw conclusions for the most important event [we] have, which is the World Cup."

With an impressive performance setting the benchmark for a successful international break, Alonso shot down suggestions Mexico were a weaker opponent due to a lack of Europe-based stars.

"I know the competitiveness, the quality of the soccer players," he added. "I don't think [having few players in Europe] is an obstacle, on the contrary."

Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz have been confirmed to face South American giants Uruguay in a friendly international set for June 17.

The fixture will come during a busy period for the national team, ahead of preparations for the CONCACAF Nation’s League.  Prior to that, the team will be in action against the Spanish region Catalonia in another friendly international set for the 25th of May.

In five matches the Jamaicans have a losing record against Uruguay, managing just one win, which came in an international friendly in 2004.  The last time the teams met was in 2016 at the Copa América Centenario.  On that occasion, Uruguay coasted to a 3-0 win after both teams had already been mathematically eliminated from advancing to the next round of the tournament.

The Uruguayans will be using the fixture as part of preparations for the 2022 World Cup, which will get underway in Qatar at the end of the year.  The Reggae Boyz, who failed to qualify for the tournament, are currently ranked 64th in the World, while Uruguay are ranked 13th.

We know most of the teams and now we know the majority of the games after the draw for the 2022 World Cup was made in Doha on Friday.

The full line-up of teams is still to be determined and the locations and times for each fixture are also to be confirmed, but what we do know is that there will be some extremely intriguing matches in the group stage in November when proceedings get under way in Qatar.

Tournament debutants, check. Cinderella stories, check. A mouth-watering clash between European heavyweights, check. A game to make England fans extremely anxious, oh you better believe that's a check.

Yes, this is a group stage that appears to have everything and, while there is plenty of time for opinions of these teams to change, here Stats Perform takes you through a look at some of the best games delivered by this year's draw.

Qatar v Ecuador (November 21)

Over 8,000 miles separate Doha and Quito, but both cities figure to be transfixed by the World Cup opener, in which the hosts will make their debut.

Qatar have been dealt a difficult hand in Group A, having also been pitted against three-time finalists the Netherlands and African champions Senegal.

First up, though, is a meeting with an Ecuador side that came through the arduous challenge of CONMEBOL qualifying with 27 goals to their name, their highest tally in a single edition.

Qatar do have recent tournament pedigree, however, impressively beating Japan 3-1 in the final of the 2019 Asian Cup, with the goal they conceded the only time their net was breached in the entire tournament.

Yet their performance in the Asian Cup that same year did not inspire much confidence in them beating a South American nation. Qatar were knocked out in the group stage with just one point to their name when they appeared in the Copa America.

Belgium v Canada (November 23)

Canada face a challenging start to their first World Cup finals appearance since 1986, a duel with the side second behind Brazil in the FIFA world rankings their immediate reward for a dream run through CONCACAF qualifying.

Belgium should not lack motivation, with Qatar realistically marking the last chance for their 'golden generation' to win a major tournament. Their performance in the group stage across the last 28 years suggests a shock here is unlikely. Since losing 1-0 to Saudi Arabia in 1994, the Red Devils are unbeaten in 12 group stage matches.

But Canada can afford to be full of belief following a remarkable qualifying run in which they scored 23 goals and conceded just seven in the final round.

Regardless of how they perform, English coach John Herdman will make history, as he is set to become the first person to manage in both the men's and women's World Cup.

England v United States (November 25)

Everybody loves a trilogy. Unless you're Rob Green. England and the United States have met twice in the World Cup, and the Three Lions have not won either of those games.

There was a famous defeat to the USA as England crashed out in the group stage in their first appearance in the finals in 1950.

Acquaintances were renewed 60 years later, with the USA claiming a point after Green spilled Clint Dempsey's long-range effort to cancel out Steven Gerrard's early opener.

England, having lost the Euro 2020 final on penalties to Italy and gone unbeaten in 22 matches – conceding only three goals in qualifying – will be the heavy favourites once again. However, a USA side that boasts the likes of Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Sergino Dest and Weston McKennie have the talent in their ranks to spring a surprise.

Argentina v Mexico (November 26)

Lionel Messi and La Albiceleste will have a couple of tricky hurdles to negotiate in the group stage, this meeting with El Tri coming before a Group C finale against Robert Lewandowski and Poland.

Mexico boast a superb record when it comes to getting through the group stage, having done so in each of their last eight appearances at the finals.

Facing the prolific talents of Lewandowski and Messi, this is a group that threatens to put that streak in jeopardy.

The Mexico defence kept eight clean sheets in CONCACAF qualifying, and such resolute play at the back will likely be needed for them to defy Messi and Co.

That task has frequently proven beyond Mexico, who have lost each of their three World Cup meetings with Argentina.

Hoping to mastermind a shock will be a face familiar to Messi and his team-mates, with former Barcelona and Argentina coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino set to lead Mexico into a game against his home country.

Spain vs Germany (November 27)

This is comfortably the headline act as two of the previous three World Cup winners square off knowing victory could be crucial, with the side that finishes second in Group E potentially set to face Belgium, presuming they win Group F as most would expect, in the last 16.

Germany will hope the early signs of progress under Hansi Flick are realised in Qatar, having gone unbeaten in each of their nine games (including friendlies) since he took over from Joachim Low.

Die Mannschaft have conceded just three goals in that run, but a meeting with a Spain side that reached the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and is filled with emerging young talent promises to be difficult in the extreme.

La Roja reached the final of the UEFA Nations League, which they lost 2-1 to France, with that defeat and a qualifying loss to Sweden the only blips for Luis Enrique's side since their shoot-out agony at the hands of Italy.

Germany and Spain have met four times in the World Cup finals, with the former prevailing in 1966 and 1982. They played out a draw in the group stage in 1994, but Spain claimed a 1-0 victory in 2010 en route to winning the trophy for the first time in their history. Flick was an assistant to Low on Germany's coaching staff during that tournament.

Ghana v Uruguay (December 2)

The appetite for revenge will be high among fans of the Black Stars, who get another crack at Luis Suarez's Uruguay over 12 years on from their controversial 2010 exit at the quarter-final stage.

Suarez gladly took on the role of villain in a remarkable end to extra time in that match, committing a deliberate handball to prevent Dominic Adiyiah's header from giving Ghana a 2-1 lead late into the additional half hour.

The then-Ajax striker was sent off, but Asamoah Gyan skied the subsequent penalty, with Suarez seen enthusiastically celebrating the miss in the tunnel.

Uruguay then held their nerve to prevail in the shoot-out and prevent Ghana from becoming the first African team to reach the semi-finals.

Now, in a group that also features Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal and Son Heung-min and South Korea, Ghana could have the chance to send Uruguay home early in the final round of group stage fixtures.

This one promises to be tasty.

Manchester United forward Edinson Cavani will miss a "couple of weeks" with the injury he suffered on Uruguay duty, Ralf Rangnick has confirmed.

Cavani was substituted during a 2-0 win over Chile during the international break, as Uruguay cemented third place in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers after a run of four successive wins.

In a pre-match media conference looking ahead to Saturday's Premier League clash with Leicester City, Rangnick confirmed the news while discussing the various positions in which Paul Pogba has been deployed in recent weeks.

"Since the game against West Ham on January 22, we have lost three strikers," the interim Red Devils boss said.

"Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and even Edinson Cavani, who is injured again, unfortunately, and will be out for the next couple of weeks."

Cavani has managed just two Premier League goals during a frustrating campaign, seeing 614 minutes of league action all season.

Manchester United have lost two of their last three games in all competitions (winning the other). They had lost just one of their previous 20 following Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's November dismissal, recording 10 wins and nine draws in that time.

Qatar 2022 is fast approaching and the anticipation will surely be at its most intense so far when Friday's draw for the group stage is completed.

The Doha Exhibition and Convention Center plays host to the milestone event, which will see eight groups drawn from pots as the eventual storylines of the World Cup begin to unfurl.

Among the narratives that will start being mapped out on Friday is France's title defence, with Les Bleus hoping to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend their World Cup crown.

Ahead of the draw, Stats Perform provides a lowdown of all the key information…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, the draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section ahead of Mexico and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

It's nearly four years since Didier Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and coach, as he guided France to their second success on football's grandest stage.

The target now for Les Bleus is to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain their crown, and that journey begins on Friday with the draw for the group stage of Qatar 2022.

Four years is a long time to wait for anything, but the draw for the World Cup is always a milestone event that sees the anticipation taken up a notch.

The eyes of the football world will be on the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center, where the eight groups will be drawn and potential routes to December's finale can start being plotted.

But there is a little more to the draw than that…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, Friday's draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

Luis Suarez reflected on a "special night" after overtaking Lionel Messi as the top-scoring player in South American World Cup qualifiers during Uruguay's win against Chile.

The Atletico Madrid striker scored an impressive bicycle-kick to open the scoring in Tuesday's contest before Federico Valverde added a late second in the 2-0 victory.

That goal sealed a third-placed finish for Uruguay behind Brazil and Argentina as La Celeste qualified for the World Cup for a fourth edition running, and a fifth time in six attempts.

Suarez has now found the net 29 times for his country in 62 World Cup qualifiers, one goal more than Messi having played two games more.

Next on the list is Bolivia striker Marcelo Moreno, who has 22 goals in 58 games, followed by Chile's Alexis Sanchez (20 in 56) and Argentina great Hernan Crespo (19 in 33).

 

Former Barcelona striker Suarez posted an image of himself with his match shirt on the back of the victory – Uruguay's fourth in a row under new head coach Diego Alonso.

That is their best run since an identical streak between March and June 2019 under former boss Oscar Tabarez, who was in charge for 15 years before leaving last November.

"Special night, special match, special shirt and with a goal," Suarez posted. "What more can I ask for to live unique and unforgettable moments with my country?"

Uruguay will learn their World Cup group opponents on Friday, along with fellow South American participants Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador. 

Fifth-placed Peru must come through an inter-confederation play-off against either Australia or the United Arab Emirates in June.

As for Suarez, he is set to return to club duty on Saturday when Atletico host Deportivo Alaves in LaLiga.

Ecuador qualified for the 2022 World Cup on Thursday despite a 3-1 defeat to Paraguay, benefiting from a victory for Uruguay that also sent the two-time champions to Qatar.

La Tri, who failed to make Russia 2018, knew they needed only a point to be sure of a top-four finish with a game to spare.

However, already-eliminated Paraguay were clinical in Ciudad del Este, three up before the hour mark through Robert Morales, a Piero Hincapie own goal and Miguel Almiron.

Ecuador threatened a dramatic fightback as Jordy Caicedo scored a late penalty and Blas Riveros was sent off, but ultimately their fate was decided in Montevideo.

The third-placed side joined Uruguay in advancing with both teams on 25 points, four ahead of fifth-placed Peru, who went down 1-0 to Giorgian De Arrascaeta's goal late in the first half.

Peru are still in control of their play-off fate, although both Colombia and Chile can catch them as Paraguay attempt to again play the role of spoilers in Tuesday's final match in Lima.

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