Substitute Julia Grosso scored a brace as a rampaging Canada attack eventually wore down Trinidad and Tobago in a 6-0 win at the Concacaf W Championship on Wednesday night.

Talismanic striker Christine Sinclair was in the right place, in the 27th minute, to meet an Ashley Lawrence cross to score the first goal for the Canadian side.  The goal moved Sinclair to 190 goals in 311 international games. 

Canada kept pushing and in the 32nd minute, after a VAR review, the referee Katia Garcia awarded a penalty for Canada. Jessie Fleming stepped to the spot but missed the chance to extend the advantage by sending the shot over the crossbar.

Canada didn’t slow down in the second half though and kept trying to add to their goal count, but the Trinidad & Tobago defensive line, led by GK Kimika Forbes, stood firm and kept it a one-goal game past the hour mark.

But in the 67th, after enterprising play and a backheel pass from Jordyn Huitema, Grosso managed to extend the team’s lead with a good finish for her first international goal. 

Grosso didn’t stop there. In the 78th, she scored her second goal of the night, increasing the Canada lead to 3-0. Fleming then redeemed her earlier miss and scored the fourth goal for Canada in the 84th.

After positive attacking play all match, Janine Beckie made it 5-0 in the 86th and then stepped into the role of playmaker in the 91st, assisting Jordyn Huitema, who scored the sixth goal of the night for her fifth career CWC goal.

The Olympic champions will next face Panama to try to remain Group B leaders, while Trinidad & Tobago will be tested against Costa Rica. 

 

The venues for the 2026 World Cup were announced on Thursday, with 16 host cities spread across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

It will also be the first World Cup to feature 48 teams, and it is expected that the three hosting countries will all be granted automatic qualification.

The United States cities awarded hosting duties are Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle.

Guadalajara, Monterrey and Mexico City were the Mexican cities to win the privilege, while Toronto and Vancouver will host all games allocated to Canada.

In a statement from FIFA president Gianni Infantino, he said: "We congratulate the 16 FIFA World Cup host cities on their outstanding commitment and passion. 

"Today is a historic day – for everyone in those cities and states, for FIFA, for Canada, the USA and Mexico who will put on the greatest show on Earth. 

"We look forward to working together with them to deliver what will be an unprecedented FIFA World Cup and a game-changer as we strive to make football truly global."

Canada players have ended their strike to continue preparations for the 2022 World Cup but warned "questions have yet to be answered and actions have yet to be taken".

The team, who qualified for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1986, had taken action in a dispute over Qatar 2022 prize money.

As a friendly against Panama had to be called off, Canada Soccer responded to reports players would receive only 10 per cent of the pot it received from FIFA.

Canada Soccer said it had proposed 30 per cent would go to the men's team, 30 per cent to the women's team and 40 per cent to the association.

The players, the association claimed, asked for somewhere between 75 and 100 per cent of the money. A letter from the players asked for 40 per cent.

This letter said negotiations over compensation had been "unnecessarily prolonged" by executives "taking vacations" before players were presented with "an archaic offer" last week.

The team apologised to Panama as they went on a short-lived strike, which was ended by their return to training this week – albeit without a resolution.

 

"We, the Canadian men's national team, have decided to resume training in preparation for the road to Qatar," they said in a second letter.

"To be clear, we have not reached an agreement with [Canada Soccer].

"The players have met with the senior leaders of Canada Soccer on Sunday evening and will continue the negotiation process, but questions have yet to be answered and actions have yet to be taken.

"We move forward in hope that Canada Soccer will work with us to resolve the situation."

Canada Soccer added: "Canada Soccer senior leaders and the men's national team players met on Sunday night to continue the negotiation process.

"The players will train this [Monday] afternoon with future meetings scheduled toward a resolution."

Canada begin their World Cup campaign against 2018 semi-finalists Belgium in Al Rayyan on November 23 and will also play Croatia and Morocco in Group F.

Grenada’s Anderson Peters set a new area record in the javelin with the second of his two first-ever throws over 90m, Shanieka Ricketts won the triple jump but there was a shock defeat for Shaunae Miller-Uibo in the 400m as the 2022 Diamond League season began in Doha on Friday.

Peters, the reigning world champion, broke his own national record on his opening throw of 88.96m but lost the lead when Jakub Vadlejch hurled the javelin out to a new world lead of 89.87m in the fourth round.

Spurred by the challenge, Peters uncorked his first ever 90m throw in the penultimate round, hitting a new personal best of 90.19m only to see Vadlejch surpass him once more with a personal best of 90.88m.

Undaunted the Grenadian, who once wanted to be a sprinter, flung his best-ever throw, 93.07m to put victory beyond Vadlejch’s reach. It was a new national record and personal best for Peters, and the fifth-best throw in history.

Meanwhile, Ricketts, the 2019 World Championships silver medalist produced a winning mark of 14.82m in challenging conditions caused by blustery winds as high as 6.5m/s that aided her winning jump.

Ukraine’s Maryna Bekh-Romanchuck took second place with her best effort of 14.73, her fourth jump of the competition that was helped by a gale force wind of 6.3m/s.

Dominica’s Theo LaFond took the final podium spot with her fourth-round jump of 14.43m assisted by a 3.6m/s wind.

Miller-Uibo last lost a 400m on this track back in 2019 when Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Nasser stunned the world with a 48.14 run at the World Championships. This time it was the Dominican Republic’s Marileidy Paulino, the Tokyo Olympics silver medallist who stormed home in a season-best 51.20.

Stephenie-Ann McPherson trailed the imperious but clearly winded Bahamian up until the last few metres before overtaking her to clock a season-best 51.69. Miller-Uibo trudged across the line in 51.84 for third.

Barbados’ record holder Sada Williams (52.09) and Tokyo Olympic finalist Candice McLeod (52.37) finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

Shericka Jackson, who won the 100m at the National Stadium in Kingston last weekend, lost her first race of the outdoor season clocking 22.07 in the 200m after getting caught late by the USA’s Gabby Thomas, who ran a season-best 21.98 that equalled the meet record set by Allyson Felix back in 2015.

Dina Asher-Smith, the reigning world champion, clocked a smart 22.37 in her 200m opener, which was good enough for third place.

There was a blanket finish in the 100m hurdles that Kendra Harrison won in 12.43 but can count herself lucky to win. Brittany Anderson led off the last hurdle but appeared to stumble and faded to third in 12.44, the same time awarded to Nigeria Tobi Amusan who was awarded second place.

Bahamas’ Devyne Charlton was some distance back running 12.61 for fourth place while Megan Tapper hit the first hurdle and finished eighth in 12.92.

The 400m hurdles offered a glimpse of what to expect in the event this year as Alison Dos Santos, the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist out-paced silver medallist Rai Benjamin down the home stretch to win in a world-leading 47.24, which was also a new meet record.

Benjamin was timed in 47.49.

The rest of the field was far behind but Thomas Barr of Ireland was the next best running 49.67 for third while Kyron McMaster finished fourth in 49.93.

Jaheel Hyde was fifth in 50.23.

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba was victorious in both genders of the recently concluded Varadero Beach Volleyball Tournament in Varadero Cuba, the second stop of the 2022 Norceca Beach Volleyball Tour.

Leila Martinez and Lidy Echeverría were crowned at home as queens of the women's segment. The pair of Martínez and Echeverría prevailed against Canadians Emma Glagau and Ruby Sorra 2-1 (21-12, 19-21, 15-12) in a close duel. USA pair of Iya Lindhal and Alexandra Wheeler won third place after defeating Guatemalans Natalia Girón and Laura Quiñones 2-0 (21-14, 21-19).

Miguel Ayón and Yosvani Carrasco completed the Cuban double victory. Ayon and Carrasco scored a comfortable 2-0 (21-13, 21-17) win over the American duo of Travis Mewhirter and Thimothy Brewster. Third place went to another Cuban pair Jorge Luis Alayo and Noslen Díaz who edged Americans Ryan Smith and Michael Boag 2-1 (18-21, 21-12, 15-12).

The Jamaican pair of Ryck Webb and Noley Ferguson placed 14th of 16 teams. Coming into the tournament the Jamaicans were seeded 15. They played and lost their first two games against the eventual 2nd and 4th place teams USA A and USA B.

General Secretary of the Jamaica Volleyball Association, Audley Weir is optimistic based on the performances of the team.

“Jamaica did well under challenging circumstances. We saw a lot of positives from this trip. The team was very competitive against the Americans who are a volleyball powerhouse in the World. We will regroup and prepare for the next tournament,” Weir said.

Jamaica was the highest placed team from the Caribbean Zonal Volleyball Association (CAZOVA) region. The Jamaican women’s team will participate in the next leg of the Norceca Beach Circuit which will be held in La Paz, Mexico from May 13 – 16, 2022.

Hosts the Dominican Republic and Jamaica bowed out of the CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 Championship on Wednesday as Mexico, United States, Canada and Puerto Rico sealed places in the final four.

Reigning champions, the USA blanked Jamaica 4-0 in the first game of the day played at the Estadio Panamericano in San Cristobal.

Amalia Villarreal scored her eighth goal of the tournament to open the scoring in the fourth minute for the winners who also got goals from Charlotte Kohler in the 32nd, Riley Jackson in the 42nd. Melina Rebimbas completed the scoring in the 56th.

Meanwhile, at the Estadio Olimpico Felix Sanchez in Santo Domingo, Mexico drubbed the host nation Dominican Republic, 10-0.

Tatiana Flores (16’, 33’, 41’) and Alice Soto (19’, 22’, 38’) each had a hat trick and were joined on the scoresheet by Maribel Flores (37’), Natalia Colin (49’), Deiry Ramirez (70’) and Layla Sirdah (80’).

The second game of the day at the Estadio Olimpico Felix Sanchez saw Puerto Rico meet El Salvador and in the end the spoils belonged to the Boricuas, 2-0.

Marilia Nieves-Melchor broke the deadlock in the 37’ for a 1-0 Puerto Rico lead, followed by Indigo Sims’ insurance score in the 65’ to complete the 2-0 scoreline.

Wrapping up the day at the Estadio Panamericano was Canada downing Costa Rica, 3-0.

It was a tight first half between the two teams, with each side getting good looks at goal.

However, the difference came in the second half beginning with Jaime Perrault’s goal in the 54’. Renee Watson doubled the advantage to 2-0 in the 66’ and then 2022 CWU17 leading scorer Rosa Maalouf scored her 10th goal of the tournament in the 70’ to seal the 3-0 triumph.

Carlo Ancelotti has revealed he is likely to call time on his coaching career at club level once he leaves Real Madrid, but is open to staying in charge of Los Blancos for another 10 years.

The 62-year-old last week became the first ever coach to win each of Europe's top five leagues when guiding Madrid to LaLiga glory.

Ancelotti's legendary managerial career has spanned 26 years and across 11 jobs, including two stints with Spanish giants Madrid.

But the Italian is now thinking about the future and hopes to spend more time travelling and with his family.

"After Real, yes, I'll probably stop," he told Amazon Prime. "But if the club keeps me here for 10 years, I'll train for 10 years.

"I'd like to be with my grandchildren, go on vacation with my wife – there are so many things to do that I have left out that I would like to do. 

"There are many places I have never been. I have never been to Australia. I have never been to Rio de Janeiro. 

"I'd like to visit my sister more often. The day I quit, I'll have all these things to do."

 

Ancelotti has won 22 trophies, including Serie A with Milan in 2004, the Premier League with Chelsea in 2010, Ligue 1 with PSG in 2013, the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich in 2017 and LaLiga with Madrid this year.

With his latest league triumph, Ancelotti became the oldest manager to win the Spanish top flight at 62, two years older than Fabio Capello was when lifting the trophy with Madrid in 2006-07.

Having also won a record-equalling three European Cups at club level, Ancelotti has suggested he may be tempted into managing an international side in time for the 2026 World Cup.

"Yes, there could be a national team but now it is premature [to discuss that]," he said. "Certainly not for this World Cup. But for the one in 2026, why not?"

Asked if he has any interest in taking charge of Canada, who will jointly host the tournament along with the United States and Mexico, Ancelotti said: "Why not? They have done very well".

Jamaica U-17 Reggae Girlz were forced to settle for a share of the spoils with Canada after playing to a 1-1 draw in the CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship on Wednesday.

With both teams having secured their spot in the next round before kickoff, the win saw Canada top Group F on goal difference ahead of second-place Jamaica.

It was the Jamaicans who took the lead against the previously unbreeched Canadian defense when Natoya Atkinson got the go-ahead goal in the 38th minute.  The striker popped the ball into the net after a deflected cross, which headed goalward was parried by the goalkeeper, and fell at her feet.

The Canadians began the second half in an enterprising fashion and were level soon after the resumption.  Substitute Renee Watson brought the Canadians back on level terms in the 50th minute when, after ghosting past the defense and firing high into the net, over an outstretched goalkeeper Liya Brooks.

The Canadians will now face Honduras on Sunday in the round of 16, while Jamaica will play neighbours and Group H third-place team Cuba on the same day.

The CONCACAF champion, runner-up, and third-place finisher will qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India in October.

Canada blanked the Dominican Republic 10-0 in their opening match of the CONCACAF U17 Women’s Championships to move to the top of Group F on goal difference over Jamaica on Sunday.

A goal in each half from Maya Raghunandanan helped steer Jamaica to a 7-0 drubbing of Bermuda in their opening match in the CONCACAF U17 Women’s Championships in the Dominican Republic on Sunday.

Raghunandanan opened the scoring in the seventh minute and added a second in the 65th as Jamaica dominated the lop-sided affair to go top of Group F which also comprises Canada and the home team, the Dominican Republic.

Jamaica took 39 shots at goal, 12 on target and should have won by a more handsome margin. Notwithstanding, Avery Johnson added a second in the 11th minute and Tiny Seaton added a third in the 16th as Jamaica threatened to run rampant.

However, through faulty finishing by Jamaica, Bermuda managed to make it to the break without going further behind.

Jamaica added a fourth in the 47th minute courtesy of Tyesha Nelson but Jamaica had to wait a while before Raghunandanan got her second 18 minutes later. Shaneil Buckley added Jamaica’s sixth in the 78th minute.

Natoya Atkinson, who came on as a substitute for Johnson in the 64th completed the rout seven minutes from full time.

The Dominican Republic is set to face Canada later Sunday.

Panama defeated Trinidad and Tobago 5-1 and the United States swamped Grenada 20-0 on Saturday.

A women’s pair of Chauna Kelly and Petal Smith will depart Jamaica on Friday for the Dominican Republic where they will participate in the Beach World Championship Qualifiers from April 16-18, 2022.

Jamaica will play in Group A alongside Canada, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, El Salvador and Curacao. Group B comprises Cuba, Mexico, US Virgin Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica and the Cayman Islands.

Each team will play in a round-robin format with the top two teams from each group advancing to the 2022 Beach Volleyball World Championship which will take place in Rome, Italy from June 7th to 19th, 2022.

Jamaica is resuming competition in beach volleyball after a two-year hiatus prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The team will be accompanied by Coach Oneil Ebanks.

John Herdman insists his Canada side will have "no fear" when going up against powerhouses Belgium and Croatia at the 2022 World Cup.

Canada last appeared at the World Cup in 1986, where they lost all three games without scoring a single goal.

However, Canada have been rejuvenated by talented youngsters such as Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies and Lille forward Jonathan David.

Under Herdman's tutelage, Canada finished top of the CONCACAF standings.

Regardless of Canada's quality, though, it will be tough sledding against nations with such storied histories.

Belgium hold the crown for most successful World Cup qualifications without winning the tournament out of any European side, making their 14th appearance, while Croatia made the final in 2018, going down 4-2 to France.

Speaking after finding out Canada's draw, Herdman insisted his side would find the line between having no fear, without being naive.

"We wanted those type of games," said Herdman, who will become the first coach to take charge of a team at both the men's and women's World Cups.

"You go into a World Cup, there are no easy matches and I think any team can beat any team on a given day. That's just tournament football.

"We'll be at our best when we rely on our grit and spirit, and then to bring that 'no fear' [mentality].

"For us, there will be a 'no fear' mentality – not naive, but no fear coming into this. Just see the opportunity to pioneer for this country and get after scoring that first goal for Canada at a World Cup."

Herdman also preached what a valuable chance it will be for some of his players to shine on the biggest stage.

"The opportunity that exists in these types of games, against the best players in the world," he said.

"Players like Alistair Johnston, Kamal Miller, and Jonathan Osorio, Canadian boys get the chance to match themselves [against them], but also tell a story in those games.

"Belgium, we know their quality [with] players like [Kevin] De Bruyne and [Romelu] Lukaku and what they've done on the international stage. And then the Croatians, who four years ago were [World Cup] finalists.

"I mean, this is what we want – we want that underdog story."

When analysing the group, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez called Canada "the hidden surprise".

"It's a group that is very interesting, and you have to go into detail to see the nations we will be facing are completely different," he said.

"Morocco for us, we have a real attachment from a football point of view, players that could play for both nationalities, have strong feelings, and then Canada is the hidden surprise. 

"A strong team that hasn’t been in a major tournament for 36 years, so there is that unknown quality, but they're very dangerous. 

"It's a celebration, they will arrive here full of energy, full of belief, full of commitment and you have to find a way to challenge that like we did against Panama in 2018.

"Then you have Croatia, who finished second in 2018, and have probably got players playing in the most demanding teams around Europe, playing at the highest level at a real consistency.  So the group is as versatile as you can find."

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.

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.

The 2022 World Cup is now less than eight months away and the excitement will ramp up another notch on Friday when the draw takes place in Doha.

Qatar will become the first Arab country to host the global showpiece, 92 years after the inaugural event in Uruguay, in what is the 22nd edition of football's biggest tournament.

It will become the smallest host nation by area, with matches to be spread across five different cities, making this the most concentrated edition since Argentina 1978.

Twenty-nine nations have already booked their finals spot, 22 of which competed at the 2018 edition, with the automatically-qualified hosts the only side to make their debut.

Due to the knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the fate of eight teams remains in the balance – only three of whom can still advance.

Wales will face the winners of the Scotland versus Ukraine play-off in June, while New Zealand take on Costa Rica and Peru meet either Australia or the United Arab Emirates.

To further whet the appetite ahead of Friday's draw, Stats Perform looks at some key questions to be answered with the aid of Opta data.

 


Will Europe continue to dominate?

The past four World Cups have been won by European teams: Italy in 2006, Spain in 2010, Germany in 2014 and France in 2018.

That is the longest run of victories for a single continent in the tournament's history, with only one defeated finalist – Argentina in 2014 – coming from outside of Europe.

Indeed, a European team has triumphed in 12 of the previous 21 editions, with South America responsible for the other nine victors.

France are the reigning champions and are aiming to become the third team to retain the trophy after Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962).

However, a word of warning for Les Bleus – the past three defending champions have been eliminated in the group stage (Italy in 2010, Spain in 2014 and Germany in 2018).

 


No Italy, but will it be a familiar winner?

Despite that, France will be fancied by many having reached the final in half of the past six World Cups –1998, 2006 and 2018 – which is more than any other country.

Another World Cup heavyweight will not be present in Qatar, though, as four-time winners Italy – only Brazil (five) have won more trophies – missed out in the play-offs.

Speaking of Brazil, they are taking part in their 22nd World Cup, making them the only team to have featured in every edition of FIFA's showpiece competition.

Like Italy, Germany have won four titles and they have reached the semi-finals on four of the past five occasions, which is double the number of any other team in that period.

No matter how strong a side, a perfect tournament is tough to come by – only Brazil in 1970 and 2002 have achieved that since the 1930s, when teams played just four games.


Or is it a chance for someone new to shine?

Canada will play in their first World Cup since 1986; that gap of 36 years the longest between appearances among teams confirmed to be taking part in this year's event.

Egypt and Norway had the longest gap at 56 years, though Wales will break that should they advance from their play-off to qualify for the first time since 1958 (64 years).

Qatar are the only new face and will aim to avoid becoming just the second hosts to be eliminated in the first round after South Africa in 2010.

Mexico will also have their sights set on the knockout stages, though no side has played as many games (57) as them without reaching the final.

Netherlands, meanwhile, have reached the final on more occasions (1974, 1978 and 2010) without lifting the coveted trophy than anyone else.

 


Can Ronaldo and Muller set new records?

Cristiano Ronaldo will appear at a record-equalling fifth World Cup and is out to become the first player ever to score in five different editions.

The Portugal forward has seven World Cup goals in total, nine short of the record held by Miroslav Klose, who netted all 16 of his goals from inside the penalty area.

Thomas Muller has an outside chance of catching countryman Klose in Qatar, having scored 10 times across his three previous participations – no active player has more.

The top scorer in a single World Cup is Just Fontaine, who scored 13 times in 1958, including a goal in all six of France's games.

Not since Gerd Muller in 1970, with 10 goals for Germany, has a player reached double figures in a single edition. Brazil great Ronaldo's eight in 2002 is the highest since then.

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