Netherlands head coach and former Australia ODI wicketkeeper Ryan Campbell has been discharged from hospital and is expected to soon return to the Dutch side.

Campbell suffered a cardiac arrest in England last month when visiting after the Netherlands' tour of New Zealand.

He has only recently been removed from an induced coma by doctors with no signs of any brain damage, and follow-up tests led to the conclusion a heart attack did not cause the cardiac arrest.

The 50-year-old is expected to re-join the Netherlands camp ahead of their three-match ODI series against West Indies, which starts on May 31, before Eoin Morgan's England visit for three 50-over games in June.

Campbell, who was appointed as the Netherlands coach in 2017 after playing for both Australia and Hong Kong at an international level, was quick to pay tribute to the medical staff who looked after him.

"I want to take this opportunity to thank the amazing doctors and nurses at the Royal Stoke Hospital critical care unit for their incredible professionalism, kindness and compassion," he said. 

"I also want to thank Beci Bassett, a parent at the adventure playground in Cheshire who immediately administered CPR. Her courage and quick intervention quite simply saved my life.

"My wife Leontina was at my bedside hour after hour and kept our families informed of my progress. She dealt bravely with every development thrown her way. LT, I thank you and love you.

"LT was joined early on by my great mate Simon Millington, who flew out from Nevada to be there for her and her family and assisted them throughout the ordeal. For this, I will be eternally grateful.

"Finally, I want to say a big thank you to all my well-wishers from around the world. The amount of messages of love and support my family and I received was extremely humbling."

Edgar Davids declared he was "proud" to be reunited with Louis van Gaal after being appointed assistant coach of the Netherlands national team.

Dutch great Davids will step into the role immediately and is set to be heavily involved in the lead-up to, and throughout, the World Cup later this year.

The 49-year-old, who was nicknamed 'Pitbull' by Van Gaal when the pair worked together at Ajax in the 1990s, has taken over from Henk Fraser who is leaving to become head coach of FC Utrecht.

Davids said: "I am not only proud but also very enthusiastic that I can continue my career as a coach together with such a renowned coach as Louis van Gaal and that I can work with the absolute best of the Netherlands."

His role will be that of 'second assistant'. Van Gaal's first assistant is another veteran of the great Ajax teams of the 1990s, Danny Blind.

Van Gaal announced in April he had undergone treatment for prostate cancer, and declared that had been a success. He will lead the Netherlands at Qatar 2022 before stepping down to be replaced by Ronald Koeman, and the veteran boss believes Davids can make a positive contribution to the Oranje national team.

The 70-year-old Van Gaal, in his third spell as Netherlands coach, said: "I am delighted that Edgar Davids will join our technical staff.

"After it was clear that Henk Fraser will focus entirely on FC Utrecht from next season, I asked Edgar if he wanted to become my – second – assistant at the Oranje squad.

"Our paths have crossed regularly in the past and I am convinced that he will fill this role in an excellent way. The players can take full advantage of his experience as an international at four international final tournaments, among other things."

Davids has little experience of hands-on coaching, and none at the highest levels of the game, but his playing career was highly successful, taking in stints with the likes of Ajax, Milan, Juventus, Barcelona, Inter and Tottenham. His coaching roles have come at Barnet, Telstar and Olhanense.

He won 74 caps for the Netherlands and captained the team 12 times, with tournament experience coming at three European Championships and one World Cup.

Ronald Koeman has called on former club Barcelona to show Xavi more support than he received in the Camp Nou dugout and defended his own record with the Blaugrana.

Koeman spent just over a year in the Camp Nou dugout before being sacked in October 2021, winning the Copa del Ray last season but overseeing a third-place finish in LaLiga and the departure of legendary attacker Lionel Messi.

Barca sat ninth in the top flight when the Dutchman departed, but are now favourites to secure Champions League qualification after Xavi oversaw an upturn in results. 

However, the Catalan giants recently lost three successive home games for just the second time in their illustrious history, and Koeman says club president Joan Laporta must show Xavi more support than he was granted during his own spell in charge.

"The situation of Barca, of the team and of the club, is the same as when I was [there]," he said at a golf event in Barcelona. "It means that changing the coach does not always mean being able to improve. The situation of the club hurts me.

"From January I will be the coach of the Netherlands, but I ask for maximum support for Xavi. He is a good coach, a legend at home and it is not his fault that Barca is in this situation.

"The only thing I ask is support for Xavi, I haven't had the full support of a president, I hope he [Laporta] has learned and does support Xavi. I didn't have support from the club and I hope Xavi does.

"Internally, you can say you have doubts, but on the outside there has to be support." 

Barca enjoyed an upturn in results after the January arrivals of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ferran Torres but rivals Real Madrid are now 15 points clear at the top of LaLiga.

Los Blancos will secure their 35th title by earning a point at home to Espanyol on Saturday after winning eight of their last nine league games (one loss), and Koeman says that gap is evidence that his time in charge was not a complete failure, highlighting financial difficulties and presidential elections as having a severe impact throughout his tenure.

 

"When I left, Madrid was eight points ahead and now the difference is almost double," he added. "I don't feel like a failed coach, far from it. 

"In January we were twelve points behind Atletico Madrid, we had the opportunity to be first against Granada and we failed. We kept the Copa and if you win a title it's not a failure.

"I spent many months without a president, I had to make statements about the club's situation, there was financial fair play [issues]. Then Messi and [Antoine] Griezmann left on the last day of the market. 

"I was heavily criticised for signing Luuk Jong, who is very good when you need a finisher. Luckily his goals have given five or six points in the last few minutes. I think that one person or a coach cannot be blamed for the loss of [the club's] DNA."

Koeman will reclaim his former position as Netherlands head coach after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar when he takes over from Louis van Gaal and will be reunited with Blaugrana midfielder Frenkie de Jong.

De Jong has come in for some criticism for his recent displays and has been linked with a move to Manchester United, but Koeman believes the 24-year-old will prove any doubters wrong.

"I don't think Barca wants to sell Frenkie, Xavi doesn't want to either," he added. "You don't have to doubt Frenkie de Jong, I don't doubt him and he's a starter in the national team. We put a player on top of everything and two weeks later we criticise him."

Wales are among the countries to have declared an interest in hosting the 2022-23 Nations League finals.

UEFA confirmed on Wednesday that the football associations of Wales, Belgium, Poland and Netherlands have all declared their interest in making a bid, with the deadline to submit final bid dossiers not until October 5.

The league phase begins in June 2022, and will run until September, with a break between then and June to allow for the remainder of the domestic season and the 2022 World Cup.

The hosts will be confirmed in January 2023, with the finals due to be held from June 14-18.

The draw for the competition took place in December, with 2018 World Cup finalists France and Croatia together in Group A1, Spain and Portugal among those in Group A2, and the trio of Italy, England and Germany featuring in Group A3.

Interestingly, the four nations to have declared an interest in hosting the finals have all been pitted against one another in Group A4.

Portugal staged the first edition of the tournament in 2019, while Italy hosted in 2021.

Ronald Koeman will return to his former role as head coach of the Netherlands national team after the 2022 World Cup.

The former Barcelona boss will take over from Louis van Gaal, who revealed recently on Dutch TV show Humberto he has undergone 25 rounds of radiation treatment for prostate cancer.

The 70-year-old has continued to work and did not tell his players of his condition when the Netherlands squad got together in March for friendlies against Denmark and Germany.

However, Van Gaal will remain in charge for the tournament in Qatar, which takes place between November 21 and December 18, with Koeman resuming the role he left in 2020 after that.

The news was confirmed by the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) on Wednesday.

"I am looking forward to the new collaboration," Koeman said. "A little over a year and a half ago, I certainly did not leave the Dutch national team out of dissatisfaction. 

"My stay felt good, the results were good and the connection with the players was good. We will soon continue on that path, that is certain to me."

Marianne van Leeuwen, director of professional football for the KNVB, said: "We are very happy that Ronald will return next year. During his previous term as national coach, there was great satisfaction with his work and the results.

"That is why, after internal deliberations, together with director of top-level football Nico-Jan Hoogma, I entered into discussions with Ronald and his agent Rob Jansen."

Koeman previously spent just over two years as national team coach between 2018 and 2020, guiding the Netherlands to the final of the 2018-19 Nations League, before leaving for Barca in August 2020.

The Netherlands will face hosts Qatar, Senegal and Ecuador in Group A at the World Cup following Friday's draw.

Ross Taylor was given a guard of honour by Netherlands players but there was no dream final New Zealand innings for the legendary batter at Seddon Park on Monday.

There was a standing ovation for Taylor as he walked out to the crease in Hamilton and the tourists lined up to show their appreciation for his brilliant career during the third and final ODI of the series.

The 38-year-old was caught and bowled by Logan van Beek for only 14 before departing to another standing ovation.

Taylor later led New Zealand out onto the field before Netherlands started their pursuit of a huge target of 334 for a consolation victory.

The former Black Caps captain's children joined him on the pitch for the pre-match national anthems prior to his international swansong.

Taylor retires as New Zealand's highest ODI run-scorer with 8,593 at an average of 47.73, while he has also scored the most hundreds (21) and half-centuries (51) for his country in the 50-over format.

The Blacks Caps great racked up 7,683 runs in 112 Tests and 1,909 in 102 T20 Internationals.

Manchester United and Barcelona sent messages of support to Louis van Gaal after the Netherlands coach revealed he is fighting prostate cancer.

Dutch veteran Van Gaal is a former boss at Old Trafford and Camp Nou, and both clubs wished him well after Sunday's announcement.

It was revealed by Van Gaal on Dutch TV show Humberto that he has undergone 25 rounds of radiation treatment.

The 70-year-old has continued to work and did not tell his players of his condition when the Netherlands squad got together in March for friendlies against Denmark and Germany.

Van Gaal had two spells as Barcelona head coach and won LaLiga titles in 1998 and 1999, while he guided United to the FA Cup in 2016 at the end of a two-year stint in England.

Barcelona said: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to former Barca manager Louis van Gaal, who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Stay strong, Louis, and get well soon."

United sent their best wishes, stating: "Everybody at Manchester United is fully behind our former manager, Louis van Gaal, in his battle against cancer. Sending you strength and courage, Louis "

Former England striker Gary Lineker, who played for Barcelona in the 1980s, wrote on Twitter: "Sending best wishes and hopes for a full recovery to Louis Van Gaal, who announced on Dutch television tonight that he's battling prostate cancer."

Van Gaal, a Champions League winner with Ajax in 1995, is due to lead the Netherlands at the World Cup later this year.

He took charge of the national team for a third time after coming out of retirement last August.

Louis van Gaal has announced he is receiving treatment for prostate cancer.

Speaking on Dutch TV show Humberto, the Netherlands head coach said he had been battling the disease for some time and has undergone 25 rounds of radiation treatment.

Van Gaal, 70, oversaw two international friendlies with the Netherlands last month, with his team beating Denmark 4-2 and drawing 1-1 with Germany.

The former Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Ajax boss said he kept his diagnosis hidden from his players, and revealed he was snuck into hospital to undergo private treatment during the international break.

Van Gaal told presenter Humberto Tan he had wanted his players, who have qualified for the World Cup, to stay focused on their task in hand.

"You don't die from prostate cancer, at least not in 90 per cent of the cases," he said.

"It is usually other underlying diseases that kill you. But I had a pretty aggressive form, got irradiated 25 times. Then you have a lot of management to do in order to go through life.

"I did have preferential treatment in the hospital. I was allowed in through the back door when I went to an appointment and was immediately pushed into another room. I have been treated wonderfully.

"You will of course tell your friends and relatives about it. The fact that nothing has come out yet also says something about my environment. That's great."

The dust is settling following the 2022 World Cup draw, which has provided a number of subplots and talking points aplenty to discuss between now and the opening set of games on November 21.

France, placed in a group that contains Denmark, Tunisia and one of Peru or Australia, will look to avoid becoming the fifth defending champions in the past six tournaments to exit at the first hurdle.

Spain and Germany, the winners of two of the past three World Cups, face off in arguably the pick of the group games in what will be their fifth meeting in the competition and the first since La Roja's 2010 semi-final triumph.

There are some good omens for England, who are in action on the opening day of the tournament – the last time that was the case they went on to lift the trophy on home soil in 1966.

As the debate rumbles on as to which is the most interesting group this time around, and supporters of participating nations plot out their route to the latter stages, Stats Perform picks out a key stat for each team.

GROUP A – Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands

Qatar are competing in their first World Cup and will aim to avoid becoming only the second host nation to be knocked out in the first round after South Africa in 2010.

They will begin their campaign against Ecuador, who have not faced a nation from outside of the UEFA or CONCACAF regions in their previous 10 World Cup matches.

Senegal are participating in the event for a third time and are the third African Cup of Nations title holders to qualify this century after Cameroon in 2002 and Nigeria in 2014.

However, the heavyweights of the group are the Netherlands, who have won 11 of their last 14 World Cup matches when not factoring in penalty shoot-outs. Three times Oranje have reached the final; three times they have been beaten. They failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, of course.

GROUP B – England, Iran, United States, Scotland/Wales/Ukraine

England have progressed past the quarter-finals just once since 1966, although the most recent occasion came four years ago when losing in the semi-finals.

First up for England are Iran, who have scored nine goals in 15 World Cup matches – that goals-per-game average of 0.6 the lowest of any side to have played at least 10 times.

Back involved after missing Russia 2018, the United States will be looking to reach the knockout stages for a fourth time in their past five participations in a World Cup.

Should Wales reach the finals, the gap of 64 years between their only two finals appearances will set a record.

Scotland, who meet Ukraine in a play-off for the right to face Wales, have made more World Cup appearances (eight) without making it past the first round than any other nation.

 

GROUP C – Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland

One of three South American teams to have lifted the trophy, Argentina have made it past the first round in 12 of their past 13 appearances, the only exception being in 2002.

It would be an understatement to say that Saudi Arabia have had less success in the finals, having won only three of their previous 16 World Cup matches – albeit one of those coming against Egypt in the 2018 edition.

Mexico have reached every World Cup since missing out in 1990 and tend to do well in the group stage, having advanced to the last 16 in each of their last eight appearances.

Whereas Mexico have won five of their past six opening games, first opponents Poland have won just one of their previous eight curtain-raising fixtures and have lost the last three.

GROUP D – France, Peru/Australia/UAE, Denmark, Tunisia

France are out to become the third team, after Italy (in 1938) and Brazil (in 1962) to retain the trophy. However, the last three defending champions have fallen in the group stage.

Denmark boasted the best defensive record of any side in European qualifying and have made it out of the group stage in four of their five World Cup appearances.

That is in contrast to Tunisia, who have not made the knockout rounds in six previous attempts. The Eagles of Carthage have also not beaten a European side in 10 World Cup games (D3 L7).

Tunisia have lost 60 per cent of their World Cup games, the third-highest by a team to have played 15+ games behind Saudi Arabia (69 per cent) and possible Group D opponents Australia (63 per cent).

 

GROUP E – Spain, Costa Rica/New Zealand, Germany, Japan

Spain won the World Cup in 2010, but that is the only occasion they have reached the semi-finals in their last 13 participations. However, they have won the group in four of their last five appearances.

Germany, champions in 2014, were the first side to reach Qatar 2022 aside from the hosts, and have made it to the semi-finals in four of the five World Cups this century – the best record of any side.

After reaching the last 16 in 2018, competition regulars Japan will aim to book a place in the knockouts in back-to-back editions for the first time.

Completing arguably the toughest group is either Costa Rica or New Zealand, who meet in a play-off in June. Costa Rica have appeared at five previous World Cups, while the All Whites have made it to the finals twice before.

GROUP F – Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia

Belgium have qualified for more World Cups without winning it than any other European team, with this their 14th appearance. With much of their 'golden generation' either 30 or close to it, however, this is realistically the final chance for that batch of players to cement their names in the history books, after a third-place finish in 2018.

Roberto Martinez's team might meet Spain or Germany in the last 16 but should have little trouble in getting out of their group.

Canada are competing in the global showpiece for the first time since 1986, when they lost all three matches and failed to score.

Morocco have won just one of their last 10 World Cup games, with that coming against Scotland in 1998, while their last knockout-round appearance was in 1986.

Beaten finalists in 2018, Croatia have had a mixed time of things in the finals, having been eliminated in the group stage (three times) or reached the semis (twice) in their past five appearances.

 

GROUP G – Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon

Brazil are the competition's most successful side with five trophies and are unbeaten in their last 15 World Cup group games, winning 12 of those. Their last such defeat was against Norway in 1998.

The next side with a chance to end that long run are Serbia, who have lost seven of their last nine World Cup matches, which is the most of any European nation since 2006. They also met Brazil in the 2018 group stage.

Another team to have been drawn with Brazil and, indeed, Serbia in Russia was Switzerland. History has repeated itself this time around. The Swiss finished above Italy in qualifying to make it to their fifth successive finals. Including the European Championships, they have reached the knockout stages in their last four major tournaments, a record only Belgium and France can match.

Cameroon make up Group G. They have played more matches at the World Cup than any other African nation (23), but they have lost the last seven of those – only Mexico (nine) have ever lost more in a row.

GROUP H – Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea

Heavyweights they may be, but Portugal have won only three of their last 14 World Cup matches, each of those in the group stage. Their last knockout-round win was in the last 16 against the Netherlands in 2006. 

All being well, Cristiano Ronaldo will be featuring in a record-equalling fifth World Cup. It will almost certainly be his last, though.

Ghana's quarter-final appearance in 2010 remains the joint-best finish for an African side, alongside Senegal in 2002 and Cameroon in 1990, and they have scored in their last five World Cup games.

Uruguay controversially eliminated Ghana in the quarter-finals 12 years ago but the Black Stars have a chance for revenge here in the final round of fixtures.

First up for Uruguay, meanwhile, are South Korea, but the South American side have won their opening match at just one of their last seven World Cups.

That is good news for Son Heung-min and Co. as South Korea look to win successive finals matches for just the second time ever, having knocked out Germany four years ago.

The draw for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar took place on Friday, and there are some tantalising fixtures to look forward to before the knockout rounds even begin.

Spain and Germany, two of the tournament's past three winners, are in the same group, while hosts Qatar now know they will kick things off against Ecuador on November 21.

Three teams are still to be determined, with two inter-confederation play-offs and a European play-off to be staged in June – potentially meaning an all-British affair for England, who will open up their campaign against the United States.

Reigning champions France face Denmark, Tunisia and one of Peru, the United Arab Emirates or Australia. Brazil should be confident of progressing from Group G, while Belgium, Portugal and Argentina, similarly, should have the quality to make it through.

Below is the full group-stage draw, with kick-off times and venues for each fixture yet to be confirmed.


DRAW IN FULL

Group A - Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands

Group B - England, Iran, United States, Wales or Scotland/Ukraine

Group C - Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland

Group D - France, Peru or United Arab Emirates/Australia, Denmark, Tunisia

Group E - Spain, Costa Rica or New Zealand, Germany, Japan

Group F - Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia

Group G - Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon

Group H - Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea

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.

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.

Virgil van Dijk has backed Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah to "turn disappointment into success" after Egypt failed to qualify for this year's World Cup.

Salah, who had lasers directed at him from the crowd as he lined up his spot-kick, blazed over in the penalty shoot-out on Tuesday as it was Senegal – spearheaded by fellow Liverpool star Sadio Mane – who booked their spot in Qatar following a 1-1 aggregate draw across two legs.

It was the second time this year that Salah and Egypt have suffered shoot-out agony against Senegal, who triumphed in the same way in the Africa Cup of Nations final.

Salah has been one of the standout players in European football this season, yet will not get the chance to show his quality on the biggest international stage.

While Van Dijk is disappointed for Liverpool's talisman, he is confident the forward will use Egypt's failure to spur the Reds on to more success this season, with a quadruple still on the cards for Jurgen Klopp's team.

 

"Well obviously, I feel sorry for Mo and for Egypt, but football is sometimes like this," Van Dijk told reporters after featuring in the Netherlands' 1-1 friendly draw with Germany.

"I am sure he will turn the disappointment into success for the rest of the season.

"We still have everything to play for so there is a lot of things still to achieve for him."

While Salah will return to Liverpool disappointed, Mane will come back knowing he is set to lead Senegal, who exited in the group stage in Russia in 2018.

Van Dijk was thrilled for Mane, but could not resist firing a warning shot his team-mate's way.

"As for Sadio, I wish him all the best and if he is in our group, he is going to need that good luck," the defender added.

Despite a 1-1 draw against Germany on Tuesday, Netherlands coach Louis Van Gaal has been left satisfied with this international window.

The Oranje fell behind on the stroke of half-time through Thomas Muller's opener, which punctuated a dominant first half for Germany in Amsterdam.

Van Gaal's side regrouped and equalised thanks to substitute Steven Bergwijn, who gave the Netherlands added verve along with fellow substitutes Davy Klaasen and Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield.

Following a 4-2 win over Denmark on Saturday, the 70-year-old coach was ultimately pleased with the spirit his side showed.

"I think we've had a fantastic week," he said post-match. "We could have won twice. I don't think a draw against Germany is that bad. I think the public enjoyed the fight.

"Despite the dominance of the Germans in the first half, 0-0 at half-time would not have been crazy. Germany was very strong on the ball, but I think we were good defensively and didn't give away many chances, despite their dominance.

"In the second half we fought back and thanks to Frenkie de Jong we could play out under pressure from Germany. The crowd was also great in the second half. We scored a fantastic goal and could have also got a penalty, then we just win this game."

Losing the opening game of qualifying to eventual Group G runners-up Turkey in Istanbul, the Oranje went the rest of World Cup qualifying undefeated, including a 6-1 demolition in the return leg to claim a place at the Finals in Qatar.

Germany provided a necessary test for Van Gaal and his side, with the veteran tactician praising Die Mannschaft for causing them headaches.

"I understand that Memphis Depay didn't like the game, because he didn't have much of the ball," Van Gaal said post-match. "We weren't on the ball, especially in the first half. The guys who normally are and have to give balls to Memphis and [Donyell] Malen were not clean in passing, so we didn't have much time to attack in the first half.

"That also has to do with form and confidence, but that is also the quality of the German team who can intercept a lot of balls in midfield by applying well-grouped pressure."

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