The 22nd FIFA World Cup will kick off this winter, as the world’s best will head to Qatar for what should be a terrific month of international soccer.
The host nation draws one of the easier groups in group A, but that does not promise them much of anything as the tables are wiped clean with the blast of the whistle come November 20.
Let’s take a closer look at the group and see where the odds sit just a fortnight away from kick-off.
Netherlands are Group's Favorites
After spending most of the 2010s struggling to maintain their status as one of the elite nations in international competition, three-time finalists, the Dutch are all the way back as World Cup contenders in Qatar.
The Netherlands finished their UEFA Nations League group undefeated, beating Belgium and Poland in their last matches to make it clear they are to be taken seriously as potential World Cup winners.
World Cup Qualifying was also an easy task, as the Oranje lost just once while scoring an impressive 33 goals. Led by a now experienced Memphis Depay in attack, manager Louis Van Gaal can also deploy rising young stars Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons from PSV Eindhoven to provide a youthful jolt of energy.
Van Gaal is as experienced of a manager as they come and has his country playing its best ball since Wesley Sneidjer guided them to the 2010 World Cup Final. The Oranje should top Group A and make a deep run in Qatar as one of the group of favorites to win the tournament.
Senegal to Challenge for Honors
West African nation, Senegal are an interesting Group A dark horse thanks to a squad that possesses a fair amount of star talent in top European leagues. The team qualified impressively for the mundial, beating Egypt in one of the African playoffs.
At forward, current FC Bayern Munich and former Liverpool star Sadio Mane leads the line. At the back, Chelsea summer transfer Kalidou Koulibaly and Paris Saint Germain veteran Abdou Diallo give the team a sturdy presence as the Teranga Lions are well balanced in experienced world stars.
Senegal are the team most likely to cause a scare for the Dutch out of this group.
No Hope for the Hosts
Host nation, Qatar, welcomes the world as controversial hosts for the tournament with low expectations for their on-pitch performance. With no prior accomplishments on the international stage, Qatar’s national team spent the last half decade in an attempt to accelerate its program to a respectable level.
Manager Felix Sanchez has succeeded in improving Qatar’s squad immensely since taking on the project. Even winning the 2019 Asian Cup in a shocking run to the title in the process of preparing the team for this moment of being World Cup hosts.
Still, Qatar’s chances of winning Group A are as close to zero as you can get. They will need a lot of luck to even make it out of the group as it is likely Qatar will join South Africa as just the second host nation to fail to qualify for the knockout rounds.
Every nation was hoping to draw themselves into Group A for the chance at an easy three points against them and now Qatar will have to prove they are talented enough to compete as hosts.
Ecuador Lack Firepower
The South Americans actually enter these games as one of the few teams with a negative goal differential (-1) during qualifying, scoring 25 goals while conceding 26. Still, they snuck into this tournament largely due to striker Enner Valencia, who now holds the Ecuadorian all-time goal record with 35 goals in international play.
Ecuador may not have many big European based star names. Many of their players are based in South America or the USA MLS, including Michael Estrada of DC United, who scored 6 goals in qualification. At 6ft 2 inches tall, he's a big striker, and one to watch.
The heat in Qatar may give them a slight advantage above European teams and those not used to playing under high temperatures. Regardless, Ecuador has a lot of work to do between now and November if they want to do any kind of damage in this tournament.
With the talent to, at a minimum, reach the semis for the third straight appearance, the Dutch need to simply win two of three in this group to go top; all three of which they will be significant favorites to do so.
Currently, #8 in the official FIFA World Rankings, the Netherlands’ next closest opponent in this group, is #18, with the other two #44 (Ecuador) and #50 (Qatar). While one can see Senegal pushing them late, this Dutch team is just too talented.
As for second place, this will probably be a straight shootout between Senegal and Ecuador. The Senegalese may play a very tight game, as they have done in African qualifying, so one goal may decide this game. If it's a draw then second place may go down to each team's results against Netherlands and Qatar. But better to side with Senegal to go through given their big names and recent big tournament experience.