The Qatar 2022 World Cup looms ever closer, as players and managers look to balance the need to win domestically whilst preventing injuries before the biggest competition in football.
Group A consists of host nation Qatar, South America’s Ecuador, African Cup of Nations Winners Senegal and a resurgent Netherlands. But how did the group come to be and how will they shape up this Winter?
As hosts, Qatar were given automatic entry to the World Cup in 2022. Their automatic qualification gave them their first appearance in the World Cup Finals since they gained their independence in 1971 and also made Qatar the first team to host a World Cup having never played in it before.
Qatar did however compete in some qualifications per the AFC (Asian Football Confederation), which would also act as qualification for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
In the AFC World Cup qualifiers, Qatar were in Group E with Oman, India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Qatar went on to win seven of the eight games, drawing the other, winning the group completely unbeaten, and securing their qualification for the Asian Cup. Notable wins include a 6 - 0 thrashing of Afghanistan and a 5 - 0 win over Bangladesh.
Qatar are currently ranked 50th on FIFA’s men's rankings and have a couple of tournament wins under their belts. Qatar won the AFC Asian Cup in 2019, beating Japan 3 - 1, the Arabian Gulf Cup three times in 1992, 2004 and 2014, the WAFF Championship in 2014 and won gold at the Asian Games in 2006.
Ecuador make their fourth appearance at a World Cup Finals in Qatar this winter, and their first since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
South American nations secured their World Cup qualification via Conmebol, where ten nations went head to head. In 18 games played, Ecuador won seven times, drew five games and lost six. This left Ecuador fourth behind Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, but most importantly, two points ahead of Peru and in the last qualification spot - not a bad feat for a team currently ranked 44th in FIFA’s World Rankings.
This qualification included some impressive wins. One of those was a 4 - 2 win over a Uruguay team 30 ranks ahead of them, with Ecuador leading 4 - 0 before two late Luis Suarez goals. Another notable win was the 6 - 1 thrashing of Colombia, where Ecuador had six different goalscorers.
The furthest Ecuador have ever made it at a World Cup is the Round of 16 in 2006. Ecuador finished second in their group behind Germany, winning twice and losing once. However, they met England in the Round of 16 and fell short, losing 1 - 0.
Senegal had their most successful year in a long while in 2021, securing their first-ever African Cup of Nations and a runners-up medal in the COSAFA Cup. However, that wasn’t enough to immediately qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
Senegal competed in the African Qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, where they were drawn against Egypt. Egypt won the first leg of the qualifier 1 - 0, with Senegal replicating this in the return fixture. This led to extra time, where when the tie was still level, qualification was decided via penalties. Senegal secured their spot in Qatar with a 3 - 1 win on penalties, denying a strong Egypt team a place in the World Cup.
Qatar will only be the third time Senegal have competed at the World Cup. Senegal couldn’t even qualify until 1970 as they were still recognised as part of France, however, they didn’t appear at their first World Cup until 2002, where they made it all the way to the Quarter-finals, where they lost 1 - 0 after extra time to Turkey.
Senegal failed to make it past the group stage in 2018, but have a stronger team than ever, so may pose more of a threat this World Cup than people may think.
The Netherlands make their return to the World Cup stage after missing the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
In qualification, the Netherlands found themselves in Group G with the likes of Turkey, Norway, Montenegro, Latvia and Gibraltar. In order to automatically qualify, the Netherlands had to win the group, as second place would only advance to the play-offs.
In ten games, the Netherlands won seven, drew two and lost once, finishing top with an impressive +25 goal difference. But, interestingly, only two points clear of second-place Turkey, thanks to a surprise 4 - 2 loss to Turkey in the opening game of the group.
The Netherlands have progressed past the group stage in every World Cup they’ve competed in, with their best finish coming in 2010. The Dutch team made the Final in South Africa, coming up against a dominant Spain team. With the game still 0 - 0 after 90 minutes, the game reached extra time, where Andres Iniesta grabbed the winner in the 116th minute.