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Qatar World Cup 2022: Middle East teams face tough group rivals

Qatar, Iran, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and potentially the UAE will be competing at November's tournament
Qatar 2022 will be the first World Cup held in the Middle East
The tournament in Qatar will break new ground as the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East (AFP)

The Qatar 2022 World Cup draw failed to disappoint, offering enough mouth-watering encounters to make compelling TV through the group stages, while also offering the big hitters ample opportunity to get their shooting boots ready for the later rounds.

The hosts, Qatar, have been handed a relatively tough Group A and will be wary of the Netherlands and Senegal.

Iran and the United States will collide in Group B, while England in the same group should have a relatively straightforward route to the round of sixteen - barring the kind of fiasco that has marked previous World Cups for the Three Lions team.

Because the tournament is being held in November and December, three of the 32 participating nations at the World Cup have yet to be determined and will not be confirmed until a handful of single-elimination playoffs in June.

There are eight groups of four teams competing in the tournament, which begins with Senegal vs The Netherlands at Doha's Al-Thumama stadium on 21 November. Qatar's first game, against Ecuador, will take place that evening at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.

Group A

Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands 

The hosts have the advantage of avoiding some of the biggest hitters such as Brazil and France with their position in pot one, but will still be challenged in a group which includes the Netherlands - who will have high hopes with in-form Memphis Depay - and Sadio Mane's Senegal who are coming off a thrilling Afcon title and boast a strong back line that's reinforced by Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. Watford striker Ismaila Sarr is also likely to be crucial to Senegal's chances.

Qatar's game against Ecuador may not be the glamour tie organisers might have hoped for - but it is an opportunity to get off to a winning start for the hosts.

Group B

England, Iran, USA, Ukraine/Scotland/Wales

England has avoided some of the biggest names in world football, but it would be wrong to consider the group an easy one, with the USA performing strongly in the qualifying campaign.

Iran will be unfancied - but that will suit Dragan Skocic's well-organised team, who have enough quality and spirit to cause a few shocks.

Porto forward Mehdi Taremi, Feyenoord's Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Bayer Leverkusen's Sardar Azmoun make Iran a strong attacking unit, with the side netting 15 times in 10 final-round qualifying matches, having already scored 14 in a single match against Cambodia in an earlier phase.

Group C

Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland 

Argentina will begin Group C as strong favourites, with a star-studded squad at Lionel Scaloni's disposal.

Lionel Messi will be making what will likely be his final World Cup appearance, yearning to add a World Cup winner's medal to his already glittering trophy collection.

But there are no obvious weaknesses in the group, and the 34-year-old Messi will have to be on top form if the 1978 and 1986 World Cup winners are to avoid slip-ups against Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland.

In their past four involvements at the World Cup, Saudi Arabia's departure has come in the group stages - and it is difficult to envisage that being bettered this time around.

Group D

France, United Arab Emirates/Australia/Peru, Denmark, Tunisia 

On paper this is another strong and open group. World Cup 2018 winners France will understandably be favourites with a stacked squad that includes PSG's Kylian Mbappe and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.

Tunisia have made it to back-to-back World Cups thanks to a final qualifying-round win against Mali, booking what will be a sixth appearance at the finals of the tournament. The North Africans will look to progress to the knockout stages for the first time. 

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates' hopes of making it to their first ever World Cup are still very much alive. 

A 1-0 win against South Korea now means the Emiratis will play a one-off play-off match against Australia in June - and the winner will play Peru to secure one of the final places at the tournament. 

Group E

Spain, Costa Rica/New Zealand, Germany, Japan

Spain and Germany are the teams most likely to go through, but don't rule out Costa Rica - who reached the quarter finals eight years ago and are tricky to predict.

Despite a disappointing exit from the delayed Euro 2020 competition last year, Germany won nine out of 10 in their World Cup qualification matches, scoring 36 goals. 

Under former Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick, Die Mannschaft will pose a real threat in Qatar as one of the teams to beat. 

After being finalists in the 2019 Asian Cup against Qatar and reaching the knockout stages of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Japan will also be a formidable team.

Group F

Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia 

Roberto Martinez's Belgium can no longer claim to be the top-ranked team in the world, having been recently replaced by Brazil at the top of FIFA's standings, but they're likely to go far in Qatar. 

Croatia, meanwhile, surprised many by reaching the final of the 2018 World Cup, but expect Morocco - who are competing at the finals for a sixth time - to put in a strong showing.

Morocco progressed to the quarter-finals of this year's Africa Cup of Nations, before being knocked out by eventual finalists Egypt.

With Paris Saint-Germain full-back Achraf Hakimi and Sevilla forward Youssef En-Nesyri, Morocco could be a potential surprise challenger to make it to the later stages of the competition.

Group G

Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon 

Brazil were the team most wanted to avoid, and it seems likely that Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon will be battling it out for the second qualifying place.

Cameroon secured their World Cup appearance on away goals last week with the last kick of the match against Algeria, deep into extra time.

Rigobert Song's Indomitable Lions of Cameroon will be making their eighth appearance at a World Cup and can rely on Vincent Aboubakar and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to deliver as they have during qualifying.

Serbia were also strong in qualification, and that makes the team with Nemanja Matic in central midfield also a potential threat.

Group H

Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea 

Portugal look like the strongest side in this group, and they are joined by Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea.

Two-time World Cup winners Uruguay are likely to accompany Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo to the final 16, and will be hoping to replicate their 2018 form where they reached the quarter-finals, having knocked out Brazil.

But both nations will be wary of Ghana, quarter finalist in 2010, and South Korea, who beat Germany in the 2018 World Cup group stages in Russia.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.