Welcome to the first of what will be an eight-part series of articles over the next couple of weeks, which will look in detail at the forthcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

This huge sporting event is, for the first time, being contested in the middle east and also in the middle of the European football season, which has given the tournament an entirely new dynamic.

The World Cup is the pinnacle of international football and is the most elusive and prestigious competition you can win as a player. It is also a truly global event with only the Olympic Games perhaps equalling it in prestige.

And of course, for bettors, it is a hugely intriguing opportunity to bet on the 64 games that will take place in the space of just over four weeks from November 20 through to December 18th.

Bet365 Sport has been offering odds on the tournament for a good while now and alongside the outright betting market on who will win (Brazil are currently the favourites) one of the most popular markets is betting on the group winners.

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World Cup Qatar

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So, in this first in a series of articles, we are going to look at each of the eight groups that will make up the first stage of the tournament, taking a look at the 32 teams that will compete to become the latest World Champions.

The first stage sees all 32 qualifiers drawn into eight groups of four. Each team plays the others in its group once, with the top two teams in each group qualifying for the knockout phase, which begins with the Round of 16 on December 3rd.

Let’s begin our countdown with a look at the four teams that will be competing to qualify from Group A.

Group A

  • Qatar (Hosts)
  • Ecuador
  • Senegal
  • Netherlands

Viewed by many pundits as one of the weaker of the eight groups, Group A does nonetheless contain the last winners of the African Cup of Nations, a team that beat Colombia and Chile to the fourth automatic qualifying spot in South America, the host nation and a team that is often regarded as one of the World Cup’s potential winners.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Qatar perform on home soil. Some teams have thrived at home, and a number of teams have won the World Cup on home soil (France, England, Uruguay, Italy, Argentina and Germany to name but six).

However, Qatar are not one of the favourites and it is expected that it will be the ‘big three’ of Senegal, Ecuador and the Netherlands that battle it out for qualification from this group.

Let’s now take a closer look at how the fixtures in Group A are scheduled, which also features the opening game of the tournament between Qatar on Ecuador.

Group A Fixtures

  • 20th Nov – Qatar v Ecuador – Al Bayt Stadium (4pm)
  • 21st Nov – Senegal v Netherlands – Al Thumama Stadium (4pm)
  • 25th Nov – Qatar v Senegal – Al Thumama Stadium (1pm)
  • 25th Nov – Netherlands v Ecuador – Khalifa International Stadium (4pm)
  • 29th Nov – Ecuador v Senegal – Khalifa International Stadium (3pm)
  • 29th Nov – Netherlands v Qatar – Al Bayt Stadium (3pm)

Group A Team Information

Qatar

  • Manager – Felix Sanchez
  • Captain – Hassan Al-Haydos (Al Sadd)
  • Best World Cup Performance – N/A – First Appearance at World Cup Finals
  • World Cup 2018 Performance – N/A – Did Not Participate
  • Current FIFA Ranking – 50th
  • Current Form (Last 5 games) – LLDWW

Qatar’s Probable Best XI(5-3-2)- M.Barsham (GK), I.Mohammed (DR), H.Ahmed (DL), B.Al Rawi (DC), B.Khouki (DC), A.Hassan (DC), K.Boudiaf (DMC), A.Hatem (MRC), H.Al Haydos (MLC), A.Ali (AC), A.Afif (AC)

With all their squad playing domestically, little is known about this Qatar team. Warm up games have seen them lose top Canada and the Croatian U23 team, but they have creditable draws against Chile, Jamaica and Slovenia this year and they have beaten Bulgaria and an ‘A’ team from Ghana.

That isn’t the set of results of a team that will go deep in this tournament and as such, I think they are likely to finish bottom of this group, probably without a win in any of their three games.

Ecuador

  • Manager – Gustavo Alfaro
  • Captain – Enner Valencia (Fenerbahce)
  • Best World Cup Performance – Round of 16 (2006)
  • World Cup 2018 Performance – N/A – Did Not Qualify
  • Current FIFA Ranking – 44th
  • Current Form (Last 5 games) – WdWdd

Ecuador’s Probable Best XI(4-2-3-1) – H.Galindez (GK), B.Castillo (DR), P.Estupinan (DL), P.Hincapie (DC), J.Porozo (DC), M.Caicedo (DMC), S.Mendez (DMC), R.Ibarra (AMRC), A.Mena (AMLC), J.Cifuentes (AMC), E.Valencia (AC)

You can bet that Ecuador won’t be amongst the top scorers in this World Cup. They have scored just one goal in their last four games and have not managed more than one goal in a game since November 2021.

However, despite that Ecuador are very solid defensively, conceding more than one goal just once in that same period (away to Paraguay) and they have not conceded a goal in any of their last five games.

The likes of Ibarra, Valencia, Caicedo, Mendez, Estupinan and Hincapie are very talented players who can cause problems for other teams and they will likely battle it out with Senegal for second spot in this group.

Senegal

  • Manager – Aliou Cisse
  • Captain – Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea)
  • Best World Cup Performance – Quarter Finals (2002)
  • World Cup 2018 Performance – Group Stage (4pts)
  • Current FIFA Ranking – 18th
  • Current Form (Last 5 games) – DLDWD

Senegal’s Probable Best XI – (4-3-3)- E.Mendy (GK), F.Mendy (DR), I.Jakobs (DL), P.Cisse (DC), K.Koulibaly (DC), C.Kouyate (MC), I.Gueye (MC),N.Mendy,  I.Sarr (ARC), S.Mane (ALC), B.Dia (AC)

The African Cup of Nations winners from earlier this year, they defeated a talented Egypt side to reach the World Cup Finals and this is no doubt a talented team with the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly & Eduoard Mendy (Chelsea) and Sadio Mane (Bayern Munich) being at the very top of the game.

That talented trio are backed up by a number of very solid, high quality players such as Gueye, Kouyate, Dia, Sarr, Mendy, Cisse who give this team real strength in depth.

Defensively strong, Senegal do not score too many goals, but their last two games saw them beat Bolivia 2-0 before earning a 1-1 draw with Iran. They should be stiff challengers to qualify likely battling with Ecuador for second spot in the group.

Netherlands

  • Manager – Louis van Gaal
  • Captain – Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
  • Best World Cup Performance – Runners Up x 3 (1974, 1978, 2010)
  • World Cup 2018 Performance – N/A – Did not Qualify
  • Current FIFA Ranking – 8th
  • Current Form (Last 5 games) – WDWWW (unbeaten in last 15 games)  

Netherlands Probable Best XI – (5-3-2)- R.Pasveer (GK), D.Dumfries (DMR), D.Blind (DML), M.De Ligt (DC), V.Van Dijk (DC), S.De Vrij (DC), F.De Jong (DMC), T.Koopmeiners (MC), C.Gakpo (AMC), M.Depay (AC), S.Bergwijn (AC)

The Netherlands are the team that many feel will win Group A and it is a fair assumption when you consider the strength in depth of their squad compared to other teams in the group, as well as their fantastic run of 15 games unbeaten, which has included wins over Denmark, Norway, Wales, Poland plus two wins over the much-fancied Belgium.

They have a squad packed with World Class talent, especially in central defence, and while they may not have quite the same flair in attack as some Dutch teams of the past have had, they are very solid and still manage to score their fair share of goals, even against good opponents.

In fact, it may well be this that has the Dutch as the big favourites in a group which their other opponents seem to struggle for goals against top quality teams and as such, they are my team to back here.

Group A Prediction & Tips

  1. Netherlands – (4/9 to win the group)
  2. Senegal – (To Qualify – 4/5)
  3. Ecuador
  4. Qatar