With the World Cup Draw complete, we now know the FIFA World Cup schedule of games that will be played between November and December 2022. Looking more closely, we share our analysis of World Cup Groups to determine the favorites as well as the talking points ahead of Qatar 2022.
We also touch on FOX Sports’ rocky start to its World Cup TV coverage, and our hopes that the next FIFA World Cup Draw won’t be as cringey as this 2022 edition.
Christopher Harris (Chris): Alright, Kyle, what was your initial reaction to the World Cup Draw? Any surprises, any shocks, any outrage, any reaction to this one in a big way?
Kyle Fansler (Kyle): In terms of the draw itself, I wouldn’t say there were any huge reactions. Actually, the groups on aggregate are pretty fair. There’s not one group that is definitely the hardest group out there. There are obviously groups that are more challenging, and groups that are a little more easier for some of those bigger teams.
But I don’t think there were any major things that popped out for me in terms of the World Cup draw. I will say, it was a long time getting there, I think it was 45 minutes or so to get to the actual draw after all of the FIFA festivities with the draw. But once it got there, I thought it rolled on pretty smooth. And honestly, it just made me look forward to the World Cup a little bit more.
Chris: Well, let’s start with the TV coverage. We’re not going to spend a lot of time on focusing on it, but there were some issues with it.
Anyone who watched the pre-draw, and then watched the opening 45 minutes… it really felt like an infomercial for Qatar, how great the country is and how great it is for them to be hosting it. Added to that was some really cheesy animation. I think everyone watching it just wants to watch the draw. They just want to find out, which teams are in which groups? But obviously, FIFA knows and Qatar knows that they have the world’s attention. So here’s an opportunity to go ahead and talk about the country, talk about speaking Arabic, and about different things.
And that was the thing though when watching it on FOX Sports, whenever there was someone speaking a foreign language, FOX didn’t have anyone translating whatever they were saying into English. So it’d be an awkward cutaway back to the Los Angeles studio for FOX Sports.
In comparison, you have Telemundo, the Spanish language broadcaster. Telemundo has the rights to the World Cup also. And they also showed the draw. But whenever there was someone speaking Arabic or French, you could hear the translator translating what they were saying.
And then the other thing too, Telemundo has this studio in Doha in Qatar actually there right at the draw broadcasting directly from there. So overall, it was not a good start by FOX, and we’ll get into that a little bit later in terms of some of the comments they made. But any of highlights or lowlights, Kyle, from that opening pre draw coverage?
Kyle: The language thing was definitely the biggest one for me. I am totally in support of FIFA having everybody speak their own native languages. The Amir of the state of Qatar spoke in Arabic, Didier Deschamps was there, spoke in French, and then the Egyptian singer spoke in Arabic.
I’m totally for that. But just to be able to understand the context would go a long way for my enjoyment of the program.
Chris: I think you’re right, Kyle, when you mentioned most of the groups are pretty balanced. And that’s the thing, there’s almost always a ‘group of death’. And that’s usually the first talking point where everyone zeros in on whatever group it is and says, ‘my gosh, Portugal and Germany and United States and those types of groups.’
However, in this case, I think this is the first World Cup in a long time where there is no ‘group of death’. And funnily enough, right after the draw was made, it goes back to FOX Sports in the studio and the first thing that Rob Stone says, the presenter of FOX’s World Cup coverage, the go-to guy, the Rebecca Lowe of FOX Sports. He says, “You could make the case that if Wales goes through, this would be your ‘group of death.'”
England’s a good team, Iran’s a good team, United States is a good team and then whether it’s Scotland, Ukraine, or Wales, they’re all good teams. Every single team that has qualified for this World Cup and is about to qualify for this World Cup is a good team, otherwise, they wouldn’t be there.
But to say, “that’s the group of death,” to me, it shows me a lack of soccer IQ. Has Rob Stone been watching a lot of soccer from around the world in the last few years? For him to say that, it’s pretty laughable and it’s not a good look for FOX Sports on really their first day of World Cup coverage before the 2022 World Cup starts in November.
Kyle: No. And I think it makes sense just because from FOX’s perspective, they’re always going to want to prop up the US and not only make the US seem like a great side, which they’re a good team, but obviously they want to build up some more drama as the US start their qualification.
But I really think that there are other groups that he could have chosen that you could say are the ‘group of death.’ There are stronger groups than the US’s group. I’m not saying that England, Iran and one of Scotland, Ukraine, and Wales are bad teams, but I think there are better teams out there.
Chris: You could easily argue that Mexico and Canada have tougher groups than the United States. Even though the United States group is tough too, it’s just not a ‘group of death’. And so before we get into the schedule and how things are going to play out, let’s go through the groups.
Chris: Group A, to me, is a wide open group. There’s some good teams in this one. It’s going to be really hard to figure out which of these go through.
Kyle: Qatar obviously did well when they were invited to the Gold Cup. They lost 0-1 to United States in what was the semi-finals.
Obviously Ecuador qualifying out of CONMEBOL, they both finished above Chile, Colombia. Then you have Senegal, the AFCON champions. And the Netherlands making their long awaited to return to the World Cup after missing it in 2018.
It’s a decent group. I like to think of it as a sleeper group. I’ll be honest here, I’m rooting for Senegal. I like to see the African teams always do well just because they bring a lot of fanfare to the World Cups. But there’s a lot of possibilities for some fun games there in the group stage.
Chris: And of course, Senegal beating Egypt to qualify for the World Cup there. That one’s a wide open one and those games should be pretty entertaining in terms of very well balanced between those four teams.
Chris: Then we move to Group B, which includes England, who are arguably favorites in this group. Iran, United States, and then the winner of either Scotland, Ukraine or Wales. So Scotland plays Ukraine in June, the winner of that game will then play Wales and then the winner of that game then will be into the World Cup.
So that’s a little bit of a disadvantage though for the United States because the very first game that’s the United States plays in this World Cup will be Monday, November 21st. It’ll be USA against either Wales or Scotland or Ukraine. So the US has to wait until late June to find out which team they’re playing first. That’s going to hamper their scouting a little bit. Maybe they’ll try to do a friendly against a European team to see if they can play against a similar playing style?
But any of those three teams could easily qualify. Scotland, Ukraine or Wales. Ukraine, who knows if they’ll even get to play the match given the current situation in Ukraine, I hope that they do. But at the end of the day, I think there’s going to be a lot of people that would be hoping that Ukraine makes it from a humanitarian point of view. But whoever makes it out of those three teams will play the United States in that first game.
Kyle: I thought FOX actually made some good points. You never want to play a team that’s got all the support because there’s going to be riding that high. So obviously, the host nation’s going to have a lot of support and then Ukraine, obviously right now has all the support in the world. So they’re going to be coming in really playing with something to play for not just being at World Cup so it’s not an easy group. There’s not going to be an easy group in the World Cup. But I think it’s fair to say that there is a path out of the group, which is always going to be the first step for Gregg Berhalter when it comes to the World Cup.
Chris: The big winner in this one to me is FOX Sports. So England against the United States, a rematch of the 2010 World Cup game group stage where it ended 1-1, this will be played on Friday, November 25th, the day after Thanksgiving.
And then the last game for the US in that group is against Iran. And that one is on the following Tuesday, November 29th. Out of the teams the US will play, Iran arguably would be the weaker of the opponents, but that’s the last game.
The US could easily play Ukraine in the first game and it could be one of the European teams that beats the United States. And then the US has to play England, which would be a very difficult game to get points from. And then the US go into that last final game. So the way the schedule is set up for the US isn’t ideal by any means.
Kyle: You like to start off with a win, just get three points under your belt. Obviously, it worked out well for the US when that happened in 2014 because they only needed one point out of the next two games so to get to the knockout out stages. But I think Gregg Berhalter, looking at this group, he’s going to see a path out of it, but the timing and the scheduling does play a big part in that.
And I think also, being one of the teams that play on the opening day will also have some impact. You don’t get to see other teams play so you’re going to be one of the first ones out there. It’s a tough stage, obviously, it’s always going to be a tough stage on the World Cup. But it should be fun to watch the US go up against a pair of European sides and obviously Iran who they have history with when it comes to the World Cup.
Chris: Well, the history. The 1998 World Cup, Iran won that match against the United States, 2-1. In the ’98 World Cup, which is a long time ago for a lot of us, the United States finished last out of all the countries.
And England is playing Iran earlier that opening day, so you could have England getting perhaps three points right off the bat and then USA feeling that they have to get points out of that game [against Scotland, Ukraine or Wales]. A loss in that game could be really detrimental to their chances of getting through to the group stage.
We have to remember too, that USA played Wales in a friendly a couple years ago. And it was against a B team of Wales, and the score ended 0-0. So Wales is definitely no walkover. I’m born in Wales, have family in Wales, watched Wales very closely. I’m also of course, an American citizen, have lived in this country longer than I have in the UK. So for me, Kyle, honestly, this is a dream come true group. So you have the United States, where I live and I’m a citizen of, I’m proud and support the United States. I’ve got England where my dad’s from and I spent a lot of time in England and also of course watching the England national team and following them and the clubs. And then Wales, which is my birth country, which I have a lot of affinity to. The only one I don’t have any attachment to is Iran, but maybe between now and November, maybe I can develop some relationships with Iran (laughs).
Kyle: I do think it’s also funny, just the storylines that FOX can use during the World Cup. The US versus England’s obviously a big game, don’t have to do too much to build up that one. But then England-Scotland, if that were the matchup, that’s obviously a big rivalry, same with England-Wales. Obviously, Ukraine’s going to be the fan favorite throughout the tournament so there’s a lot to follow in this group. Obviously, in the United States, the US is going to be the main talking point, but it’s a lot to keep track of in Group B for sure.
Chris: Group C, I feel is a really tough group. Mexico are not playing at the top of their game right now. But it doesn’t really matter in qualification. As long as you qualify, that’s the main thing. And then when you get to the tournament, it’s a different scenario. It’s a cup competition.
And Poland featuring Robert Lewandowski of course, the captain, the goal scorer. Argentina, Leo Messi, this has to be his last World Cup. And then Saudi Arabia, which is an underdog there too, but again, another quality side.
But this group reminds me of 2006 World Cup, Maxi Rodriguez scoring that amazing goal for Argentina against Mexico. But Mexico is going to have a really tough time in this group. Kyle, what do you think?
Kyle: Yeah, I think it’s a tough group for Mexico, just because it’s always going to be hard to play against some of the world’s best players. Obviously, Messi and Lewandowski are two of the world’s best players. So you obviously look at Argentina and you look at Poland, you would think that they are based on star power alone, nothing else, but they are probably the favorites. But then Mexico, they have a pretty strong record in getting out of the groups, but they haven’t been able to do too much inside the knockout stages.
But I think it’s another fun group. It’s always going to be fun to watching the star players. I’m really looking forward to watching Messi play Lewandowski, whenever Bayern Munich would play Barcelona, those would always shape up to be pretty exciting games. But it’s another fun group, that’s another one where it’s hard to predict which two teams advance. Because you could say, sure, Argentina’s going to advance because they’re the Copa America winners. But Mexico, like I said, always successful in the group stage. Poland… Lewandowski could carry them. And Saudi Arabia, like you said, is an underdog, but everyone loves an underdog.
Chris: And that’s a thing too with a World Cup schedule, just like with the United States. The schedule does Mexico no favors because Mexico plays Poland in the opening game of their group and that’s on the Tuesday, the November 22nd. The next game after that is Mexico against Argentina, and then the final game is against Saudi Arabia. So just like with the US, it just shows the importance of being in that Pot 1 and being seeded, and how much it does give you an advantage, at least in terms of the way that the games play out.
Chris: Group D is France, Denmark, Tunisia, and then the winner out of the Intercontinental playoff, which will be Australia or UAE, versus Peru. So only one of those teams will be able to advance. Australia’s going through a tough time right now. UAE, I don’t really rate extremely highly. So Peru, I would think in terms of just the passion and they did well the other night in the World Cup qualifiers. But it could be France, Peru, Denmark and Tunisia.
Chris: Let’s move on to Group E. Group E is Spain and then the winner between Costa Rica and New Zealand and then Germany and Japan. And to me, this is one of the hardest groups. It will be a difficult task there for those countries to get out of that group.
Chris: And let’s move on to Group F. Poor Canada, Canada finishes first in qualifying in CONCACAF. And what’s their reward for coming in first in qualifying? Belgium, arguably one of the best teams in the world. Croatia, with Modric and a strong squad who went to the World Cup finals recently against France. And then Morocco is always a tough North African team to play against. Do you fancy Canada’s chances here, Kyle, at all?
Kyle: After watching them in CONCACAF qualifying, I actually think Belgium and Canada get out of that group. I think Canada’s a really well rounded side. I think Belgium, they are one of the favorites to win the tournament, obviously went to the semi-finals in 2018, just so deep and talented Belgium is. But it’s hard to look at Canada and Croatia and pick between one of those because obviously Croatia was in the final in 2018 so they have the experience. Obviously, it’s probably Luka Modric’s last World Cup and they still bring over a lot of the pieces that were part of that 2018 run. So it’s interesting to look at Croatia as one of those more experienced sides.
Canada making just their second World Cup appearance obviously are not going to have the experience playing on the world’s biggest stage. But I do like Canada’s chances. They were by far the best team in CONCACAF qualifying, losing just once. So it’s another tough group. I feel bad for Morocco because those are three very challenging teams that they have to play, but that should be a good one between a lot of good teams from different federations.
Chris: Canada’s first game of that group is against Belgium, a tough game. Canada’s a good team though, so they’ll give them a fight for sure. That’ll be a great game to watch there.
Chris: Group G is one that’s going to be difficult. Serbia is no pushover by any means. Switzerland always seem to do really well in big tournaments. And then Cameroon, who qualified on the last day there in the playoffs of the World Cup qualifiers. And then Brazil. So you would imagine that Brazil would go through this one relatively comfortably. Do you think, Kyle, or do you think that this is not the same Brazil of yesteryear?
Kyle: No, I’m not going to say comfortably because I don’t think anything’s comfortable in the World Cup, but I do think they’d go through and they’re not the same Brazil of the past couple of years. And I think that’s honestly for the good thing because obviously they won the World Cup in 2002, but since then they’ve been struggling to pick up that success, obviously the quarter finals in 2018. So I do think they get out, I think they’d do pretty well, they stack up pretty well against Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon.
But the other three teams, in order to get that second spot out of the group, for me, it’s a toss up. I really like Cameroon. I think getting out of Africa and getting into the World Cup is super challenging. That’s a gauntlet to get out of Africa in World Cup qualifying. But then obviously, Switzerland finished top of their group and Serbia also top of their group in UEFA World Cup qualifying. So obviously, those aren’t bad teams. And like you said, Switzerland has success when it comes to major tournament events, whether it be the EUROs or the World Cup. So it’s another tough group.
I do think that if I had to put money on, I would say, Brazil and Switzerland get out of the group. I think they’re just too much talent there for Cameroon and Serbia. I think that’s really going to be the difference maker in this group, is just, do they have the star power? And that’s something that Brazil and Switzerland have.
Chris: And lastly, Group H, which is to me very much like Group A, very wide open. This should be a really entertaining group and it’s a difficult to pick the two of the best teams out of this one.
The World Cup starts November 21st, so there’s a long way to go between now and then. But in terms of the TV coverage, I was going in with an open mind, hoping that FOX was going to really change a little bit in terms of their coverage and maybe start treating the competition more seriously.
So, FOX Sports not having a studio in Doha, I’m not sure whether there’s budget cuts or just their way of planning things. Or maybe it’s because they had the coverage of the US-Panama game in Orlando last week and they just couldn’t put the plans together in time to get a studio set up in Doha, but it’s not a good start by them.
And it’s the same old characters, Alexi Lalas, Mo Edu, Rob Stone, Stu Holden. I really hope and think that they should be looking at adding to their talents and really getting more depth there [for talent]. And so I have to wonder if they’re starting to consider some other people to join them for the World Cup coverage, just to mix things up a little bit.
So whether it’s people from Europe or South America or elsewhere, there are lots of options to consider. If it is a big name such as Rio Ferdinand or someone else, different talents add different perspective. Because right now, the coverage is very predictable for the most part.
And then for FIFA, looking at the 2026 World Cup Draw, hopefully FIFA will put together a different type of World Cup draw that isn’t so cheesy, boring and like an infomercial. That is not a good combo.
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