Battle lines have been drawn for the FIFA World Cup 2022 to be held in Qatar from November 21 to December 18. Middle East's maiden World Cup promises to be a treat for the football fans. Onmanorama analyses the prospects of the teams in this four-part series and today we will have Group G and H.
Read the first three parts (Qatar 2022 World Cup: Dutch favourites to top Group A), (Qatar 2022 World Cup: Argentina primed to win Group C) and (Qatar 2022 World Cup: Who will top Group of Death?) of the series here.
Brazil made it 22 out of 22 when they booked a plane to Qatar 2022, cementing their record as the only national team to qualify for every single edition of the World Cup. They are joined in Group G by two of their 2018 Group E members Serbia and Switzerland, as well as Cameroon making their eight appearance in the tournament.
The most successful team in the tournament’s history will be hoping to add another feather to their cap as the Brazilians will be looking to wrest the Cup from France. Brazil have won five World Cups so far (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002) and are the only team to win the tournament in four different continents. Twenty years ago, the Selecao led by the indomitable Cafu, laid waste to any team that tried to beat them, and won the 2002 World Cup, held in South Korea/Japan. The heroics of youngsters like Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, as well as veterans like Roberto Carlos and Rivaldo, made an unstoppable team, who dazzled the crowd as they played their stylish game and scored multiple goals. They were the last non-European team to win the Cup, and now two decades later, they will be hoping to bring it back once again to South America. The team is a perfect blend of both young talent as well as veterans. Captain Thiago Silva, defenders Dani Alves and Marquinhos and midfielders Casemiro are all seasoned World Cup players and will probably be looking to make their final Cup count. Brazil will have no worries under the bar as the first-choice goalkeepers of both Liverpool and Manchester City, Alisson and Ederson respectively, are on hand. Young talents like Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo, both coming hot off their Champions League triumph, Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli and ex-Leeds star Raphinha will all be playing their first World Cup and will be hoping to impress. With a squad depth to match France, coach Tite will have to make some tough decisions on his final squad.
Finally, there is the talisman of Brazil, Neymar. His performance in the 2014 World Cup, was widely praised by many, but his tournament was unfortunately cut short after a devastating back injury in the quarterfinals against Colombia. Since then, his career has seen a lot of ups and downs, with Neymar coming into the media spotlight for both good and bad reasons. His record breaking move to PSG in 2017 has been followed by criticism that he hasn’t been giving his all to the team and that he is a ‘waste of talent’. Yet despite all this, his performance for the national team hasn’t dipped much since their disappointing 2018 quarterfinal exit in Russia. Neymar, and his fellow teammates will want to follow in the footsteps of the previous Selecao teams and win the World Cup in their generation as well.
Along with France and Argentina, Brazil are one of the favourites to win the Cup and have been playing at a consistent level, which has seen few losses and innumerable wins.
Cameroon, who were incidentally in the same group as Brazil in 2014, will look to perform better than last time where they failed to win a single game. The team scraped through the second round of qualification, topping the group just two points above the Ivory Coast, and qualified through the third round on away goals against Algeria. A semifinal loss to Egypt saw Cameroon finish third in the 2021 African Cup of Nations, after a strong start in the group stages. They will be relying heavily on veteran striker and captain Vincent Aboubakar as well as Bayern Munich’s Eric Choupo-Moting to score goals and will try to better their record of reaching the quarterfinals (which they achieved in Italia 90).
Switzerland will be coming to Qatar after a consistent form saw them qualify top of Group C, even pippping Euro 2020 champions Italy. They will be playing in their 12th World Cup and will hope to continue their recent form to make it past the quarter finals, their best show so far. A lone goal in the 2018 round of 16 was enough to knock the Swiss out of the tournament, which was filled with controversy for the team after certain celebrations by players in the group stages caused many to protest saying that it promoted Albanian nationalism. The team lost to Spain in the quarterfinals of Euro 2020 on penalties. Their round of 16 bout against France was one of the highlights of the tournament as the Swiss came back 1-3 to knock the World Cup holders out on penalties. Veterans Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka form the base of the team, with goalkeeper Yann Sommer and defenders like Dortmund’s Manuel Akanji keeping a wall at the back. Switzerland will try to make 2022 the year that they finally make a big impact on the tournament.
Group A of the European qualifiers was host to a huge upset as Serbia beat Portugal in the final game to top the group and directly qualify for the World Cup. The game was level for the majority of the match until the 90th minute when a header by star striker Mitrovic had the dugouts in uproar as Serbia celebrated their qualification.
This will be Serbia's third appearance in the finals as an independent country. As they did in the qualifiers, the team will be leaning heavily on the contributions of their captain Dusan Tadic, and their highest goalscorer Alexsandar Mitrovic. The talented youngsters Luka Jovic (Real Madrid) and Dusan Vlahovic (Juventus) will also be pivotal to the team’s performance. The match against Switzerland will be the most important game in the group as the winner could very well be the team which qualifies, provided there are no major upsets in the other matches.
Group H will be a tricky one as no single team can be certain of progressing. Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea are all excellent teams but are also quite inconsistent. On their day, any of these teams could be potential group toppers.
Most of these teams will also be looking for payback for past performances which raises the stakes of the matches even higher.
The quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa between Uruguay and Ghana is one of the most controversial matches in football history. The game which was level after 90 minutes went in to extra time and in the dying seconds, a curling free-kick in the box and a diving header by Dominic Adiyiah saw the ball fly past the goalkeeper and into the net for a certain goal. That header carried the hopes of not just Ghana, but the entire Africa as Ghana would become the first ever team from the continent to reach the semifinals of a World Cup. All these hopes came crashing down as Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez pushed the ball away from the goalline in a flagrant handball. Suarez was red carded and Ghana were awarded a penalty and Asamoah Gyan sadly struck the woodwork, sending the game into penalties. Suarez, who was standing on the sidelines, was seen pumping his fists in happiness and celebrating the miss. Uruguay ended up winning on penalties and sent Ghana packing and Suarez became a villain in Africa.
Now, more than a decade later, the two teams will clash in a repeat of that quarterfinals and the loser could very well be knocked out. Ghana will be looking for revenge against Suarez and his fellow countrymen and will try to upset the two-time winners. Led by captain Andre Ayew, playing his third World Cup, the Black Stars will be wanting to put in a good performance which might erase the memory of their terrible campaign in the last African Cup of Nations. The Ghanians were unable to win a single game and had a shock exit in the group stage. Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey will be looking to prove critics wrong after his performance in the competition was picked out and that he did not live up to his tag as the most expensive Ghanian player of all time. With Uruguay drawn in their group, some might say that it is good omen for Ghana as it will provide them with a chance of redemption and maybe finally cross that hurdle, which was denied to them in 2010.
Struggle for Uruguay
The winners of the inaugural World Cup Uruguay have not been the same since their second World Cup triumph in Brazil in 1950. The closest they came since then was a fourth place finish in 2010, where the heroics of Diego Forlan as well as the infamous handball of Suarez got them to the semifinals. A round of 16 exit in Brazil and a quarterfinals exit in Russia all showed that despite strong showings in the group matches, the team were unable to find goals when it was needed the most. Captain Diego Godin, all time highest goalscorer Suarez and star striker Edinson Cavani will be some of the players playing in their final tournament and they will be aiming to end on a high. The future of the teams looks bright with new Liverpool signing Darwin Nunez, Real Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde and Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo all gearing up for only their first ever World Cup. Although the team have not impressed as much as they are expected to, Uruguay are always tough opponents for any team with their lethal strike force as well as their rough style of play. The Uruguayans will look to once again cause an upset as they did in Brazil in 1950 and run away with the trophy.
South Korea might just end up being unlikely contenders to progress from this group. One of the most extraordinary World Cup runs took place in 2002 when South Korea were co-hosts with Japan. Beating Portugal, Italy and Spain on the way, South Korea reached the semifinals to become the first and only team outside of Europe and the Americas to reach the final four. They ended the tournament in fourth place but showed how good they could be. Since then, they have not been very promising and only made it out of the group stage once in 2010, where they were eliminated by Uruguay in the round of 16. In the last World Cup, they once again exited in the group stage, but the Tigers of Asia had reason for joy after the ‘Miracle of Kazan’. A 2-0 victory over defending champions Germany in their final game resulted in Germany not qualifying past the group stage for the first time. The Koreans will look to that performance as they try to make it out of the group stages. They will be relying heavily on their captain and talisman Son Heung-min, who will be coming off an excellent season with his club Tottenham Hotspur and also picking up the Golden Boot for most goals in the Premier League. Son will be eager to replicate his club form with his country and maybe even recreate their 2002 run.
Final chance for Ronaldo
Portugal were knocked out of the 2018 World Cup in Russia after a brace from Cavani was enough to push Uruguay through to the quarterfinals. The team will be looking to knock out Uruguay early this time and qualify top of the group. Football fans across the world have also been excited at the chance of Portugal reaching their maiden final, to see a final duel between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, which could happen if Argentina also top their group and reach the summit clash. Arguably the two greatest players of our generation and maybe even of all time, both Messi and Ronaldo are nearing the end of their careers, and nothing would make football fans across the world happier than seeing the two of them play it out at the biggest stage. The outcome of such a final might even settle the debate for many on who they think is the better player.
Ronaldo will be banking on the help of his team to make this happen and players like fellow Man United teammate Bruno Fernandes, Liverpool forward Diogo Jota and Manchester City trio Joao Cancelo, Bernardo Silva and Ruben Dias, will be there to bolster the team’s performance. They will be making just their eighth appearance in the tournament, with their best performances coming in 1966 and 2006, where they finished third and fourth respectively. Ronaldo was also part of the 2006 team, who unfortunately lost in the semifinals to France due to a lone penalty by Zinedine Zidane Since then, Ronaldo has risen to heights only comparable with his rival Messi and this World Cup might be the decider between the two.