The 22nd World Cup will kick off this winter, as the world’s best will head to Qatar for what should be a terrific month of international soccer. The host nation (Qatar) draws one of the easier groups in group A, but that doesn’t promise them much of anything as the tables are wiped clean come November.
Let’s take a closer look at the host nation’s group, and see where the odds sit just over six months out.
Led by arguably the best player in the world in Memphis Depay, Netherlands’ goals are lofty for this tournament. Finishing in the top 3 (but failing to win) in both 2010 and 2014, they missed the 2018 edition but come into this one amongst the favorites to reach the semi-finals.
In addition to Depay, the Netherlands will be relying on the services of Frenkie de Jong, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Virgil van Dijk, all of whom play elite-level European professional soccer. They’ll also receive a boost in the addition of Juventus (Italy) striker Matthijs de Ligt, who at just 22 years of age will be making his World Cup debut.
Needing a penalty shootout win over Egypt to qualify for the World Cup, Senegal enters the tournament the winners of the African (CAF) qualifier and what will be just their second World Cup appearance. Led by Liverpool striker Sadio Mane at the top, Senegal will need big performances from Mane to secure a spot in the knockout round.
Senegal will also be leaning on their goalkeeper, one of the best in this group, Eduard Mendy, the lead man for Chelsea. Coming into these games, it’s also worth noting Senegal leads all African nations in winning percentage during the qualifying stages.
Ecuador actually enters these games as one of the few teams with a negative goal differential (-1) during qualifying, scoring 25 goals while conceding 26. Even still, they snuck into this tournament largely due to striker Enner Valencia, who now holds the Ecuadorian all-time goal record with 35 goals in international play.
During qualifying, they also got a boost from DC United striker Michael Estrada, scoring a team-leading six goals. Losing 3-0 to Argentina the last time we saw them in a major tournament (Copa America Quarterfinals) play, Ecuador has a lot of work to do between now and November if they want to do any kind of damage in this tournament.
With no notable players playing professionally outside of Qatar, the host nation faces an uphill battle to even secure a point in these games. Even still, the tiny Gulf nation plays a brand of soccer that will create some excitement, focusing on aggressively advancing the ball to the top in an attempt to keep it there.
Having won the 2019 Asia Cup and advancing all the way to #51 in the official FIFA World Ranking, Qatar has the confidence needed to make some noise in this group, at a minimum. It’s also worth noting the stability in the coaching box, with Felix Sanchez being the man in charge since 2017.
Best Bet of Group A: Netherlands to Win Group (-200 via DraftKings)
This is one of the numbers I see moving the most significantly between now and the start of the tournament, and I’m jumping on it now. With the talent to, at a minimum, reach the semis for the third straight appearance, the Dutch need to simply win two of three in this group to win it, all three of which they will be significant favorites to do so.
Currently, #10 in the official FIFA World Rankings, the Netherlands’ next closest opponent in this group, is #20, with the other two #46 (Ecuador) and #51 (Qatar). While I can see Senegal pushing them late, this Dutch team is too talented and this number too short for me not to get down a sizeable position, even six months away from play.
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