Group A of FIFA’s World Cup 2022 competition features four teams from four different continents. Host nation Qatar is seeded in position 1 but won’t have any easy matchups against Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador, whose generational talents are in peak form entering the tournament.
|Nov. 20 (Sun)||Qatar vs. Ecuador||7 p.m.||Al Bayt Stadium|
|Nov. 21 (Mon)||Senegal vs. Netherlands||7 p.m.||Al Thumama Stadium|
|Nov. 25 (Fri)||Qatar vs. Senegal||4 p.m.||Al Thumama Stadium|
|Nov. 25 (Fri)||Netherlands vs. Ecuador||7 p.m.||Khalifa Int'l Stadium|
|Nov. 29 (Tue)||Netherlands vs. Qatar||6 p.m.||Al Bayt Stadium|
|Nov. 29 (Tue)||Ecuador vs. Senegal||6 p.m.||Khalifa Int'l Stadium|
Let’s take a deep dive into each team, and highlight the players who could offer potential for your fantasy squad.
FIFA Rank: 50th
Manager: Félix Sánchez Bas
This is the first World Cup for Qatar since gaining independence in 1971. Qatar is also the first Arab country to host the world’s biggest sporting event. In recent years, Qatar’s national team has participated in many international football tournaments to prepare for the World Cup. Since victory in Asian Cup 2019, Qatar has participated in Gulf Cup 2019 (semifinalist), Copa America 2019 (group stage), CONCACAF Gold Cup 2021 (semifinalist), and FIFA Arab Cup 2021 (semifinalist), competing against teams from Japan, Argentina and USA to name a few.
Qatar is expected to employ a counterattacking 5-3-2 formation, with attacking duo Akram Afif (11) and Almoez Ali (19) leading the line. Midfielders Abdulaziz Hatem (6), Hasan Al-Haydos (10) and Defender Abdelkarim Hassan (3) are also among the first names to be printed on the starting lineup sheet.
Many of Qatar’s players ply their trade in the Qatar Stars League, especially in team Al-Sadd SC. The result is a familiarity with each other that creates chemistry in the national team. With home advantage and pre-existing acclimation to the warm weather, the Qataris are ready to introduce their brand of football to the world.
Potential Fantasy Assets
- Position: Left Winger/ Centre Forward
- Age: 25
- Height: 1.77m
- Club: Al-Sadd SC (Qatar Stars League)
Akram Afif is the main striker for Qatar national team and currently plays professionally for Al-Sadd SC in the Qatar Stars League. Afif does have experience in Europe, starting his senior career in 2015 at KAS Eupen in Belgian First Division A. In 2016, he joined Villarreal where he played for the youth team, becoming the first Qatari to play in La Liga. He was then loaned to Sporting Gijón, featuring in a total of nine matches in 2016-2017. He then returned to Belgium’s Eupen for a season before joining his current club in 2018.
Akram Afif has a total of 14 goals plus 17 assists in just 18 matches in Qatar Stars League last season. He is versatile and can play both left and right winger as well as centre forward. However, he will probably play only as a left-center forward in World Cup 2022. Nailed-on in the Maroon’s starting 11 and with an excellent record of production in his domestic league, Afif should be one of your first considerations if you are looking at Qatar.
Here is a demonstration of what he offers.
- Position: Center Forward
- Age: 26
- Height: 1.8m
- Club: Al-Duhail SC (Qatar Stars League)
Almoez Ali forms the second half of the attacking duo at the tip of Qatar’s spear. He has been playing for Al-Duhail SC since 2016. As club captain, he recorded seven goals plus six assists in 17 matches last season. Although not as prolific as Akram Afif at club level, he has a good scoring record representing the Qatar National team in major tournaments. During Qatar’s triumph at AFC Asian Cup 2019, Almoez Ali broke the record for most goals in an Asian Cup with nine in seven matches. His bicycle kick goal in the Final against Japan is still considered as one of the best goals in the history of the AFC Asian Cup. He was also awarded the golden boot in CONCACAF Gold Cup 2021 with four goals in five matches.
Here is a sampling of his capabilities.
FIFA Rank: 8th
Manager: Louis van Gaal
After eight years of waiting, the Netherlands has finally qualified to the World Cup again. The Netherlands is sometimes referred to as the “Uncrowned King” for finishing as runner-up the most times (1974, 1978, 2010). The Netherlands topped its group in the World Cup qualifying round, with seven wins, two draws and one loss, and was the third-highest scoring team (33 goals) in the Europe section.
After failing to qualify for Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018, Netherlands started a rebuilding process. It proved effective, with Holland qualifying for Euro 2020. Although they were eliminated by Czech Republic in the Round of 16, the young squad earned valuable experience in a major tournament.
Since taking charge, Louis van Gaal has consistently implemented his familiar 3-4-3/ 3-4-1-2 formation. The three-at-the-back system is led by Captain Virgil van Dijk(4) and Nathan Aké(5), with Jurrien Timber(2) on standby in case Matthijs de Ligt(3) fails to recover from a knee injury. The wing-backs are expected to be Denzel Dumfries(22) and Daley Blind(17). With the injury to Georginio Wijnaldum, Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong(21) is expected to orchestrate from central midfield with the help of Marten de Roon(15) of Atalanta BC. Steven Bergwijn(7), Cody Gakpo(8) and Memphis Depay(10) will be the Dutch attacking trio.
Prior to the World Cup, Louis van Gaal revealed that he has been fighting prostate cancer. After 25 radiation treatments, he is finally fit to lead the Oranje. At age 71, World Cup 2022 could be the Dutchman’s last dance. His revolutionary tactics and consistent promotion of youth since 1991 have brought huge benefit and positive impact to the world of football. Let us hope that the Oranje can fulfill their team potential and continue playing exciting football in the tournament!
Potential Fantasy Assets
- Position: Left Winger/ Attacking Midfielder
- Age: 23
- Height: 1.89m
- Club: PSV Eindhoven (Eredivisie)
With Memphis Depay dropped from the regular squad at club level, Cody Gakpo is now the most reliable attacker in the Netherlands squad. The in-form playmaker has shown continuous growth since the 2021-2022 season when he recorded 12 goals and 13 assists in 27 matches. He has further improved himself in the current season by netting 9 goals and providing 12 assists in 13 matches.
An agile dribbler despite his height, Gakpo normally plays as an inverted left winger at PSV. He a well-rounded attacker with excellent awareness, vision, and long range shooting. Admittedly, he does lack significant experience with international football, having featured only three times for his country in the World Cup Qualifiers.
During the 2022 summer, Gakpo was heavily-linked with a move to Man United. Although the transfer never materialized, if he can showcase his talents on football’s biggest stage, he is sure to eventually join a bigger club in Europe. Expect him to attack this tournament with the bit between his teeth.
Virgil van Dijk
- Position: Centre Defender
- Age: 31
- Height: 1.93m
- Club: Liverpool (English Premier League)
As the captain of the Oranje, Virgil van Dijk missed Euro 2020 due to injury. In fact, World Cup 2022 will be one of the few major international tournaments he has played. However, there should be no concerns about his composure in big matches. With Liverpool he has won both the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League in recent seasons. Apart from his world-class ability in defense, van Dijk is also an aerial threat in attack and can even take set pieces.
Virgil van Dijk is one of the world’s best defenders. Although he is not in his best form for Liverpool at the moment, we expect his ability and experience to help the Oranje to keep clean sheets in the group stage.
FIFA Rank: 18th
Manager: Aliou Cissé
This is the third FIFA World Cup for Senegal’s national football team. Many football fans still remember Senegal’s shock defeat of then-defending world champion France back in 2002. The Lions of Teranga have continued to progress since then, qualifying for two consecutive World Cup tournaments (2018, 2022). Senegal also won the AFCON 2021 championship after defeating Egypt in a 4-2 penalty shootout.
There are some well-known players in the Senegal squad that are currently playing in Europe’s major football leagues. At the time of writing, Sadio Mané(10) is injured and most likely will miss World Cup 2022. His absence will be a massive blow. However, other senior players such as Captain Kalidou Koulibaly(3) and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy(16), both from Chelsea, main striker Boulaye Dia(9) from Serie A club Salernitana, Ismaïla Sarr(18) from Watford, Idrissa Gueye(5) from Everton and Nampalys Mendy(6) from Leicester still form a formidable force in this World Cup tournament.
Senegal usually plays a 4-3-3 with both fullbacks pushing high on the pitch when in possession. Senegal is also adept at creating goal-scoring threats from set-piece opportunities. To capitalize on this threat, we can expect frequent shots from distance from the Senegal attackers in order to force corners. This is important, since the fantasy platform awards forwards a point for every two shots on goal.
Manager since 2015, Aliou Cissé has the longest tenure of any of the coaches in the group, and Senegal is always a team with high morale and fighting spirit. The AFCON 2021 victory parade in Dakar attracted almost half a million people, showing the passion and love of the Senegalese towards football.
Potential Fantasy Assets
- Position: Wide Midfielder/ Winger
- Age: 24
- Height: 1.85m
- Club: Watford F.C. (EFL Championship)
Ismaïla Sarr will definitely have to carry more weight on his shoulders if, as expected, Sadio Mané is set to miss World Cup 2022 through injury. Sarr is currently playing in the EFL’s second-tier, but he has significant experience playing in England’s top division. He has six goals plus four assists in 16 matches played so far this season.
Sarr is a very versatile player who can play almost all the positions above the defensive line, from left midfielder to right forward. He is expected to play a more prominent attacking role in the absence of Mane, and is also one of Senegal’s main set-piece takers.
- Position: Goalkeeper
- Age: 30
- Height: 1.94m
- Club: Chelsea F.C. (English Premier League)
Earlier this year, Édouard Mendy was hailed as a national hero when he saved a penalty from Mohanad Lasheen that led Senegal to the first AFCON championship in the country’s history. Mendy and his defence achieved five clean sheets and conceded only twice across that tournament’s seven matches. More recently, Mendy once again saved a penalty from Mostafa Mohamed in a PK shootout during the World Cup Qualifiers against the same opponent.
Edouard Mendy was initially dropped from the starting lineup when new manager Graham Potter took over at Chelsea F.C. However, an injury to Kepa Arrizabalaga reinstated Mendy to the starting lineup. He’ll now be eager to use his World Cup performances to prove that he should stay there.
FIFA Rank: 44th
Manager: Gustavo Alfaro
Ecuador qualified for World Cup 2022 by obtaining 4th place in the South American section of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification. Ecuador recorded 7 wins, 5 draws, and 6 losses over the 18 matches played. Based on the qualification results, Ecuador seems to play better in home games, with 5 wins, 3 draws and 1 loss on their own soil. Away from home their record was 2 wins, 2 draws, and 5 losses.
Under the management of Gustavo Alfaro, Ecuador plays a variety of formations including 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-3-3, and 4-4-1-1. However, it is expected that Ecuador will mostly play a 4-3-3 formation with emphasis on building the game from the flanks. Pervis Estupiñán (7) and Byron Castillo (6) are expected to dictate the attacking play from the fullback positions. Right-winger Gonzalo Plata (19) and central midfielder Moisés Caicedo (23) will look to overload on the wings to create 3v2 advantages throughout the game.
La Tricolor enters the World Cup in good shape. They have the combination of exciting and talented young players as well as the senior experience that is necessary in this massive tournament. We can expect high-intense, fast-paced, aggressive football from Ecuador and Alfaro.
Potential Fantasy Assets
- Position: Left Back
- Age: 24
- Height: 1.75m
- Club: Brighton & Hove Albion F.C. (English Premier League)
Pervis Estupiñán plays an important role in head coach Gustavo Alfaro’s system. Since the gaffer prefers to build from the flanks, Pervis Estupiñán will have plenty of opportunities to involve himself in Ecuador’s attack. Fantasy managers should also note that he is Ecuador’s first choice free-kick taker.
Estupiñán currently plays club football at Brighton in the English Premier League. He has become a regular feature in the starting lineup there, and has helped his club climb to seventh place in the Premier League, sandwiched between titans Liverpool and Chelsea. Expect him to make the same important contributions to his national team.
- Position: Center-Forward
- Age: 33
- Height: 1.77m
- Club: Fenerbahçe S.K. (Süper Lig)
The senior player in the Ecuadorian national team, Enner Valencia is also the captain and will lead the attack as center-forward. He is in good form this year with twelve goals plus four assists in eleven matches for Fenerbahçe in the Turkish Süper Lig. At the international level, he was also the second-top scorer for Ecuador in the South American section of 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
The Ecuadorian national team’s all time leading goal-scorer, Enner Valencia is also trusted with the team’s spot-kick duties. It will be interesting to see how Ecuador performs under the veteran’s leadership.
Stats and info for this article were sourced from fifa.com, goal.com, transfermarkt.com and wikipedia.org
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FIFA World Cup 2022 officially starts when the first match of Qatar against Ecuador kicks off next week! What do you expect in this group? Which countries will advance? Any players that you plan to pick for your fantasy team? Please log in, take our poll, and share your thoughts in the comments!
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