Home Sport Temperatures rising ahead of Qatar Soccer World Cup

Temperatures rising ahead of Qatar Soccer World Cup

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The tournament’s big names must be wary of surprise packages.

Portugal players Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and Pepe (centre) celebrate after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 play-off qualifying soccer match Portugal vs North Macedonia held on Dragao stadium in Porto, Portugal, 29 March 2022. Picture: EPA, HUGO DELGADO

WHEN the World Cup kicks off in the desert nation of Qatar next Sunday, the heat will be on.

With players coming straight from club action, which ends this weekend for the the vast majority of players, national-team bosses will be scrambling to get their teams in top form.

For the big nations, if they don’t hit the ground running, their chances of glory could evaporate like a mirage on the horizon.

Here we look at the battle in the groups, where their fortunes could be as shifty as sand.

Group A Netherlands and Senegal to advance; Ecuador and Qatar to exit early

THE Oranje and Senegal should make it out of the group without any problems.

Louis van Gaal’s Holland side bombed out of the Euros last year, but had made it to the Nations League finals, should give them belief.

Meanwhile, the Lions of Teranga are sweating on the fitness of superstar Sadio Mane.

But after winning a first Afcon title earlier this year, they should be able to overcome even that big a blow.

Hosts Qatar could make history and lose all their games.

Group B England and Wales progress; Iran and USA to exit early

ENGLAND have been tipped as one of the pre-tournament favourites after reaching the semis last time out and finishing runners-up at last year’s Euros.

England’s Harry Kane is fit and ready to fire England to World Cup glory. Picture: EPA, VINCENT MIGNOTT

Harry Kane is proving he can feast off scraps this season at Spurs and will get better service with the national team.

USA have a youthful squad, with Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson, Giovanni Reyna and Yunus Musah to look out for.

Iran’s wily coaching team will make their span tough to beat and have Medhi Taremi and Sardar Azmoun in top form upfront.

But Gareth Bale could be Wales’ trump card on the occasion of their first World Cup since 1958.

Group C Argentina and Poland progress; Mexico and Saudi Arabia to exit early

WITH Argentina on a 34-match unbeaten run and talisman Lionel Messi back to his best, they are not only favourites to win the group, but tipped to go all the way.

Copa America champions after 28 years without a trophy, they have a group of winners that include Lautaro Martinez, Julian Alvarez, Angel di Maria, Christian Romero and Lisandro Martinez.

Poland will be looking to get out of the group for the first time since 1986. And with Robert Lewandowski upfront, Sebastian Szymanski and Piotr Zielinski creating they should be too much for a sukkeling Mexico side and minnows Saudi Arabia.

Group D Denmark and France progress; Tunisia and Australia to exit early

HOLDERS France come to the World Cup in disarray with experienced midfield duo N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba out through injury and one win in their last six games.

France’s Kylian Mbappe (right) in action against South Africa’s Goodman Mosele (L) during the international friendly soccer match between France and South Africa in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, Lille, France, 29 March 2022. Picture: EPA, CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

They will have to ruk themselves reg to negotiate a group or riivals who will be trying to take advantage and we’ve seen in the past that Les Bleus have a bad habit of imploding.

The Danes definitely have the hoodoo on the French, winning both Nations League meetings earlier this year.

Tunisia have beaten Nigeria, Mali, Japan and Chile this year and will feel they can get out of the group too.

Group E Spain and Germany progress; Japan and Costa Rica to exit early

WITH five World Cup titles between them, Spain and Germany should be getting out of the group.

Spain boss Luis Enrique has a young squad, who can switch between tiki-taka style and more direct football.

Germany, meanwhile, have won just one competitive game this year and will be wary after a shaky start to life under Hansi Flick.

Germany’s Thomas Muller. Picture: REUTERS, Angelika Warmuth

Japan, starring the likes of Kaoru Mitoma, Takefusa Kubo and top goalscorer Takumi Minamino, will be a handful for the European giants.

Costa Rica, meanwhile, have heroes in Keylor Navas, Joel Campbell and veteran Bryan Ruiz.

Group F Belgium and Croatia progress; Morocco and Canada exit early

BELGIUM have been disappointing at major tournaments despite consistently being ranked in the top five five in the last decade.

Arriving as world No.2, they aren’t as consistent as usual and manne like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Leandro Trossard have to step up alongside Kevin de Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois.

Romelu Lukaku of Belgium. Picture: EPA, Alessandro di Marco

They have to worry about in-form 2018 finalists Croatia led by Luka Modric, who is aging like a Leonardo da Vinci painting.

Morocco have quality all around the squad, with Achraf Hakimi and Amine Harit as their diamonds.

But the form of Hakim Ziyech and Sevilla keeper Yassine Bounou and striker Youssef En-Nesyri is a worry.

Canada, back on the global stage for the first time since 1986, will want to make their stem dik.

Group G Brazil should advance; as for Switzerland, Serbia and Cameroon, it may be too close to call

BRAZIL come to the tournament as big favourites, with Neymar leading a host of attacking talents.

Hunting for a sixth title, the Auriverde are riding high with stars in every department.

If they have any weaknesses, Switzerland and Serbia are the type of opponents who can suss them out.

The Swiss arrive boasted by Nations League wins over Spain and Portugal, while Serbia’s defence have the answer to stopping Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Erling Haaland.

Cameroon also know how to pull off a shock, after beating Algeria in the play-off for a spot in Qatar.

Group H Portugal and Uruguay progress (just about); Ghana and South Korea exit early

IF THERE is a group of death at the World Cup, is it.

Portugal are worried about the form of talisman Cristiano Ronaldo and with Diogo Jota out injured, so gameplans and goals could need adjustments to a team with erratic results.

Uruguay’s volatile star Luis Suarez. Picture: Daniel Garcia

Out to beat them are a Ghana side who have won just twice this year, but who will not have forgotten with Luis Suarez’s dirty trick in 2010.

That final round-robin showdown with Uruguay could be the turning point in the group, with South Korea boosted by the fitness of Heung-Min Son.

Portugal player Bruno Fernandes (right) celebrates with Cristiano Ronaldo after scoring a goal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 play-off qualifying soccer match Portugal vs North Macedonia held on Dragao stadium in Porto, Portugal, 29 March 2022. Picture: EPA, JOSE COELHO

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