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2022 World Cup Preview: Group A Guide

2022 World Cup Preview: Group A Guide article feature image
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James Williamson, Robbie Jay Barratt/Getty. Pictured: Virgil van Dijk and Kalidou Koulibaly.

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is set to get underway, and our soccer experts are here to provide you with a full preview. 

Read on for analysis of Group A in the tournament, featuring the Netherlands, Senegal, Qatar and Ecuador.

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World Cup Group A Guide

Netherlands 

On paper, the Netherlands are a side with more impressive names in defense but are almost equally as potent in attack. 

Manager Louis van Gaal’s side is anchored by a back-three that features Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk, Manchester City’s Nathan Ake and Bayern Munich’s Matthijs de Ligt. There’s further talent in the wing backs, too, as Inter Milan’s Denzel Dumfries provides an attacking threat on the right-hand side while the experienced Daley Blind provides a more defensive option on the left. 

At the European Championships last year, that unit was virtually unbeatable. Albeit against somewhat inferior opposition — the Netherlands played Ukraine, Austria, North Macedonia and the Czech Republic — they conceded only four goals against 2.9 xG. 

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 57.40% -225
Advance To Knockout Round 84.21% -800
Win World Cup 4.09% +1200
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

Even in the build-up to the World Cup, the Netherlands defense held up extremely well against top opposition. In its last six Nations League fixtures — all of which came against sides playing in the World Cup – van Gaal’s defense surrendered only 6.07 xG and seven big scoring chances. 

Just in two meetings with Belgium – the best team opponent in the Netherland’s Nations League group — the defense conceded only 2.58 xG and three big scoring chances. 

Offensively, the name most soccer fans will immediately recognize is Memphis Depay, a former Lyon talisman that now features at FC Barcelona. However, the Netherlands also feature strong attacking midfielders in Cody Gakpo, a true No. 10 at PSV Eindhoven who is also capable of playing out wide in a 4-3-3, while Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong anchors the center of the park in midfield. 

Although the Netherlands is superior in defense, this offense has produced strong underlying metrics entering Qatar. In those same six Nations League fixtures, the attack created 10.25 xG and a whopping 15 big scoring chances. Further, only one match (at Wales) saw this attack generate under 1 xG and zero big scoring chances. 

Plus, despite exiting in the round of 16 at the European Championships, the Netherlands still managed to create the fourth-most xG in the competition (8.5) and were never held under one xG. 

In terms of their overall form, the Netherlands will arrive in Qatar with spectacular results to show for themselves. Since a loss to the Czech Republic in the Euro round of 16, the Netherlands have dropped all three points only once and are unbeaten in the 2022 calendar year. 

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Senegal 

Senegal come into the World Cup fresh off winning the Africa Cup of Nations over Egypt and then beating them again over two legs to qualify for their second straight World Cup. The Senegalese bring a ton of talent to the World Cup, but they were dealt a huge blow as their best player and one of the best attackers in world football, Sadio Mane is injured and will likely miss a majority of the event. However, it’s not Mane or nothing for Senegal, as this is a team loaded with talent that is playing in Europe’s top five leagues. Senegal come in 12th among World Cup teams in total squad transfer value, per transfermarkt.com.

The Lions of Teranga have completely dominated the continent of Africa since the 2018 World Cup, especially on the defensive end. Since their 1-1 draw with Togo in World Cup Qualifying on November 11th, 2021, nobody has created over 1 xG against them and that includes their entire Africa Cup of Nations run. It partly has to do with the fact that they have one of the best cente rbacks in the world in Kalidou Koulibaly, solid defensive midfielders in Pape Gueye, Pape Sarr & Nampalys Mendy  as well as a reliable goalkeeper in Edouard Mendy.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 9.66% +500
Advance To Knockout Round 32.73% +110
Win World Cup 0.22% +12500
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

The attack generated a ton of chances during the Africa Cup of Nations, but really struggled to find the back of the net. They only scored one goal during the group stage, despite creating 3.73 xG, but then found their stride scoring eight goals in the knockout stage on their way to the title.

Senegal narrowly missed out on the knockout stage of the 2018 World Cup after a Fair Play Points tiebreaker was the deciding factor in their exit. They were tied on points with Japan, and also tied on goal differential and goals for. It was a cruel way to exit their second ever World Cup appearance, and that will be on the minds of the Senegal players. Since that 2018 World Cup, in all competitive matches in Africa (CAF Qualification, AFCON and World Cup Qualifying) Senegal have a +0.80 xGD per 90 minutes and are only allowing 0.74 xG per match.

They are set up with a great chance to get out of group A. Senegal will be favored in matches against Ecuador and Qatar, which means if they can get a result in their first match against the Netherlands, they have a good shot at winning this group.

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Qatar

Qatar are probably the biggest “unknown” in this entire tournament because of how little data we have on not only them as a team but on the individual players.

Every single player on Qatar’s roster plays in the Qatar Stars League, and not one player plays abroad, so it’s hard to gauge just how impressive some players’ goal scoring, assist and defensive numbers actually are. 

To add even further to the mystery of this team, since they are the host country, they did not have to qualify for this tournament. They did play in the first round of Asian World Cup qualifying, however. They were paired in a group with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Oman. Over eight matches, they created 22.4 xG and only allowed 6.5 xGA. That’s impressive, but none of those four opponents are even ranked inside the Action Network’s Top 80 teams in the world. 

However, Qatar did go and play the Gold Cup in the summer of 2021. There, they performed very well, drawing Panama in the group stage and then beating El Salvador in the quarter finals (despite losing the xG battle). They actually played in the semifinals against the United States (who weren’t playing a full strength squad), but Qatar ended up playing an even game with the Americans, with an even xG total and a missed penalty for Qatar.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 4.41% +1600
Advance To Knockout Round 16.99% +300
Win World Cup 0.04% +25000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

Qatar do have a couple of fun attacking players in left winger Akram Afif, who plays for Al-Saad, the two time defending champs of the Qatar Stars League. They also have a good striker in Almoez Ali, who has scored 39 goals in 82 international appearances. 

The biggest concern for a team like Qatar that has spent so much time playing lesser competition and dominating possession is how they are going to fare when they have to sit in and defend for a majority of the match.

Qatar do have a major rest advantage over the rest of the countries in this competition, though. The Qatari Stars League went on pause on September 14th, so these players will have two months of rest and training together before they take on Ecuador on November 20th. 

That first match against Ecuador is their best chance of getting three points and potentially sneaking into the Round of 16, but they are significant underdogs against Senegal and the Netherlands, so I have a hard time seeing how the host nation is going to get through Group A. 

Ecuador

Group A has chaos written all over it, and Ecuador could be the team that incites it. 

Considered a longshot to get through the notoriously long and difficult CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying campaign, Ecuador finished fourth in South America, ahead of the likes of Peru, Colombia and Chile, to earn an automatic bid to Qatar.

It’s an impressive feat for a team that underwent plenty of adversity — they’re on their fourth manager since July 2019 and were almost kicked out of the tournament for fielding an illegal player — but it isn’t enough to make them one of the favorites to get out of Group A, which also features the Netherlands, Senegal and Qatar. 

The group setup is quite fascinating from a betting standpoint, because the Netherlands are not considered as one of the elite teams in the tournament despite being a favorite in this group. The price on the Oranje only plummeted because they were drawn into a soft group. 

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 28.53% +400
Advance To Knockout Round 66.07% -125
Win World Cup 0.91% +15000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

There is love for Senegal out there, and it has opened up a buying opportunity on Ecuador, who also will be pleased with their draw. Not only did they get the easiest Pot 1 team in Qatar, but they also are scheduled to open the tournament against the hosts, which provides La Tri with a great opportunity to put three points in their pocket right out of the gates. 

Of course, that match with the hosts could get, uh, weird. FIFA has jumped through all kinds of hoops to put this World Cup in Qatar (including moving the match up a day a few months ago), so it wouldn’t be surprising to see a very unique home-field advantage for Qatar. Despite that, Ecuador are +110 favorites to take the spoils on Nov. 20.

Ecuador can draw on their experience in hostile environments during CONMEBOL as a reason to back themselves in that opener, but it’s not just the intangibles that make La Tri an interesting sleeper. There’s high-upside talent here, too.

Moises Caicedo is the star man for this outfit, and he is an absolute force in the middle of the pitch. Caicedo can play in every phase of the game and will drive the bus in a midfield that won’t be much fun to play against. 

Pervis Estupinan, Caicedo’s Brighton teammate, will also provide some attacking flair down the left flank, while Enner Valencia is a suitable target man. Valencia, like many of his teammates, wouldn’t make a lot of rosters at the top of this field, but he’s a mainstay on Ecuador, so he knows what he needs to do for this team to have success. 

Had Ecuador been drawn in a tougher group, they’d be pretty easy to ignore. But things broke right for La Tri on the stage back in April, making them an intriguing punt as a team to make some noise.

This roster has been tested plenty over the past 24 months, so bet against them at your own risk.

Group A Schedule

Date Time Match
Nov. 20 11 a.m. ET Qatar vs. Ecuador
Nov. 21 11 a.m. ET Senegal vs. Netherlands
Nov. 25 8 a.m. ET Qatar vs. Senegal
Nov. 25 11 a.m. ET Netherlands vs. Ecuador
Nov. 29 10 a.m. ET Netherlands vs. Qatar
Nov. 29 10 a.m. ET Ecuador vs. Senegal

 

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