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The Action Network’s World Cup Mega-Preview

The Action Network’s World Cup Mega-Preview article feature image

The 2022 World Cup is here, and the Action Network’s team of soccer experts is here to give you a full preview of the tournament.

Read on for analysis, projections, rosters and schedules for each and every team that will be competing in the World Cup.

2022 World Cup Team Previews

Click on a team to skip ahead
GROUP TEAMS
A Ecuador 🇪🇨
Netherlands 🇳🇱
Senegal 🇸🇳
Qatar 🇶🇦
B England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿
Iran 🇮🇷
USA 🇺🇸
Wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿
C Argentina 🇦🇷
Mexico 🇲🇽
Poland 🇵🇱
Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦
D Australia 🇦🇺
Denmark 🇩🇰
France 🇫🇷
Tunisia 🇹🇳
E Costa Rica 🇨🇷
Germany 🇩🇪
Japan 🇯🇵
Spain 🇪🇸
F Belgium 🇧🇪
Canada 🇨🇦
Croatia 🇭🇷
Morocco 🇲🇦
G Brazil 🇧🇷
Cameroon 🇨🇲
Serbia 🇷🇸
Switzerland 🇨🇭
H Ghana 🇬🇭
Portugal 🇵🇹
South Korea 🇰🇷
Uruguay 🇺🇾


Group A

Ecuador World Cup Preview 🇪🇨

Michael Leboff: 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.

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.

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.

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.


Ecuador World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Qatar 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 20
Netherlands 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 25
Senegal 10 a.m. ET, Nov. 29

Key Player: Moises Caicedo

One of the bright, young stars in the English Premier League, it didn’t take long for Caicedo to be linked with a move from Brighton to a top club. A few blinding performances out of the gate and the 22-year-old was rumored to be on the shortlist at Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. Brighton are rumored to want £85 million for Caicedo.

He is an all-purpose midfielder who can pull the strings, spring counters and provide a strong defensive shift. He’ll need every bit of his toolkit throughout the group stages as La Tri are likely to play three very different matches. Against Qatar, you can expect Ecuador to have more of the ball and rely on Caicedo to be the maestro, but against the Netherlands, he’ll need to have an impact out of possession and be able to disrupt a strong Dutch engine room.

Senegal vs. Ecuador is harder to call, but however it turns out, you can expect Caicedo’s impact to be felt.


Ecuador World Cup Roster

Editor’s Note: This roster has not been officially filed so this is a projection.


Tactical Analysis for Ecuador

Ecuador will be expected to play out of a 4-3-3 with Caicedo acting as the linchpin in the middle of the park. Caicedo’s ability to fill a number of different roles from the center of the midfield allows Ecuador to be an adaptive unit, which will be key considering their group is set up for them to play three different matches.

If Ecuador are playing well, it will likely correlate to Caicedo’s impact on the game. A terrific player with the ball at his feet, if he’s got time on the ball he can find Estupinan, Valencia, Michael Estrada or Angel Mena in attacking positions.

Ecuador’s spine is their strength, as Piero Hincapie and Felix Torres have created an effective partnership in the middle of the defense and should be capable enough behind the midfield three of Caicedo, Carlos Gruezo and Alan Franco.

The goals might not fly in for Ecuador given their lack of finishing talent, but they should be a well-organized outfit that’s difficult to break down.



Netherlands World Cup Preview 🇳🇱

Nick Hennion: 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.

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.

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.

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.


Netherlands World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Senegal 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 21
Ecuador 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 25
Qatar 10 a.m. ET, Nov. 29

Key Player: Memphis Depay

A shock early exit for the Netherlands at the World Cup will likely come as a result of their attack failing to perform.

Among this group of attackers, Depay is one of few with previous World Cup experience, making him a key cog in the offense. However, there’s a big unknown with Depay in terms of his form entering this World Cup. Since the arrival of Robert Lewandowski at Barcelona, Depay featured in only two of Barcelona’s first 10 La Liga fixtures.

At the same time, this was a Netherlands side that relied on Depay to generate scoring chances at the Euros last year. Across all four fixtures, Depay accounted for 27 percent of the Netherlands’ total xG. That is easily the highest percentage for the team.

Then, in the four most recent UEFA Nations League fixtures in which Depay featured, he amassed 30.2 percent of the Netherlands’ total xG output in those four matches.

Add in that midfielder Gini Wijnaldum, who accumulated the second-most expected goals for the Netherlands at the European Championship, will miss the World Cup and that puts even more pressure on Depay to perform.

Failure to do so could spell an early exit for the Netherlands from Qatar. However, if Depay reaches top form, the Netherlands could be in for an extended stay in the tournament.


Netherlands World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Netherlands

Much like Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, the Netherlands will play a very fluid formation that features different styles.

The standard formation for this side is a 3-4-1-2 – three central defenders, two wing backs, two central midfielders, an attacking midfielder and two strikers. But, when playing without the ball, the wing backs will shift into more defensive positions while the attacking midfielder, usually Gakpo or Davy Klaassen, will drop back to sit alongside the two central midfielders. That effectively creates a 5-3-2 with both strikers ready to break on a counter attack.

But, when the Netherlands have the ball, it will leave the central defenders on an island and send a boatload of players forward. This will happen quite a bit as the Netherlands love to dominate the ball. They ranked third in average possession percentage at the Euros and saw 56 percent of the possession in their last six Nations League matches.

With the ball, observers will see the Netherlands shift back into a standard 3-4-1-2 formation and play a high line in defense. In rare instances — think more advanced positions – both wing backs will move forward to create a 3-2-1-4 where Blind and Dumfries align themselves with the strike partnership.

Then, like with Liverpool, the defenders will create a high-line in an attempt to create an offside trap that eliminates potential counter attacks. Those teams that have success against the Netherlands will effectively exploit this high line and catch them on the counter in order to create chances.



Qatar World Cup Preview 🇶🇦

BJ Cunningham: 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.

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Qatar World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Ecuador 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 20
Senegal 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 25
Netherlands 10 a.m. ET, Nov. 29

Key Player: Akram Afif

Afif has been the player of the year in the Qatari Stars League three out of the last four seasons with Qatar’s most successful club, Al-Saad. He usually plays on the left wing and is particularly dangerous with the ball at his feet cutting toward the 18-yard box to create a chance on goal.

However, in Qatar’s 3-5-2 system, he plays up top as a striker alongside Almoez Ali, and they have developed a nice partnership, combining for 63 goals since 2015. Afif also provided 17 assists in only 18 matches for Al-Saad during the 2021-22 season.

Afif did originally sign for Villarreal back in 2016, but after four years of loan spells at Sporting Gijón and Eupen, he only managed to score one goal.

If teams in Group A do not have a capable right back able to handle his pace and ability on the ball, he could cause a lot of problems for the opposition.


Qatar World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Qatar

Qatar will typically play out of a 3-5-2 with their wing backs able to play as wingers in attack. The 3-5-2 in and of itself is typically utilized when teams want to play more of a counter attacking style, so Qatar will be well equipped to play without the ball in Group A.

The thing that makes Qatar so dangerous is they have a ton of speed going forward in attack and are able to transition the ball very quickly through combinations.

What the 3-5-2 allows you to do is play a five man back line with the wing backs dropping deep to help out in defense, and it also helps make the middle of the pitch very compact, having three central midfielders on the pitch.

Since this Qatari team has been playing with each other for a very long time, they are very disciplined and have a fantastic defensive shape that is very difficult to break down. So, they will be well equipped to play without the ball and sit in and defend in a low block.

Additionally, since they will have had two months to train together before their first match against Ecuador, they will have their tactics well drilled down, while everyone else has eight days to prepare.



Senegal World Cup Preview 🇸🇳

BJ Cunningham: 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.


Senegal World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Netherlands 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 20
Qatar 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 25
Ecuador 10 a.m. ET, Nov. 29

Key Player: Kalidou Koulibaly

Now that Mane is hurt, Koulibaly is Senegal’s next-best player. Koulibaly recently made a move to Chelsea over the summer, but he had been one of the best defenders in Serie A for Napoli for a really long time. He consistently averaged over three tackles + interceptions per 90 minutes and he led a top-rated Napoli defense over his years there.

Koulibaly is now 32-years old and Chelsea’s defense has been struggling this season in the Premier League, but he has been incredibly vital for the best defense in Africa since the 2018 World Cup. He’s a big physical presence that can win aerial duals, is incredibly athletic enough to stop opposing counter attacks and consistently had over a 60% tackle percentage in Serie A. He’s been Senegal’s captain for a long time now, so without Mane, Senegal is going to play a more defensive style. Koulibaly will be Senegal’s most important player if they are going to get out of the group stage.


Senegal World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Senegal

Aliou Cissé has been managing Senegal for over seven years, so we have a good idea of the tactics he likes to employ. At the 2018 World Cup, Senegal had a fantastic 4-4-2 defensive shape out of possession, which helped them allow just 2.1 xG over their three matches.

Since the 2018 World Cup, Cissé has changed his formation to a 4-3-3 to be a more aggressive and possession-dominant side against weaker opposition in Africa.

During the AFCON, Senegal had a good blend of nine build-up attacks and 13 direct attacks, showing that they are easily able to sit deep and hit teams on the counter with their blazing speed they have in their front three. Their pressing has also really improved since that 2018 World Cup, with their front three having incredibly high work rates off the ball. Senegal led the Africa Cup of Nations with 51 high turnovers and was fourth in PPDA at 9.8.

I’d imagine Cissé will have his team set up in a counter-attacking style against the Netherlands in their first match, but then I would look for Senegal to be more possession-dominant against Ecuador and Qatar. The good thing about how Senegal sets up under Cissé is that they have experience playing both styles, which will be a big benefit for them at this World Cup. 

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Group B

England World Cup Preview 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

BJ Cunningham: The question everyone has been asking for decades now is, “When is football coming home?”

England were a penalty shootout away from bringing home their first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup at the Euros last year. In terms of talent, you are not going to find a country with more depth than this current English team.

The Three Lions obliterated everyone in their path during World Cup qualifying, winning eight matches, drawing only twice and putting up 25.1 xG while only allowing 5.2. Even during the European Championships in the summer of 2021, England did not lose the xG battle until the final match against Italy, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that they scored in the first five minutes then decided to play ultra-defensive for the remainder of the match.

The goalkeeping position is pretty set with Everton’s Jordan Pickford between the posts. He amassed five consecutive clean sheets during the Euros. The center back pairing is a question mark right now. During the Euros and World Cup qualifying, Harry Maguire and John Stones were a solid pairing in Gareth Southgate’s 4-2-3-1 system.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 73.81% -300
Advance To Knockout Round 92.91% -1400
Win World Cup 16.67% +800
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

However, Maguire has been injured and completely out of form at Manchester United, so that means Southgate will most likely have to choose between Marc Guehi, Eric Dier or Fikayo Tomori, who are all fantastic options to go along with Stones.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is slated to start at right back with Reece James and Kyle Walker both looking like they are going to miss the World Cup due to injury. The left back position will be between Ben Chilwell or Luke Shaw, with Chillwell bring in better form at the moment.

England truly have the best midfield in this entire tournament with Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham being a defensive midfield pairing of dreams. Mason Mount is in incredible form for Chelsea at the moment, and it’s looking like he will be occupying the attacking midfielder role, while Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka should start at right midfield. Who is going to start on the left is the question right now, as Raheem Sterling was Southgate’s most dependable option during the Euros, scoring three goals and taking the most shots on the team, but he could opt for Manchester City’s Phil Foden or Jack Grealish.

It’s no surprise that Harry Kane is the main man up front for England, as he is still playing at the level of one of the best strikers in the world.

England should be one of the tournament favorites despite their cursed history. There is simply too much talent on this Three Lions squad to be anything but.


England World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Iran 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 21
USA 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 25
Wales 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 29

Key Player: Harry Kane

Harry Kane continues to show year in and year out why he’s regarded as one of the best strikers in the world and why there is no question why he will be the main man up front for Gareth Southgate’s side in Qatar.

Kane has been in good form for Tottenham, putting up a 0.72 xG per 90 minute scoring rate, which is his best mark since the 2017-18 season. Not only is he putting up great numbers that any striker would adore, but he also is averaging 0.24 xAssists per 90 minutes and 3.56 progessive passes per 90 minutes, both of which are in the top 8% among Europe’s big five leagues.

He’s really the perfect striker for England because he does well being supplied the ball or carrying the ball and creating the chance himself. The good news is the talent he has around him makes it the perfect scenario for him to flourish and once again be one of the favorites to win the Golden Boot.


England World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for England

Gareth Southgate is fairly consistent that he wants to play a 4-3-3 that sometimes can morph into a 4-2-3-1, which has proven to be the most successful set-up given the personnel he has with England.

Southgate is very conservative with his approach, having England play out through the back, typically with Declan Rice dropping deep to receive the ball, which allows him to dictate the tempo of the match depending on the opponent they are facing. Southgate also wants his full backs and wingers to stay wide in attack and for the other midfielders to play in between the lines to be able to receive passes from out wide.

England like to play through the center of the pitch, even though Southgate wants there to be a lot of width. That’s why during the Euros only eight of their 58 passes into the penalty area came via crosses.

Out of possession, England tend to sit back and not press very high, trying to maintain their defensive shape, which has proven successful, considering they’re only allowing 0.63 xG per match in World Cup Qualifiers and the Euros combined. 



Iran World Cup Preview 🇮🇷

BJ Cunningham: Iran come into the World Cup after finishing first in their qualification group over South Korea.

You won’t find a more disciplined defensive side than Iran in this tournament. During World Cup qualifying, Iran allowed only 0.99 xG per 90 minutes. This will be their third straight World Cup, but they’ve failed to qualify out of the group stage in the last two. That doesn’t mean they haven’t put in good showings. In the last World Cup, Iran beat Morocco in their first match, lost 1-0 to Spain then ended up drawing 1-1 with Portugal on a late penalty.

Top to bottom, this Iran roster doesn’t have much talent playing at the highest level in Europe, but they do have two really good strikers that make them frightening on the counterattack.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 2.10% +1600
Advance To Knockout Round 13.23% +350
Win World Cup 0.02% +50000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

Sardar Azmoun spent a number of years at Zenit St. Petersburg in the Russian Premier League ,and he made a move to Bayer Leverkusen in the German Bundesliga in January of 2022, but he has yet to fully feature for the side, playing only seven full 90s over the past year. Iran also have Porto striker Mehdi Taremi, who has scored over 16 goals and had over a 0.60 xG per 90 minute scoring rate in the Portuguese Primeira Liga over the last three seasons.

Iran do play an ultra conservative-defensive style that didn’t show up much throughout qualification, but in their two matches against South Korea it was very evident, as it was during their last two World Cups, so they will be well-equipped to play without the ball when they take on England and the United States.

As far as their prospects of getting out of this group? They need to beat Wales and get a result against the United States to have any shot of making it to the Round of 16 for the first time in the country’s history.


Iran World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
England 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 21
Wales 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 25
USA 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 29

Key Player: Sardar Azmoun

Azmoun has been Iran’s go-to striker throughout World Cup qualifying, leading the team with 10 goals. Since his debut for Iran in 2014, he has 41 goals in just 65 appearances. He’s spent the past year at Bayer Leverkusen, and he’s yet to find his feet or get significant playing time. However, when he was the main man upfront for Zenit St. Petersburg, Azmoun was solid in front of the net.

During the 2020-21 season, Azmoun finished one goal behind teammate Artem Dzyuba for the Golden Boot in the Russian Premier League and had a staggering 0.95 xG per 90 minute scoring rate, per understat.com.

Azmoun is an out and out striker who doesn’t really deviate from his central position on the pitch. He is also not the type of striker to take the ball at his feet and dribble past defenders. However, he is incredibly dangerous in the box due to his size and outstanding ability to win the ball in the air.

He has a tremendous ability to read crosses and get his head on the ball, which fits perfectly in Iran’s 4-4-2 system, where a lot of crosses get whipped in from the outside flanks of the pitch.

If Iran are going to threaten the opposing goal during the World Cup, Azmoun will be a big part of that.


Iran World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Iran

For the last two World Cups, Iran have sat in a 4-4-2, stayed very compact, and you could almost say they were playing for a 0-0 draw at times.

What is interesting is that Iran decided to bring back Carlos Queiroz to manage them for the World Cup. He was only hired as recently as September 7th after leaving his post managing the Egyptian national team up until April of 2022. Queiroz managed Iran for their last two World Cups, so we have a good idea of how they are going to try and play.

Iran are going to concede a ton of possession and play two low blocks of four while the front two strikers do a lot of individual pressing of the opponent’s back line. That will also include the midfielders. Then, once they win the ball, they will look to immediately get it to their striking duo of Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi to try to exploit opponents on the counter.

Iran will concede a ton of shots, but a lot of them are low quality, as Queiroz puts a premium on defending the 18-yard box. In the 2018 World Cup, Iran conceded 44 shots over their three group matches against Spain, Portugal and Morocco. However, they only conceded 3.9 xG in total, so allowing under 0.10 xG per shot against the competition they faced was pretty impressive.

Against England and USA, they are likely going to be without the ball for a majority of the match, but against Wales, they might be able to be the more possession-dominant side we saw throughout World Cup Qualifying. 



USA World Cup Preview 🇺🇸

BJ Cunningham: The United States are back in the World Cup after missing out in 2018. They are in a new era looking to make their mark on the world’s stage. With a lot of the United States’ star players under the age of 26, it’s going to be exciting to see if they can get past the Round of 16 for the first time since 2002.

The Stars and Stripes had a good CONCACAF Qualifying campaign, finishing third in the hexagonal and earning an automatic qualification to the World Cup. The United States had good underlying metrics, but they had a few questionable results away from home. The Stars and Stripes averaged 1.7 xG per 90 minutes while only allowing 0.72 xG per 90 minutes over their 14 World Cup Qualifying matches, which is impressive. However, losing on the road and getting out-played by Panama and Canada leaves a few question marks for the US side.

For the first time in United States history, most of their players are playing overseas in Europe’s biggest leagues. The Stars and Stripes have 13 of their 26 players on their roster playing in one of Europe’s top five leagues and five players currently playing in the English Premier League.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 15.31% +550
Advance To Knockout Round 55.95% +100
Win World Cup 1.06% +15000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

It’s up in the air who will start in goal for the United States. Matt Turner has made his move to be the backup goalkeeper for Arsenal, while Zack Steffen is on loan at Middlesbrough in the English Championship this season. Steffen has not been performing well, as he has a -2.5 post shot xG +/-, per fbref.com. So, we may see Greg Berhalter prefer Turner, who is in better form.

In defense, Walker Zimmerman is locked in at one of the center back spots with the other up for grabs at the moment. Sergino Dest, who is currently playing at AC Milan, will be starting at right back, with the left back position in question between Antonee Robinson or Joe Scally, who are both promising options.

The midfield in Berhalter’s 4-3-3 system is very straightforward: It’ll be Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah, who are all in great form at the club level and should be able to dominate the games against Wales and Iran.

Up front, star player Christian Pulisic will be playing on the left with Giovanni Reyna on the right. The middle is a question mark, and Berhalter has a decision to make. He could go with the in-form Jesús Ferreira, who seemingly fits his system the best, or it could be Timothy Weah or Brendan Aaronson as a false nine. Either way, the United States have a lot of talented options up top.


USA World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Wales 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 21
England 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 25
Iran 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 29

Key Player: Christian Pulisic

Although he’s struggling to find playing time right now for Chelsa, Pulisic is still “Captain America” and the United States’ best attacking option. During World Cup Qualifying, he led the Stars and Stripes with five goals in only seven full 90s.

Pulisic is outstanding with the ball at his feet. From 2019 to 2021, when he was regularly playing for Chelsea, he averaged 2.75 dribbles completed per 90 minutes, which was top 20 in the Premier League. He also averaged 4.5 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes, which was 12th in the Premier League at that time. This season, he’s played only five full 90s, but he still has 19 shot-creating actions, showing he still possesses the ability that Chelsea paid for when they dropped $58 million for him in 2019.

What people don’t talk about enough with Pulisic is his work rate off the ball. He’s incredibly intelligent at finding space in between the lines or making half-runs to create space for others. Then, out of possession, he’s above the 80th percentile in aerial duels won per 90 minutes this season and is outstanding in a high pressing system. Even though he hasn’t featured much for Chelsea this season, Pulisic is still the United States’ most important player.


USA World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for USA

Berhalter typically employs a 4-3-3 system with a little bit of a different spin than the possession-based, intricate passing systems that you typically see with this formation at some of the biggest clubs in the world.

He wants his center backs to stay patient at the back and then quickly transition the ball up to the forwards between the lines to put pressure on the opposing back line. The United States also love to continue to pass the ball until the best possible chance opens up. They have one of the lowest average shot distances in the World Cup field, highlighting Berhalter’s philosophy of quality over quantity when it comes to chance creation.

The United States also do a great job at controlling possession and not making too many mistakes as they also operate well under heavy pressure.

Out of possession, the team is very difficult to break down because they have one of the highest aerial duels won percentages and ball recoveries per 90 minutes in the World Cup field. Their 4-3-3 out of possession will sometimes become a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 with players rotating to drop deep or press up, causing a lot of confusion for the opponents.

If there is one weakness for the United States, it’s transition defense, which has plagued them for a long time. It’s critical for the center backs and midfielders not to make careless mistakes when in possession. 



Wales World Cup Preview 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Michael Leboff: It’s possible that we overlook just how important continuity and commitment are when it comes to handicapping international soccer tournaments — and Wales are a perfect case study.

After years in the wilderness, the Dragons wrote a fairytale story at Euro 2016 when Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey propelled them to the semifinals, where they lost to the eventual winners, Portugal. Wales won their group with wins over Slovakia and Russia, then defeated Northern Ireland and Belgium to make it to the Final Four.

Five years later, Wales again surprised at the European Championships, making it to the knockout rounds by going 1-1-1 with a win over Turkey, a draw against Switzerland and a hard-fought 1-0 loss to Italy. The Dragons would get pasted 4-0 in the Round of 16, but the hard feelings didn’t linger, as they finished the group stage of World Cup Qualifying with a draw against Belgium to earn a playoff with Austria. Wales defeated Austria and then Ukraine to qualify for their second-ever World Cup and their first since 1958. It was bedlam in Cardiff.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 8.78% +600
Advance To Knockout Round 37.91% +110
Win World Cup 0.30% +20000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

Everything with Wales begins and ends with Gareth Bale. At the height of his powers, Bale was one of the world’s best attacking players. He’s well past his best days now and his commitment to club football has been called into question, but the 33-year-old always seems to save his best for the Dragons.

Bale’s supporting cast, which still includes mainstays from 2016 like Ramsey and Joe Allen, might be lacking in starpower, but Wales’ best asset is their commitment and chemistry. That can make them hard to beat and a threat to pull off an upset against a team like, say, England, but it’s also not going to be enough for this team to realistically make a deep run. The ceiling for Wales is that they will provide a couple of big moments and perhaps sneak into the knockout stages, and frankly, that’s enough for a team that is making their first trip to the World Cup since 1958.

There is genuine belief that this story doesn’t just end with a ticket to Qatar. Drawn into a group with their eternal rivals, England, the USA and Iran, it’s really a coin flip on whether or not Wales will advance. In all likelihood, Wales will need a result from their opener on Nov. 21 to get through, but they also caught a break by avoiding England until the last match of the round robin. It’s a manageable draw for the Dragons.

Wales have shown that their style of play and chemistry make them a tough out in these formats. If the World Cup was played over the course of six months and teams played 20 games, the Dragons would eventually be doomed by their lack of talent and depth. But in a short format, where four points is usually enough to get you through to the Round of 16, all bets are off.


Wales World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
USA 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 21
Iran 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 25
England 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 29

Key Player: Gareth Bale

Make no mistake, even at 33 years of age and well past the peak of his powers, Bale is the main man for Wales and still has the skill set to wreck a game.

He has only played 17 matches for his clubs (Real Madrid, LAFC) since the beginning of last season, but that’s mostly because he’s made no secret that his No. 1 focus right now is to be fresh and in-form for the World Cup.

A pacey winger who can run at defenders and create space all around him by taking on opponents, the Wales attack will run through, and rely on, the magic in Bale’s left foot. He can create goals from nowhere, whether it be via set pieces or a run down the flank, and he will need to do just that for Wales to make noise.


Wales World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Wales

Wales are a classic international soccer underdog. They’ll typically set up in a defensive posture, like a 4-4-2, and do everything they can to hang around in a contest and hope that a moment of magic from Gareth Bale or one of their attacking players can be the difference.

It might not be the most exciting brand of play to watch for a neutral, but it does provide the Dragons with their best path to success. This is a well-drilled, cohesive unit that demands every player know and embrace their role. Nobody, outside of Bale and maybe Daniel James, will go off-script on this team.

And this team can certainly punch up as an underdog. A spine that features Kieffer Moore as the target man, Ethan Ampadu and Allen as the central midfielders and Ben Davies plus Joe Rodon as the center backs is not going to leap off the page at you, but it won’t be fun to play against at all. These are players that are well-versed in grinding out 1-0 and 2-1 results.

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Group C

Argentina World Cup Preview 🇦🇷

Johnathan Wright: Argentina head into Qatar with the third-shortest odds to win the World Cup, behind Brazil and France. La Albiceleste coasted through CONMEBOL to qualify for their 18th World Cup, being one of two teams not to lose a single game in qualification play, with Brazil being the other.

They are ranked third in the FIFA World Rankings and have been unbelievable over the previous year and a half. Argentina are in the midst of a 35-game unbeaten run, the longest active undefeated streak, nearing Italy’s longest international unbeaten run of 37. The streak dates back to 2019 and includes a Copa America title run where they beat Brazil 1-1 in penalties, ending a 28-year trophy drought in major competitions.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 58.39% -250
Advance To Knockout Round 83.89% -1200
Win World Cup 5.00% +550
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

In an offense led by seven-time Ballon D’or winner Lionel Messi, Argentina will never have a difficult time creating chances in the attack. And while this Argentina side might not be the most talented that they have ever had, they are certainly the most unified and have proven they’re willing to defend. They finished World Cup Qualifying with a +19 goal differential and at one point held a clean sheet in six consecutive matches. For context, during WCQ ahead of the 2018 World Cup, their goal differential was only +3.

Argentina’s historic form has them as heavy favorites to finish atop Group C over Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland. They certainly learned their lesson about not playing their best soccer in the group stage in 2018. They finished second in the group behind Croatia that year, resulting in them having to play higher seeded France in the Round of 16, where they lost 4-3.

Anything can happen in the knockout stage, but this is a team that is in great form and has the capability to go head-to-head with anyone in this tournament. If they remain in top form, this Argentina side will like their chances to claim their third-ever World Cup title.

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Argentina World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Saudi Arabia 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 22
Mexico 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 26
Poland 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 30

Key Player: Lionel Messi

How Messi moves, so does La Albiceleste. This will be the final chance for Messi to obtain the only coveted trophy missing from his legendary CV, and it can be more than expected that the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner will put on a show for his nation and the rest of the world.

Messi is certainly on the back end of his career, turning 35 in June, but he still has the capability to turn any game on its head in seconds. He scored six goals and had 14 assists in 26 games in his first season with PSG in Ligue 1 play, although that was his lowest goal contribution count since the 2006-07 season. That said, Messi’s finding the form he showed at Barcelona with the French side and is clearly motivated heading into Qatar. To start the club season, Messi has 11 goals and 14 assists in 14 all competition matches. For Argentina, during WCQ, he led the team with seven goals.

The former Barcelona icon and current PSG frontman can become Argentina’s leader in World Cup appearances should he play a part in all three group stage games, passing Diego Maradona’s 21. He is also five goals shy of becoming his country’s record goalscorer on this stage.

Expect the little magician to play more freely in his last World Cup as he no longer has the burden of winning his first major international trophy for his country.


Argentina World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Argentina

Lionel Scaloni took over as head coach in 2018 after Argentina fell in the Round of 16 during the 2018 World Cup. His preferred formation for this Argentine side is a 4-4-2; when they are on the attack, it will shift into a 4-3-3.

Within the 4-4-2 formation, if everyone is fit and healthy, Scaloni plays Rodrigo De Paul and Leandro Paredes in center midfield, with Angel Di Maria and Giovani Lo Celso as wide midfielders, while Lionel Messi and Lautaro Martinez lead the top of the lines as forwards.

The ethos of this La Albiceleste team is to keep the ball. In WCQ, they controlled an average of 59.4% of possession. When playing with the ball, they will bring one of their outside backs forward to increase their numbers in the attack and shift to a back three. With another player in attack, it frees up space for Messi to roam. Typically, Messi will drop lower in the midfield to pick up the ball or will shift to the right side closer to Di Maria, who plays close to the touchline for combination play and the ability to cut in on his deadly left foot.

Defensively, Scaloni encourages his team to play with very high pressure and squeeze the midfield. They won possession back in the final third an average of 6.8 times per game during WCQ, the most in CONMEBOL. That number is doubled from their World Cup qualifying matches ahead of Russia 2018 (3.4). 



Mexico World Cup Preview 🇲🇽

Nick Hennion: Mexico are a team that likes to throw caution to the wind and attack, attack and attack.

Under new manager Tata Martino, who previously managed the Argentina men’s national team from the 2014 World Cup until July 2016, Mexico like to get out in transition to try to score at will. Among their key attacking pieces are Raul Jimenez of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Hirving Lozano of Napoli and the up-and-coming Santiago Gimenez of Feyenoord.

With those attackers, Martino encourages a high-pressing style of soccer. That approach was clear at the 2021 Gold Cup, where Mexico created 21 big scoring chances across six fixtures.

Additionally, with this Mexico team, there’s little aversion to taking shots. In those same six Gold Cup fixtures, Martino’s side took a whopping 114 shots. However, only 39 of those efforts found the target, so Mexico can be assumed as a quantity over quality shot team entering this World Cup.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 20.27% +500
Advance To Knockout Round 52.75% -110
Win World Cup 0.67% +15000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

But with all that attacking prowess comes a trade-off, and it comes in defense. Oddly, this is a team with talented defensive midfielders, but they just can’t seem to put it together with the back-line. In the middle of the park, Ajax’s Edson Alvarez and Hector Herrera, now with the Houston Dynamo but previously with Atletico Madrid, help provide cover for a defense that prefers to keep a high-line.

Defensively, a big chunk of players that occupy Martino’s back-four come from Liga MX and aren’t used to facing the attacking talent of Europe. Just at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Mexico surrendered an alarming five goals on 6.5 xG against Sweden, Germany and Brazil.

Although the defense surrendered only three total big scoring chances at the 2021 Gold Cup, one might question how heavily to weight that given the level of opposition. Just in the final against the United States, Mexico allowed three total big scoring chances.

The good news for Mexico? They possess a goalkeeper who is capable of standing on his head at any given moment and rescuing this Mexico side. Guillermo Ochoa, who plays for CF America in Liga MX, accomplished just that in the 2018 World Cup. Among all 32 nations that participated, Ochoa had the eighth-best post-shot xG differential and conceded only six goals on 7.5 xG.

Should Mexico have high hopes for this year’s World Cup, Ochoa – who is now 37 years old — will either have to rescue this Mexico defense, or the back-line will have to improve drastically on their underlying metrics.

All of that said, it’s still worth noting that Mexico have demonstrated an exceptional ability to emerge from the group. El Tri have reached the knockout stage seven years on the bounce, but they have never reached the quarterfinals in those seven tournaments.


Mexico World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Poland 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 22
Argentina 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 26
Saudi Arabia 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 30

Key Player: Hirving Lozano

Given how poor the Mexico defense has played against top opposition, that will put extra weight on the attack to try and keep up.

For Mexico, Hirving Lozano is generally a known quantity – the Napoli representative created 1.3 total xG at the 2018 World Cup and has generated 0.87 xG + xA per 90 minutes in his first 10 fixtures with Napoli this year.

But there are some extenuating circumstances that might allow opponents to focus on Lozano and force Mexico’s remaining attackers to win the match. Case in point, striker Raul Jimenez’s status for the World Cup is in doubt after picking up a groin injury earlier this season.

Additionally, forward Carlos Vela, who led Mexico in xG at the 2018 World Cup, has effectively been blacklisted from this squad.

Without those two players, a below-average tournament for Lozano could spell an early exit from Mexico in a group that features plenty of attacking talent.

However, there’s simultaneously an optimistic case to be made with this attack. If Lozano is able to replicate his form with a high-flying Napoli side AND Jimenez returns from injury to his top form, the Mexico attack might cause problems for group favorites Argentina and Poland.


Mexico World Cup Roster

Editor’s Note: This roster has not been officially filed so this is a projection.


Tactical Analysis for Mexico

We touched on this briefly earlier, but Mexico deploy a 4-3-3 formation with a high back-line and loads of pressing.

The one notable variation with this Mexico formation is that the midfield three doesn’t feature a false number 10. Some teams will deploy a player like that to help provide a link between the defensive midfielders and the front-three, but Martino prefers a flat-three in midfield, all of whom are defensive-minded in nature.

Two of those players – Alvarez and Herrera — have shown glimpses in the past of becoming a scoring threat. But for the large part, these two — along with Jonathan dos Santos – will serve as more defensive-minded midfielders that protect the high line.

Further, likely as a result of their penchant for allowing chances, this is a Mexico team that prefer to play with the ball rather than sitting back and attempting to counter. Although previous manager Juan Carlos Osoria sometimes placed true strikers in winger roles, Martino is much more traditional and will play true wingers in their positions.

From there, Mexico will work diagonal balls into the box in the hopes of finding an aerial threat.

Based on that strategy, teams that play well against Mexico will have fast forwards who can get in behind a back-line and defenders used to playing through pressure.



Poland World Cup Preview 🇵🇱

Nick Hennion: Poland can be described perfectly as an average soccer country — they’re not great, but they’re also not terrible.

The headline of the roster is Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowki, who is Poland’s leader in total international goals with 76, scoring almost 0.6 per game in his time with the international team. Elsewhere, there are definitely some familiar names that the average soccer fan will recognize, including goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, defender Jan Bednarek and midfielder Piotr Zielinski.

As for some of the underlying metrics, those statistics reassert the fact that Poland are simply mediocre. At the European Championships, Poland registered 3.3 xGs in three matches while allowing 3.5 xG on the defensive end. In that tournament, Poland failed to make it out of the group.

Entering the World Cup, this team is having a bit of a crisis on the defensive side of the ball. In arguably one of the strongest UEFA Nations League groups – Poland’s fellow competitors are the Netherlands, Belgium and Wales — they’ve conceded 1.7 xGs per 90 minutes while posting a -0.79 xG differential per 90 minutes.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 17.39% +450
Advance To Knockout Round 47.50% -110
Win World Cup 0.40% +15000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

In fact, in those six Nations League fixtures, Poland won the match on xG only one time. That match, a home fixture against Wales, represented the only time in the Nations League fixtures they both created more than 1 xG and conceded under 1 xG.

The other worrying element? Lewandowski isn’t getting any younger and has seen his production drop off a cliff recently. In the five Nations League fixtures in which he participated, Lewandowski accumulated only 0.53 total xG along with 1.17 xGOT.

It’s not entirely bad news with Lewandowski, as he has generated 1 xG per 90 minutes in his first 11 fixtures with Barcelona and created 0.55 xG/90 minutes in three matches against Slovakia, Spain and Sweden at the European Championships.

But, if Poland hopes to make it out of the group stage for the first time since the 1986 FIFA World Cup, they will have to clean up their defense in a hurry. In their last 15 competitive matches against teams that either will feature in the 2022 World Cup or partook in the European Championships, Poland have kept a clean sheet in exactly two.

Plus, in just one European Championship fixture against a 2022 World Cup side (Spain), manager Czesław Michniewicz’s side surrendered 2.2 xG. Additionally, the 2018 World Cup saw Poland finish dead-last in a group while surrendering at least 1 xG to all of Senegal, Columbia and Japan.


Poland World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Mexico 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 22
Saudi Arabia 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 26
Argentina 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 30

Key Player: Piotr Zielinski

Most would point to Lewandowski as the focal point of this roster, which is ultimately fair.

But if Poland are to make it out of the group in Qatar, there’s an argument to be made Zielinski could help unlock the Polish attack. Through his first 11 fixtures with Napoli, Zielinski has created 0.38 xAssists per 90 minutes along with 0.56 xGs + xAssists. In the four prior seasons, the attacking midfielder never created more than 0.2 xA per 90 minutes and created more than 0.35 xG + xA in half of those four seasons.

Can part of that be attributed to a small sample and Napoli’s style of play? Unquestionably. However, the fact remains Poland have never had much offensive support for Lewandowski. At the European Championships, Lewandowski accounted for 52% of Poland’s total xG output. At the 2018 FIFA World Cup, he accounted for 42.3% of their total xG output. In fact, Lewandowski was the only player who created more than one total xG at both those competitions.

Should Zielinski bring his Napoli form to Qatar, that should help provide some extra attacking muscle in a group that should feature a lot of goal-scoring.


Poland World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Poland

Put simply, Poland are a team that prefer to play without the ball and try to beat teams on the counterattack.

Michniewicz’s preferred formation is a 4-2-3-1, but we’ve also seen a 3-4-2-1 with three central-defenders. The latter formation ultimately becomes a back-five in defense, but the key cogs of the formation are the two central midfielders.

Unlike some teams that opt for one attacking central midfielder and one defensive central midfielder — think Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté with France – Poland place two defensive-minded midfielders in those roles to provide protection for a leaky defense.

Then, once Poland win the ball, they will attempt to counter through the center of the park. This is where Zielinski features prominently once again, as he’ll control most of the ball with Lewandowski in front in the No. 9 role, with two wingers providing options out wide.

As a result of that strategy, bettors won’t see a high volume of shots from Poland. Rather, this attack will instead focus on quality over quantity and wait for a prime scoring chance to arrive.

All of this is evidenced by the fact that Poland had a majority of the ball in only one of their six Nations League fixtures and saw only 34.75% average possession in four fixtures against Belgium and the Netherlands, despite playing from behind.



Saudi Arabia World Cup Preview 🇸🇦

BJ Cunningham: Saudi Arabia are in the World Cup for the sixth time in the country’s history after finishing atop their World Cup qualifying group over Japan and Australia. Much like Qatar, Saudi Arabia are one of the mystery teams coming into this tournament, because their entire roster is playing in the Saudi Pro League. In fact, their total squad transfer value is only $23,100,000, which is the second lowest in this tournament only to Qatar, per transfermarkt.com.

They were also one of the teams that were a bit fortunate to actually finish in second in their qualifying group based on their xG results. They cruised through the first round of World Cup Qualifying, but in the second round, they only created 14.4 xG and allowed 11.0 xG in 10 matches. That’s not impressive when six of those matches came against China, Oman and Vietnam, who are ranked outside the Action Network’s top 80 in the world.

They had two matches each with Japan and Australia, which was a good barometer to see if they could hang with high quality competition. The answer to that question was no, because they lost the xG battle by a combined 5.4 to 4.1.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 3.95% +2000
Advance To Knockout Round 15.87% +500
Win World Cup 0.03% +75000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

What was interesting about Saudi Arabia’s performance in the 2018 World Cup is they were able to hold over 50% possession in every single match, but against Uruguay and Russia, they were only able to create a total of 0.5 xG and allowed 3.4 xG.

The match against Japan on the road was quite telling that Saudi Arabia really aren’t used to not having the ball and aren’t that effective sitting in and playing a low block. The same thing happened when they played Australia on the road as well.

However, much like Qatar, Saudi Arabia will have an added benefit to all of their players playing in the Saudi Pro League. That league went on pause on October 16th, giving them over a month of rest and training together to gear up for the World Cup, while the rest of the teams in their group will have less than two weeks.

So, if they weren’t able to do it against Japan and Australia, what makes you think they are going to be able to hang with Argentina, Mexico and Poland?

The prospects of Saudi Arabia getting out of this group are slim, especially when they open up against Lionel Messi and Argentina.


Saudi Arabia World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Argentina 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 22
Poland 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 26
Mexico 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 30

Key Player: Salem Al-Dawsari

Salem Al-Dawsari has been a mainstay of the Saudi Arabian roster for a long time. The 31-year-old left winger who plays for Al-Hilal has made 53 appearances and scored 14 goals.

His natural position is at left wing, which is why Hervé Renard’s 4-2-3-1 system fits him so well. He has great ability on the ball to dribble past defenders, cut into the penalty box and he has a rocket of a right foot, making him a threat from outside the box. So, if the opponent’s right back isn’t a solid defender, he will cause a lot of problems down the left flank of the pitch.

Al-Dawsari also has great pace with or without the ball at his feet and can get in behind the opposing team’s defense. His attacking partnership with Firas Al-Buraikan is one that will have to be in sync if Saudi Arabia is able to threaten the opposing net.


Saudi Arabia World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Saudi Arabia

Hervé Renard took over Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2019 after managing Morocco the previous four years. Renard typically likes to employ a 4-2-3-1, allowing his two best attacking players, Al-Dawsari and Firas Al Buraikan, to play their natural attacking positions.

Saudi Arabia play a slow, intricate style, playing out from the back and putting a premium on possessing the ball. It’s why a lot of their matches were very low-event; their games averaged just 2.5 xG during 10 matches in the second round of qualification.

The biggest question for Renard is, can Saudi Arabia sit and defend when they aren’t going to have over 50% of the ball? Poland, Mexico and Argentina are likely going to control a majority of the possession against them.

Renard will have a full month of preparation with his team, but if the matches against Japan and Australia are any indication, Saudi Arabia are going to struggle.

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Group D

Australia World Cup Preview 🇦🇺

BJ Cunningham: The Socceroos come into the World Cup by winning not one, but two playoffs against the United Arab Emirates and then against Peru. Australia finished third in their World Cup qualifying group behind Saudi Arabia and Japan, but looking at the underlying numbers, they were actually on par with Saudi Arabia.

Through their 12 matches of Third Round World Cup Qualifying, along with their two playoff matches, Australia were at a +0.27 xGD per 90 minutes, which really isn’t that impressive considering the average Action Network ranking of their opponent was 76. The two matches against Japan were a good test to see if they would be able to hang with either France or Denmark in this group, and they did not pass that test whatsoever. Japan thoroughly dominated them on xG 3.96 to 2.38 over the two meetings and won both matches as well.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 1.78% +1400
Advance To Knockout Round 10.15% +300
Win World Cup 0.01% +35000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

In terms of roster talent, Australia are near the bottom of the list with nobody really of note playing in one of the top leagues in Europe. They do have some names people might recognize like former Huddersfield midfielder Aaron Mooy, who is currently playing with Scottish giants Celtic, and former Brighton goalkeeper Matt Ryan, who is currently playing for FC Copenhagen in the Danish Superliga.

The World Cup will be nothing new to this Australian team, as a lot of their players were on the squad when they played in 2018 in Russia. What was interesting about that World Cup is they were in a group with France, Denmark and Peru. They have both France and Denmark in their group this time, and they beat Peru by way of the playoff to get into this World Cup.

In 2018, they lost to France 2-1 but were actually tied with them until conceding an own goal; then, they drew Denmark 1-1 with an xG edge. So, if you are looking for a path for Australia getting to the Round of 16, they will likely have to put two heroic performances against France and Denmark, just like they did in 2018, and then beat Tunisia.


Australia World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
France 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 22
Tunisia 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 26
Denmark 10 a.m. ET, Nov. 30

Key Player: Aaron Mooy

Mooy has been Australia’s go-to creator in the midfield for a long time now. The 31-year-old spent three seasons in total and two in the Premier League with Huddersfield, scoring seven goals and dishing out four assists in those two seasons. He spent two seasons in China playing for Shanghai SIPG and was in the 90th percentile for goal contributions, shots per 90 minutes, progressive carries and touches in the penalty area in the Chinese Super League. He recently just made a move to Celtic in the Scottish Premier League and has only played five full 90s, but Mooy has already dished out three assists.

During World Cup Qualifying he was the main midfielder, progressing the ball up the pitch and supplying the front line, just like he did at Shanghai SIPG and has done with Celtic this season.

With Celtic in the Champions League he only played one full 90 minute match, but Mooy was very impressive against Shakhtar. He recorded 49 touches in the opponent’s final third, had a 0.27 xG + xAssist rate per 90 minutes and had seven progressive passes.

Mooy is also a true box-to-box midfielder who will likely be occupying a double pivot in the midfield. He’s got great range as a passer, is comfortable under pressure with the ball at his feet and has excellent vision.

He will be a major key for Australia in the middle going up against the elite midfields of France and Denmark.


Australia World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Australia

Graham Arnold took over the Australian national team after their group stage exit at the World Cup. Under Arnold, Australia play out of either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation with a slow, intricate style, almost always playing out from the back. Matt Ryan is a very capable goalkeeper with his feet, so the Socceroos will normally drop six players with the full backs and two central midfielders occupying the space in between the first line of the opponent’s attack. This allows Ryan to play over the top to the full backs who can begin to progress the ball up the field.

When Australia are in possession, their formation almost becomes a 2-3-5, with the two attacking midfielders pushing up the pitch and creating overloads between the opponent’s defensive line. The Aussie center backs, along with  Mooy, are very capable at playing long balls up the pitch, so if you’re facing Australia, you better be ready to win some aerial duels. Outside of that, Australia are very reliant on Mooy to dictate the tempo of the match and to progress the ball into the final third.

Out of possession, Australia drop back into a 4-4-2, with two low blocks. The two front strikers will often press the opposing center back individually, but the reality is Australia don’t really press their opponents as a team, high up the pitch. They also have their full back man-mark the opposing winger, which works against low tier competition, but it did not work against Japan, who picked them apart, creating 3.9 xG over the two meetings. So, we’ll see if Arnold sticks with that method for the World Cup.

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Denmark World Cup Preview 🇩🇰

Anthony Dabbundo: Once you get past the tournament favorites and traditional powerhouses of world football, Denmark have a case as the next-best team in the World Cup tournament field. Their run to the semifinal in the Euros last summer was no fluke. Denmark lost to Finland in the first match under extraordinary circumstances following the on-field collapse of captain Christian Eriksen, but they dominated Belgium for large stretches of that match in a 2-1 defeat. Denmark then dominated three lesser sides – Russia, Wales and the Czech Republic – before an extra time loss to England in the semifinal.

There’s not a ton of top-end talent in this Denmark side, but there aren’t many holes, either. They have three center backs that play at top clubs in Europe with Simon Kjaer, Joachim Andersen and Andreas Christensen all excelling with the ball at their feet and playing through pressure to progress the ball up the pitch. Good passing structures are the feature of this Denmark team under manager Kasper Hjulmand. Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg are the two holding midfielders, with Hojbjerg taking on a more progressive passing role for Denmark than he does for Spurs.

Joakim Maehle had his international breakout at the Euros as the three at the back system enabled him to get forward often and create chances through crossing. His creativity helps to make up for the lack of game-changing attacking talent. Mikkel Damsgaard and Eriksen are two excellent playmakers who don’t do a ton of pressing or defensive work.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 35.93% +275
Advance To Knockout Round 83.98% -300
Win World Cup 4.64% +2800
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

The biggest question mark for Denmark at this World Cup is what they do at striker. Jonas Wind, Martin Braithwaite and Kasper Dolberg are the three best forward options. The attack was at its best with Dolberg in the Euros, but he has produced next to nothing at Sevilla this season in more than 400 minutes. Wind isn’t getting regular minutes at Wolfsburg, either. On form alone, the answer at striker would seem to be Braithwaite, who is playing regular minutes and producing solid shot, xG and goal numbers at Espanyol this season.

Another reason for optimism: Denmark’s pressing style has really caused problems for multiple top European teams in the last couple years. Denmark beat France twice in the Nations League this summer, and while you can call into question the motivation for Les Bleus in that match, the Danes also dominated Belgium at the Euros last summer. They won the xG battle 1.7-0.9 and outshot the Belgians 17-6 in the match.

Denmark rolled through qualifying and were the first team in Europe to clinch qualification through the group stage first round. They didn’t have a particularly difficult group with Scotland and Austria, but through the first eight matches of qualifying, they had eight wins from eight and had scored 27 goals whilst not conceding any.

The Danes didn’t get a particularly difficult group to advance from, and they’ll certainly feel good about their chances against France in the second match of the group. If Denmark finish second in the group, Argentina likely looms in the Round of 16. However, the Danes are certainly live to win this group with one good result against France. That could open the door for a favorable path to the quarterfinals and beyond.


Denmark World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Tunisia 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 22
France 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 26
Australia 10 a.m. ET, Nov. 30

Key Player: Christian Eriksen

Denmark have one game-changing attacking talent, and it’s Eriksen. He played less than a half of Euro 2020 after collapsing on the field and the Danes still produced 10 xG in six matches without him. He’s nearing the end of his career at the top of European football, but his role on set pieces and pulling the strings for a group of forwards that generally are underwhelming is a major key for Denmark.

I don’t expect Eriksen to be playing a full 90 minutes often anymore because of his age and lack of pressing ability, but he’s clearly a spark and the best passer on this team. Eriksen averaged more than five progressive passes and 4.5 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes in the PL last year, which puts him in the top 10% among players in Europe’s big five leagues.

He’s also adding about two shots per match and is in the top fifth percentile in xAssists per match. Erik ten Hag has found a role for him at United that gets the best out of him, and he enters this World Cup in excellent form.

The Danes will look to get him on the ball as much as possible and the more he’s on it, the more dangerous this attack becomes.


Denmark World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Denmark

International football isn’t normally defined by organization out of possession and the tactical prowess of the sides. The teams don’t play that much together, and it’s hard to have a well drilled and well organized side.

Despite that, Denmark are one of the best out of possession teams in the entire tournament. They are extremely well organized without the ball and are one of the best teams at winning the ball back. Denmark grade out really well from a ball recovery and passes per defensive action perspective.

They can alternate between a 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 formation, depending on how Hjulmand wants to gain midfield control. In the first few minutes against Wales at Euro 2021, Denmark came out in a three at the back formation, and it wasn’t working. He tactically adjusted and pushed Christensen into the midfield to help bolster that group. It basically became a back four from there. I’d expect a 4-3-3 is more likely at this World Cup, with Maehle and Rasmus Kristensen as the full backs. Kristensen is able to get forward, but he’s more conservative in this role than Maehle.

Denmark’s attack is centered around two players: Maehle and Eriksen. Denmark love conservative possession of the ball and prioritize ball retention when possible. It’s a bit Graham Potter-esque from his days at Brighton that the ball will continue to be recycled until it can get Maehle in an advanced wide area for a cross. That also means that Denmark can struggle to sustain pressure in the attacking third, because any real forward thrust is where possession is often lost before a shot is produced.

The lack of elite attacking talent also means that the Danes need to excel on set pieces. That’s where Eriksen comes into the picture. Denmark scored one goal from a set piece in each of their knockout stage matches at the Euros.



France World Cup Preview 🇫🇷

BJ Cunningham: The defending World Cup champions come into Qatar once again as one of the favorites to lift the trophy. In terms of talent, France might have the most complete roster of anyone in this tournament.

Obviously, they have two of the best attacking players in the world in PSG’s Kylian Mbappe and the Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, who combined for 88 goals at the club level last season. Additionally, France have RB Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku, Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembélé, and Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman.

Injuries have taken their toll in the midfield, as Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante are going to miss the World Cup. However, it might have been a mistake to start those two over the Real Madrid pair of Aurélien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga, who have been in fantastic form at the club level to begin the season and look ready to take over the French midfield.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 59.71% -250
Advance To Knockout Round 92.02% -1000
Win World Cup 10.83% +600
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

Then, in defense, France have tons of options for a center back pairing. Raphaël Varane has been a staple in the French backline for a number of years, but Didier Deschamps has Arsenal’s William Saliba, Barcelona’s Jules Koundé, or the Bayern Munich pair of Dayot Upamecano and Lucas Hernandez at his disposal. He has outstanding full backs in Bayern Munich’s Benjamin Pavard and AC Milan’s Theo Hernandez.

While France have all of the talent in the world, their results since winning the 2018 World Cup have been a bit questionable. They got knocked out of the Euros in the Round of 16 by Switzerland and got thoroughly dominated by Germany and Portugal during the group stage. Against Germany, Portugal and Switzerland in the Euros, France allowed a total of 5.5 xG in three matches. Additionally, their low block defensive style of play under Deschamps has not been easy on the eyes for most fans.

France should easily get out of Group D, but winning the event is not going to be as straightforward as most people think, because the match against Denmark is going to be incredibly difficult. With that being said, with Mbappe and Benzema on the pitch together, it’s hard to look away from this French side making another deep run in the World Cup.


France World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Australia 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 22
Denmark 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 26
Tunisia 10 a.m. ET, Nov. 30

Key Player: Kylian Mbappe

With Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo getting into their late 30s, you are starting to see the next generation take over the world’s game. People will debate until they are blue in the face, but Mbappe is the best player in the world.

You simply will not find a more complete attacker that can take you off the dribble, make line-breaking passes and score from anywhere on the pitch. He’s shown that for PSG over the past few years, as last year he averaged a staggering 1.18 xG + xAssist per 90 minutes rate and this season, he’s currently at 1.23 heading into the World Cup, per fbref.com.

For France, Mbappe has scored 28 goals and provided 17 assists over 59 appearances over his career. Even though he didn’t score in the Euros, he did create 2 xG and 1.7 xAssists over their four matches.

Deschamps’ system is incredibly reliant on offensive transition after winning the ball deep in their own final third, which means Mbappe’s pace and ability on the ball are crucial to France’s attack, and it’s another reason why they’ve had so much success since he’s come into the side.


France World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for France

You would think France would play a style that mirrors the amount of talent they have, but Deschamps tends to play a little differently than you might think against the world’s elite. They consistently play in a mid-defensive block, clogging up the middle of the pitch, looking to win the ball off the opponents and make quick offensive transitions sending Mbappe, Benzema and out on the counter to make some magic happen.

When you have two of the best attacking players in the world, it works, but you also are conceding a lot of possession. You saw that in the Euros when they played Germany. France only were able to hold 39% possession, and even in the semifinals and final of the 2018 World Cup they failed to hold over 40% possession.

That’s not to say France don’t want to play a possession-based style, because that is exactly what they like to do when playing against smaller sides. Typically, they like to build out from the back with Tchouameni dropping deep to begin the build-up play, then everyone on the pitch has the freedom to move where they please. It ends up being a little bit of a slower build-up with players making half runs in between the lines to eventually unlock the defense to create a chance.

So in the group stage, we will likely see France dominate the ball, but when they play bigger sides, don’t be surprised if Deschamps plays more defensively.



Tunisia World Cup Preview 🇹🇳

BJ Cunningham: The North African nation is now playing in their second-straight World Cup after qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Tunisia won their qualifying group over Zambia, Equatorial Guinea and Mauritania but only had a +3.32 xGD in those six matches. Then, they made it to the quarterfinals of the Africa Cup of Nations in January, losing to Burkina Faso 1-0.

Tunisia then beat Mali over a two-leg playoff to reach their second straight World Cup, although they weren’t able to generate many high-quality chances on net, as they only created 0.73 xG over the two meetings.

During the 2018 World Cup, Tunisia were placed in a group with England, Belgium and Panama. England and Belgium absolutely throttled them, scoring a combined seven goals off of eight xG, but Tunisia were able to dominate Panama and get a 2-1 victory.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 2.58% +1600
Advance To Knockout Round 13.85% +350
Win World Cup 0.04% +50000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

In terms of talent, there are not a lot of guys playing at the highest level for football at the moment. Wahbi Khazri has been the main man upfront for a long time, making 71 international appearances and scoring 24 goals. They have Ellyes Skhiri, who is an outstanding defensive midfielder for Koln in the German Bundesliga, along with a center back pairing of Dylan Bronn and Montassar Talbi, who are at least playing in one of Europe’s top five leagues.

Tunisia also made a managerial change after the Africa Cup of Nations, promoting Jalel Kadri after sacking Mondher Kebaier after their loss in the quarterfinal to Burkina Faso.

For Tunisia to make it out of the group stage for the first time in their country’s history, they need to perform better against top competition. In the Africa Cup of Nations, despite beating one of the best teams on the continent in Nigeria, they got outcreated on xG 0.53 to 1.07, and Nigeria got a red card in the 66th minute. So, if Tunisia repeat what happened against England and Belgium, they will not be getting out of this group.


Tunisia World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Denmark 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 22
Australia 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 26
France 10 a.m. ET, Nov. 30

Key Player: Ellyes Skhiri

Ellyes Skhiri is incredibly important to Tunisia, as he is the main defensive midfielder protecting their back line. He’s had an impressive campaign for Koln in the German Bundesliga, winning 2.81 tackles per 90 minutes and 1.59 interceptions per 90 minutes, which are in the 86th percentile or above in Europe’s top five leagues.

Skhiri has incredible stamina and is seemingly everywhere on the pitch, from stopping opposing counterattacks to pressing and winning the ball off the opponent high up the pitch. During the 2020-21 season, Shkiri ran the most and had the most tackles of anybody in the Bundesliga.

In his five matches at the Africa Cup of Nations, Skhiri was asked to be a part of the attack more with Tunisia dominating possession against Gambia and Mauritania. He ended up with six tackles won, seven interceptions and 23 ball recoveries during the tournament, but also led the team being involved in 14 shot-ending sequences, per The Analyst.

Skhiri plays a massive role for Turkey going up against elite midifields in France and Denmark, so Turkey will only go as far as Skhiri takes them.


Tunisia World Cup Roster

Editor’s Note: This roster has not been officially filed so this is a projection.


Tactical Analysis for Tunisia

Tunisia mainly set up in a 4-3-3 throughout the Africa Cup of Nations, with Skhiri as the holding midfielder. They were very possession-dominant in matches against Gambia and Mauritania, but against Mali and Nigeria, Tunisia tended to sit a little deeper. It’s why during their five matches they had seven direct attacks compared to just three build-up attacks.

They were also one of the most successful pressing teams at the Africa Cup of Nations, having a PPDA of 7.8 and forcing 30 high turnovers in their five matches. Their PPDA was third to only Algeria and Morocco. There is no way Tunisia can come out and press both France and Denmark like they did to Gambia and Mauritania, as they would get picked apart.

For Tunisia to be successful, they are going to have to sit deep or press when their opponent enters their final third, then look to quickly transition the ball up to Khazri to make some magic happen. However, we might see some of that high pressing from AFCON show up against Australia, who is going to be doing a lot of slow build-up play from the back.

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Group E

Costa Rica World Cup Preview 🇨🇷

BJ Cunningham: Costa Rica are the luckiest team to be in the World Cup. They rode the coattails of goalkeeper Keylor Navas all the way through CONCACAF qualifying and eventually beat New Zealand in a playoff to reach the World Cup.

If you want the definition of an xG overperformer, it’s Costa Rica. They went all the way through World Cup qualifying with a +6 goal differential but a -4.43 xG differential. The reason for that is because their defense ran insanely hot on the back of Navas playing out of his mind in net. Costa Rica allowed only eight goals over the entirety of World Cup Qualifying, but they allowed their opponents to create 20.03 xG. In six matches against their three toughest opponents (USA, Mexico and Canada), Costa Rica created just 5.17 xG but allowed 7.2 xG.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 0.93% +5000
Advance To Knockout Round 7.25% +800
Win World Cup 0.01% +75000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

In terms of their roster construction, this is the oldest roster in the World Cup. Almost half of their roster is over the age of 30, and over 70% of their roster is playing in the Costa Rican Primera Division.

When you hear the term “park the bus,” that is exactly what Costa Rica does. So going up against Spain, Germany and Japan, three possession-dominant sides that are going to hold over 70% possession and likely get off 20+ shots per match, is not a recipe for success.


Costa Rica World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Spain 11 a.m. ET, No. 23
Japan 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 27
Germany 2 p.m. ET, Dec. 1

Key Player: Keylor Navas

Navas has been one of the best goalkeepers in the world for a long time, but he is struggling to find playing time with PSG these days, as the 35-year-old is the second-choice keeper behind Gianluigi Donnarumma.

When Navas was in net for Real Madrid and PSG over the years, he consistently performed above expectations. Since the 2017-18 season, Navas has a +13.9 post-shot xG +/-, meaning he’s saved about 14 more shots than a normal keeper should save.

He’s not really a “sweeper keeper” or someone who is going to come off his line very often unless completely necessary. Over his career Navas is only averaging 0.94 defensive actions outside the penalty area and is stopping only 2.2% of crosses coming into the penalty area, per fbref.com.

If Costa Rica are going to sit in a 4-4-2 and park the bus, he’s not going to need to come off his line very often, but he’s going to have to put together three masterful showings to keep his team alive in every match.


Costa Rica World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Costa Rica

Costa Rica are very simplistic in their tactics. It’s 4-4-2, park the bus and send Joel Campbell out on the counter hoping he will create something. They rode this strategy all the way through CONCACAF qualifying, playing an incredibly low defensive line with 10 men consistently behind the ball.

They are not going to come out and press you. Costa Rica will let you have the ball and pass, pass it around – but they put a premium on clogging up the middle of the pitch, forcing their opponents to move the ball wide and send in crosses, where they believe they have an advantage winning aerial duels. Their qualification playoff match against New Zealand was a perfect example. Costa Rica allowed New Zealand to control over 63% possession and had a PPDA of 21.4.

It might have worked against New Zealand, but playing this style against Germany, Spain and Japan is a recipe for disaster.



Germany World Cup Preview 🇩🇪

Johnathan Wright: Germany head into Qatar with the same high expectations they have anytime they take the pitch, although 2022 will be slightly different for the Germans this go-round. Die Mannschaft need to right the ship after a disappointing cycle in their last two major international tournaments. They finished at the bottom of their group in Russia 2018, finishing with two losses and a -2 goal differential, failing to defend their 2014 World Cup win.

It was the first time they failed to advance out of their group in 80 years. They also failed to advance out of their group in the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League, suffering a 6-0 loss to Spain — the country’s worst defeat since 1931.

That ship is already looking to be righted, though. Germany hired Hansi Flick as Joachim Low’s successor, who stepped down this past summer after 15 years. Flick’s short time with the team has looked promising, as Germany were the first team to clinch a World Cup berth through qualification. They did so via one of the 13 European spots, finishing atop their WCQ group.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 26.82% +110
Advance To Knockout Round 77.10% -800
Win World Cup 3.72% +1000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

On top of a coaching change ahead of Qatar, Germany have a revamped roster. They have reinstated Thomas Muller up top, pairing his veteran experience and wits with the young and upcoming Kai Havertz. In midfield, they have nearly all new faces, highlighted by Joshua Kimmich in a centralized position along with Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane, adding creativity and flair on the flanks. All three also play together at Bayern Munich, so chemistry is already intact (Muller plays at Bayern, too).

Germany’s new attack has already shown promise. In WCQ, Die Mannschaft finished second in xG at 32.9 and second in total goals scored at 36. They were also third in big chances created at 37 while controlling an average of 75.7% per match.

Germany’s performance in 2018 is likely just a blip in their World Cup history, as they have reached at least the semifinal in every other World Cup since the turn of the century. However, the Germans were drawn in Group E, along with Spain, Japan and Costa Rica. It is considered the “Group of Death,” and while Germany are big favorites to advance beyond round-robin play, they are not the group favorite. The battle for first is highly significant as the winner of the group will likely play Croatia, while second place will likely be up against Belgium.


Germany World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Japan 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 23
Spain 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 27
Costa Rica 2 p.m. ET, Dec. 1

Key Player: Leroy Sane

Sane was shockingly left off Germany’s final 23-man squad for Russia 2018, and based on his recent form to start the new season, it seems he is ready for redemption. The 26-year-old has been nothing short of sensational in 2022, scoring nine goals and dishing out three assists during 14 matches in all club competitions.

With Bayern, Sane is constantly rotating his placement on the field between right and left wing and center attacking midfielder. However, for Germany, he is primarily found on the left wing. This allows him to use his pace down the flank to create chances in the box with a driven ball across the goal or attempt to beat his defender off the dribble for a shot.

In WCQ, the lefty finished with four goals and two assists and was tied for first on his team with Joshua Kimmich for chances created per 90 minutes, averaging 2.4.

Sane’s ability to go at defenders and create space with his speed or tactical abilities will cause fits for every defender he is up against. If he remains in good form leading up to the World Cup and throughout, Germany’s chances to win their fifth World Cup increase significantly.


Germany World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Germany

Flick took over for Germany directly after their failure to advance in the Euros 2020 under Low. The decision to take the role surprised some, as he was coaching at Bayern Munich where he had a successful two seasons, winning the treble of Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and the Champions League for only the second time in their history in 2019-20.

He implemented a 4-2-3-1 immediately after taking over and has stuck with it since. Flick has certainly mirrored some of the best practices he used at Bayern with Germany. Hoffenheim’s David Raum plays aggressively in the left back role, reflecting the way Alphonso Davies plays with the Bavarians, while RB Leipzig’s Lukas Klostermann keeps the defensive steadiness and shape on the right for the Germans.

In the two of the 4-2-3-1, Joshua Kimmich and Ilkay Gündoğan play in a double pivot while Sane, Gnabry and Muller spearhead the attack along with Havertz, who plays the point.

Aside from a few personnel changes, the big difference between Flick and Low is that Flick wants his team pressing and counter-pressing on defense. Germany won possession back 8.7 times per game in the final third in qualifiers, the most in UEFA WCQ play.

Flick also encourages his side to have greater focus playing up the center of the pitch rather than his predecessor, who wanted to build through the wide men. As a result of the shift, Germany averaged 75.7% possession per game in WCQ, just 0.2% fewer than Spain, who lead the region.

Many German fans and analysts believe Flick has what it takes to bring Germany back to the top, and it has been tough not to buy into his tactics, given the results.

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Japan World Cup Preview 🇯🇵

Anthony Dabbundo: Asia isn’t the most difficult region to qualify from, but Japan’s dominant win in a friendly against the United States should open some eyes to the quality of this team. Japan finished with the second most xG created in AFC World Cup Qualifying, and they conceded the fewest xG. Of the qualified Asian teams, Japan might not have the best chance to advance, but they appear to be the best team on paper.

They did qualify for the Round of 16 at the last World Cup in a chaotic Group H where they advanced past Senegal based on a card accumulation tiebreaker. After taking a 2-0 lead on Belgium in the knockout phase, a second half collapse saw them lose 3-2 in stoppage time.

The clubs that their best players represent don’t pop off the name sheet like Spain and Germany, but they play quite cohesively. Takumi Minamino hasn’t excelled at Monaco this season, but he’s been great for the national team in the past, and there is a reason Liverpool saw so much promise in him when they signed him.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 4.21% +1400
Advance To Knockout Round 22.06% +375
Win World Cup 0.16% +25000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

Daichi Kamada is the main attacking creator for this side, and he’s always dangerous in transition. He’s now the primary creator at Eintracht Frankfurt with the departure of Filip Kostic. Two players to watch for potential breakouts for Japan are Brighton’s Kaoru Mitoma and Real Sociedad’s Takefusa Kubo

Kamada is well-trained to play in a Japan side that loves to press high and force turnovers to attack in transition. Don’t expect a ton of slow build-up play from this team, as they are at their best running at defenders and exploiting space in behind.

Japan are dealing with some injuries — namely center back Ko Itakura from Borussia Monchengladbach. He was in the midst of a breakout year in the Bundesliga, and his loss would be a significant blow. Even without him, Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu is one of the better ball-playing defenders in this entire tournament.

Because their backup defender, Maya Yoshida, also has experience playing in the Premier League and now in the Bundesliga, don’t expect him to panic or be unwilling to pressure the opposition as well.

It’s hard to see Japan get out of this group, but beating Costa Rica and pulling one upset with some excellent counterattacking is a clear formula to attempt to do so. Spain and Germany won’t be easy to beat, but neither team is without flaws.


Japan World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Germany 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 23
Costa Rica 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 27
Spain 2 p.m. ET, Dec. 1

Key Player: Daichi Kamada

Filip Kostic might have been the key cog in the attack for Frankfurt over the last few seasons, but Kamada was the key player in establishing the press and winning the ball high up the pitch. Frankfurt wouldn’t have won the Europa League without Kamada, and Japan have little chance of getting out of this group without Kamada at his best.

He does a little bit of everything for a pressing midfielder on a decent German team. Kamada runs without the ball, isn’t afraid to put in a tackle and has solid ratings in aerials won. But Kamada also produces plus-shot numbers and xG for a midfielder who is more of an eight than a 10 in traditional soccer roles.

Mason Mount is the kind of player that shows up on his similarities page. While Mount is generally a more productive passer in the league, they’re similar from a pressing and shots point of view. Kamada is asked to take on more of a progressive passing role when playing for Japan and he’s more than capable of executing that.


Japan World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Japan

The 4-2-3-1 is the preferred formation of Japan. But like most teams who press, there’s a lot of different variations depending on the possession situation and the location of the ball when the opposition has it. You have to be careful reading too much into one match, but Japan’s success in pressing the United States is their textbook identity.

The American center backs had no clear outlets for what to do when on the ball. When the USMNT did get out of the press, a quick turnover led to Japan sending multiple players running forward. The goal is to turn every match into a bit of a Bundesliga game. That could be extremely effective in a World Cup with such a short turnaround time.

Japan could be difficult to game plan for in just a couple of days. If you’re a bit fatigued by the end of the group stage, Japan’s high intensity style can force miscues, too.

Matches will be won and lost for Japan in the transition moments. Because of the group that they are in with Spain and Germany, don’t expect them to have the ball often. They are fearless in their willingness to press, run and force high turnovers. If we know anything about Spain and Germany in this tournament, it’s that they can be vulnerable in the transition moments.

Japan aren’t a team that plays a ton of long balls but similar to Jesse Marsch at Leeds, it’s a system focused on quick vertical passing and springing forward after a ball recovery.



Spain World Cup Preview 🇪🇸

Anthony Dabbundo: Based on xG difference, Spain were the best team at the Euros last summer. They drew with Sweden and Poland because of poor finishing and went out on penalties to Italy in the semifinal, but it’s important to note just how great Spain were at creating chances in that six-game tournament. They produced 16.7 xG in six matches, and while there was extra time included, they did play one fewer match than finalists England and Italy. No other team created more than 14 xG.

One problem for Spain: They only scored 13 goals from those chances. It fits perfectly into the narrative of main striker Alvaro Morata’s inconsistent finishing throughout his career. Spain have all of the beautiful passing and the possession that defined their run of dominance in the early 2010s. Since Luis Enrique has come in as manager, they have improved their pressing and possessing considerably. Yet, they lack the end product, the defense struggles to play without the ball and they lose in these knockout tournaments at the margins.

On paper, Spain have a strong case as the second-best team in the world coming into the tournament. But these tournaments are often won and lost on those margins – the slim margins also knocked them out of the last World Cup in Russia after Russia stole the game on penalties – and it’s hard not to quiver thinking about Spain’s defending in their own penalty area or finishing in the opponent’s.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 68.05% -120
Advance To Knockout Round 93.59% -900
Win World Cup 15.74% +850
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

Spain did show some cracks in their qualifying group, and they will need to be at their best in a very difficult group. Not only is Germany paired with them, the best 1-2 punch of any group, but Japan is a dangerous underdog that is well drilled and always dangerous.

Given how condensed this tournament is, Spain have the midfield depth and ability to be on the ball a ton and they won’t wear down defending without the ball as much. That could be a key advantage.

You expect Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba to be the two full backs, with Alba getting forward to serve as an outlet and ball progressor up the left flank. Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres have question marks as defenders, but so does Eric Garcia, the other option.

The talent is everywhere for Spain — can they put it together and win this tournament? It likely comes down to finishing chances.


Spain World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Costa Rica 11 a.m. ET, No. 23
Germany 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 27
Japan 2 p.m. ET, Dec. 1

Key Player: Álvaro Morata

Morata is the key not just because of his past inconsistency with finishing, but because of his ability to link up the play with all of the pieces in this dynamic passing unit. He is an excellent all-around striker who is able to connect with the midfielders and make quality off-ball runs to get on the end of scoring chances in behind.

He did score multiple goals in the Euros, even if he missed many more chances. Morata is likely to be the target man when Alba is whipping in crosses from the left, and he’s also likely to be the player receiving progressive passes from Gavi, Thiago and Pedri in the center of the pitch.

Morata did pick up a knock playing for Atletico Madrid in a league match in late October, but it is not expected to be serious. Having him fit and healthy is of major importance for this Spain team. No player received more progressive passes than Morata at the Euros last summer, and he averaged a whopping 1.05 xG per 90 minutes.

They’ll go as far as he takes them, and one good finishing run means they could be the favorite to lift the trophy.


Spain World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Spain

You can expect to see Spain play in a 4-3-3 formation, but who plays where is an interesting conversation. The midfield three is sure to be loaded up with passers, and Enrique will have a decision to make with who plays in those wide positions.

Because Alba loves to provide width up the left flank, that gives more room for the left winger to come inside and create combinations from there. That opens the door for someone like Dani Olmo, who took more shots than anyone at the Euros last summer and could shine in a more advanced role.

Ferran Torres typically sees a lot of minutes at striker for Spain, but he actually produces more in a wide role when presented that opportunity. There’s also Mikel Oyarzabal, Pablo Sarabia and others that can take that wide forward role. Given how much Enrique loves inverted wingers, anything is on the table for these wide positions.

Spain dominate opponents by strangling possession and play defense by having the ball more than any international team in the world. They get plenty of touches in the opposition’s final third and penalty area but don’t do a great job of turning that into clear scoring chances.

They dominate possession, create efficiently from set pieces and don’t like defending without the ball. To alleviate their out of possession problems, they counterpress the loss of possession as heavily as any team in international football. The goal is to win the ball back immediately and get back where Spain are comfortable: on the ball.

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Group F

Belgium World Cup Preview 🇧🇪

Anthony Dabbundo: Belgium have been a popular tournament pick at each of the last four international events. Not known as a footballing giant normally, the Belgians rode their golden generation to the top of the FIFA rankings and had multiple deep trips in international events.

They didn’t qualify for the Euros in 2012, but it was clear what was building. By 2014, they had a defense at its peak and an attack full of youth and talent. The Belgians won their group in the World Cup, beat the United States and then lost 1-0 to Argentina in the World Cup quarterfinals. The period of expected triumph came after that, but the actual wins and trophies never did.

Belgium lost to Wales 2-0 in the Euro 2016 quarterfinal, when the path was wide open for them to make the final. In 2018, their World Cup run ended in the semifinal with a 1-0 defeat to eventual champions France. At last summer’s Euros, Belgium won their group but failed to get past eventual champions Italy in the quarterfinal.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 45.65% -188
Advance To Knockout Round 74.63% -700
Win World Cup 3.09% +1600
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

The center backs are old now, there’s not nearly as much young talent being infused through the next generation and the Belgians appear to have missed their window. This is their last best chance. Belgium’s main key contributors are all over the age of 30 with Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Axel Witsel, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen all either at the end of their primes or on the downslope of their careers.

Belgium’s weakest area traditionally, even during the golden generation’s peak, was the full backs. Roberto Martinez likes to use a three at the back defensive formation, so I would expect that in this World Cup, too. That means Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Meunier as the first choice wing backs with Timothy Castagne rotating in for depth and substitutions.

The entire team is built around the idea of having lots of possession and keeping it at all costs. That’s generally a Martinez principle, and it fits them well given their personnel. The problem for the Belgians comes when they don’t have the ball.

Belgium have excellent progressive passing numbers and pass completion rates. They’re one of the best teams in the world on the ball and they succeed against low blocks.

Their weaknesses were exposed in the Euros when teams were willing to contest midfield and expose their inability to play without the ball. They’re not aggressive defensively and don’t have a lot of ball-winning in the midfield. If the midfield pairing is Witsel and Youri Tielemans, they won’t have the ball-winning or defensive solidity of some of the other top teams in this competition.

The biggest problem for Belgium probably won’t come in the group stage, where they’re expected to go through. The Round of 16 matchups will likely be either Spain or Germany. Both of those sides are better possession-dominant sides that create matchup problems for the Belgians.


Belgium World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Canada 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 23
Morocco 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 27
Croatia 10 a.m. ET, Dec. 1

Key Player: Kevin De Bruyne

De Bruyne is the poster boy of Belgium’s golden generation of talent. He plays at the best club team in the world and consistently dominates the Premier League with his elite ball carrying, passing and shooting abilities. De Bruyne isn’t just a threat from set pieces – especially free kicks – but a dominant force in transition, and he has a special connection with Lukaku that has fueled Belgium for nearly a decade now.

De Bruyne has maintained his stellar form for Manchester City this season. He ranks in the top sixth percentile in Europe for xAssists, progressive carries and progressive dribbles. He’s getting more than three shots per match, which is almost unheard of for a midfielder. Many strikers in the Premier League don’t even get that many shots per match.

He’s also produced more than six shot-creating actions per match and is averaging 0.70 xG + xA per match. The Belgium attack is built around getting the ball to Lukaku and De Bruyne and letting them tear defenders apart with precision and power. They’ll go as far as De Bruyne takes them.


Belgium World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Belgium

The most likely formation for the Belgians is a 3-4-3 with Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Jason Denayer in the center of defense. They opt to drop off and be more compact defensively when they don’t have the ball, because they’re not a team built to effectively counterpress and win the ball back immediately when possession is lost.

Belgium could be exploited in behind because of this. The center backs aren’t known for their pace, and if the midfield and forwards aren’t going to press heavily, opposing players will have time on the ball to pick out passes and long balls over the top of the defense. In many ways, Belgium play like a classic international team. The out of possession structure isn’t always there, and the plan to win the ball back tactically and with the personnel is sometimes lacking. But when on the ball, the individual quality and passing ability of the side is as dangerous as anyone.

Transitions are not an area where Belgium thrives, either. They found a lot of success in that quarterfinal vs. Italy through youngster Jeremy Doku’s breakout game by playing more direct through him. But that’s not Plan A for Martinez’s team. Italy exposed Belgium’s lack of structure in transition defense when the Italians pounced on high turnovers to score the first goal.

Belgium are also more of a slow build-up team instead of a team looking to break with numbers aggressively at pace to exploit opponents.



Canada World Cup Preview 🇨🇦

Nick Hennion: For the first time since 1986, the Canadian national team will appear at the FIFA World Cup.

Years of mediocrity has plagued this nation in the soccer sense, but Canada finally found a generation with enough talent to reach the world’s biggest tournament. Immediately, casual soccer fans will recognize two names on this roster — Alphonso Davies, who currently plays at left-back for Bayern Munich, and Jonathan David, a forward for Lille who previously enjoyed a spell at Belgian side Genk.

Those two make up the focal points of this Canadian side, which features in Group F alongside Belgium, Croatia and Morocco.

However, there is also a number of other players that, although not household names, make up the core strength of this roster. For example, goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau is the first-choice between the sticks for MLS powerhouse Los Angeles FC, while attacking midfielders Junior Hoilett and Tajon Buchanan provide support for David on offense.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 12.29% +1200
Advance To Knockout Round 34.42% +275
Win World Cup 0.25% +20000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

In terms of their current form, Canada arrive at the World Cup in great form, albeit against comparatively weaker opposition. Dating back to the beginning of 2021, Canada are 18-5-4 (W-L-D) and reached the semifinals of the 2021 Gold Cup before falling to Mexico.

However, if you just look at matches against teams that reached Qatar, that paints a different picture of this nation. Across those 11 fixtures – nine competitive and two friendlies – Canada are 5-4-2 (W-L-D). Just against the United States and Mexico, Canada are 2-2-2 (W-L-D) over the past two calendar years.

If Canada hope to have success at the World Cup, they will have to improve upon their defensive record. Just in those past 11 fixtures against World Cup opposition, Canada have kept a clean sheet only four times. Eliminate the two friendlies from consideration and bettors will find the Canucks have kept a clean sheet in only a third of their last nine competitive fixtures.

At the same time, this offense – one that plays a high-pressing style – has done very well in that same sample. Over those last 11 fixtures against World Cup-opposition, Canada have failed to score in only three fixtures, including scoring in seven of nine competitive fixtures.

That offensive record should come in handy, especially considering Canada will play in a group that features strong defenses from Belgium and Croatia. However, if Canada have hopes of upsetting one of those teams’s knockout round hopes and advancing beyond the group, they will either have to shut down a potent attack or their offense outpace an inferior defense.


Canada World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Belgium 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 23
Croatia 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 27
Morocco 10 a.m. ET, Dec. 1

Key Player: Alphonso Davies

In a squad that features mostly mid-tier global talents, Davies stands alone as the class of the roster.

Across his past three seasons with Bayern Munich, Davies has generated more than 0.25 combined xGs + xAssists in two campaigns. Through his first 10 fixtures with the German giants this season, Davies has created 0.22 xGs and assists, with his xA number only 0.04 behind last season’s total.

Further, if you compare Davies against other top full-backs, he ranks in the 95th percentile in shot-creating actions and the 99th percentile in dribbles, attacking penalty area touches and progressive passes. Davies is also in the 83rd percentile globally in xAssisted goals and in the 89th percentile in non-penalty xGs + xA.

All of this is to say that, without a strong World Cup from Davies, Canada will have little chance of surprising one of Belgium or Croatia in the hopes of reaching the knockout round. Plus, this is a Canada side that is extremely lacking in high-pressure fixtures, except for Davies.

Without that valuable experience that other nations in the group possess, a sub-par performance from Davies could spell a disastrous World Cup campaign for Canada. At the same time, Davies is among the most talented individuals in the group and could carry this squad into the knockout stage.


Canada World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Canada

For Canada head coach John Herdman, a 3-5-2 is the preferred formation for the base style of play.

But, when playing with the ball, Canada transform their formation into a 3-4-2-1 or a 3-4-1-2, depending on the opposition. In that formation, the three central defenders form a high line while the remaining seven advance into forward positions to try and create chances. One element worth noting with this formation is that Davies, who traditionally plays as a left-back, plays as a hybrid winger/wing back depending on whether Canada have the ball or not.

In this situation, Davies either serves as an attacking midfielder in the triangle of attackers or as a true No. 10 behind the strike partnership.

Should Canada lose the ball in their own half, the front-seven for Canada adjusts into a high-pressing style of soccer that attempts to force mistakes out of its opponent. However, once the opposition crosses the threshold into Canada’s own half, Herdman’s formation once again adjusts.

Without the ball, Canada play in a 5-3-2 where Davies and the fellow winger drop back to create a back-five.

Teams that have success against this style will have good linkages between the defense and midfield with quick attackers who can get in behind before Canada’s formation transition.


Croatia World Cup Preview 🇭🇷

Brett Pund: Just four years ago, Croatia went on a magical run in the 2018 World Cup. They got all the way to the final before coming up short against France. The runners-up are back in 2022 after securing qualification as the leaders of their group that included Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia, edging out the Russians by a point and only losing one match.

Following strong performances in the qualifying round, the Blazers then topped their group again in the UEFA Nations League, besting Denmark, France and Austria. Croatia finished with an xGDiff of +1.01, but they had an even 3-3 record in the xG battle in those fixtures. The attack averaged 1.222 xG and just one big scoring chance per 90 minutes, which makes you wonder if this will be sustainable in this competition.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 33.40% +250
Advance To Knockout Round 64.99% -250
Win World Cup 1.64% +5000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

There will be a lot of experience and familiarity returning from the last World Cup squad, starting with the same manager leading the country in Zlatko Dalić. His team will be driven by its midfield, which includes superstar Luka Modrić and Mateo Kovačić of Chelsea. Meanwhile, Marcelo Brozovic should once again be the base of the midfield three, providing protection for the backline. The two big losses from the runners-up roster will be striker Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitić, who have both retired from the international team.

In defense, former Liverpool man Dejan Lovren will have to battle for his place at center back against Martin Erlic and Josip Sutalo. Dominik Livaković has been the player in goal for Croatia in the majority of qualifying and the Nations League.

This Blazer squad will have a tricky path to the final this time around, which starts with a difficult group of Belgium, Canada and Morocco. The Belgian squad that currently ranks as the second-best team in the world by FIFA should be the favorite of Group F. Meanwhile, Croatia check in at No. 12 in the world rankings, followed by Morocco (22) and Canada (41).

Luckily, the Blazers do not face Belgium until the final game of the group stage, which means both teams may have already clinched their places in the knockout stages. However, this makes the pair of fixtures before the finale even more important. Neither team wants to come into that last match needing a result.


Croatia World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Morocco 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 23
Canada 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 27
Belgium 10 a.m. ET, Dec. 1

Key Player: Luka Modrić

Following his performances at the last World Cup, Luka Modrić earned the 2018 Ballon d’Or award, and he will need to be just as good in this competition if Croatia want to make another run at the trophy. This is also likely going to be the last tournament for the 37-year-old maestro, which should bring out the best in his play.

The Real Madrid player led the Blazers with a pair of goals in the Nations League, following his three-goal and two-assist total in qualification. Modrić has also added three goals and a pair of assists for Los Blancos this season in all competitions. So, the veteran is proving that he still has what it takes to lead his country to glory.

Modrić has won everything there is to win at the club level. He is a five-time Champions League, four-time Spanish Super Cup and three-time La Liga winner, but he has not been able to earn a title with Croatia. There will be a lot of talk about this likely being the final tournament for Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, but Modrić will also go down as one of the best midfielders the world has ever seen.


Croatia World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Croatia

With the same manager and multiple key pieces returning, we should see Croatia use the same formation from the last World Cup. Dalić likes to use a 4-3-3 system that allows him to be very fluid with how he wants to use his central midfielders in Modrić, Kovačić and Brozovic. He can either utilize a double pivot to give Modrić the free role as the No. 10, or he can go with more of a flat three to be more defensive minded.

On the wings, Dalić has multiple options to play, starting with Mario Pasalic and Josip Brekalo. You will also see veteran playmaker Ivan Perišić as another dangerous option out wide or as a set piece specialist. The main striker will either be Ante Budimir or Andrej Kramarić.

There are not many countries that are going to be able to match this Croatia side in the midfield without adding more players in the center of the park. With the Blazers able to control the most important part of the field against a majority of opponents, they will be a hard team to defeat in this World Cup, which is also what we saw at the last one.



Morocco World Cup Preview 🇲🇦

BJ Cunningham: Morocco come into the World Cup after beating the Democratic Republic of the Congo 5-2 on aggregate over a two-leg playoff. Morocco have quietly turned into one of the more dominant teams on the African continent over the past few years. Throughout World Cup Qualiying, nobody in Africa had a better xGD per 90 minutes than Morocco at +0.95.

Even in the Africa Cup of Nations this past January, Morocco completely dominated everyone in their path, creating 11.2 xG while only allowing 2.87 xG in their six matches. They got a result they didn’t deserve against Egypt, losing in extra time in the quarterfinals.

In fact, since March 2021, in 17 straight matches, Morocco have not lost the expected goals battle one time and their opponents have only created over one expected goal against them three times in those 17 matches.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 8.66% +1000
Advance To Knockout Round 25.96% +200
Win World Cup 0.15% +20000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

There is loads of talent on this Moroccan team, and it starts with their star man, PSG right back Achraf Hakimi, who is an incredible ball progressor and supplier to the front line. Starting from the back, they have an experienced goalkeeper in Sevilla’s Bono, a solid center back pairing in Romain Saïss and Nayef Aguerd, and another uber-talented full back in Noussair Mazraoui, who didn’t play with the Moroccan team for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Then in the midfield, they have the ever so dependable Sofyan Amrabat as the holding midfielder in their 4-1-4-1 system. Perhaps the biggest positive news for Morocco has to do with Chelsea’s attacking midfielder, Hakim Ziyech. He had a falling out with the Moroccan coach, Vahid Halilhodzic, as did Mazraoui, and hadn’t played for the national team in 15 months. Halilhodzic was sacked in August, and new manager Walid Regragui mended the relationship and called him up for their two friendly matches in September. So, Morocco was putting up incredibly impressive xG numbers over the last two years without two of their best players.

The two main men up front that have been doing most of the goal scoring are Sofiane Boufal and Youssef En-Nesyri. En-Nesyri has been a fantastic striker for Sevilla for a number of years, but the last two seasons he’s put up over a 0.50 xG +xAssist rate per 90 minutes. Boufal is having a resurgent season at Angers, notching a 0.71 xG+ xAssist rate, and he is in the 96th percentile or above among Europe’s top five leagues in xAssists, shot-creating actions, progessive passes and dribbles completed.

Morocco are a big-time dark horse candidate to make some noise in this World Cup, especially being in a group with Belgium, Canada and Croatia. Don’t be surprised if you see the North African nation potentially make the quarterfinals.


Morocco World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Croatia 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 23
Belgium 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 27
Canada 10 a.m. ET, Dec. 1

Key Player: Achraf Hakimi

Morocco have one of the best right backs in the world in Achraf Hakimi. He’s been playing football at the highest level for a long time after signing for Real Madrid as a teenager. Hakimi has also spent time in the Bundesliga with Dortmund, put up a breakout season in Serie A with Inter and ultimately landed at PSG.

In Ligue 1 this season for PSG, Hakimi has a 0.33 xG + xAssist rate, which is in the 95th percentile among Europe’s top five leagues for full backs. He loves to push up the field to aid in the attack, supplying crosses or even getting into the box himself. He’s averaging 3.1 shot-creating actions, 4.3 touches in the penalty area and 1.7 passes into the penalty area per 90 minutes.

Hakimi is also an above-average defender, and he showed that at the Africa Cup of Nations, leading the tournament with 19 tackles + interceptions, per The Analyst.

He is as important as it gets for Morocco and will be the key man if they are going make a deep run in the World Cup.

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Morocco World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Morocco

Morocco recently changed managers, sacking Halilhodzic in August. They now have brought in Regragui, who had been managing Wydad Casablanca in Morocco and did spend a year from 2012 to 2013 as an assistant manager with the Moroccan National team.

They set up in a 4-1-4-1 formation during the Africa Cup of Nations and even during Regragui’s only two matches in charge against Paraguay and Chile in friendlies in September. Morocco love to push their two wing backs, Hakimi and Mazraoui, high up the pitch to cause a lot of problems down the flanks. They also prefer to build out from the back, having good ball-controlling center backs with Amrabat dropping deep to almost serve as a third center back in build-up plays.

Morocco also love to play a high defensive line, which they do have the personnel and athletes to do effectively. Over the past two years, they only allowed 0.77 xG per 90 minutes. Morocco are also capable of sitting in a low defensive block if necessary.

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Group G

Brazil World Cup Preview 🇧🇷

BJ Cunningham: Your 2022 World Cup tournament favorites are Brazil. They are deserving favorites because they are one of only a few countries with no weaknesses at any position on the pitch.

Brazil have two of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League in Liverpool’s Alisson and Manchester City’s Ederson. They have two of the best center backs playing at two of the biggest clubs in the world in Marquinhos at PSG and Éder Militão at Real Madrid. Brazil also have two of the most experienced defensive midfielders in world football in Casemiro and Fabinho, in addition to ball-controlling attacking midfielders in Bruno Guimarães and Lucas Paquetá.

Then, there is the attacking flair we always see with Brazil, and you will not find more depth of talent in attack than in the current Brazilian squad. Their main man Neymar has battled through injuries ever since making his move to PSG, but he is in the form of his life this season in the French capital. What is crazy is he may not be Brazil’s best attacking player anymore because of the emergence of Vinicius Junior.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 67.00% -275
Advance To Knockout Round 90.37% -900
Win World Cup 17.66% +400
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

He broke out last season for Real Madrid and has turned into a star in the world of football, commanding a $120 million transfer value, which is third highest in the world behind only Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. Beyond that, Brazil have a plethora of options to play on the right, whether it’s Barcelona’s Raphinha, Real Madrid’s Rodrygo or Tottenham’s Richarlison. No matter what combination shows up, this is an absolutely frightening attack to deal with.

Brazil finished atop South American World Cup Qualifying, winning 14 of their 17 matches. Their only loss since the 2018 World Cup in a non-friendly match came in the 2021 Copa America final against Argentina. What was most impressive about Brazil since the 2018 World Cup has been their defense. Brazil averaged 2.12 xG per 90 minutes in World Cup Qualifying and Copa America, which is to be expected given their attacking talent, but their defense only allowed 0.74 xG per 90 minutes, which is incredibly impressive given the attacking talent across South America.

There is simply no excuse for Brazil not to take home the 2022 World Cup.


Brazil World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Serbia 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 24
Switzerland 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 28
Cameroon 2 p.m. ET, Dec. 2

Key Player: Neymar

Neymar has been Brazil’s main man up front for a long time, but there have been some question marks surrounding him over the past few years given the fact that he’s been injured and has not played at the level we saw during the glory years at Barcelona.

He has always been a goal-scoring threat, but over the past year, he’s been one of the best facilitators on the planet. Neymar has averaged 0.50 xAssists per 90 minutes in Ligue 1, which is in the 99th percentile among Europe’s top five leagues. He also is putting up a 0.56 xG per 90 minute scoring rate this season, so on average, he’s contributing to a goal per match.

Neymar has scored an astonishing 75 goals in 121 appearances for Brazil and is two behind Pele for the all-time record in Brazil. He will likely be at the top in Tite’s 4-3-3 and will be asked to be the one creating most of the chances. Given the form he is in at PSG right now, I have no doubts Neymar is going to be one of the favorites to take home the Golden Ball.


Brazil World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Brazil

Tite has been at the helm of Brazil since 2016, and by now, it’s pretty clear what Brazil’s tactics are. They are going to play out of a 4-3-3, but the team’s shape will change throughout the match. It’s also very clear that Brazil want to play a possession-based style, valuing control over everything.

Brazil like to use a lot of combination passing to move the ball up the field and rarely will play a long ball. They averaged over 500 passes per 90 minutes this year, and only a little over 5% of them were long balls. In fact, they averaged more lateral passes per match than forward passes.

What often happens when Brazil are in possession is they use a positional-based system that has allowed them to be much more structured. They also love to push the two wide midfielders up the pitch and squeeze the two wingers close to Neymar, which essentially creates a 3-2-5 with one of the two full backs pressing up to create a double pivot with Casemiro.

Out of possession, Brazil press very aggressively, as Tite wants them to win the ball back as soon as possible. The press in unison with a high block aims to overwhelm the opposing center backs and midfielders into a mistake so they can quickly transition into a counter attack with the pace they have up front.



Cameroon World Cup Preview 🇨🇲

BJ Cunningham: Cameroon are back in the World Cup for the eighth time in the country’s history. They failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but this time around, they were able to erase a 1-0 first leg deficit in a playoff against Algeria with a goal in the 124th minute of extra time to qualify.

This Cameroon team doesn’t have a big name we are used to seeing like Samuel Eto’o, and honestly, the talent level is not that great compared to other teams in their group. They do have a solid goalkeeper in Andre Onana and some fun attacking options like Lyon’s Karl Toko Ekambi and Brentford’s Bryan Mbeumo on the wings, with experienced striking options up top in Vincent Aboubakar and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. However, the defense and midfield are major question marks outside of Napoli’s Frank Anguissa, especially considering their three opponents in their group have elite midfields.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 1.60% +2000
Advance To Knockout Round 9.00% +350
Win World Cup 0.03% +25000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

Cameroon hosted the Africa Cup of Nations this past January and made it all the way to the semifinals before losing to Egypt. They were impressive during the entire tournament, creating a whopping 12 xG over their six matches while only allowing 4.9. In fact, they held Egypt to just 0.26 xG over 120 minutes before losing on penalties.

The biggest problem with Cameroon is that while their run through the Africa Cup of Nations was impressive on home soil, they only played two countries ranked inside the Action Network’s top 100.

Going up against three top 20 teams in the world is a big ask for Cameroon to reach the knockout stage of the World Cup for the first time since 1990.


Cameroon World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Switzerland 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 24
Serbia 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 28
Brazil 2 p.m. ET, Dec. 2

Key Player: Karl Toko Ekambi

Toko Ekambi has been a staple in the Cameroon attack for some time now. He made his debut in 2015 and has made 50 appearances, scoring 11 goals. During the Africa Cup of Nations, he scored five goals and created 3.31 xG, which was second only to his teammate, Vincent Aboubakar. Then, during World Cup Qualifying, he led Cameroon with three goals, including the clinching goal against Algeria in the 124th minute of the second leg.

He has been an incredible left winger for Lyon for the past two seasons, as Toko Ekambi has had over a 0.75 xG xAssist rate per 90 minutes, which is in the 91st percentile among Europe’s top five leagues. He has fantastic pace, as he plays well with the ball at his feet but also loves making runs and attacking the penalty area.

Over the past year at Lyon, he’s averaged 6.32 touches in the penalty area per 90 minutes and is receiving 8.26 progressive passes per 90 minutes. He even plays well in the air, winning 1.02 aerial duels per 90 minutes, and during the 2021-22 season, he had a 61.6% aerial duel win percentage.

Depending on what formation manager Rigobert Song decides to play, whether it’s a 3-4-3 or a two-striker system, Ekambi is versatile enough to play up top or at his natural position of left wing.


Cameroon World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Cameroon

Cameroon recently made a managerial change, as Song was hired on March 1st after the Africa Cup of Nations. He managed the Cameroon U23 team for four years before taking over as manager and has been in the Cameroon National team’s coaching ranks in some fashion since 2012. Song has been in charge for five matches, including the playoff against Algeria. The good news is Cameroon do have experience sitting in a low block, which is what they did for a large stretch in the second leg against Algeria. However, it’s only a 90-minute sample, and I worry if Cameroon have to play this style for three straight matches.

Cameroon love to build up from the back, playing an intricate style where they like to have over 50% of the ball. During the Africa Cup of Nations, they had 12 build-up attacks and 78 10+ pass sequences, both of which were by far the most in the tournament, per the Analyst.

They also held over 50% possession in every single match. That is not going to happen in this group with Belgium, Serbia and Switzerland, so it will be interesting to see if Song decides to opt for Cameroon’s natural 3-4-3 or go with the 4-4-2 he deployed against Algeria.



Serbia World Cup Preview 🇷🇸

Brett Pund: Serbia return to the World Cup for the second consecutive time after topping Group A in the qualifiers, which was a group that included Portugal. It was one of the more dominating displays in qualification, as the Eagles were one of just seven countries in Europe to finish undefeated. It was capped off with a last-minute winner against Portugal in the final qualifying match to secure the top spot in the group.

Following up this strong showing, Serbia then won their group in the UEFA Nations League, outlasting Norway, Slovenia and Sweden with only one loss along the way. In those matches, the Eagles finished with a +4.77 xGDiff, and they won the xG battle in all but one of the fixtures. This is also the same team that averaged 2.67 big scoring chances and 1.64 xG created per 90 minutes.

Manager Dragan Stojković has multiple players in his squad that fans should recognize in Aleksandar Mitrović, Dušan Tadić and Dušan Vlahović make for a great attacking trio that will be difficult to stop. Vlahović has been battling a groin injury and may not make the trip, but Mitrović has been the lead man of the group, scoring eight goals in qualifying and adding six more in the Nations League. Stojković can also call on Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinković-Savić and Nemanja Gudelj to help build out the spine of the squad.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 15.44% +600
Advance To Knockout Round 49.32% +110
Win World Cup 1.29% +8000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

In defense, Serbia will lean on a mixture of guys that play in Europe’s top leagues: Nikola Milenković, Miloš Veljković and Stefan Mitrović. Mallorca’s Predrag Rajković was the primary keeper during qualifying, but Torino’s Vanja Milinković-Savić was the man between the pipes during the Nations League matches. Rajković has had the better of the two domestic seasons so far this year, owning a +2.3 post-shot xG minus goals allowed mark. Whoever the manager goes with, this will be something to keep an eye on as we get into the tournament.

Serbia were drawn into Group G with favorites Brazil, Switzerland and Cameroon, with an opening match against the Samba Kings. You always want to pick up a positive result in your first game, but the Eagles definitely got a difficult draw. Coming into the competition, Serbia are listed at No. 21 in the FIFA rankings, which trails both Brazil (1) and Switzerland (15) in the group. If they are able to get points out of the opener, the Eagles could have qualification secured for the knockout rounds before playing the Swiss in the final game of the group stages.


Serbia World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Brazil 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 24
Cameroon 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 28
Switzerland 2 p.m. ET, Dec. 2

Key Player: Aleksandar Mitrović

One big reason that I feel Serbia can be a dangerous team in this World Cup is the fact that star striker Aleksandar Mitrović is entering the tournament on fire. The Fulham forward already has nine goals in 12 starts in the Premier League this season, and this comes after he broke the EFL Championship record for goals in a season with 43 in the last campaign.

In his return to the EPL, Mitrović has been a constant threat for the Cottagers, trailing only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane for goals xG.

However, he hasn’t just been banging in goals for his club team. Just last month, Mitrović scored his 50th international goal, reaching this milestone faster than both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi did for their respective countries. The Fulham striker led Serbia with eight goals in five starts during qualifying before adding six more in Nations League action.

If you haven’t watched much of the forward, he is a very physical striker that is always up for a battle, and Mitrović is very imposing in the air. It will be key that Tadić and others are able to provide him the service and crosses that he loves to take advantage of, especially if Vlahović misses out due to injury.


Serbia World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Serbia

Ever since Stojković was hired as manager in March 2021, he has typically used a 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1 formation with three center backs and two wing backs. The main differences will be how he wants to set up his attack, which could come down to whether Vlahović is fit and available. You will see some matches where Mitrović or the Juventus striker will lead the line by themselves with a pair of attacking midfielders, or he will pair the dangerous duo together.

With either of these formations, Stojković is able to have a strong defense to complement the attack. He used just the one forward in the all-important qualifying clincher against Portugal, with Mitrović then coming off the bench to score the winner. I would expect this more conservative lineup to be what Serbia uses against the more difficult opposition in Brazil and Switzerland, but he can get more aggressive if the Eagles need goals or expect to dominate Cameroon.

The big question will be whether Stojković elects to start Mitrović or Vlahović if he does want to use a lone striker. Whichever forward gets the nod, this Serbia team should have one of the best attacks in the competition.


Switzerland World Cup Preview 🇨🇭

Anthony Dabbundo: Switzerland are the ultimate high-floor, low-ceiling international team of the last decade. The squad has a solid amount of depth across the various positions but lacks game-changing talent across its top players.

They work well together as a cohesive team and have plenty of experience playing with one another, too. Switzerland escaped the group stage at the 2014 World Cup before losing to Argentina in extra time in the Round of 16. They advanced in second place from their group in 2018 before losing to Sweden in the Round of 16.

Switzerland’s stunning comeback against France helped them move one step further in the Euros last summer and reach the quarterfinal, before they lost to Spain on penalties.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 15.96% +450
Advance To Knockout Round 51.32% -110
Win World Cup 1.57% +10000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

Goalkeeper Yann Sommer picked up an injury in the Bundesliga, and his status is uncertain for the World Cup. Either way, the Swiss will be solid in goal with Dortmund’s Gregor Kobel waiting behind him if needed.

Most of the Switzerland team is right at the end of their peak years, and this could be the last solid chance to make a deep run in the World Cup until the new generation cycles through. Xherdan Shaqiri is the leader of the Swiss attack, but he’s 31 now and has not been near his peak for a few years in the club world.

The midfield pairing of Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler are both right at the age of 30, while left back Ricardo Rodriguez is 30 along with striker Haris Seferovic. Denis Zakaria hasn’t played much in club football this season but is another solid box-to-box midfielder who could see important minutes off the bench in this World Cup.

Switzerland’s defense is anchored by the mostly reliable pairing of Manuel Akanji and Nico Elvedi, although both have struggled with form in parts of the last calendar year. Switzerland are solid through the spine with their center backs and central midfield players.

The questions come in the attack, where the underlying numbers are less than impressive. Seferovic is always an option up top as more of a target man. Monaco’s Breel Embolo is excellent at coming deep for the ball and bringing it into the penalty area to create chances, which helps solve a ball progression problem for Switzerland at times. Another option could be Cedric Itten, who has thrived in the Swiss Super League in an all-around forward role.

22-year old RB Salzburg forward Noah Okafor is also a name to watch for the Swiss as they try to be more explosive and dynamic in attack to beef up their margin for error defensively.

The Swiss were 11th in European Qualifying in chances created, but they did have a top-six defense. They won their qualifying group in dramatic fashion on the final day of the group when they managed a road draw in Italy after a Jorginho missed penalty. That missed penalty was potentially the difference between Switzerland qualifying for the tournament and not.

Switzerland were dealt one of the more intriguing groups with Brazil, Cameroon and Serbia. Because of how the fixtures align, it’s likely that Serbia and Switzerland will face off for second place in the group on the final day. If they advance, the Swiss could see Uruguay or Portugal in the Round of 16. It’s hard to see a deep run coming for the Swiss in Qatar, but it’s hard to see the tournament going terribly wrong, too.


Switzerland World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Cameroon 5 a.m. ET, Nov. 24
Brazil 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 28
Serbia 2 p.m. ET, Dec. 2

Key Player: Granit Xhaka

Xhaka has been a mainstay in this Switzerland team for a decade now and is often the key player that makes this midfield and conservative approach to play without the ball work. He’s played in a more advanced role for Arsenal this season and packed more of a goal-scoring punch because of it. But for Switzerland, Xhaka is much more of a pace-setter.

The progression and build-up play runs through him. His partner Freuler is more of a destroyer, and while Xhaka can do plenty of that himself, he’s also the primary long passer to outlets on the wings to service attacks and crosses.

He’s faced criticism from Arsenal fans in the past, but he’s posted excellent ball progression and pass completion numbers in the last two seasons. He’s the steadying force in and out of possession for Switzerland and is in great form. If he has a good World Cup, you have to like Switzerland’s chances of escaping the group.


Switzerland World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Switzerland

When out of possession, Switzerland are not a team that immediately look to press. Their statistical profile sees a lot of ball recoveries in their own final third, but they’re not winning tackles all over the pitch and playing with a high defensive line.

Instead, Switzerland employ a mid-block type defensive approach that prioritizes defending the penalty area and conceding bad shots from long range. The Swiss truly defend as a cohesive unit that prevents teams from finding space between the lines or in behind the defensive line.

Switzerland’s attack is heavily reliant on crosses into the area, both in live ball situations and on set pieces. Shaqiri always makes them dangerous in dead ball situations, and Steven Zuber’s three assist game from full back at the Euros last summer demonstrates how dangerous the Swiss can be from the wings.

Because Freuler and Xhaka are excellent at filling in places on the back line, you’ll often see both full backs pushing up in possession when the opportunities present themselves. It’s not likely to be both at the same time, but they use a 4-2-3-1 formation with plenty of tactical flexibility in and out of possession.

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Group H

Ghana World Cup Preview 🇬🇭

Johnathan Wright: Ghana are back in the World Cup after missing the cut in 2018. They made their debut back in 2006, reaching the knockout rounds that year as well as in 2010. The Black Stars earned their return to the world stage through one of the five qualification spots available from the Confederation of African Football.

Although they qualified, it was far from convincing, and some analysts and fans believe that the Black Stars should be counting their lucky stars. Ghana were on the better end of some seriously questionable refereeing decisions to advance to a playoff against Nigeria.

This is not the same team that was on the pitch that defeated the USA in Germany and South Africa. With their unconvincing play in WCQ and their uninspiring play during the African Cup of Nations this past winter, the Black Stars come into Qatar with the lowest FIFA World Ranking at 61. Ghana failed to advance out of the group stage in AFCON, earning just one point in a group alongside Morocco, Gabon and Comoros.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 1.23% +1600
Advance To Knockout Round 8.26% +300
Win World Cup 0.01% +25000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

It’s been Ghana’s inability to score and create chances that has led to their lack of threatening play. During WCQ, the Black stars failed to score in 40% of their matches and averaged under a goal per game (0.9).

While it’s been a rocky year for Ghana, there is a new age of Ghanaians taking the field at the international level. Ghana has the third youngest roster behind Ecuador and the USA at 25.1 years. After their ACON embarrassment, they also hired a new manager, Otto Addo.

Sprinkled in with their inexperienced team are stars and veterans. Of those players, the biggest name is Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey. He plays in front of Mohammed Salisu, a part of Southampton’s defense, and Daniel Amartey, who plays in the backline for Leicester City.

Ghana have also seen players with dual citizenship switch sides in their favor ahead of the World Cup. The biggest headline name is Iñaki Williams. Williams made a one-time switch from Spain after only earning one cap. He currently suits up for Athletic Bilbao in La Liga and has four goals and one assist in 11 games this season. The 28-year-old has only played two friendlies with Ghana so far, but he could be the answer to their goal-scoring issue.

Ghana were drawn into a challenging Group H which contains Portugal, South Korea and Uruguay. They will be underdogs in every match they play during round-robin games. Still, the Black Stars will have an excited and motivated team that has perhaps become slightly underrated and ready to embrace the underdog role in a tournament where they seemingly have no outside pressure.

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Ghana World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Portugal 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 24
South Korea 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 28
Uruguay 10 a.m. ET, Dec. 2

Key Player: Thomas Partey

Partey is the most well-known player on Ghana, and he is also the most important. The Arsenal midfielder’s goal-scoring heroics are what got the Black Stars to the World Cup, and he will need to be at his best if they are to have any chance at advancing. Luckily for the Black Stars, he’s had a great start to the club season. Partey has started 10 of the Gunners’ 13 games in their top-of-the-table start to the Premier League.

In those 10 matches, the 29-year-old scored two goals, is second on the team in completed passes into the final third (73) and is tied for first for progressive passes with 54.

For Ghana, Partey’s best matches have come when he is positioned further up the pitch as a true central midfielder. Partey has 11 goals for the Black Stars in just 28 appearances and is the key cog for this unit.


Ghana World Cup Roster

Editor’s Note: This roster has not been officially filed so this is a projection.


Tactical Analysis for Ghana

Addo took over as manager for the Black Stars after their disappointing performance in this year’s AFCON tournament for previous head coach Milovan Rajevac. Addo was initially hired as an interim coach, but after successfully guiding Ghana back to the World Cup, he was officially given the job via a one-year contract that will last until December 2023.

However, Addo, who played professionally at Borussia Dortmund as a midfielder and winger, was working as a trainer scout with the German club at the time he was given the job and said that he will continue to do so throughout his time with Ghana. So, yes, Ghana currently have a part-time coach and with him only having eight games under his belt as head coach, his tactics and preferred starting XI are still unclear.

From those eight matches, Addo has lined Ghana up in a 4-2-3-1. He has flirted with the possibility of lining up the Black Stars in a 3-4-3, though. This would allow Partey to play a bit higher up the pitch and play Williams, Jordan Ayew and Mohammed Kudus in a front three.



Portugal World Cup Preview 🇵🇹

Anthony Dabbundo: Portugal tasted international glory with their stunning run to the title and upset win against France in the Euro 2016 final. The Portuguese have since underperformed at the last two international tournaments, losing to Uruguay in the Round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup and then losing to Belgium in the Round of 16 of the Euros last summer.

On paper, Portugal don’t have many holes and look to be one of the deepest and most balanced squads in the entire world. They have an embarrassment of riches in attacking talent with Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Rafael Leão.

Portugal have often flattered to deceive despite this attacking talent because of the general conservatism of manager Fernando Santos. The lack of ball progression through the midfield and conservative mid-block defensive approach means they’re stuck doing a lot of defending without the ball against other top sides.

Germany and France both poked clear holes in Portugal with 3.9 xG combined in two matches. Even Belgium – after a fortunate goal to go ahead in the Euros last summer – sat deep and forced Portugal into a lot of long range shots from distance in their futile attempt to equalize.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 67.25% -163
Advance To Knockout Round 91.14% +550
Win World Cup 8.30% +1400
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

Then, there’s the Ronaldo situation. He’s going to start up topl based on his career and legacy, but the Ronaldo we’ve seen in 2022 looks like a somewhat diminished version. Manchester United have played better based on xGF per 90 when he’s been off the pitch this season in the Premier League.

Ronaldo still has good value in shots produced, but he’s just not nearly as active when the ball isn’t at his feet anymore. As a result, Portugal will need Leao, Silva and Fernandes to increase their production from the 4-2-3-1 to make up for it.

Portugal didn’t play their best in World Cup Qualifying, either. They lost to Serbia on the final day of the group and were sent to the playoffs. After beating Turkey, Portugal dodged a one-leg playoff with Italy after the Italians lost a stunner to North Macedonia. Once the Portuguese rolled over the lesser North Macedonian side, they booked their spot in Qatar.

They did finish with the fifth-best xG created in the entire field, but the defense conceded 0.98 xGA per match, and that was just 11th-best among teams vying for qualification. When you consider the lack of quality in the group as a whole, that raises some questions about what we should expect from them in Qatar.

Group H is a tricky one as Uruguay are flying under the radar coming out of South America and South Korea have been a tricky tournament side. Portugal opens their tournament with Ghana and will be expected to take all three points there. The range of outcomes is wide on this team, depending on the performance of Ronaldo and the midfield behind him.


Portugal World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Ghana 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 24
Uruguay 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 28
South Korea 10 a.m. ET, Dec. 2

Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo’s storied international career may not come to an end in Qatar, but this is highly likely to be the final time he leads the line for Portugal at a major international tournament. He has said he wants to play at the Euros in 2024, but it’s hard to see him as a starter and key man at that point.

The entire attack can’t be built around getting him the ball at his current age. Ronaldo is still excellent at getting on the end of crosses and being a poacher on the shoulder of the last defender. He lacks the breakaway pace and extraordinary athleticism that he once had to beat good defenders off the dribble consistently.

Ronaldo relies more on his excellent positioning and natural instinct to create enough space for himself to get shots. He is still producing about four shots per 90 and has totaled just under 2 xG in about four matches for Man United this season.

Given the injury to Diogo Jota, Ronaldo will be forced into playing quite a lot of minutes in a short time period for Portugal. How Santos handles his minutes and how Ronaldo responds physically will be crucial for a Portugal side hoping for a deep run in Qatar.

His lack of work rate off the ball at his age is something that Portugal managed to overcome last summer – but you do wonder if better possession teams will take advantage of that later on.


Portugal World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Portugal

Portugal consistently play in a 4-2-3-1 with possession of the ball that drops into a 4-1-4-1 without it as the wingers slide deep and provide more defensive solidity. Tactically, Portugal are a team that can be extremely dangerous in transition. That was on full display in their matches last summer against Germany and France, when they found joy bypassing the midfield and attacking quickly and vertically.

They defend out of a mid-block, which means you won’t see much high pressing or high turnovers forced. Instead, you’ll see them frustrate opponents by conceding possession in non-dangerous areas but winning the ball in their final third and breaking away from there.

Portugal’s biggest problem was a lack of ball progression when Renato Sanches wasn’t on the pitch last year at the Euros. With an expected midfield pairing of the very defensive William Carvalho and the box-to-box Ruben Neves, don’t expect them to be a ball-progression juggernaut at this tournament, either.

Portugal play more of a direct possession style than most of the top teams in this field. Silva is elite at passing himself, finding pockets of space in between defensive lines. Leao is an elite dribbler and chance creator who’s in the midst of a breakout season at Milan, and he’s likely going to be the primary outlet for Portugal.

Because Neves and Carvalho are pretty conservative as a midfield pairing, that enables the ultra-aggressive Fernandes to get time and space to play dangerous probing passes.

The problem for Fernandes in this system has come because Portugal can’t progress the ball to him consistently enough to get enough opportunities on the ball. That’s certainly one major key for Portugal in Qatar. They need Fernandes in form and pulling the strings.



South Korea World Cup Preview 🇰🇷

BJ Cunningham: South Korea do have some nice history in the World Cup, making the semifinals as the host nation in 2002 and making the Round of 16 in South Africa in 2010. They’ve failed to progress past the group stage in the last two World Cups, but they potentially have a path to get there in this tournament.

Everything with South Korea revolves around their star man Heung-Min Son. Son is one of the best wingers in the world, showing it in the English Premier League and also for his country during World Cup Qualifying. Son led his country to a first place finish in their qualifying group and only one loss throughout all of World Cup Qualifying.

In 16 matches, South Korea created 33.1 xG and only allowed 11.2, which is incredibly impressive, but you have to take it with a grain of salt because the only two countries they played in the Action Network’s Top 100 were Iran and Iraq.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 7.74% +1000
Advance To Knockout Round 32.17% +225
Win World Cup 0.20% +25000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

There is more talent on their squad outside of Son. Wolves striker Hee-Chan Hwang gives the South Koreans a dependable goal scoring option other than Son, even if Hwang has been struggling to find his form in the English Premier League. In 10 appearances during World Cup Qualifying, he had three goals and four assists.

They also have an outstanding center back in Napoli’s Min-Jae Kim, who is only 25 and playing in his first season in one of Europe’s big five leagues. However, he’s already averaging 3.25 tackles + interceptions per 90 minutes and is a big reason why Napoli’s defense is only allowing 0.78 xG per 90 minutes in Serie A this season.

The midfield is a big question mark for South Korea, especially going up against the type of midfield talent in this group with the likes of Thomas Partey, Federico Valverde, Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes.

With that being said, South Korea do have the attacking talent to give every single team in this group problems, so they may be a dark horse candidate to get out of this group.


South Korea World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
Uruguay 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 24
Ghana 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 28
Portugal 10 a.m. ET, Dec. 2

Key Player: Heung Min Son

Son has shown for years that he’s not only one of Tottenham’s best players, but that he’s one of the best attacking players in the world. He tied Mo Salah for the Premier League Golden Boot with 23 goals last year. The two seasons before that, he combined for 28 goals and 20 assists.

His ball progression, penalty touch and box entry numbers are never going to be up there with some of the other elite wingers in the world because of Antonio Conte’s system at Tottenham. But a 0.72 xG + xAssist rate per 90 minutes is among Europe’s elite. You also won’t find someone more accurate from outside the box, as Son has scored an incredible 19 goals from outside the penalty area since he joined Tottenham.

Son is used to playing in a low block and getting out on the counter in Conte’s system, which should fit in well at this World Cup and given the back lines that he’s facing.


South Korea World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for South Korea

Paulo Bento has been in charge of South Korea since after the World Cup in 2018, so we have a pretty good idea of how they are going to play.

They have deployed a 4-4-2 in the past with Son and Hwang as a striking duo, but given the personnel, it’s more likely that he will play a 4-2-3-1.

South Korea play direct and aggressive. They love to get the ball moving forward at a rapid pace on the counter, whether it be long balls or combination passes. Their forwards are always prepared to make runs in behind the last line of defense, and they punished defenses throughout World Cup Qualifying, averaging 2.05 xG per match. Bento allows Son a lot of freedom to roam the pitch and drop deep to receive the ball so he supplies the attacking line with line-breaking passes.

Out of possession, South Korea love to play with a ton of intensity; whether it’s pressing the opponent when they enter their final third or counter pressing trying to win the ball back after losing possession, you better be ready to move the ball quickly against South Korea. They averaged 63.6 ball recoveries in their own final third during World Cup Qualifying, which is one of the highest marks of anyone in the World Cup.



Uruguay World Cup Preview 🇺🇾

Michael Leboff: When people are asked who the most successful countries in international soccer are, they’ll likely rattle off some obvious names.

Brazil, France, Argentina, Germany, England, Spain and Italy are likely to come up, and maybe they’ll throw in the Netherlands and Portugal, too. All of those countries have had enormous impacts on the footballing world and most of them have tasted plenty of success in major tournaments.

But perhaps no country has punched above its weight better than Uruguay, a tiny country of 3.5 million people sandwiched between Brazil (214 million) and Argentina (45.3 million people). Despite being only the 10th-biggest country in South America, Uruguay have won 15 Copa America titles and two World Cups (1930, 1950), making Uruguay one of six nations to have hoisted the Jules Rimet Trophy more than once.

It’s been a while since Uruguay tasted glory — their last Copa America title came in 2011 — and La Celeste’s history in World Cups over 70 years ago is irrelevant to how they’ll perform in 2022, but it does show that Uruguay has the pedigree and system in place to have success in these formats. They’re doing something right, as evidenced by a trip to the semi-finals in 2010 and impressive group-stage records in 2014 and 2018.

One of the challenges of handicapping international soccer tournaments is that there’s very little continuity and fluidity. Teams play every few weeks, there’s a ton of roster turnover and a good portion of the games they play are meaningless or against terrible teams, so the data is noisy and it forces you into a lot more raw handicapping.

Chances To… Action Projections bet365 Odds
Win Group Stage 23.78% +200
Advance To Knockout Round 68.44% -250
Win World Cup 1.29% +5000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

With Uruguay in years past, that handicap was pretty stable. Oscar Tabarez managed Los Charruas from 2006 to 2021, and he had the team playing a well-structured defensive style that was tough to break down. It’s why Uruguay punched up so well as a group: Pack the middle of the pitch and hope Diego Forlan, Edison Cavani or Luis Suarez would provide a moment of magic on the scoreboard.

That formula provided Uruguay with a pretty high floor and made them a live underdog, but this time around, it’s Uruguay’s ceiling that is worth talking about.

After 15 years in charge, Tabarez and Uruguay went their separate ways in 2021, opening the door for Diego Alonso. The new manager has plenty of talent at his disposal, and unlike in years past, this version of La Celeste is all about the attacking talent.

Suarez and Cavani are still around and will play their parts in Qatar, but Uruguay will lean heavily on Fede Valverde, Darwin Nunez and Rodrigo Bentancur to carry La Celeste.

Uruguay’s defense should still be pretty stable — especially if Ronald Araujo is able to play — and they have the personnel to grind out results, but for the first time in a long time it seems like La Celeste will be able to win matches in a number of different ways. They can outscore you, or they can wear you down.

Group H is wide open, with a lukewarm favorite in Portugal at the top and South Korea and Ghana projected behind Uruguay, so another trip to the Round of 16 is likely in the cards for Uruguay, and they’ll be the cliche “team nobody wants to face” in the knockout stages.

You can make a strong case for a longshot bet on Uruguay.


Uruguay World Cup Schedule

Opponent Day/Time
South Korea 8 a.m. ET, Nov. 24
Portugal 2 p.m. ET, Nov. 28
Ghana 10 a.m. ET, Dec. 2

Key Player: Federico Valverde

Less than 12 months ago, Federico Valverde was struggling to make an impact at Real Madrid.

Long thought of as a possible replacement for Casemiro at defensive midfielder, Valverde sat patiently and waited for his turn to join the engine room at the Bernabeu. But manager Carlo Ancelotti had a stroke of genius, putting Valverde in a false winger role where he can use his pace and energy to cover the entire right flank.

The move has completely transformed Valverde’s career, as he’s been one of the best players in La Liga this season.

Whether or not the incredible success Valverde has achieved with Real Madrid can carry over to the national team remains to be seen. Valverde plays more of a box-to-box central role with La Celeste, but his versatility and ability to wreck a game with one flick of his foot makes him the most important player for Uruguay.


Uruguay World Cup Roster


Tactical Analysis for Uruguay

Under Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay were known for their no-nonsense style and played out of a 4-4-2 formation that was difficult to break down. But after a successful 15-year stint in which he transformed the national program, Tabarez’s style became a bit stale, and Uruguay brought in Diego Alonso with the hope that he would be able to make the most of a talented side that includes Nunez, Valverde, Rossi, Bentancur, Cavani and Suarez.

That’s an impressive group of attackers, and just how Alonso plans on fitting all the pieces together remains to be seen.

What we can expect from Los Charruas under Alonso is more pressure higher up the pitch. Under Tabarez, Uruguay was often set up like a big sky blue bus that defended with its life. That won’t be the case in Qatar, as Uruguay project to be an all-action team that will force teams into mistakes rather than wait for them to make one.

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