World Cup 2022 preview: Group A

We take a closer look at Group A, featuring home nation Qatar, World Cup regulars Holland, AFCON winners Senegal and unfancied South Americans Ecuador.

By Alex Bowmer Published: 19 November 2022 - 7.31pm
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Group A is one of the more open groups at the World Cup.

Netherlands have the pedigree and the experienced manager in Louis van Gaal, while Senegal are current Africa Cup of Nations champions, whose hopes rely heavily on the Bayern Munich forward and ex-Liverpool man, Sadio Mane.

But don't discount Qatar, who are playing on home soil or the young and pacy South Americans, Ecuador. 

Here's how each nation reached the finals, along with insight into their strengths, weaknesses, manager and star player.

 

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Group A

Qatar

Qatar

FIFA ranking: 50th

Squad's top scorer: Almoez Ali - 42 goals / 85 apps

World Cup qualifying position: Qualified as hosts

Best World Cup finish: First World Cup (2022)

Route to qualification:

Qatar qualified as hosts, but are on a four-match winning streak in friendlies, defeating Albania, Panama, Honduras and Guatemala, and impressively drew 2-2 to Chile prior to those games, as well as reaching the semi-finals of the Gold Cup in the summer of 2021, ultimately losing 1-0 to the USA. 

Star man:

Almoez Ali is Qatar's joint-highest goalscorer of all time with 42 (alongside the retired Mansoor Muftah). 

Manager:

Felix Sanchez has won more than half of his 86 games in charge of Qatar since being promoted from coaching the country's U23s. He has also previously worked as a Barcelona youth coach. 

Strengths:

The fact that every player in Qatar's squad plies their trade in their homeland could be a huge advantage, while their compact playing style means they haven't let in that many goals ahead of the tournament. 

Weaknesses:

No previous World Cup experience is the obvious weakness to point to, along with the fact that they have no real pedigree against quality opposition. What an opportunity this would be to buck that trend.

Akram Afif
Akram Afif - Qatar

Ecuador

Ecuador

FIFA ranking: 44

Squad's top scorer: Enner Valencia - 35 goals / 74 apps

World Cup qualifying position: 4th (CONMEBOL)

Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 (2006)

Route to qualification:

Ecuador qualified fourth from their South American group in March this year. But their progress to the tournament was hit by controversy over the eligibility of right-back Byron Castillo, who it was discovered was actually born in Colombia, following an investigation by Spanish newspaper Marca.

However, since Ecuador recognises Castillo as an Ecuadorian national, the country's place in the tournament was confirmed, although they have received a three-point deduction for the 2026 qualifying campaign for submitting false documents by the Ecuadorian Football Federation that said he was born there. Castillo, incidentally, hasn't made the squad. 

Star man:

The explosive Moises Caicedo has established himself at the centre of Brighton and Ecuador's midfields. He is versatile, being capable of playing in front of the back four as well as in a more attacking role. 

Manager:

Gustavo Alfaro has had a journeyman career and was appointed Ecuador head coach in 2020, guiding them to the Copa America quarter-finals. 

Strengths:

Michael Estrada is strong enough to play the target-man role and is adept at linking up with the quicker Angel Mena, who operates just behind him.

Defensively they are resolute, with Pervis Estupinan and 20-year-old Piero Hincapie shining for Brighton and Bayer Leverkusen respectively. 

Weaknesses:

They won just seven of 18 games in qualifying, and only Alexander Dominguez and Carlos Gruezo have previously played at a World Cup (in 2014, when they bowed at the group stage after collecting a creditable four points). 

Michael Estrada - Ecuador
Michael Estrada - Ecuador

Senegal

Senegal

FIFA ranking: 18th

Squad's top scorer: Sadio Mane - 34 goals / 93 apps

World Cup qualifying position: Third-round winners against Egypt (CAF)

Best World Cup finish: Quarter-finals (2002)

Route to qualification:

Senegal topped a group featuring Togo, Namibia and Congo, before dramatically beating Egypt on penalties to ensure progress to Qatar. 

Star man:

Sadio Mane is undoubtedly their main man, but will be missing for this World Cup after pulling out of the squad following a leg injury sustained while playing for Bayern Munich against Werder Bremen on 8 November. 

Watford's Ismaila Sarr, on-loan Salernitana forward Boulaye Dia and Marseille's Bamba Dieng will have to pick up the slack, while Chelsea goalkeeper Eduoard Mendy and defender Kalidou Koulibaly will need to put up a strong defence. 

Manager:

Aliou Cisse secured Senegal's first-ever Africa Cup of Nations trophy earlier this year after another penalty shootout win against Egypt, with Mane again stepping up to win the game. 

Strengths:

The team have a wealth of young attacking options, with Sarr and Dia among those looking to prove themselves at their first World Cup. 

Weaknesses:

A lack of full-backs could prove their undoing. Both Saliou Ciss and Bouna Sarr aren't part of the squad and while Fode Ballo-Toure and Youssouf Sabaly are quality players, there isn't a proven deputy on either flank. 

Ismaila Sarr
Ismaila Sarr - Senegal

Netherlands

Netherlands

FIFA ranking: 8th

Squad's top scorer: Memphis Depay - 42 goals / 81 apps

World Cup qualifying position: Group G winners (UEFA)

Best World Cup finish: Final (2010) 

Route to qualification:

The Netherlands scored an impressive 33 goals in 10 games to the top of UEFA Group G, although they only ensured their passage to Qatar in the final match, pipping Turkey to the summit by two points. 

Star man:

With Cody Gakpo featuring in our Ones to Watch piece, Memphis Depay gets the nod here after scoring 12 goals and assisting six in qualifying.

He is also set to be fit after reports that Barcelona felt he was deliberately delaying a return from a hamstring injury to avoid picking up another problem before the World Cup. 

Manager:

Louis van Gaal needs little introduction. The World Cup trophy would be the crowning glory of a stellar managerial career.

Strengths:

The team is set up to blow the opposition away and Depay and Gakpo can expect to feast on the service provided by the likes of Davy Klaassen and Steven Berghuis. 

Weaknesses:

Their forward-thinking approach means Oranje are vulnerable to the counter-attack. They have conceded twice against Wales, Poland and Denmark so far in 2022. 

Memphis Depay - Netherlands
Memphis Depay - Netherlands