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WORLD CUP 2022

World Cup 2022: Group-by-group previews of all 32 teams in Qatar

Few athletes carry an entire nation’s hope like Son Heung-min, who will lead South Korea's best team in years.Lee Jin-man/Associated Press

The 2022 World Cup begins Sunday, when Qatar will begin play as the only team in tournament history to participate in a World Cup without having ever qualified for it.

The Maroons, as hosts, earned automatic qualification. Safe to say, Qatar is a longshot to hoist the trophy after the final on Dec. 20.

But what about the 31 other teams that have qualified? We’ve got your nation-by-nation preview here.

See our World Cup day-by-day TV schedule and results here.

What are groups?

All 32 teams were sorted into groups earlier this year. Groups are comprised of four teams.

The group stage is played in a round-robin format with each team playing each other once. The two teams with the most points (3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, 0 for a loss) advance to the knockout stages. The rest of the tournament is single-elimination.

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Jump to a group:


GROUP A
A man snaps a photo in front of a World Cup trophy replica that stands in front of Al-Bayt Stadium in al-Khor. Qatar will open against Ecuador at this venue on Sunday.KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

QATAR

Best result: First appearance

2018 World Cup: Did not qualify

How they qualified 2022: Automatic as host

Coach: Felix Sanchez (Spain)

Players to watch: Abdelkarim Hassan, Hassan Al-Haydos, Saad Al Sheeb.

Schedule: vs. Ecuador on Nov. 20 at Al Bayt Stadium; vs. Senegal on Nov. 25 at Al Thumama Stadium; vs. Netherlands on Nov. 29 at Al Bayt Stadium.

Only one host nation has failed to advance past the group stage of the World Cup and Qatar will be trying to avoid becoming the second. Qatar will be the only team in tournament history to play in the World Cup without having ever competitively qualified for it. Host countries get automatic spots. Qatar will become the first Arab country to host a World Cup when “The Maroons” face Ecuador in the tournament opener on Nov. 20. It’s unclear how off-the-field issues will impact Qatar’s performance.

ECUADOR

Best result: Round of 16 (2006)

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2018 World Cup: Did not qualify

How they qualified 2022: Fourth place in South American qualifying group

Coach: Gustavo Alfaro (Argentina)

Players to watch: Piero Hincapié, Moises Caicedo, Pervis Estupinan.

Schedule: vs. Qatar on Nov. 20 at Al Bayt Stadium; vs. Netherlands on Nov. 25 at Khalifa International Stadium; vs. Senegal on Nov. 29 at Khalifa International Stadium.

Gustavo Alfaro wasn’t Ecuador’s first choice but he will be the coach leading the country’s national team at the World Cup in Qatar. The Argentine took over the Ecuador team in August 2020 from Jordi Cruyff. He said Ecuador “has more of a future than it has of a present” in his first news conference.

Ecuador’s young and physical team was very effective in South American qualifying, even more so in the altitude of Quito — 2,850 meters (9,350 feet) above sea level. The team earned 18 of its 26 points while playing at home.

There won’t be any altitude to take advantage of in Qatar, however, but players like defender Piero Hincapié, winger Gonzalo Plata and striker Enner Valencia should be able to trouble opponents.

SENEGAL

Best result: Quarterfinals (2002)

2018 World Cup: Group stage

How they qualified 2022: African playoffs

Coach: Aliou Cisse (Senegal)

Players to watch: Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly.

Schedule: vs. Netherlands on Nov. 21 at Al Thumama Stadium; vs. Qatar on Nov. 25 at Al Thumama Stadium; vs. Ecuador on Nov. 29 at Khalifa International Stadium.

Senegal has way more than just Sadio Mané, who has been ruled out with a leg injury. Many believe the current Senegal team is the best from Africa ever to go to a World Cup. That has raised hopes that it can provide the continent with its first World Cup semifinalist. Goalkeeper Édouard Mendy, defender Kalidou Koulibaly, midfielders Idrissa Gueye and Cheikhou Kouyaté, and forward Ismaila Sarr show Senegal has high quality throughout. The team goes to Qatar having already partly delivered on its promise by winning its first African Cup of Nations title in February.

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NETHERLANDS

Best result: Runner-up (1974, 1978, 2010)

2018 World Cup: Did not qualify

How they qualified 2022: Won European qualifying Group G

Coach: Louis van Gaal (Netherlands)

Players to watch: Virgil van Dijk, Frenkie de Jong, Daley Blind.

Schedule: vs. Senegal on Nov. 21 at Al Thumama Stadium; vs. Ecuador on Nov. 25 at Khalifa International Stadium; vs. Qatar on Nov. 29 at Al Bayt Stadium.

Louis van Gaal is back in charge of the Netherlands eight years after taking the team to the World Cup semifinals in Brazil. Van Gaal’s tactical ability and leadership will be essential for a team that failed to reach the quarterfinals at last year’s European Championship under predecessor Frank de Boer. The Netherlands is a three-time World Cup runner-up. The Netherlands is unbeaten in 15 matches since the 71-year-old Van Gaal took over the national team for the third time after De Boer quit.

Memphis Depay was one of the break-out stars of the World Cup in Brazil. These days, he’s most often seen on Barcelona’s bench watching Robert Lewandowski at work.

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Van Gaal has in the past said he only selects players who are playing regular club soccer. He will made an exception for Depay, who is well on his way to becoming the Netherlands’ all-time top scorer.


GROUP B
Harry Kane was the top scorer at the 2018 World Cup with six goals and added another four during Euro 2020. Keep up that sort of rate and he'll be England's all-time leading scorer by the time the World Cup is over.Paul Harding/Getty

ENGLAND

Best result: Champion (1966)

2018 World Cup: Semifinals

How they qualified 2022: Won European qualifying Group I

Coach: Gareth Southgate (England)

Players to watch: Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham.

Schedule: vs. Iran on Nov. 21 at Khalifa International Stadium; vs. United States on Nov. 25 at Al Bayt Stadium; vs. Wales on Nov. 29 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.

England has been trending in the right direction at major soccer tournaments after decades of underperformance. The team reached the semifinals of the World Cup in 2018 and then the final of the European Championship last year. A poor run of recent results means England still might not be on the path to capturing a first international men’s title since the World Cup in 1966. The team coached by Gareth Southgate is on a six-match winless run. That’s the longest such streak the national side has ever had entering a major tournament. Southgate is being doubted and there are question marks regarding central midfield and Harry Maguire’s place on the team.

Harry Kane was the top scorer at the 2018 World Cup with six goals and added another four during Euro 2020. Keep up that sort of rate and he’ll be England’s all-time leading scorer by the time the World Cup is over.

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IRAN

Best result: Group stage (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014, 2018)

2018 World Cup: Group stage

How they qualified 2022: Won Asian qualifying Group A

Coach: Carlos Queiroz (Portugal)

Players to watch: Sardar Azmoun, Ehsan Hajsafi, Mehdi Taremi.

Schedule: vs. England on Nov. 21 at Khalifa International Stadium; vs. Wales on Nov. 25 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium; vs. United States on Nov. 29 at Al Thumama Stadium.

Iran beat the United States 2-1 at the 1998 World Cup in France in one of the more memorable games in tournament history — mainly because of the political backdrop. The United States hasn’t had formal diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980 following the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by Iranian students who held hostages for 444 days.

Mehdi Taremi, the 30-year-old striker, is peaking at the right time. He scored twice for Porto in a 3-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen one week after setting up both goals in a 2-0 victory over the German club in the Champions League.

UNITED STATES

Best result: Semifinals (1930)

2018 World Cup: Did not qualify

How they qualified 2022: Third place in CONCACAF qualifying group

Coach: Gregg Berhalter (United States)

Players to watch: Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie.

Schedule: vs. Wales on Nov. 21 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium; vs. England on Nov. 25 at Al Bayt Stadium; vs. Iran on Nov. 29 at Al Thumama Stadium.

If “Only Forward” is the US men’s soccer team’s official watchword, it may be because looking backward is painful. Five years ago, the Americans stumbled at the end of their quest to return to the World Cup, losing to a Trinidad and Tobago squad that long had been eliminated from the regional qualifying tournament.

Only four men from the 2018 group are on the current roster, and the 29-year-old defender DeAndre Yedlin is the only one left from the 2014 team that reached the second round in Brazil.

The 2022 edition, the youngest US team since 1990, also was the youngest to qualify for the 32-country field, with an average age just over 25. Three players — forward Gio Reyna, midfielder Yunus Musah, and defender Joe Scally — were teenagers when the roster was revealed earlier this month.

Read more from John Powers here.

WALES

Best result: Quarterfinals (1958)

2018 World Cup: Did not qualify

How they qualified 2022: European playoffs

Coach: Robert Page (Wales)

Players to watch: Gareth Bale, Daniel James, Aaron Ramsey.

Schedule: vs. United States on Nov. 21 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium; vs. Iran on Nov. 25 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium; vs. England on Nov. 29 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.

For the first time since 1958, the Welsh will be playing on soccer’s biggest stage — the culmination of a decade of gradual improvement that has coincided with the presence of one of the world’s best players, Gareth Bale.

Bale, once soccer’s most expensive player when he joined Real Madrid for 100 million euros (then $132 million) in 2013, has helped drag Wales into the last two European Championships — the team reached the semifinals of Euro 2016 — and now into its first World Cup in 64 years.

It’s a tournament that Wales greats like Ryan Giggs, Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Neville Southall never reached. One that looked increasingly beyond even Bale, whose club career is winding down after leaving Madrid to move to MLS team Los Angeles FC in June.


GROUP C
This could be Messi's final World Cup. He will be 39 when the US hosts in 2026.Martin Dokoupil/Getty

ARGENTINA

Best result: Champion (1978, 1986)

2018 World Cup: Round of 16

How they qualified 2022: Second place in South American qualifying group

Coach: Lionel Scaloni (Argentina)

Players to watch: Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria.

Schedule: vs. Saudi Arabia on Nov. 22 at Lusail Stadium; vs. Mexico on Nov. 26 at Lusail Stadium; vs. Poland on Nov. 30 at Stadium 974.

Aging but still one of the best players on the planet, Lionel Messi will lead Argentina in his fifth — and possibly last — World Cup. And with him, Argentina certainly has a chance to win its third title.

“I don’t know whether we are big favorites or not, but I believe Argentina is always a favorite for its history, what it means and even more now for how we got here,” the 35-year-old Messi said.

Messi helped the South American country end its 28-year title drought when Argentina won the Copa America in 2021. It was Messi’s first major title for the national team.

The team has also set a national record by going unbeaten in 35 straight matches.

SAUDI ARABIA

Best result: Round of 16 (1994)

2018 World Cup: Group stage

How they qualified 2022: Won Asian qualifying Group B

Coach: Hervé Renard (France)

Players to watch: Salem Al-Dawsari, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Salman Al-Faraj.

Schedule: vs. Argentina on Nov. 22 at Lusail Stadium; vs. Poland on Nov. 26 at Education City Stadium; vs. Mexico on Nov. 30 at Lusail Stadium.

Hervé Renard is on a new continent but has the same problem. The Frenchman is leading Saudi Arabia into the World Cup four years after taking Morocco to the tournament and again the draw has not been kind. Morocco, which Renard coached four years ago in Russia, was eliminated early in a group that included Portugal and Spain. The 54-year-old Renard is the only coach to have led two different national teams to African Cup titles. Among the Green Falcons to watch will be winger Salem Al-Dawsari, who scored key goals in the qualifying campaign. United States coach Gregg Berhalter described the Saudis’ style — in Renard’s preferred 4-4-3 formation — as “tough” and “compact.”

MEXICO

Best result: Quarterfinals (1970, 1986)

2018 World Cup: Round of 16

How they qualified 2022: Second place in CONCACAF qualifying group

Coach: Gerardo Martino (Argentina)

Players to watch: Guillermo Ochoa, Hirving Lozano, Andres Guardado.

Schedule: vs. Poland on Nov. 22 at Stadium 974; vs. Argentina on Nov. 26 at Lusail Stadium; vs. Saudi Arabia on Nov. 30 at Lusail Stadium.

Mexico has experienced both lackluster recent performances and a spate of key injuries as the team prepares for the World Cup. And the Mexicans are in a tough group in Qatar.

Mexico has reached the knockout round in each of the last seven World Cups, but it hasn’t reached the quarterfinals — the “quinto partido,” or fifth game.

Raul Jiménez, who has been dogged with a groin injury, will be one to watch. Jesus “Tecatito” Corona has been ruled out with a fractured fibula.

Mexico finished second in CONCACAF qualifying behind Canada — and ahead of the the United States — but Martino’s team scored only four goals in its final five qualifying matches despite having both Jiménez and Corona available.

POLAND

Best result: Third place (1974, 1982)

2018 World Cup: Group stage

How they qualified 2022: European playoffs

Coach: Czeslaw Michniewicz (Poland)

Players to watch: Robert Lewandowski, Jan Bednarek, Wojciech Szczesny.

Schedule: vs. Mexico on Nov. 22 at Stadium 974; vs. Saudi Arabia on Nov. 26 at Education City Stadium; vs. Argentina on Nov. 30 at Stadium 974.

Poland’s World Cup prospects are not solely hinged on Robert Lewandowski but few other players will carry as much weight of expectation. The 34-year-old Barcelona striker has seamlessly transferred his attacking prowess from Bayern Munich to the Spanish league and he set Poland on its way to the World Cup in March with the opening goal in the 2-0 playoff win over Sweden. The Poland captain has scored goals wherever he’s played but he has yet to score at a World Cup after failing to get on the mark in his only previous tournament appearance in Russia in 2018.


GROUP D
Kylian Mbappé celebrates a recent goal for Paris Saint-Germain. Mbappé helped France win in 2018, and became a superstar in the process.FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images

FRANCE

Best result: Champion (1998, 2018)

2018 World Cup: Champion

How they qualified 2022: Won European qualifying Group D

Coach: Didier Deschamps (France)

Players to watch: Kylian Mbappé, Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane.

Schedule: vs. Australia on Nov. 22 at Al Janoub Stadium; vs. Denmark on Nov. 26 at Stadium 974; vs. Tunisia on Nov. 30 at Education City Stadium.

This year’s tournament could serve as a welcome escape for Kylian Mbappé from the pressures of Paris Saint-Germain. It’s also an opportunity for Karim Benzema to showcase the talent that led him to winning the Ballon d’Or at nearly 35 years old. Together they form the most lethal attacking partnership of the tournament. But France coach Didier Deschamps has problems in midfield. Paul Pogba has not played since April and fellow World Cup winner N’Golo Kanté is out injured.

AUSTRALIA

Best result: Round of 16 (2006)

2018 World Cup: Group stage

How they qualified 2022: Intercontinental playoffs

Coach: Graham Arnold (Australia)

Players to watch: Ajdin Hrustic, Awer Mabil, Mat Ryan.

Schedule: vs. France on Nov. 22 at Al Janoub Stadium; vs. Tunisia on Nov. 26 at Al Janoub Stadium; vs. Denmark on Nov. 30 at Al Janoub Stadium.

Australia scraped into the World Cup by beating Peru on penalties in the intercontinental playoffs. Australia has reached the sport’s marquee tournament for the fifth consecutive time. And the Socceroos did it by playing 80% of their qualifying games away from home. The Australians are familiar with the conditions in Qatar after playing many games in the Middle East but will need every shred of that advantage to be competitive in Group D.

DENMARK

Best result: Quarterfinals (1998)

2018 World Cup: Round of 16

How they qualified 2022: Won European qualifying Group F

Coach: Kasper Hjulmand (Denmark)

Players to watch: Christian Eriksen, Simon Kjaer, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

Schedule: vs. Tunisia on Nov. 22 at Education City Stadium; vs. France on Nov. 26 at Stadium 974; vs. Australia on Nov. 30 at Al Janoub Stadium.

Playing at the World Cup was Christian Eriksen’s main goal when he returned to training after his cardiac arrest at last year’s European Championship. And Eriksen is again set to be a key part of Denmark’s team in Qatar less than 18 months after medics used a defibrillator to restart his heart during a Euro 2020 game in Copenhagen. Eriksen says he feels like “there is really nothing that can stand in my way.” Denmark could be a team to watch in Qatar after reaching the semifinals at the Euro 2020 and winning its first nine games in World Cup qualifying.

TUNISIA

Best result: Group stage (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2018)

2018 World Cup: Group stage

How they qualified 2022: African playoffs

Coach: Jalel Kadri (Tunisia)

Players to watch: Ellyes Skhiri, Dylan Bronn, Aissa Laidouni.

Schedule: vs. Denmark on Nov. 22 at Education City Stadium; vs. Australia on Nov. 26 at Al Janoub Stadium; vs. France on Nov. 30 at Education City Stadium.

Tunisia coach Jalel Kadri calls it his “personal ambition” to get his team into the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time. He even hinted he could quit if Tunisia fails to get out of the group stage in Qatar. Kadri says “we want to make our dream come true and get through to the knockout round at the sixth time of asking.” Good luck getting out Group D. Tunisia will face defending World Cup champion France, European Championship semifinalist Denmark and Australia in the first round. The Tunisians have only ever won two World Cup games in five World Cup appearances.

Whabi Khazri, who scored against Panama and added another goal in the 2018 tournament, will again the main attacking threat. He has scored 24 international goals.


GROUP E
Pedri, the 19-year-old Spanish phenom, plays for Barcelona in La Liga.Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press

SPAIN

Best result: Champion (2010)

2018 World Cup: Round of 16

How they qualified 2022: Won European qualifying Group B

Coach: Luis Enrique (Spain)

Players to watch: Pedri Gonzalez, Sergio Busquets, Alvaro Morata.

Schedule: vs. Costa Rica on Nov. 23 at Al Thumama Stadium; vs. Germany on Nov. 27 at Al Bayt Stadium; vs. Japan on Dec. 1 at Khalifa International Stadium.

Spain will look a bit different at this year’s World Cup. Don’t expect to see veterans like Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Andrés Iniesta or David Silva in the squad. Look for youngsters like Pedri González, Gavi Páez and Nico Williams instead. Spain is going really young to try to win soccer’s biggest prize and lift a major trophy for the first time since 2012. Pedri is 19 and has already established himself with the national team. The 18-year-old Gavi last year became the youngest player to debut with the national team at 17. Williams turned 20 in July and has quickly gained space in the lead up to the World Cup.

COSTA RICA

Best result: Quarterfinals (2014)

2018 World Cup: Group stage

How they qualified 2022: Intercontinental playoffs

Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez (Colombia)

Players to watch: Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz, Celso Borges.

Schedule: vs. Spain on Nov. 23 at Al Thumama Stadium; vs. Japan on Nov. 27 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium; vs. Germany on Dec. 1 Al Bayt Stadium.

Three of Costa Rica’s greatest players will get one last shot at the World Cup playing together. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas, forward Bryan Ruíz and midfielder Celso Borges were all part of the team that reached the quarterfinals at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and then qualified again for the tournament in 2018.

The 37-year-old Ruíz has already said he will end his international career after this year’s tournament in Qatar. Alongside the 35-year-old Navas and the 34-year-old Borges, Ruíz led Costa Rica to its best World Cup finish in Brazil. The team topped a group that included Italy, Uruguay and England, and then beat Greece on penalties in the round of 16.

Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suárez has said that Ruíz, who was not at his best during qualifying, will be in his squad because of his leadership over the years.

GERMANY

Best result: Champion (1954, 1974, 1990 as West Germany; 2014)

2018 World Cup: Group stage

How they qualified 2022: Won European qualifying Group J

Coach: Hansi Flick (Germany)

Players to watch: Leroy Sane, Manuel Neuer, Jamal Musiala.

Schedule: vs. Japan on Nov. 23 at Khalifa International Stadium; vs. Spain on Nov. 27 at Al Bayt Stadium; vs. Costa Rica on Dec. 1 at Al Bayt Stadium.

Germany is going to Qatar with a new coach at a major tournament for the first time since 2008 following its disastrous World Cup four years ago as defending champion. Few know what to expect from the four-time champions and Hansi Flick’s record since taking over as coach from Joachim Löw in 2021 offers little optimism. Germany has won only one of its last seven games.

Germany has problems in attack, where Timo Werner — who has struggled with scoring as of late — will not be available due to an ankle injury.

JAPAN

Best result: Round of 16 (2002, 2010, 2018)

2018 World Cup: Round of 16

How they qualified 2022: Second place in Asian qualifying Group B

Coach: Hajime Moriyasu (Japan)

Players to watch: Takumi Minamino, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Kaoru Mitoma.

Schedule: vs. Germany on Nov. 23 at Khalifa International Stadium; vs. Costa Rica on Nov. 27 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium; vs. Spain on Dec. 1 at Khalifa International Stadium.

Japan’s goal at the World Cup will be to break the round-of-16 hex. The Japanese will be appearing in their seventh consecutive World Cup, and three times the team has reached the round of 16. But it’s never gone further.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said the aim this time, of course, is to reach the quarterfinals. But it won’t be easy. Japan is in Group E with Germany, Spain and Costa Rica — probably the toughest group in Qatar.

After fielding two entirely different lineups for September friendlies against the United States and Ecuador, it remains to be seen who exactly Moriyasu will pick to face Germany on Nov. 23. If precedence speaks, Shuichi Gonda will likely start in goal with Arsenal’s Takahiro Tomiyasu and two-time World Cup defender Maya Yoshida in central defense. Stuttgart captain Wataru Endo and Hidemasa Morita will anchor the midfield.


GROUP F
Kevin De Bruyne is gunning for a World Cup to pair with his four Premier League titles.Catherine Ivill/Getty

BELGIUM

Best result: Third place (2018)

2018 World Cup: Third place

How they qualified 2022: Won European qualifying Group E

Coach: Roberto Martinez (Spain)

Players to watch: Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois.

Schedule: vs. Canada on Nov. 23 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium; vs. Morocco on Nov. 27 at Al Thumama Stadium; vs. Croatia on Dec. 1 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.

Kevin De Bruyne is one of the great players whose careers lacked true international acclaim. This year’s World Cup looks his best chance to help Belgium win a major title for the first time. The 31-year-old Belgium playmaker is beloved at Manchester City by teammates and manager Pep Guardiola. He’s admired by opponents in England who twice voted him player of the year. He has a team-first attitude. Visionary passing. Lethal shooting. Yet De Bruyne still has no Champions League title and never made the top three voting for a Ballon d’Or or FIFA Best Player award until this year.

At the last two World Cups, the Belgians were stopped by 1-0 losses — in the 2014 quarterfinals by Argentina, and then in the 2018 semifinals by France.

CANADA

Best result: Group stage (1986)

2018 World Cup: Did not qualify

How they qualified 2022: Won CONCACAF qualifying group

Coach: John Herdman (England)

Players to watch: Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin.

Schedule: vs. Belgium on Nov. 23 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium; vs. Croatia on Nov. 27 at Khalifa International Stadium; vs. Morocco on Dec. 1 at Al Thumama Stadium.

Canada has seen a dramatic rise on the world stage in the four years since Herdman took over. In 2021 alone, the team went from No. 72 in the world rankings to No. 40.

Canada earned its World Cup spot the hard way. Because of the squad’s low ranking, players had to get through the two early rounds of CONCACAF qualifying. They emerged atop the field ahead of Mexico and the third-place United States, which both had byes to the final round.

Canada is led by Cyle Larin, who plays in Belgium with Club Brugge. He has scored 25 goals, including six in the final round of qualifying. Fellow forward Jonathan David, who plays for French club Lille, is close behind with 22. Bayern Munich defender Alphonso Davies has 12.

MOROCCO

Best result: Round of 16 (1986)

2018 World Cup: Group stage

How they qualified 2022: African playoffs

Coach: Walid Regragui (Morocco)

Players to watch: Achraf Hakimi, Sofiane Boufal, Sofyan Amrabat.

Schedule: vs. Croatia on Nov. 23 at Al Bayt Stadium; vs. Belgium on Nov. 27 at at Al Thumama Stadium; vs. Canada on Dec. 1 at Al Thumama Stadium.

Youssef En-Nesyri’s goal drought sharpens the focus on others to score for Morocco. En-Nesyri has not scored for Sevilla in the Spanish league yet this season. Morocco could rely on Sofiane Boufal and Hakim Ziyech instead. Ziyech is coming back from exile after former Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodzic dropped him. Morocco replaced Halilhodzic with Walid Regragui. The 47-year-old Moroccan led Wydad Casablanca to two titles last season. His task is to lead the Atlas Lions to the knockout rounds for the first time since 1986.

CROATIA

Best result: Final (2018)

2018 World Cup: Final

How they qualified 2022: Won European qualifying Group H

Coach: Zlatko Dalic (Croatia)

Players to watch: Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Perisic.

Schedule: vs. Morocco on Nov. 23 at Al Bayt Stadium; vs. Canada on Nov. 27 at Khalifa International Stadium; vs. Belgium on Dec. 1 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.

Was Croatia’s run to the 2018 World Cup final a one-off? Don’t be so sure. Only five of the 11 players who started the 2018 final are still in the squad. They are led by the now 37-year-old Luka Modrić. Croatia’s rebuild fuses that experienced core with a talented new generation. Wins over World Cup champion France, Denmark and Austria in the Nations League this year show Croatia is getting back on track after a difficult period of underwhelming results and dissent in the team.


GROUP G
Neymar is the veteran of Brazil's squad.STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP via Getty Images

BRAZIL

Best result: Champion (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)

2018 World Cup: Quarterfinals

How they qualified 2022: Won South American qualifying group

Coach: Tite (Brazil)

Players to watch: Neymar, Vinicius Jr., Dani Alves.

Schedule: vs. Serbia on Nov. 24 at Lusail Stadium; vs. Switzerland on Nov. 28 at Stadium 974; vs. Cameroon on Dec. 2 at Lusail Stadium.

When Brazil started playing Vinicius Jr. and Raphinha on the flanks during World Cup qualifying, Neymar surprised his coach by praising his new attacking teammates.

The 30-year-old Neymar is in great shape ahead of this year’s World Cup in Qatar, but Brazil doesn’t depend on him as much as four years ago. Tite has so many options up front that at least two strikers at top European clubs are likely to be left out.

Neymar is expected to play behind the center forward, no matter if that is Richarlison, Gabriel Jesus or Roberto Firmino. Other exciting players, like Manchester United winger Antony, could also get playing time either as a starter or coming off the bench.

SERBIA

Best result: Fourth place (1930, 1962 as Yugoslavia)

2018 World Cup: Group stage

How they qualified 2022: Won European qualifying Group A

Coach: Dragan Stojkovic (Serbia)

Players to watch: Dušan Vlahović, Aleksandar Mitrović, Dusan Tadic.

Schedule: vs. Brazil on Nov. 24 at Lusail Stadium; vs. Cameroon on Nov. 28 at Al Janoub Stadium; vs. Switzerland on Dec. 2 at Stadium 974.

The attacking partnership of 22-year-old Dušan Vlahović and one of the most prolific scorers in international soccer, Aleksandar Mitrović, could cause fits for defenders. This will be the team’s third World Cup as Serbia but its 13th when records of the former Yugoslavia team are included. The team hasn’t gotten past the group stage since 1998. After failing to qualify for last year’s European Championship, the potential for a deeper run in Qatar looks more promising for Serbia based on recent results.

SWITZERLAND

Best result: Quarterfinals (1934, 1938, 1954)

2018 World Cup: Round of 16

How they qualified 2022: Won European qualifying Group C

Coach: Murat Yakin (Switzerland)

Players to watch: Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Yann Sommer.

Schedule: vs. Cameroon on Nov. 24 at Al Janoub Stadium; vs. Brazil on Nov. 28 at Stadium 974; vs. Serbia on Dec. 2 at Stadium 974.

In an era where more penalties than ever are awarded at the World Cup because of video review, Switzerland can rely on Yann Sommer.

The list of players who had spot kicks saved by the Switzerland goalkeeper in the past two years in competitive games is impressive: Kylian Mbappé; Sergio Ramos, twice; Jorginho; Rodri Hernández; Tomas Soucek.

Switzerland is solid in a defense anchored by Manchester City’s Manuel Akanji and looks dangerous in attack with two young forwards having impressive seasons — Breel Embolo and Noah Okafor.

CAMEROON

Best result: Quarterfinals (1990)

2018 World Cup: Did not qualify

How they qualified 2022: African playoffs

Coach: Rigobert Song (Cameroon)

Players to watch: Vincent Aboubakar, Andre Onana, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

Schedule: vs. Switzerland on Nov. 24 at Al Janoub Stadium; vs. Serbia on Nov. 28 at Al Janoub Stadium; vs. Brazil on Dec. 2 at Lusail Stadium.

Cameroon has gambled on former captain Rigobert Song as coach for the World Cup despite doubts about his managerial ability. His team has been disappointing in warmup games. Cameroon has had one boost with the decision of former France under-21 forward Bryan Mbeumo to switch allegiance to his father’s home country. But Song has failed to convince Liverpool defender Joel Matip to return to international duty and help shore up a team that will face Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia in Group G. Song’s team will be the latest to try and live up to the example of the 1990 Cameroon squad that reached the World Cup quarterfinals.


GROUP H
Christiano Ronaldo arrives at the World Cup amid drama with his EPL outfit, Manchester United. He was benched for a recent match and walked out.Jan Kruger/Getty

PORTUGAL

Best result: Third place (1966)

2018 World Cup: Round of 16

How they qualified 2022: European playoffs

Coach: Fernando Santos (Portugal)

Players to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruben Dias, Bruno Fernandes.

Schedule: vs. Ghana on Nov. 24 at Stadium 974; vs. Uruguay on Nov. 28 at Lusail Stadium; vs. South Korea on Dec. 2 at Education City Stadium.

Portugal has arrived at every major tournament with all eyes on Cristiano Ronaldo for the last two decades or so. The team’s hopes of doing well at World Cups and European Championships were mostly dependent on whether Ronaldo could successfully lead his team to victory. He will still be Portugal’s biggest star in Qatar but this time there will be lot more to Portugal than Ronaldo. The 37-year-old forward will share the spotlight with a new generation of players that includes Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and João Félix.

GHANA

Best result: Quarterfinals (2010)

2018 World Cup: Did not qualify

How they qualified 2022: African playoffs

Coach: Otto Addo (Ghana)

Players to watch: Daniel Amartey, Mohammed Kudus, Andre Ayew.

Schedule: vs. Portugal on Nov. 24 at Stadium 974; vs. South Korea on Nov. 28 at Education City Stadium; vs. Uruguay on Dec. 2 at Al Janoub Stadium.

Ghana has looked overseas to rebuild for the World Cup after an embarrassing African Cup showing. New coach Otto Addo has convinced former German under-21 internationals Ransford-Yeboah Königsdörffer and Stephan Ambrosius to switch allegiance to Ghana. Brighton defender Tariq Lamptey is now a Ghana player after representing England at youth level. Athletic Bilbao forward Inaki Williams is also part of Addo’s evolving squad after playing once for Spain in 2016. The big question is whether Ghana has time to fit those new pieces together ahead of a World Cup where it will open against Portugal and also play South Korea and Uruguay.

URUGUAY

Best result: Champion (1930, 1950)

2018 World Cup: Quarterfinals

How they qualified 2022: Third place in South American qualifying group

Coach: Diego Alonso (Uruguay)

Players to watch: Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Federico Valverde.

Schedule: vs. South Korea on Nov. 24 at Education City Stadium; vs. Portugal on Nov. 28 at Lusail Stadium; vs. Ghana on Dec. 2 at Al Janoub Stadium.

Uruguay will play at this year’s World Cup under new management. Óscar Tabárez led the team at the three previous editions of the tournament but the 75-year-old coach is out. His replacement is 47-year-old Diego Alonso. The team will likely put its trust in veteran strikers Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez at their fourth and possibly last World Cup. Alonso replaced Tabárez this year after a series of poor results. He didn’t hesitate to change Uruguay’s starting lineup. He replaced veteran goalkeeper Fernando Muslera with Sergio Rochet and picked 24-year-old Mathías Olivera as his left back.

SOUTH KOREA

Best result: Semifinals (2002)

2018 World Cup: Group stage

How they qualified 2022: Second place in Asian qualifying Group A

Coach: Paulo Bento (Portugal)

Players to watch: Son Heung-min, Hwang Ui-jo, Kim Min-jae.

Schedule: vs. Uruguay on Nov. 24 at Education City Stadium; vs. Ghana on Nov. 28 at Education City Stadium; vs. Portugal on Dec. 2 at Education City Stadium.

Few athletes carry an entire nation’s hope like Son Heung-min. South Korea will be counting on the Tottenham forward’s two-footed shooting ability and his scoring touch at this year’s World Cup. The 30-year-old forward started the Premier League season without a scoring a goal in eight games but he seems to have regained his touch. The current group of players is arguably the best South Korea has ever assembled. Son is supported by several players in their 20s and early 30s getting regular minutes in European soccer. But the South Koreans still will head to Qatar as underdogs.