With a comprehensive 2-0 victory over hosts Qatar, Ecuador kickstarted the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday. Qatar have become the first hosts to lose their opening game in the history of the global tournament – with most of the Qatari fans leaving the stadium well before the final whistle to signify their displeasure with the team’s performance.
Plenty of on-field action is on the way for the fans this week, with 22 group-stage fixtures scheduled for the remainder of the week. Let’s take a look at five fixtures that are a must-watch for fans of the game:
#1: England vs Iran – 21st November, 6:30 PM
The Three Lions will be taking the field in the second fixture of the tournament, facing Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium. While Iran could be considered a lightweight opponent, England’s recent performance in the UEFA Nations League does not inspire the confidence of an outright victory. Iran not only boast a talented lineup but are also in much better form compared to Gareth Southgate’s men – winning three of their last six fixtures compared to England’s none.
Gareth Southgate has opted to ignore the form of senior players while selecting his squad for the tournament in the hopes that they will turn it around in time for the marquee event. The contest against Iran might be the best opportunity for the Three Lions to do so, as they will face the United States and Wales next, both of which are considered high-profile fixtures.
For Iran, an upset win against either England or the United States is the only way to qualify for the knockout rounds. Carlos Queiroz’s men will be hoping for a miracle when they take the field on Monday.
#2: Argentina vs Saudi Arabia – 22nd November, 3:30 PM
Lionel Messi’s Argentina will be in action on Tuesday at the Lusail Iconic Stadium, facing the hosts of the 2018 World Cup, Saudi Arabia. Argentina have their best shot at the World Cup in decades, riding high on confidence after their victories in Copa America and the Finalissima. With Mexico and Poland in their group, however, La Albiceleste have a slightly difficult path ahead compared to other favourites and must ensure that they win the game against Saudi Arabia by a wide margin to ensure their qualification for the knockout rounds.
Saudi Arabia’s chances of victory look slim, with the team managing to score just nine goals in their last 10 fixtures. With the country reportedly exploring a bid for the 2030 FIFA World Cup, Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard’s goal will be to ensure that his team gives its best against the heavyweights of the tournament.
The game will be a perfect platform to witness Argentina’s attackers in all their glory.
#3: France vs Australia – 23rd November, 12:30 AM
Defending champions France will also open their campaign on Tuesday, taking on the Socceroos in defence of their global title. Injuries have dealt a major blow to Les Bleus in recent weeks, with Karim Benzema becoming the latest player to bow out of the World Cup.
After their glorious title run at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Didier Deschamps’ men seem to have lost their way. They were eliminated in the Round of 16 in the Euros in 2020 and are set to lose their UEFA Nations League crown next year with dismal performances in the tournament. France are now officially the worst-performing defending champions in the past two decades and have to turn their spirits around quickly if they are to progress beyond the group stage.
The Socceroos will be banking on their brilliant form as they face the defending champions. Graham Arnold’s men have won all five of their last five fixtures. But the absence of Martin Boyle will dent their attacking prowess, and it remains to be seen if other players can step up their game in his absence.
Australia will be keen to exact revenge for their 2-1 loss at the hands of France in the last World Cup, while France will be hoping for a win to boost their confidence for the remainder of the World Cup.
#4: Portugal vs Ghana – 24th November
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will kick off their World Cup journey on Thursday against Ghana. This is by all accounts the last major global tournament for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, and Portugal’s performance will be tracked all around the world by the fans of the giant. While Fernando Santos has rested Ronaldo for the team’s warm-up game against Nigeria, he will most likely be a part of the starting XI on Thursday.
Ghana’s performance on the field has been impressive of late, with the young squad winning four of their last five fixtures, including a 2-0 victory over Switzerland last week. If Ghana can manage to hold Portugal to a draw on Thursday, Group H will turn competitive, and they will be able to challenge Uruguay for the second knockout spot.
Amid all the drama surrounding his future in club football, Cristiano Ronaldo will be aiming to give his international career a great finish with both the Golden Boot and the World Cup trophy.
#5: England vs USA, 26th November 12:30 AM
The Three Lions will take on the United States on Friday at the Al Bayt Stadium. One of the most keenly awaited contests of the group stages, the clash between England and USMNT will draw a bigger crowd for the significance of the game than the quality of the play on the field. England are the clear favourites to win the contest, with the likes of Wayne Rooney predicting a thumping victory. The United States however has history on its side. They defeated England 1-0 in 1950 and held them to a 1-1 draw in the 2010 World Cup, both of which are considered major upsets in the history of the tournament. Both teams are entering the tournament with unreliable form, and the contest is set to be exciting.
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