The 2022 FIFA World Cup drew a bit closer on Friday at the official draw in Qatar. We now know the groups and matchups and fans are already salivating about some of those showdowns this fall.
We’re going to break down all eight groups of four teams, the favorite, dark horse, player to watch and the MLS connection, of which there are many among the teams that booked their ticket.
Group A: Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands
Favorite: Netherlands: No. 10 in the world in the most recent FIFA rankings, the perennial powerhouse booked their ticket by finishing atop UEFA Group G, losing just their opening qualifying match. Their last loss came in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Euro 2020 in June, 2-0 to the Czech Republic.
Dark horse: Dare we say the hosts? Historically, the host country finds a way to get out of the group stage, but that won’t be easy for Qatar, who finished third in the FiFAArab Cup after beating Egypt on penalty kicks.
Player to watch: The next goal Sadio Mane scores for Senegal will put him alone on the Lions of Teranga all-time scoring list. The Liverpool forward, who has 29 international goals, is 29 and in the prime of his career.
MLS connection: Xavier Arreaga (Seattle Sounders), Diego Palacios (LAFC), Jhegson Mendez, Alan Franco (Charlotte FC), Jose Cifuentes (LAFC) and Michael Estrada (D.C. United) all compete for Ecuador
Group B: England, Iran, United States, UEFA Path A winner
Favorite: England face enormous pressure anytime they step on the pitch and that’s only magnified in the World Cup, where the Three Lions are considered one of the early favorites. They’ve lost once in the last two years and that was on penalties to Italy in the Euro 2022 final at Wembley Stadium.
Dark horse: No one is talking about Iran, but they’re a dangerous foe who is organized and stout defensively. And unlike Group A dark horse Qatar, there’s no pressure on Team Melli, unlike the other teams in Group B
Player to watch: Harry Kane wears the captain’s armband for England and the Tottenham forward has 49 goals in 69 career goals for England. The 28-year-old is regarded as one of the world’s best strikers.
MLS connection: There were 10 MLS players who helped the United States clinch a spot in the World Cup in the final Concacaf qualifying matches, including the FC Dallas duo of Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira, who both scored in a critical 5-1 win over Panama last Sunday.
Group C: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland
Favorite: What’s true of England is perhaps double for Argentina, which finished second behind Brazil in South American World Cup qualification. And when you consider some of the stars (Nicolas Otamendi, Angel Di Maria and Lionel Messi) are in the mid-30s, the time is now for La Albiceleste to win a third World Cup, and first since 2006.
Dark horse: Despite their world standing (No. 9 in the FIFA rankings), Mexico haven’t been on top of their game throughout qualification, leading some to put manager Tata Martino on the hot seat. That said, should Mexico struggle in Qatar, Poland might be the team that navigates through Group C into the knockout rounds.
Player to watch: All eyes will be on Lionel Messi, who had previously struggled with the weight of expectation, but was spectacular for Argentina in their Copa America title-winning run last summer. The 34-year-old Paris Saint-Germain attacker, a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner as the best player on the planet, is Argentina’s all-time leading scorer 81 career goals in 161 appearances.
MLS connection: Young fullback Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), and veteran midfielder Hector Herrera, soon to join Houston Dynamo FC, represent Mexico, while New England Revolution forward Adam Buksa and the Charlotte FC duo of Kamil Józwiak and Karol Swiderski should also be part of Poland’s World Cup roster.
Group D: France, AFC-CONMEBOL winner, Denmark, Tunisia
Favorite: France are not only the favorite in Group D, but also to win the whole thing, co-favorite currently with Brazil. The defending champions, who cruised through qualifying without a loss, are absolutely loaded. Les Bleus last defeat came on penalties to Switzerland in the Euro 2020 Round of 16.
Dark horse: Should Peru win their inter-confederation playoff against either United Arab Emirates or Australia — and make no mistake, they’ll be favored to do so — they could and should make a run at the knockout round.
Player to watch: Kylian Mbappe is one of the best players in the world and is a must-watch whenever he’s on the field. The 23-year-old Paris Saint-Germain attacker has 26 goals in 54 appearances for France.
MLS connection: Peru are captained by Orlando City goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, and also feature NYCFC defender Alex Callens, Marcos Lopez from the San Jose Earthquakes, D.C. United midfielder Edison Flores and Seattle Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz. Australia feature Columbus Crew defender Milos Degenek.
Group E: Spain, Costa Rica or New Zealand, Germany, Japan
Favorite: It does feel strange to not list Germany as the favorite, but Spain, at least per FIFA rankings, have surpassed Die Mannschaft. La Roja, ranked No. 7 currently by FIFA, topped UEFA Group B to clinch their spot.
Dark horse: This is another if, but if Costa Rica beat New Zealand, the Ticos would have booked a third consecutive World Cup berth by winning their final five qualifying matches and seven of their last eight without defeat. Lest we forget that magical run to the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup after finishing atop a group that included Uruguay, Italy and England.
Player to watch: Sergio Busquets might have found the fountain of youth after good friend Xavi Hernandez was named Barcelona coach. The 33-year-old is considered one of the top defensive midfielders of all time and this will likely be his World Cup swan song.
MLS connection: Costa Rica feature veteran MLS defenders Francisco Calvo (San Jose Earthquakes) and Ronald Matarrita (FC Cincinnati), while FC Cincinnati midfielder Allan Cruz and Columbus Crew winger Luis Diaz could be included for the Ticos. Bill Tuiloma of the Portland Timbers helps anchor the New Zealand backline.
Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia
Favorite: Belgium are ranked No. 2 in the world by FIFA and are the clear favorites in Group F. Led by ThorganHazard, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder and Crystal Palace forward Christian Benteke, the time might be now for De Rode Duivels to make a deep run in Qatar.
Dark horse: Oh Canada! While this will be a major step up in competition and the first time on the world stage since 1986, Canada bossed Concacaf qualification, finishing atop the Octogonal group with just one defeat. They picked up points on the road against Mexico and the United States so why shouldn’t Les Rouges make noise in Qatar?
Player to watch: We’re sticking with Canada, who are led by Alphonso Davies. The Vancouver Whitecaps homegrown has enjoyed a meteoric rise at Bayern Munich and is considered one of the world’s best left backs.
MLS connection: Like the United States, MLS players had an important role in Canada’s World Cup run with 10 who ply their trade in the league on the most recent qualifying roster, including CF Montreal fullback Allistair Johnston, Colorado Rapids midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye and Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio.
Group G: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon
Favorite: No surprise here. Brazil are the top-ranked team in the world by FIFA at the moment and the co-favorite to win the World Cup for the sixth time, and first time since 2002. Seleção finished atop South American qualifying.
Dark horse: Cameroon are No. 37 in the latest FIFA rankings an qualified by edging Algeria on away goals after the teams played to a 2-2 aggregate score. The Indomitable Lions will go to Qatar loose and primed to upset the favorites as they’ve done before in the World Cup.
Player to watch: Neymar remains one of the world’s best players. The 30-year-old Paris Saint-Germain forward has scored 71 goals for Brazil in 117 appearances, six goals shy of the mark set by arguably the greatest player of all-time, Pele.
MLS connection: Xherdan Shaqiri, newly signed by the Chicago Fire, just recently eclipsed the 100 career caps milestone for Switzerland. Seattle Sounders defender Nouhou had a standout performance for Cameroon against Mo Salah and Egypt in the Africa Cup of Nations, and Philadelphia Union fullback Olivier Mbaizo has also regularly featured for Cameroon.
Group H: Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea
Favorite: Portugal didn’t qualify for Qatar until a qualification playoff win over minnow North Macedonia, who stunned Italy, Portugal are ranked No. 8 by FIFA and should be considered a favorite to top the group, but not necessarily a comfortable one with stiff competition likely coming from all three of their opponents.
Dark horse: Ghana have a great pedigree of World Cup success, The Black Stars booked their ticket by edging Nigeria on away goals last week.
Player to watch: On the Mount Rushmore of World Cup superstars alongside Messi and Neymar is Cristiano Ronaldo. The 37-year-old Manchester United forward, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, has a remarkable 115 career goals for Portugal in 186 appearances.
MLS connection: Ghana feature Columbus Crew winger Yew Yeboah, while club and country teammate Jonathan Mensah could make the 23-man roster after competing in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. New Orlando City SC signing Facundo Torres competes for Uruguay, who could also include NYCFC midfielder Santiago Rodriguez, Orlando City midfielder Cesar Araujo and LAFC forward Brian Rodriguez.