When the World Cup group stage draw for the 2022 tournament in Qatar was made back in April, it threw up some excellent matchups.
Top seeds like Brazil, England and Argentina discovered their opponents as teams look to claim the trophy France won in 2018 in Russia.
Which teams are staring down the barrel of a Group of Death? Who are already plotting their path to the final from the last 16? Here are the easiest and hardest groups at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
FIFA world rankings – ie ‘(1)’ – are correct as of 25 August 2022.
Easiest 2022 World Cup groups
Qatar (48), Ecuador (44), Senegal (18), the Netherlands (8)
Hosts Qatar were in many ways the false seed in Pot 1, given they have a lack of football history and are only ranked 48th in the world.
Ecuador came through CONMEBOL qualifying by finishing in the top four ahead of nations like Peru, Colombia and Chile, while Senegal defeated Egypt on penalties in a play-off to book their spot.
The Netherlands are the highest ranked team and are highly fancied to take first place, though they previously faltered at the World Cup and didn’t qualify for the previous tournament in Russia.
Portugal (9), Ghana (60), Uruguay (13), South Korea (28)
Having only scraped through to the World Cup via the play-offs, every Portuguese player and fan must have been giddy with delight at their World Cup draw.
The lowest-ranked side in Pot 1 Qatar aside drew Uruguay – a side they did lose to at the last World Cup – as their only top 20 opposition. Ghana are comfortably the lowest-ranked team in Qatar and have only won one game in 2022, while South Korea haven’t made it out of the group stage since 2010.
Portugal have a number of ageing stars who will be playing in their last World Cup, though the presence of a number of exciting youngsters could power them towards the later rounds of the knockout stages.
France (4), Australia (39), Denmark (10), Tunisia (30)
France and Denmark are the heavy favourites to qualify from Group D ahead of Tunisia and Australia.
Tunisia were the lowest ranked team in Pot 3 and Australia qualified through an intercontinental play-off. The former have never made it out of the group stage and the Socceroos have just one last 16 appearance on their CV.
It would be a major shock if either France or Denmark missed out on the knockout stages, with both squads filled with impressive talent.
Hardest 2022 World Cup groups
England (5), Iran (22), USA (14), Wales (19)
FIFA allocated a place in Pot 4 to the winner of the UEFA play-off path that contained Ukraine, Scotland and Wales. Wales were triumphant, meaning the bottom seed in Group B is ranked 18th, higher than Iran who were in Pot 3.
England are the favourites to take top spot in Group B as the highest seeded team, but there are only 17 FIFA ranking places between the Three Lions and 22nd Iran.
The USA also have a large roster of exciting young talents to call upon in Qatar, so expect each game in this group to be competitive and tight.
Spain (6), Costa Rica (34), Germany (11), Japan (24)
Group E is full of interesting narratives. Both Spain and Germany have won the World Cup in the last 12 years, but they also performed miserably in their respective defences of the trophy, exiting at the group stage.
Any potential slip from the two European giants will see Japan and Costa Rica looking to take advantage. Costa Rica topped a group containing England, Uruguay and Italy back in 2014, while Japan have won seven of their 11 games in 2022.
Brazil (1), Serbia (25), Switzerland (16), Cameroon (38)
There might be a clear favourite for first place in Group G in Brazil, but the runners-up spot will be keenly contested.
Serbia were unbeaten throughout qualifying and topped a group including Portugal. Talents like Dusan Vlahovic, Dusan Tadic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic will all be hoping to impress with a deep run in the tournament.
Switzerland enjoyed a memorable run at Euro 2020, including a penalty shootout victory over France, and have qualified for every World Cup since 2002. Cameroon were plucked from Pot 4 but enjoyed a third place finish at the Africa Cup of Nations in January.
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Arsenal played host to Bodo/Glimt in one of the later kick-offs, after fellow Premier League sides Manchester United and West Ham jetted off around the continent to face Omonia Nicosia and Anderlecht respectively.
Here’s a round-up of the evening’s action.
FC Zurich 1-5 PSV Eindhoven
Arsenal cruised to a comfortable 2-0 victory over Bodo/Glimt under the lights at the Emirates.
Eddie Nketiah tapped home a rebound after Kieran Tierney’s thumping effort bounced back off the post, minutes before Rob Holding headed home from a cross from the excellent Fabio Vieira.
Bodo/Glimt grew into the game as things progressed but Arsenal killed things off with a third five minutes before full-time as a glorious Gabriel Jesus run ended in a tap-in from Vieira.
Rennes 2-1 Dynamo Kyiv
Fenerbahce 2-0 AEK Larnaca
HJK Helsinki 1-1 Ludogorets
A late meltdown from Roma saw them slump to a 2-1 defeat at home to Real Betis.
Betis were the most dangerous early on but Roma took the lead through a Paulo Dybala penalty just after the half-hour mark, although their lead lasted about five minutes as Guido Rodriguez fizzed in an equaliser before the break.
Nicolo Zaniolo hit the bar and Dybala saw a volley expertly saved before the interval and Roma continued that momentum after the break. They failed to find the back of the net, however, and were punished for their profligacy as Luiz Henrique headed home a winner with two minutes to go.
Things ended on a sourer note for Roma as they lost Zaniolo to a pointless red card in stoppage time. The Italian kicked out at an opponent and was deservedly dismissed, leaving him suspended for the next game.
Malmo 0-1 Union Berlin
Braga 1-2 Union SG
FC Sheriff 0-2 Real Sociedad
Manchester United came perilously close to a major European upset as they were forced to come from behind to seal a 3-2 victory over Cypriot side Omonia Nicosia.
United could have had a few goals early on – Antony fluffed a cut-back and Bruno Fernandes hit the bar – but some shocking defending saw the Red Devils punished on the counter by Karim Ansarifard ten minutes before half-time.
Seven minutes into the second half, substitute Marcus Rashford fired home a delightful equaliser following an excellent pass from Fernandes, before Anthony Martial came off the bench and fired United ahead shortly after the hour mark.
Rashford tapped home a third with five minutes to go but Omonia grabbed an immediate response to set up a nervy equaliser, but United held on to seal an uncomfortable three points.
Sturm Graz 0-0 Lazio
Midtylland 2-2 Feyenoord
Freiburg 2-0 Nantes
Olympiacos 0-3 Qarabag
Red Star 4-1 Ferencvaros
Monaco 3-1 Trabzonspor
Hearts 0-3 Fiorentina
RFS 0-0 Basaksehir
A late strike from Gianluca Scamacca fired West Ham to well-earned victory over Belgian giants Anderlecht.
West Ham were dominant from start to finish but had to wait until the 79th-minute for Scamacca to touch down Lucas Paqueta’s flick and fire across goal into the bottom corner to get the lead they deserved.
However, West Ham had goalkeeper Alphonse Areola to thank for the three points as the Frenchman pulled out what will surely be the save of the tournament to repel a close-range header and secure the victory. Sensational stuff.
Silkeborg 5-0 FCSB
Lech Poznan 0-0 Hapoel Beer Sheva
Villarreal 5-0 Austria Vienna
Slovacko 0-1 Nice
Koln 0-1 Partizan
Dnipro-1 2-2 Vaduz
AZ Alkmaar 3-2 Apollon Limassol
Molde 3-0 Shamrock Rovers
Gent 0-1 Djurgarden
Sivasspor 3-4 Ballkani
Slavia Prague 0-1 CFR Cluj
Pyunik Yerevan 2-0 Zalgiris
Basel 0-2 Slovan Bratislava
Chelsea drops Fofana update after initial tests on knee injury
Wesley Fofana’s knee injury is better than initially feared after the first set of tests returned positive results.
The defender suffered a knee injury in a collision with Rafael Leao in the 38th minute of Chelsea’s 3-0 home win against AC Milan, as his night ended in frustrating fashion having scored his first goal for the club earlier in the match.
There is hope that Fofana could return before the World Cup, with Chelsea’s final match before the tournament taking place away to Newcastle on November 12.
The centre-back is likely to miss this weekend’s clash against Wolves and the away match at San Siro against Milan next week.
Fofana was seen leaving Stamford Bridge on crutches on Wednesday night, with his right knee in a brace as there were worries he may have suffered a serious injury.
Speaking in his post-match press conference after Chelsea’s victory over Milan, Blues boss Graham Potter admitted he was unsure how bad it would prove to be for Fofana.
‘We’ll have to scan it tomorrow and see how he is but there’s nothing to report at the moment,” Potter said.
“That’s the one disappointing thing about the evening so we have our fingers crossed. We’re concerned but I don’t want to speculate on it now.
“These things happen. He’s a young guy and a strong guy but we’ll support him.”
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