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  • Writer's pictureRyan Weiner

Ronaldo's Downfall, Korea's Starpower and an ageless Croatia: What to watch from Groups E-H at Qatar

Messi. Ronaldo. Mbappé. Neymar. De Bruyne. Lewandoski. When the 2022 World Cup kicks off on November 20th, all the stars will be ready to rumble. With 32 teams from six continents squaring off, there's bound to be an incredible amount of action. But, what should viewers be most focused on for each squad when the world comes to Qatar? That is what Let's Talk Sports will be diving in on today. Disclaimer: This part will exclusively cover teams in Groups E-H

Group E:

Costa Rica- Watch for Costa Rica to utilize their defense in an effort to recreate their magical 2014 World Cup quarterfinal run. In said run, they topped a group with juggernauts such as England, Italy and Uruguay, held all three of those opponents to a combined one goal, and conceded just two non-penalties throughout. Keeper Keylor Navas will still be a stalwart for Los Ticos between the sticks even though he has certainly declined a bit from his 2018 and 2014 form. Elsewhere on the defensive front, backs Ronald Mattarita and Francisco Calvo will look to make up for the loss of injured Cristian Gamboa, who certainly would've played a huge role in negating goals for Costa Rica. On the flip side, they do still have some firepower on offense which will help them keep the games close. However, the bar is low and it will likely not be cleared in 2022 for Los Ticos. Prediction: 4th in Group

Germany- After a disappointing group stage exit while trying to defend their 2014 win, Germany is determined to get back to their historically dominant form. This squad is a very interesting mix of poised veterans and naive youngsters, which will make for a test of chemistry on the pitch. Nonetheless, this is a very talented squad that will give any opponent a run for their money. Going back to the squad, fans should watch to see the passing of the torch to the new generation of German soccer. With Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller and Ilkay Gündogan entering their mid-thirties, the last pieces from Germany's World Cup victory are set to retire soon. Replacing them are young gems making their World Cup debuts like Kai Havertz and Jamal Muisala, both of whom will be crucial to the success of the German squad. Despite this young talent however, it will be hard to see Germany making a deep run into the tournament. The way the bracket is slated, Germany is likely to face a tough Belgium squad in the Round of 16. Nonetheless, I still think they pull past the out of form Belgians and get very close to the end. Prediction : 2nd in Group, Semifinal Exit

Japan- Coming in as one of the tournament's more underrated teams, fans should watch to see if Japan can pull off a Cinderella run and advance out of the group. While many would simply peg Germany and Spain to advance and leave the other squads in the dust, the reality is that this Japanese squad is going to be tough to beat. The Japanese have a slew of top level athletes playing in Europe right now that will help them try to slay a giant. Defender Takehiro Tomayasu has been impressive so far with Arsenal, and will look to be a key piece in Japan's formidable defense during his World Cup debut. In the midfield, Takumi Minamino should provide a veteran presence as well as good composure that has stemmed from a streak of good qualifying performances after a dismal stint in the Premier League. Overall, Japan has to beat Costa Rica in order to have a shot at advancing, which is quite doable. However, then they have to beat either Germany or Spain, which is going to be a challenge. Not impossible, but a challenge nonetheless. Yet, I do have Japan falling short of their second straight knockout stage appearance. Prediction: 3rd in Group

Spain- Being one of the favorites to win it all, fans should watch to see if Spain can go the distance. This team is stellar all around, and features both a potent attack and a stalwart defense. Stars Jordi Alba and Aymeric Laporte will captain the defensive unit for Spain, which also features Dani Carvajal at back and Sergio Busquets as a defensive midfielder. On the other side, a youthful Spanish attack will terrorize opponents with Pedri and Fernan Torres' abilities to sneak behind opponents and put powerful shots on net. With all of this talent, Spain will certainly get out of the group and has the potential to go all the way. However, a likely quarterfinal-semifinal setup with Brazil and Argentina is a scary sight for any team trying to make it out. While Spain stands a better chance to beat the two than most, in the end they will need quite a bit of luck to get past the South American giants. Prediction: 1st in Group, Quarterfinal Exit

Group F:

Belgium- Lukaku. De Bruyne. Hazard. Courtois. The golden generation of Belgian football has been around the block quite a bit now, and, with the exception of De Bruyne, is starting to fade. If they ever want to capitalize on all their talent, 2022 is the year. Therefore, fans have to watch what is essentially the "Last Dance" of Belgium's golden generation. Unfortunately for Belgium, Romelu Lukaku is in poor form as he is still recovering from an injury. Conversely, Kevin De Bruyne has been playing at an elite level right now and is going to be one of the top talents in Qatar. His dangerous attacking skills will give Belgium a great boost. Additionally, Courtois can still hold down the fort between the sticks better than almost anyone, and he will help make up for what appears to be a weak Belgian defensive unit. All in all, this team has flaws a plenty. But, they are still the likely winners of the group and have a good chance to win a game or two after as well. Prediction: 1st in Group, Round of 16 Exit

Canada- When one thinks of soccer, Canada is not normally the first nation that comes to mind. After all, the nation hasn't made it since the late 1980s and has a roster with very few recognizable names. However, fans should watch to see if Canada can shock the football world and make it out of the group. Winger Alphonso Davies will be a huge factor in the team's success, and he is going to be in solid shape after recovering from a slight hamstring injury. On the opposite side of the ball, keeper Milan Borjan will provide a steady veteran presence that will keep Canada's defense calm. In addition, Stefan Eustaquio and and Samuel Piette will be solid pieces in the midfield that can amply provide for the team on both sides of the ball. One big flaw of this team is experience, as obviously none of these players have been in the World Cup before. In the end, this might just be their downfall as competitors Belgium and Croatia are far more experienced and developed as a squad. Prediction: 3rd in Group

Croatia- While many soccer fans are pegging the 2022 World Cup as Messi or Ronaldo's last time on the big stage, Croatian fans are likely more focused on the final ride of their biggest star, Luka Modric. The vet led Croatia all the way to the World Cup final in 2018 and took home the tournament's Golden Ball award. Now four years later at 37, Modric is hoping to go one step further to win it all, and fans should watch to see if he can pull it off. Can it happen? Technically, yes. Will it happen? Very likely not. Getting out of this group is no guarantee, as both Belgium and Canada pose threats to the Croatian squad. After that, a possible matchup with Spain (assuming Croatia finishes second) spells out disaster for Croatia's chances of going the distance. Moving onto the squad, most of the old faces from 2018 are back. Aside from Modric, Ivan Perisic, Dejan Loven and Marcelo Brozovic are back for the Croats. The diverse array of talent Croatia has will be huge in helping them escape the group and might even give them a shot at winning a game in the knockout round. Prediction: 2nd in Group, Round of 16 Exit

Morocco- While certainly an afterthought in this loaded group, forgetting entirely about Morocco would be a shame. Therefore, fans must watch to see if Morocco can drag somebody else down with them. Achraf Hakimi is the pivotal leader of this squad, and has the ability to provide more than what the average defenseman can on the offensive side. Additionally, Youssef En-Nesyri and Hakim Ziyech will be huge in providing the offensive firepower that will be necessary to take down the giants of Group F. Even better for the Atlas lions, they have been in great form recently having won six of their last seven international matches. While they have the potential to draw or win a game against someone in this group, in actuality they likely strike out in 2022. Prediction: 4th in Group

Group G:

Brazil- Does anyone really need a reason to watch Brazil? They're currently the favorites to win the whole tournament, have seven of the top 50 players in the tournament according to ESPN, are motivated to end their biggest World Cup trophy drought, and play with loads of swagger. From top to bottom, the lineup is loaded. Alisson will be one of the best keepers in the whole tournament, and defenders like Marquinhos and Thiago Silva will make it extremely difficult for opponents to even get shots up. On offense, Neymar and Vini might just be the best goal-scoring duo in the whole tournament, and supporting pieces like Casemiro and Richarlison are just as deadly as they quite honestly could be the best player on many other teams in the tournament. Despite all this, I still have Brazil coming up just short in the end, although truth be told that final with France really could go either way if both teams are playing their A game. Prediction: 1st in Group, Runners-Up

Cameroon- With all the attention in Group G on Brazil, it is easy to forget about everyone else, especially Cameroon. After all, in the last three World Cup cycles they have failed to qualify once (2018) and lost all six games in the other two (2010 and 2014). Not great. Now, here they stand again in the midst of the tournament favorites and two criminally underrated European squads in Serbia and Switzerland. So, what is there to watch? Cameroon is in good form right now, having won each of their last five international friendlies. This is always a good sign for a team entering the World Cup, and is often a trait of teams that go on to carve out upset runs. Additionally, they have some solid talent in Andre-Franck Zambo Anguissa and Bryan Nbuemo. This all is promising for the small nation, although in the end it is really hard to see Cameroon truly making a dent against any of the other squads in their group. Prediction: 4th in Group

Serbia- As one of the most under-the-radar teams in the entire tournament, fans need to watch Serbia's squad as they try to push their way out of the group stage. Headlined by talisman Aleksandar Mitrovic and attacker Dusan Vlahovic, the offensive unit of Serbia is strong. This is well complimented by a solid group of midfielders and defensemen like Filip Kostic and Dusan Tadic that will provide stability on both ends of the pitch. So, why is Serbia not a guarantee to get out of the group stage? The answer would be their lack of depth. Despite featuring plenty of starters at high-end clubs, the bench of Serbia consists of players from lesser-known clubs that are honestly playing a little out of their league in Qatar. While depth isn't everything, it can certainly help a team escape a rut or change their style of play. With tough opponents like Brazil and Switzerland on the schedule, solid subs might be necessary for wins, which is a huge knock for a squad that otherwise has all the pieces to make the knockout stage. Projected Finish: 3rd in Group

Switzerland- Similar to Serbia, there isn't a lot the casual soccer fan would know about the Swiss national squad. Granit Xhaka is the go-to name on the squad, and the midfielder will be paramount in whatever success Switzerland has in Qatar. He is in great form as well right now, which will be huge for the tough games ahead. Aside from Xhaka, Manuel Akanji and and Xherdan Shaqiri will provide plenty of support for the team as experienced veterans. Between the sticks, Yann Sommer will also be a key part of the Swiss squad and is looking to add to his 30 current clean sheets in international games. Switzerland is also currently in solid shape coming into the tournament, having beaten Spain and Portugal in Nations' League games. Overall, this Swiss squad looks strong and poses a threat to opponents both offensively and defensively. They also have the depth & star power to make it out of the group, which I believe they will do. Prediction: 2nd in Group, Round of 16 Exit

Group H:

Ghana- In what might be the most uncertain and chaotic group of the bunch, fans should watch to see if Ghana can pull off a miracle run. The squad is very deep defensively, featuring high level talent in Daniel Amartay and Denis Odo alongside other players from Europe's top leagues. Although not as potent, their offensive side can compete with the majority of teams in the tournament. However, they are extremely young. Starter Kamaldeen Sulemana is just 20, and Abdul Issahaku-Fatawu is just 18 years old. This will be an interesting development to watch, as the other teams in this group are far more experienced in all facets. If Ghana can play to theri strengths and outpace opponents, then they should be looking good to at least snag a win somewhere. However, if they simply get outclassed and lost in the wonder of the tournament like many younger squads do, then they could be in for a tough stretch of games. Prediction: 4th in Group

Portugal- Do I really need to say what people should watch from Portugal? Well, it's a certain player with 191 caps, 117 goals, and virtually every record in the history of Portuguese soccer named Cristiano Ronaldo. Yes, Portugal has plenty of talent this year including Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and João Cancelo. However, this tournament for Portugal is really all about the legacy of Ronaldo. In his previous four World Cup appearances, Ronaldo has only made it past the first round of the knockout stage once, and that was as a youngster on the 2006 national squad. Since then, Portugal has suffered disappointment after disappointment, and Ronaldo hasn't gotten close to the final. This squad has the talent to make a deep run, but like other years lacks the consistency to be a surefire pick for the knockout round. Unfortunately, I believe history repeats itself in 2022 as the poor form of the squad and pure bad luck ends Ronaldo's chances of winning his first ever World Cup. Prediction: 3rd in Group

South Korea- Similar to some other teams in the World Cup this year, South Korea is going to rely on one player to elevate the squad to the knockout stage. For South Korea, that is Son Hueng-min. While he currently isn't playing his best in Europe, Son always shows up for his national squad, In 2018, Son helped South Korea defeat reigning champion Germany and eliminate them from advancing to the knockout stage. Since then, he has been on a tear both for Korea and for Tottenham in the EPL. Fans must watch to see if Son's star power can elevate his team to the next stage. However, getting out of the group stage requires help for any player, and South Korea might just have enough. Kim Min-jae has been excellent as of recent in Italy, and Lee Jae-sung will also be a solid force wherever the team decides to use him. Although it may not sound like much, the fact that much of the team plays together in Korea highlights their strong chemistry that will be pivotal to winning games over Portugal or Uruguay. In the end, I think that South Korea gets the job done and sends Ronaldo packing on their way to a knockout appearance. Prediction: 2nd in Group, Round of 16 Exit

Uruguay- Uruguay's expectations are sky-high right now. They have a relatively weak group as well as a great mix of talented veterans and promising young stars. Like in previous tournaments, Luis Suarez and Diego Godin will be pivotal in ensuring that Uruguay attacks early and then holds their lead. However, the next generation of Uruguayan footballers is here, and they are ready to make a statement. Fans should watch to see just how big of a role Federico Valverde, Jose Gimenez and Darwin Nunez will have. The trio have been electric as of late internationally, and have shown great promise for their club sides as well. They will be a huge advantage to the squad if used correctly, and have the potential to provide a great pace of play that opponents can't keep up with. Heck, if given the opportunity they could lead the squad to a deep run. While that may sound extreme, the potential of Uruguay is very high and should be something of note. Prediction: 1st in Group, Quarterfinal Exit

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