GROUP A MATCH SCHEDULE
Qatar vs Ecuador
Senegal vs Netherlands
Qatar vs Senegal
Netherlands vs Ecuador
Netherlands vs Qatar
Ecuador vs Senegal
The hosts are thoughtfully preparing for their World Cup debut – all the internationals were pulled out of their clubs to prepare for the tournament in spring, so the Qataris will have no problems with chemistry. But there is another side to it: since April, the national team players have only taken part in friendly matches. And even those results are not impressive: in September, for example, Felix Sanchez’s team lost badly to the Croatian Olympic team.
The Qatari authorities are doing everything for a decent performance, but during these six months the level of players will not improve. And it is very low. Maybe Qatar will take points away from someone, but it won’t make the playoffs.
Ecuador surprised many in the qualifying tournament: Peru, Colombia, Chile and Paraguay were left behind. The most recognizable faces of the national team are Enner Valencia and Pervis Estupiñan, but the Argentine coach Gustavo Alfaro managed to make it to the World Cup even without the international stars. True, in June, FIFA nearly disqualified Ecuador – the federation was accused that Byron Castillo, a player with fake documents, played for the national team.
Outside problems aside, the South Americans are doing well. They are capable of putting up a fight against Senegal in the group, but the 1/8 finals is the ceiling for Ecuador.
The reigning African champions had a serious bargaining chip before the tournament – Sadio Mane. The Bayern Munich striker has been scoring a lot this autumn and is in great form for the World Cup, but he was injured in his last game for Bayern before the break and his trip to Qatar is now a big question mark. Fortunately for Senegal, Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy recently recovered from injury.
But, as in the case of Ecuador, the African national team is also under external attack – Spartak striker Keita Balde was suspended for three months in September for violating anti-doping procedures and will miss the World Cup.
Senegal has an excellent chance of getting out of the group, but is unlikely to go any further.
The Orange return to the World Cup as group favorites, but not of the tournament. Memphis Depay, Frankie de Jong, Virgil van Dijk and other stars of the national team are not having their best season. The Dutch have huge problems with the forwards and goalkeepers: there is simply no scoring striker, and the goal in the last matches of the national team was defended by 39-year-old Remco Pasver.
For Louis van Gaal this is the last tournament as the coach of the national team – after the World Cup he will give up the post to Ronaldo Koeman. The last time the Orange under van Gaal surprised them was in third place at the 2014 World Cup. Now they have a good chance of the quarterfinals, but getting into the top four will be a surprise.