The World Cup Preview: Group C
An exciting group with four teams from four different continents, Group C has a great host of talent on show. For some, notably some talisman, it is the last chance for them to make an impact on the biggest stage of them all. A three way race looks likely for the top two spots, with these early stages perhaps a glimpse of what glory could come later on…
Argentina enter the tournament as third favourites for the trophy behind France and their South American counterparts Brazil. This comes as no surprise to anyone who’s watched them during their 35-game unbeaten run heading into Qatar which includes a Copa America win in Brazil’s own backyard. There is the feeling that this tournament is special for Argentina, not least because it’ll most likely be Lionel Messi’s last chance to get his hands on the grandest prize of all and one that has eluded him his whole career.
Player to watch: Lionel Messi
Who else!? If Messi manages to get his hands on the trophy it will undoubtedly settle any debate that remains as to who the greatest player of all time is and would bring the trophy back to Argentina for the first time since their infamous victory over England in 1986. Honourable mention to Julian Alvarez who is in fine form with Manchester City and could be a key player for his nation in the weeks to come.
Mexico go to Qatar with a decidedly less impressive qualifying campaign than Argentina. They actually finished second in their group, only behind leaders Canada on goal difference, but the reality was vastly more tense than the table suggested with El Tri scraping through a number of games with late goals and edgy, closely-fought encounters. They will be hoping Raul Jimenez is fit and firing as the Wolves strikers last competitive appearance was August 31st, due to an ongoing groin issue.
Player to watch: Hirving ‘Chucky’ Lozano
Despite extreme temptation to put goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa (who only ever seems to exist during international tournaments), Hirving Lozano is probably Mexico’s star man. The Napoli winger has 3 goals and 3 assists this season in just 6 starts for the Italian powerhouses and is playing his part in what is currently the most in form team in Europe. Mexico fans will be hoping he can produce something similar in Qatar.
Poland are a strange side to say the least. Littered with good players and an outright world class one, the Eastern Europeans have a poor record in international tournaments. In 2018, Lewandowski went goalless in all 3 group stage games which saw his side crash out at the first hurdle. Euro 2020 was a similar story as they finished dead last in their group, failing to win a single game. However, an impressive 2-0 win against Sweden in the playoffs has given their fans some confidence that maybe this time can be different.
Player to watch: Piotr Zielinski
I know what you’re thinking. Robert Lewandowski is one of the best strikers in world football and is in fine form for the Catalan giants with 13 goals in 14 league games. However, Zielinski is the midfield lynchpin of the best side in Europe this season and has contributed 3 goals and 5 assists to his side in Serie A, not to mention 3 in 6 in the Champions League. Poland have always been seen as too reliant on their star striker but maybe this is the year where that won’t be the case.
Saudi Arabia are (to no ones surprise) the underdogs of the group but should they be? The Green Falcons are the second lowest ranked team in the tournament yet they topped their qualifying group over the likes of Japan and Australia. Their manager, Hervé Renard, has led both the Ivory Coast and Zambia to African Cup of Nations titles in the past and he’s made Saudi Arabia a very tough nut to crack. However, there’s no doubt that from a quality perspective Saudi Arabia could really struggle.
Player to watch: Salem Al-Dawsari
The Al-Hilal winger enjoyed a hot streak in qualifying with 7 goals in 13 matches which helped guide his country to their 6th World Cup appearance. Unfortunately, Al-Dawsari has only made 4 appearances in the Saudi Pro League this season due to injury which is a real worry for Saudi Arabians. Primarily a left winger, Renards 4-2-3-1 formation suits him well and he will be hoping he can be the talismanic figure that his country needs to spark a miracle.
Predictions: It’s hard to look past Argentina as clear favourites although stranger things have happened. This feels different to past tournaments where they possibly had even more of a star-studded squad but could never quite find the right balance to make things work. Mexico and Poland will both be battling for that second spot and it’s an incredibly close one to call but Mexico have a history of pulling it out the bag in tournaments whereas Poland have tended to struggle when the lights shine brightest. Saudi Arabia aren’t an easy opponent for anyone and I don’t expect high scoring affairs when they take to the pitch but on quality alone, it’s hard to look past anything other than a 4th placed finish.