What Are the Best Rivalries to Watch for at the 2022 World Cup?

What Are the Best Rivalries to Watch for at the 2022 World Cup? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The FIFA World Cup brings together fans from all around the world like no other – until it’s time to face a rival.

Rivalries in international football are typically more territorial and continental-based, but there are some exceptions.

Qatar looks to be no different, as there are numerous matchup possibilities that could pit rival against rival in a high-stakes showdown.

Which rivalries could we see unfold at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar? Let’s take a look:

USA, England – Group B

Starting with rivalries in group games, Group B gets us started as there’s not a rivalry matchup in Group A (Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands). Group B will provide two, with USA vs. England surely being No. 1. The history between these two teams goes well beyond the football pitch, but USA has a win-tie-loss record of 1-1-0 against the Three Lions. Let’s see what fireworks this Thanksgiving matchup will have in store.

England, Wales – Group B

While the previous matchup was a rare non-territorial rivalry, this one surely is. Tucked alongside England is Wales, a country that hasn’t experienced too many highs in international football but will look to change that in Qatar. Gareth Bale will be making his first World Cup appearance, too, which should make for an entertaining affair considering his career blew up in the English Premier League with Tottenham. England has won 68 of the 103 meetings between the two.

Spain, Germany – Group E

These nations aren’t the biggest of rivals, but with high expectations and the history of each program, this will be an intense contest between two European powerhouses. Germany has an all-time win-loss-tie record of 9-8-8 against Spain, so these two squads are very even on paper. However, Spain has largely dominated Germany since 2003, most recently winning 6-0 in a 2020 UEFA Nations League affair.

USA, Mexico – Potential quarterfinals matchup

Moving on from group-stage games, these rivalry matchups could materialize depending on how the tournament pans out. USA and Mexico are undoubtedly fierce rivals, with El Tri winning 38 of the 76 matchups. There are two ways they can meet in the quarterfinals if they make it past the Round of 16 game, too: If USA wins Group B and Mexico finishes second in Group C or if USA gets second and Mexico wins Group C.

Iran, Saudi Arabia – Potential quarterfinals matchup

These two countries haven’t faced off since 2009, with political relations and territorial distance also playing a huge factor, but a quarterfinals scenario is possible. It would have to follow the USA-Mexico route since Iran is in Group B and Saudi Arabia in Group C: If Iran wins Group B and Saudi Arabia finishes second in Group C or if Iran gets second and Saudi Arabia wins Group C.

This is one of the unlikely possibilities given the quality of opponents they must defeat, but as aforementioned, it’s still possible.

Croatia, Serbia – Potential quarterfinals matchup

Moving down to the second half of the bracket, Croatia vs. Serbia emerges as one rivalry to watch. This rivalry stems from political history and club matchups in league competitions (Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb stand out), but they’ve only faced off twice in an international setting.

Here’s how they could meet in the quarterfinals, presuming they win their Round of 16 contest, too: If Croatia wins Group F and Serbia is second in Group G or if Croatia is second in Group F and Serbia claims Group G. Similar to Iran-Saudi Arabia, this one is also unlikely but possible.

Japan, South Korea – Potential quarterfinals matchup

Japan and South Korea have a history similar to the Mariana Trench – it’s extremely deep. Though Korea has a win-tie-loss record of 54-21-15 against Japan (though Japan has improved considerably this past decade), political history and territorial distance come into play. These teams can meet in the quarterfinals if they win their Round of 16 matchup in these scenarios: If Japan wins Group E and South Korea is second in Group H or if Japan is second in Group E and South Korea wins Group H.

Add this one to the unlikely-but-possible column, though, as it’s going to be a strenuous challenge for each team to advance from their respective groups.

Spain, Portugal – Possible quarterfinals matchup

Here’s a rivalry that has a good chance of materializing. Similar to Wales-England, Portugal is a smaller-sized nation tucked alongside Spain, though Portugal fares better on the international level with its quality-filled squad. Spain has a win-tie-loss record of 17-16-6 against Portugal, but the latter has not lost in five of the last six matchups (four ended in a draw).

How this matchup could happen is the same as Japan-South Korea: If Spain wins Group E and Portugal is second in Group H or if Spain is second in Group E and Portugal wins Group H. This one can very much come to fruition.

Brazil, Uruguay – Possible quarterfinals matchup

Similar to Spain-Portugal, this one could also transpire. Not just territorial distance, their history dates back to the early World Cups where both teams engaged in stalwart contests. Most notably, Uruguay beat Brazil in the Maracanã in the 1950 World Cup Final and remains the smallest country to win the tournament. Brazil, however, has not lost to Uruguay in the last 12 meetings dating back to 2003.

These two will meet in the quarterfinals if Brazil finishes first in Group G and Uruguay is second in Group H or if Brazil is second in Group G and Uruguay claims Group H.

Germany, Netherlands – Possible semifinals or final matchup

Moving on to broader matchups that could occur in the semifinals or final, Germany and the Netherlands is a tight-knit battle that emerges. There have been more ties in the 45 all-time meet ups than wins, so it’s a neck-and-neck rivalry with deep political roots.

The two ways they can meet in the semifinals are if both teams finish first in Group A and Group E or if they both finish second. A battle in the final would occur if one finishes second and the other first and wins all of the knockout games.

Argentina, Uruguay – Possible semifinals or final matchup

When you meet an opponent a whopping 192 times, there’s bound to be intense friction. Argentina may have a win-tie-loss record of 90-45-57 against Uruguay, but this rivalry combines quantity and territorial distance more than anything.

The two ways they can meet in the semifinals are if both teams finish first in Group C and Group H or if they both finish second. A battle in the final would occur if one finishes second and the other first and wins all of the knockout games. It might be tougher for Uruguay to achieve this, but it’ll be a massive showdown if it happens.

Brazil, Argentina – Possible semifinals or final matchup

Rounding this out are Brazil and Argentina who have battled 113 times, which makes sense given their territorial distance and history of being elite in the sport. Brazil just edges Argentina with a win-tie-loss record of 46-26-41, and a meeting this late in the World Cup would certainly be heated.

The two ways they can meet in the semifinals if everything aligns are if both teams finish first in Group C and Group G or if they both get second in those groups. A meeting in the final would occur if one finishes second in its group and the other first and wins all of the knockout games.