For the first time, the FIFA World Cup is heading to the Middle East for a fall tournament highlighting soccer’s best.
The 2022 Qatar World Cup will serve as an international showcase for the small and wealthy Persian Gulf nation. The country is eager to distance itself from allegations of human rights abuses even if controversy over its selection as a World Cup host nation has hardly dissipated over the last 12 years.
The U.S. men’s national team looks to defy the odds and pull off a World Cup holiday shocker. After playing to a draw against Wales, they next challenge England and Iran in group play. Mexico, hit hard by injuries and issues within its federation, may face even tougher odds of staying alive beyond group play.
Here's a look at Wednesday's remaining World Cup matchup:
Group F: Belgium vs. Canada
Where: Ahmed bin Ali Stadium
Time: 11 a.m. PST
TV: Ch. 11, Telemundo, Peacock
The buzz: This World Cup could be the last, best chance at glory for Belgium’s golden generation, a collection of players that includes Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Axel Witsel and Thibaut Courtois, all of who are over 30.
Although Belgium finished third in Russia four years ago and came to Qatar ranked second in the world behind only Brazil, it has been overlooked among the favorites.
After winning the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, Canada is back in the World Cup for just the second time — and first since 1986, when it dropped all three games without scoring a goal. This team has a young core led by Bayern Munich winger Alphonso Davies and Lille forward Jonathan David, both 22. The roster also includes 11 players from MLS.
Here’s a preview of each of the eight groups at the 2022 World Cup, along with how to watch every game on TV and streaming services (FIFA world rankings in parentheses):
GROUP A preview and schedule
Ecuador (44), Netherlands (8), Qatar (50), Senegal (18)
The skinny: Senegal, the only country in this group that played in the 2018 World Cup, was dealt a crushing blow just five days before its opener when forward Sadio Mane, a two-time African player of the year, was ruled out of the tournament with a leg injury sustained in Bayern Munich’s penultimate game before the World Cup pause. Without Mane, Senegal’s all-time leading scorer, Senegal does not have a player with more than 10 scores in international competition. Qatar, meanwhile, is making its first appearance on the sport’s biggest stage as the host nation, and all 26 players on its roster compete in the domestic Qatar Stars League. The Netherlands missed the last World Cup for just the second time since 1986. It has played in the tournament final three times without winning, most recently in 2010. Ecuador, making its fourth World Cup appearance this century, has three players off LAFC’s MLS Cup-winning team in defender Diego Palacios and midfielders Sebastián Méndez and José Cifuentes.
GROUP B preview and schedule
England (5), Iran (20), United States (16), Wales (19)
The skinny: This is the deepest group in the tournament with four teams in FIFA’s top 20, but the top three all have injury issues. The United States has questions about the fitness of midfielders Weston McKennie and Luca de la Torre and defender Sergiño Dest, while Welsh captain Gareth Bale acknowledged after LAFC’s MLS Cup win that he is not 100%. England, which has never beaten the United States in a World Cup game, is missing forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin and defenders Ben Chilwell and Reece James. Iran is led by Porto striker Mehdi Taremi, who is tied for third in the Portuguese Liga with six goals. The young U.S. team likely needs at least a draw in its opener against Wales to have a shot at going through to the knockout rounds, but don’t sleep on Iran. Although it has played infrequently over the last year, Iran has a victory over No. 14 Uruguay and a draw with No. 18 Senegal.
GROUP C preview and schedule
Argentina (3), Mexico (13), Poland (26), Saudi Arabia (51)
The skinny: Mexico has made it out of the group stage of the last seven World Cups, but it hasn’t gone past the round of 16 since 1986. This is arguably the weakest team it has taken to the tournament in decades, especially if striker Raúl Jiménez, who hasn’t played since August because of a groin injury, is unavailable. Argentina’s Lionel Messi goes into his fifth World Cup still needing the title that would cement his legacy as the greatest player of his generation. And when Argentina opens play against Saudi Arabia, it will have a chance to match Italy’s record unbeaten streak of 37 games. La Albiceleste, which hasn’t lost since 2019, can break the record in its second game against Mexico. Poland will be looking for striker Robert Lewandowski, FIFA’s world player of the year in 2020 and 2021, to get it out of the group stage for the first time since 1986, while Saudi Arabia can take solace in that it has a short trip home.
GROUP D preview and schedule
Australia (38), Denmark (10), France (4), Tunisia (30)
The skinny: Defending champion France is battling form and history, arriving in Qatar with just one win since March and knowing that no team has successfully repeated as the World Cup winner since Brazil in 1962. The French will also be missing midfielders N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba to injury, but an in-form Kylian Mbappe, who leads Ligue 1 with 11 goals for Paris Saint-Germain, could make up for those absences. The comeback of midfielder Christian Eriksen, who went into cardiac arrest and nearly died during the 2020 Euros, has made Denmark a sentimental favorite. The Danes also beat France twice since June. Australia edged Peru on penalty kicks to qualify for its fifth straight World Cup, while Tunisia, led by Montpellier forward Wahbi Khazri, qualified by beating Mali twice in a two-leg playoff in which the only score was an own goal by Mali defender Moussa Sissako.
Group E preview and schedule
Costa Rica (31), Germany (11), Japan (24), Spain (7)
The skinny: This the only group in the tournament to include two previous champions, but Germany is hardly in championship form with just one victory in a competitive game in the last year. And the 2014 winner will once again be without Borussia Dortmund captain Marco Reus, who has missed three of Germany's last four international tournaments because of injury problems, as well as forward Timo Werner. Spain’s youngest roster contains only one holdover from the 2010 World Cup winner in midfielder Sergio Busquets. The Spanish have won just two of seven World Cup games since lifting the trophy in South Africa. Japan, meanwhile, arrived in Qatar with victories over South Korea and the United States and a draw with Ecuador in its last three games against World Cup qualifiers. Japan is playing in its seventh consecutive World Cup. Costa Rica, which qualified for Qatar by beating New Zealand in an inter-confederation playoff in June, came to Doha having lost once in 13 games over the last 12 months, including wins over the United States and Canada.
Group F preview and schedule
Belgium (2), Canada (41), Croatia (12), Morocco (22)
The skinny: After finishing third four years ago in Russia, this could be Belgium’s World Cup and the last chance for a golden generation that includes Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Axel Witsel and Thibaut Courtois, all of whom are 30 or older. The same could be said of Croatia, the runner-up in Russia. Its leader, midfielder Luka Modric, is 37, while Ivan Perisic, the team’s leading active scorer, is 33. It’s a challenging group for a young, talented Canadian team, with the nation playing in the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Its star player, winger Alphonso Davies, was 4 months old when Modric made his international debut for Croatia’s U15 team. Morocco, which also played in Russia four years ago, has won just one game in its last three trips to the World Cup dating to 1994. Its star player is Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.
Group G preview and schedule
Brazil (1), Cameroon (43), Serbia (21) Switzerland (15)
The skinny: Top-ranked Brazil came to Qatar with a deep, well-balanced team that has lost just twice since 2019, both times to Argentina. In the last 13 months, it has beaten Japan, South Korea, Ghana, Tunisia and Uruguay and drawn Argentina, all World Cup qualifiers. The team is led up front by Neymar, who needs just two goals to tie the legendary Pele as the greatest scorer in Brazilian history. But it also has a talented midfield with Fred, Fabinho and Casemiro and two of the world’s top goalkeepers in Alisson and Ederson, meaning it should cruise through group play. Switzerland made it to the knockout rounds in the last two World Cups before reaching the quarterfinals of the 2020 European Championships for the first time behind the play of Chicago Fire winger Xherdan Shaqiri. Serbia is playing in its third World Cup since becoming independent, and its place in the FIFA rankings is its highest in 11 years. Its top player is Fulham forward Aleksandar Mitrovic. Cameroon needed a goal in stoppage time of extra time to beat Algeria in the African qualifying tournament.
Group H preview and schedule
Ghana (61), Portugal (9), South Korea (28), Uruguay (14)
The skinny: Cristiano Ronaldo, like Messi, is playing in his fifth and likely final World Cup and needs a trophy to put an exclamation point on his remarkable career. But unlike Messi’s Argentina, which played in the final in 2014, Ronaldo’s Portugal has gotten past the round of 16 just once, finishing fourth in 2006. Portugal should advance easily, as should Uruguay. Led by Luis Suarez, the South American nation has made it to the quarterfinals in two of the last three tournaments and comes in hot, having lost just once this year. South Korea is one of five countries to qualify for the last five World Cups, but it has made it out of the group stage just twice. And its star player, Tottenham forward Son Heung-min, will be at less than full strength in Qatar after he underwent surgery this month for a fracture around his left eye. Ghana, back in the World Cup after missing out on Russia, won’t be here long. It has just three victories in the last 13 months, beating Nicaragua, Madagascar and South Africa.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.