Half of Group C for the men’s football World Cup 2022 looks to be a relative formality, as in-form Argentina should top the group while Saudi Arabia may struggle.
The real contest looks to be between Mexico and Poland, who meet in the first round of matches on 22 November in what looks to be decisive for qualification into the last 16.
Two-time World Cup winners Argentina arrive in Qatar after a run of 35 games unbeaten, but once again their tournament will centre around the legendary Lionel Messi.
This will be Messi’s last hurrah and manager Lionel Scaloni, the youngest at the World Cup at only 44, has built La Albiceleste’s system around his captain who is surrounded by a talented mix of youth and experience.
The current Copa America champions haven’t lost a game since losing to Brazil in 2019, and host a strong back line led by Tottenham’s Cristian Romero.
As always, Argentina are packed with attacking talent but this time they have the defence to match.
Star Player: Lionel Messi – Captain, talisman and record goalscorer, you cannot talk about Argentina without talking about the little magician. He is in scintillating form for PSG this season and will be hoping to finally carry his beloved nation all the way.
Saudi Arabia topped a difficult qualifying group containing Japan and Australia but face an uphill battle to match their highest-placed finish of the last 16 in 1994.
Herve Renard has selected a side comprised exclusively of Saudi Pro League players, with 12 of the 26-man squad playing for current AFC Champions League holders Al-Hilal.
While defensively sound, The Falcons were toothless in qualifying, winning five of their seven group three games 1-0.
Renard’s main selection headache is upfront as the only other option to ineffective lone frontman Firas Al Buraikan is the experienced but inconsistent Saleh Al Shehri.
Star Player: Salem Al-Dawsari – Current AFC Champions League MVP Al-Dawsari will pose the biggest threat for his side off the wing. He bagged a late winner against Egypt in 2018 and will hope to replicate such form.
Despite a smattering of defeats in 2022, manager Tata Martino’s formation change to 4-3-3 post-qualification and an aging player pool, Mexican fans should perhaps be more hopeful than the omens suggest.
El Tri were overshadowed by Canada in CONCACAF qualifying, but Mexico ended up level on points despite some underwhelming performances.
A team that have impressed at the last seven World Cups, reaching the Round of 16 on each occasion, they also haven’t lost their opening group stage encounter since 1994.
Their opener in Group C against Poland will be crucial to their progression out of the group, and no doubt will lean on international cult hero Guillermo Ochoa’s shot-stopping.
Star player: Hirving Lozano – Winger Hirving ‘Chucky’ Lozano marked his arrival on the world stage in 2018, finishing past Manuel Neuer in a shock opening defeat over Germany. He has impressed in a high-flying Napoli squad this season despite battling injury and will no doubt provide creativity and speed going forward for El Tri.
Despite a squad featuring some notable footballing names, Poland have really struggled to make it work, not only in the run-in to Qatar but in recent tournaments.
Poland haven’t won their opening game at a World Cup since 1974 and enter the tournament off the back off three losses, a narrow win and a draw.
After defeating a dominant but wasteful Sweden side in the playoff, their clinical finishing may be the key to edging out of the group stage after recent disappointments.
Another team suffering from an ageing spine, the ingredients are all there in the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Piotr Zieliński, and Kamil Glik, but the jury is still out on whether it will come together in Group C.
Star player: Robert Lewandowski – Robert Lewandowski is one of his generation’s finest finishers, and with over 600 goals for club and country, and oppositions’ primary focus will be to restrict Barcelona’s number 9. Still yet to break his duck in World Cup finals, the question remains as to whether the service is there for him.
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