Brazil-Serbia, France-Denmark, Spain-Germany, Portugal-Uruguay… You don’t have to wait for the last 16 of the World Cup to have good results on the calendar. Already the first round Qatar will offer quite a shock.
Qatar-Ecuador, Sunday 20 November (5pm)
This will be the opening game of this World Cup. Led by their striker Enner “Superman” Valencia, now at Fenerbahçe after playing mostly for West Ham, the Ecuadorians come to Qatar with dreams of doing as well as they did in 2006 when they reached the last 16 and only 0: 1 lost David Beckham’s England. Qatar, who qualified directly as host country to take part in the first World Cup in their history, will be hoping Qatar can start their race successfully before going head-to-head with Senegal and the Netherlands. The emirate is relying on the experience of its coach, Spaniard Félix Sanchez Bas, who was appointed in July 2017 and is known for having worked with FC Barcelona’s youth team for the past ten years.
Mexico-Poland, Tuesday, November 22 (5 p.m.)
If they finish at the top of Group D, the French team will know they will meet second in Group C, which consists of Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland. It is difficult not to give a coin to the Mexicans or to the Poles, a priori much better armed than the Saudis but undoubtedly inferior to the Albiceleste of Angel Di Maria and Lionel Messi. The Blues staff should therefore follow closely this more than interesting duel between a regular player at the World Cup (17th participation) and a selection that relies above all on the talent of their captain Robert Lewandowski to reach the round of 16. Especially since this World Cup should be the last of the Barça striker, who will be 35 in August.
France-Australia, Tuesday 22 November (8pm)
After months of debate, doubt and questions, the Blues will attack the defense of their world title at Al Janoub Stadium (Al Wakrah) against the Australians, determined to seal the start of the tournament for Didier Deschamps’ men. A 1998 World Champion and 2000 European Champion player, “DD” led the Tricolores to the roof of the world in Russia 2018 before suffering a setback at Euro 2021 (round of 16). Knowing for the first time that his future depends on France’s results in Qatar, he has no margin for error. Deprived of certain captains (Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kanté), he has already announced the end of the 3-5-2 tried and tested in recent months for a return to a four-man defence, the strength of the Russian World Cup.
Brazil-Serbia, Thursday 24 November (8pm)
It’s a team that logically scares everyone. And she has some serious arguments to make. With captains on all lines (Alisson, Ederson, Thiago Silva, Casemiro…), talents with immense potential (Vinicius, Rodrygo, Antony…) and a star in top form since the start of the season (Neymar). Brazil, at the top of the FIFA rankings, will be looking to win their sixth World Cup in Qatar. And to forget the disappointments of 2014 (home humiliation against Germany in the semi-finals, 7-1) and 2018 (elimination in the quarter-finals against Belgium, 2-1). The Seleçao will make their tournament debut on November 24 against Serbia. A big placement test against the partners of Dusan Tadic and Dusan Vlahovic.
France-Denmark, Saturday 26 November (5pm)
France and Denmark are used to meeting each other at the World Cup and it’s generally all or nothing for the Blues. In 1998 and 2018 they got lucky and got two stars. But in 2002, Roger Lemerre’s side were beaten 2-0 in a disastrous group stage (a draw and two defeats), penalized with an embarrassing elimination for the defending champions, to say the least. In a group within reach of them, Kylian Mbappé and his gang will want to avoid such a fate and that is why we cannot miss Christian Eriksen’s Denmark, who look back on a very convincing Nations League victory (2-0) in September, an evening where the Blues took the water on defense.
Spain-Germany, Sunday 27 November (8pm)
This is the big poster not to be missed. On the one hand four world championships and three euros for the team, on the other a world championship and three euros for Roja. These two giants will face off in Group E, which is obviously the most anticipated duel of the group stage on paper. The two teams have already met four times at the World Cup, with two German wins, in 1966 groups and 1982 second-round groups, a draw in 1994 again in groups and a Spanish success in the semi-finals in 2010, en route to the title. More recently, Spain beat Germany 6-0 in the League of Nations in 2020. An affront to delete for Thomas Müller’s teammates.
Portugal-Uruguay, Monday 28 November (8pm)
Luis Suarez, Darwin Nunez and Edinson Cavani against Cristiano Ronaldo. But also Federico Valverde, who has become a special player and one of the best midfielders in the world, against Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva. Beautiful people for a hell of a duel between the two main favorites of a strong and homogeneous Group H which also includes Ghana and South Korea. Portugal, who struggled to qualify by beating Turkey and then North Macedonia in the play-offs, will know more about their ambitions. For their part, the Celeste have regained confidence since Diego Alonso took office last December to replace veteran Oscar Tabarez, who was sacked after 15 years at the helm of the squad.
Iran-US, Tuesday 29 November (8pm)
From a sporting point of view, this match does not promise to be the most exciting of the first half of the season. Although the American collective, made up of sure bets like Weston McKennie (Juventus) and Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), might surprise some. But it is above all the political aspect that makes the appeal of this poster between two countries whose diplomatic relations have broken off since 1980. It will also be a re-run of the 1998 World Cup in France. Iran and the United States had faced each other in chickens in the presence of Madeleine Albright, then US Secretary of State. The Iranians had won 2-1, but it was the prelude that was remembered when the two teams reunited for the pre-kick-off photo and white flowers that the Iranians presented to the Americans.
Tunisia-France, Wednesday 30 November (4pm)
The ideal scenario for Didier Deschamps would be to have secured qualification ahead of this game so that he could conduct a small review of the workforce against Tunisia. A selection that is entering its sixth World Cup and has in its ranks several well-known players from the French championship such as Wahbi Khazri. At 31, the Ajaccio kid, who hasn’t always started at Montpellier this season, remains the most experienced player in this side. “The Blues are the favorites. We’re far from that. But it’s the dream of many players to play against them at the World Cup. It’s a dream come true,” he confided to RMC after the World Cup draw. Tunisia have never beaten the Blues in four games.
Croatia-Belgium, Thursday 1 December (4pm)
The outgoing finalist against the third of the last World Cup. Always managed by Zlatko Dalic and his champions to play against Luka Modric for whom it will be the last World Cup before a well-deserved retirement from the national team, Croatia will want to use this game to send a strong signal to the competition. Ditto for the Red Devils who end up in Qatar with little certainty. Romelu Lukaku, top scorer in Belgian team history (65 goals), is there but weakened by repeated physical disorders. Just like Eden Hazard who lacks confidence and playing time at Real Madrid. On the Croatian side, Ivan Rakitic and Duje Caleta-Car stayed at home.