WORLD CUP PREVIEW: A LIVERPOOL PERSPECTIVE
The 2022 FIFA World Cup is finally upon us, with hosts Qatar kicking things off this afternoon when they face Ecuador. There’s been a lot of negative publicity regarding the tournament but it’s time to focus on the football.
Liverpool have seven players at the mundial representing five countries (England, Brazil, Netherlands, France and Uruguay). Here’s a quick preview of their fixtures and what lies ahead for the septuplet.
The Dutch will of course be led by the colossus that is Virgil Van Dijk. The 31 year old suffered the heartbreak of missing Euro 2020 through injury, but has worked his socks off to not only return from that nasty ACL injury, but to reach a semblance of the form that made him the best centre back on the planet.
This remarkably is his first international tournament and you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll do whatever is in his power to extract the most out of it. As skipper, he is a huge player for Louis Van Gaal. He will be called upon every game as the Dutch aim to make a splash after failing to qualify for the 2018 edition.
The Orange will take on reigning African champions Senegal in their first game in group A, before facing Ecuador and finally hosts Qatar. With Sadio Mané missing the tournament through injury, Netherlands are overwhelming favourites to top Group A.
That will see them meet the runners-up in Group B (England, USA, Iran, Wales). Get through that and Argentina likely await in the quarter final. It could certainly get tasty. The Dutch should make it to last eight at the very least. From there, a lot will come down to luck.
The Three Lions have two representative from Liverpool in Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Neither are guaranteed starters as it stands but that could change as the tournament progresses.
Trent has overcome a whole lot of criticism to make the squad. That there was even a debate as to his inclusion in the final squad tells you all you need to know about Gareth Southgate and his unimaginative style of play.
Kieran Trippier and Luke Shaw are expected to be the starting full backs so the 23 year old may have to bide his time on the bench and wait for his chance. Henderson meanwhile, is behind Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham in the pecking order.
The vice captain was mostly used as a substitute in the Euros when England went agonisingly close to ending their long wait for silverware, falling to a penalty shootout defeat to Italy in the final. This after they finished fourth at the 2018 World Cup.
Could it finally be coming home? The Three Lions kick things off in Group B against Iran. They then take on USA before facing off against neighbours Wales. Gareth Southgate’s men are huge favourites to top group B.
That will see them clash against the runners-up in Group A (likely Senegal) in the Round of 16. Get past that hurdle and the last eight will in all likelihood present either France/Germany/Spain. Unlike their ‘easy’ run to the semis in 2018, the route will be tougher this time.
Les Bleus have been rocked with injury in the lead up to the tournament, with Christopher Nkunku and Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema both ruled out of the tournament. This is compounded by long term injuries in midfield to Paul Pogba and N’golo Kante.
That midfield duo was a key part of their 2018 triumph in Russia. In defence, a knock to Raphael Varane seems to have handed Liverpool’s Ibrahima Konaté a chance. The 22 year old is reportedly set to start in the heart of defence alongside Dayot Upamecano.
It’s been a swift rise for Ibou. After a successful first season with the Reds, he earned his first cap in June. He had to recover from injury himself to make it in time for the squad announcement. Now he finds himself likely to start the first game again Australia ahead of the likes of Kounde and Saliba.
Should he grab his chance with both hands, who knows what will happen even when Varane returns to full fitness? Didier Deschamps men are the reigning world champions and are overwhelming favourites to top Group D.
They kick things off against Australia before clashing against an impressive Denmark outfit, finishing things off against Tunisia. Even with several key players missing, the French are still one of the pre-tournament favourites.
Should they top Group D as expected, they will face runners-up of Group C (likely Mexico or Poland). Get past that and England likely await in the last eight. One of Germany/Belgium/Portugal will then probably stand in the way of another World Cup final.
The Selecao are another huge pre-tournament favourite. They possess ridiculous talent from back to front. Alisson Becker and Fabinho both made the cut, but Roberto Firmino suffered the ignominy of being left out of the squad.
Tite led Brazil to the Copa America title in 2019 before finishing runners-up to Argentina last year. He will be aiming to improve on their quarter final exit at the hands of Belgium in the 2018 World Cup.
Alisson is first choice ahead of Manchester City’s Ederson and should start every game he’s fit for (possible exception being the last group game if qualification has already been secured). Fabinho meanwhile will have to make do with a place on the bench.
He is behind the likes of Casemiro, Paqueta and Fred as things stand. Brazil will kick things off in Group G when they take on a tricky Serbia outfit. They then take on Switzerland, before a final group game against Cameroon.
Top Group G as many expect and Brazil will be paired against the runners-up in Group H (Portugal, Uruguay, South Korea, Ghana). Clear that hurdle and it’s likely to be Spain or Croatia in the quarter finals.
Get past that challenge and it’s probably Argentina/Netherlands in the last four. We won’t get to witness a Brazil vs Argentina final as both heavyweights are on the same side of the draw.
Darwin Nunez is the final Liverpool representative at the World Cup, with the 23 year old a part of a Uruguay squad with an interesting blend of youth and experience. La Celeste are in group H and will be aiming to seal qualification to the knockout stages.
Darwin is expected to link up with ex-Liverpool striker Luis Suarez in an exciting partnership. ‘El Pistolero’ is 35 years old and will be appearing at his last World Cup. Same goes for veteran hitman Edinson Cavani.
It could be a perfect passing of the torch moment as Darwin gets a taste of his first World Cup. Diego Alonso’s men will start things off against South Korea, before taking on group favourites Portugal.
They’ll conclude the group fixtures with a showdown against Ghana, and who can forget Suarez’s infamous goalline handball against the Black Stars and the subsequent penalty miss at the 2010 World Cup?
Should Uruguay manage to win Group H, they’ll take on Group G runners-up (likely Serbia). Manouvre their way round that and it’s probably Belgium/Germany in the last eight. Comparatively, if they finish runners-up in Group H, they’ll face Group G winners (Brazil in all likelihood).
Whatever happens, it is sure to be another enthralling tournament. New stars will be born and there will be no shortage of talking points. Jürgen Klopp will be watching on hoping his seven representatives stay fit. May the best nation emerge victors.