With the World Cup 2022 group stages on the horizon, the United States men’s national soccer team prepare to take on England, Wales and Iran in Group B. Should the USMNT secure a top-two finish in the group, here is a look towards who they might face in the tournament’s knock-out stages.
The structure of FIFA’s group and knockout system places Groups A and B together in the round of 16. The favourites to qualify from Group A are undoubtedly the Netherlands, who have World Cup betting odds from Paddy Power of 4/11 to go on and win the group. The Oranje, led by Louis van Gaal, enter the tournament on fine form, having finished top of their UEFA Nations League group with five wins and a draw to their name.
With Van Gaal’s side likely group winners, the USMNT would play them in the knockouts if they were to finish second in Group B. This is also a distinct possibility given that, although England to win World Cup odds are as high as 15/2, Paddy Power makes them a near certainty to win Group B, with odds of 1/3.
Thus, with the Netherlands and England the most probable winners of their respective groups, there is a high chance that the Oranje could shape up against USMNT in the tournament’s round of 16.
However, Senegal will be no pushovers in Group A. They come into Qatar 2022 on the back of winning the AFCON and having qualified for the World Cup through a narrow penalty shoot-out won by star player and captain Sadio Mane. Senegal defeated Mo Salah’s Egypt on both occasions, meaning they are no strangers to high-pressure fixtures or star-studded teams.
While Mane may have led them twice to victory against their African rivals, Senegal will be without their captain in Qatar. The 30-year-old sustained a leg injury in Bayern Munich’s 6-1 victory over Werder Bremen, and the club have since ruled him out of the international tournament. Without their main man and with a total of just three World Cup campaigns to their name, an inexperienced Senegal may provide more favourable opposition to the USMNT if they are to get further than the round of 16 for the first time in their history.
As with any international tournament, the World Cup is always full of surprises. Qatar 2022 is set to be no different, meaning it is not an absolute certainty that the Netherlands and Senegal will finish top of Group A. While the hosts Qatar look unlikely candidates to reach the knockout stages, even with home support, 44th-ranked Ecuador could be in with a shot.
This winter’s tournament will be La Tri’s fourth in its history, having qualified for 2002, 2006 and 2014 editions of the competition. Their highest-ever finish was the round of 16 back in 2006, meaning they too will be looking to make history and progress to the quarters. They will nevertheless provide tough opposition for the USMNT, having finished above the likes of Peru, Colombia and Chile in qualifying.
While one eye may be on the knockouts, Gregg Berhalter will be ensuring his side are firmly focused on a strong performance in the group stages. They open their campaign against a plucky Wales side on November 21.