The World Cup draw in Doha brought Qatar 2022 into even sharper focus and will have got plenty of mouths watering as the group stage fixtures became known and routes to the final can start to be plotted.
The tournament begins on 21 November as 32 teams aim to reach the final and become world champions on 18 December.
It’s the first time the World Cup will be held in the Arab world and only the second to take place in Asia, after Japan and South Korea joint-hosted the event in 2002.
Gareth Southgate’s England were drawn into Group B alongside the United States, Iran and then the winners of the remaining European play-off – either Wales, Scotland or Ukraine.
Plenty of the other groups also provide intrigue and we’ve picked out some of the biggest matches of the opening round to circle in your calendars. In chronological order, here are some of the fixtures to watch:
Senegal v Netherlands – 21 November
The opening day of the World Cup kicks off with hosts Qatar facing Ecuador but it’s Group A’s other game on November 21 that really sets the pulses racing. Senegal are the strongest of the five African representatives in Qatar – as proven by their triumph at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year and their two-legged victory over Egypt to reach the World Cup – and a game against three-time finalists Netherlands is an enticing prospect that could also include Sadio Mane coming up against Liverpool teammate Virgil van Dijk. The winner of this opening-day contest will be in prime position to qualify from Group A
Belgium v Canada – 23 November
Currently sitting at number two in the FIFA World Rankings, Belgium are undoubtedly a world-class side but one still lacking a trophy as their much-vaunted ‘golden generation’ continues to age. Roberto Martinez’s side will be heavy favorites in their Group F opener against Canada but just a second meeting in the sides’ history – and a first in a competitive game – will provide plenty of excitement. The Canadians are at a World Cup for only the second time, after making their debut in 1986, but have the talent to spring an upset.
France v Denmark – 26 November
Not since Brazil in 1962 have the reigning World Cup winners defended their title but France will be looking to buck that trend in Qatar. They begin with a game against whichever team emerges from the intercontinental play-off between Peru and Australia or UAE but Denmark may prove their toughest Group D foes. It will be a fourth World Cup match between the sides, with an uninspiring 0-0 draw in Russia four years ago the most recent clash, and Christian Eriksen potentially playing in a major tournament for the first time since his cardiac arrest during Euro 2020 adds another element to proceedings.
Argentina v Mexico – 26 November
The only group-stage fixture between two teams both currently in the top ten of the FIFA World Rankings, the Latin American derby between Argentina and Mexico could well decide who tops Group C. The sides are relatively regular foes on the international stage and Mexico will be hunting a first victory over La Albiceleste since the 2004 Copa America, having failed in ten attempts since. In what is likely Lionel Messi’s World Cup final, the Argentines won’t want to slip up however.
Spain v Germany – 27 November
Two European heavyweights who have undergone something of rebuild over the past couple of years clash in a mouth-watering Group E fixture on November 27. The World Cup will be a litmus test of just how far along both nations are as they look to recapture former glories. With five wins between them, they certainly don’t lack for history at the global showpiece and this game will be a rematch of the 2010 World Cup semi-final when Spain triumphed 1-0 thanks to Carles Puyol’s goal.
Iran v United States – 29 November
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the complex geo-political relationship between the countries, Iran and the United States have only squared off in men’s football twice in their history. The first of those matches memorably came at the 1998 World Cup – with a delicately choreographed pre-game ceremony including the Iranian players gifting white roses to the Americans as a symbol of peace before Iran triumphed 2-1 for a first-ever victory at a World Cup Finals. The match was described as the “most politically charged game in World Cup history” and given that relations between the countries have been up and down ever since, the 2022 encore promises to have its own unique atmosphere.
Ghana v Uruguay – 2 December
Another group-stage match with a memorable World Cup history, Ghana and Uruguay have only met once but it’s a game that will live in infamy. In the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals, the sides were locked at 1-1 approaching the end of extra-time when Dominic Adiyiah’s header was flying into the goal, only for Uruguay striker Luis Suarez to blatantly save the shot with his hands. Suarez was given a red card but Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent penalty, Ghana lost the shootout and heartbreakingly missed out on becoming the first African side in history to reach a World Cup semi-final. Suarez is surely still public enemy number one in Ghana and the fact he could be playing in the 2022 rematch adds some extra spice to this Group H fixture.