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World Cup Draw Highlights: Matchups Let Teams Look Ahead to November


April 1, 2022, 4:52 p.m. ET

April 1, 2022, 4:52 p.m. ETCredit…David Ramos/Getty Images

Louis van Gaal said all of it with just the hint of a playful smile. The Netherlands’ draw for the World Cup was challenging, he said, together with his characteristic bluntness, and nor was it lucky. It was, as a substitute, “colourful.” That was a greater word. Ecuador’s sunshine yellow, Qatar’s wealthy maroon, Senegal’s deep green and that blazing Dutch orange: colourful.

He tried, as best he could, to cover his delight. He knew, in spite of everything, that the dice had fallen for him, and for his team, just as he had predicted — in graphic and never entirely serious terms — that it could. Everyone desired to draw Qatar, the host and by a gulf the gentlest prospect of the highest seeds. Only his team had been chosen.

But van Gaal is simply too long within the tooth to be fooled. He knows, too, that World Cup draws usually are not just bombastic and saccharine and full of time-wasting and content-filling and Idris Elba; they’re chimerical, too. They’ve an oracular quality. Often, they don’t mean what they appear to mean at first reading.

Consider Spain and Germany, for instance, drawn together early on in Group E. Their encounter will mark the top of the tournament’s first week; it’s the only time two of the anticipated contenders to win the competition, to be crowned world champion, will meet within the opening phase. Each appeared to have drawn the short straw.

After which the balls kept on rolling and the names kept on coming and it turned out that each had, in reality, landed on their feet. Japan might be no pushover, and whichever of Costa Rica or Latest Zealand fills out the group will hardly be content to go quietly. But none have the resources or the standard or the pedigree of Spain and Germany, and each might be confident of constructing it through.

Or take a look at England, which managed to make the semifinals in 2018 — and the ultimate of last summer’s European Championship — by virtue of winning knockout games, in regulation time, against Sweden, a pale Germany and Ukraine.

Its success appeared to have held, drawn with Iran, america and one in every of Scotland, Wales and Ukraine, a gaggle far richer in geopolitical intrigue than it’s in elite quality.

“I prefer putting balls in the web than flowers,” said Dragan Skocic, Iran’s Serbian coach, when asked about meeting the Americans, a reference to the 2 nations’ exchanging bouquets once they met on the 1998 tournament. “Football transcends the political stuff,” said his American counterpart, Gregg Berhalter.

Credit…Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

However the group stage draw just isn’t really a draw only for the group stage: It’s a road map for your complete tournament, too. If England is to win — because it believes it will possibly, this time, with reasonably more logic than that of the stopped clock — the incline grows immediately steeper once the knockout stage starts. Senegal, probably the most complete team Africa has sent to a tournament for greater than a decade, may lie in wait within the last 16. Then it may very well be France, the reigning champion, within the quarterfinals. Whatever lies beyond that might not be immediately relevant.

There’ll, after all, be some teams who’re pleased with their fates: France, definitely, must have little trouble with Denmark and Tunisia and one in every of Peru, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. The 2 South American contenders, Brazil and Argentina, might be confident, too.

Even america mustn’t be too displeased. “Now we have the youngest squad on the World Cup,” Berhalter said. “For us, that’s a profit. The fellows are fearless.” England is likely to be comfortable favorites to win their group, but there isn’t a reason to consider america — returning after an eight-year absence — cannot finish second.

And there’ll, after all, be teams who’re left to rue their lot. Canada, for instance, gracing this stage for the primary time since 1986, has a gaggle with out a true heavyweight but by some means harder for it: Croatia and Belgium finished second and third 4 years ago, while Morocco sailed through the arduous means of African qualifying.

Ultimately, though, Van Gaal was right: There is no such thing as a way of knowing, eight months prematurely, who has been lucky and who has not, of which is the sleek draw and which the rough. In spite of everything the pomp and the circumstance, the video montages and the marketing spiel dressed up as mission statements, all you may say with any certainty is that it’s going to, when it comes, be colourful.

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