Duel Mané-Van Dijk in group A

Group A offers a duel between two of Liverpool’s stars: Sadio Mané and Virgil van Dijk. The Netherlands team appear as favorites in the group on their return to a World Cup after their absence at Russia 2018.

Their threats will be two, the renewed Ecuador and Sadio Mané’s Senegal, champion of Africa and who have just eliminated Egypt from another ‘network’ emblem, Sadio Mané. The hostess, Qatar, will be, if there are no surprises, the stone guest at the party.

The Netherlands return to a World Cup after eight years of crossing the desert. It has been difficult for him to regain his status after his notorious absences at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and at the 2016 European Championship in France. He reappeared at the 2020 European Championship, which was played in several countries and reached the round of 16. Since then, the ‘Clockwork Orange’ seems to refuel.

The first phase of the World Cup

They achieved their classification after sharing a group with Turkey, Norway, Montenegro, Latvia and Gibraltar. He added 23 points out of a possible 30 and achieved his direct place after finishing in first position. Without excessive problems, the Netherlands, with Louis Van Gaal at the helm in his third stage at the helm of the ‘oranje’, will present in Qatar a good group of players of remarkable-outstanding level who are capable of anything.

In defense its two towers stand out, Virgil van Dijk and Stefan de Vrij. Frenkie de Jong governs the midfield and up top Memphis Depay is the most important piece of it. Other players like Georginio Wijnaldum or the new generation that shines in the figures of Arnaut Danjuma and Denzel Dumfries will have a lot to say.

Without a doubt, the Netherlands will be the favorite of the group. For history and for quality. His past years of glory still impose. The style of the times of Johan Cruyff still survives and with three runners-up in its showcase (Germany 1974, Argentina 1978 and South Africa 2010), it is a team that deserves all respect. He can be the cover of the World Cup, an unexpected candidate for the title.

The contender to snatch the first place from the Netherlands is Senegal. Just a name is scary: Sadio Mané. The Liverpool player is 80 percent of the selection. Together with goalkeeper Édouard Mendy (Chelsea) and central defender Kalidou Koulibaly (Naples), Mané represents the African dream of a country that hopes to pass the barrier of the quarterfinals. With Aliou Cissé at the helm, the ‘miracle man’, he will try to take another step in the good cycle in which he is currently immersed.

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And it is that Senegal won the last African Cup. He snatched the title from Egypt, also his victim in the decisive match to get the qualifying ticket for the World Cup in Qatar. However, he sealed his passage with much controversy, with the embarrassing performance of a part of the public that attended the Stade Me Abdoulaye Wade in Diamniadio (Senegal) who dazzled the Egyptian players with laser pointers during the decisive penalty shootout.

That will be the shadow he will have to deal with until the start of the World Cup. FIFA sanctions are expected against the Senegalese federation, but it does not seem that its presence in the World Cup is in danger. As soon as the ball gets rolling, it will be forgotten, at least in part, and with Mané at the helm, one of the most electric wingers on the planet, he will try to make history and beat his best classification: Senegal, in one of his only two participations, reached the quarterfinals in Japan and Korea 2002.

Ecuador will try to give the surprise to sneak into the next phase as one of the two best. The team led by Gustavo Alfaro, who replaced Jordi Cruyff in office in August 2020, has managed to complete a generational change that was crying out for and of which few names, such as Enner Valencia, still survive from the last World Cup in which Ecuador participated (Brazil 2014).

The objective of the Tri was to modernize and appear in the next World Cup. However, almost unexpectedly, he achieved his goal four years in advance and the appearance of ambitious youngsters such as Piero Hincapié, the Bayer Leverkusen centre-back, or Gonzalo Plata and Jordy Caicedo, have propelled a group that finished in fourth position behind Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in the qualifying phase. Against Qatar, he will be in charge of opening the World Cup in the opening match.

The weakest team in the group, a priori, will be the host. Qatar will try to make the World Cup an opportunity for credibility and growth. Also of visibility towards a country that has long invested in creating schools to raise the level of its football. Little by little, that investment is paying off. The 2019 Asian Cup is, at the moment, its ceiling. Of the previous 18 editions, he did not participate in eight, did not advance from the first round in seven, reached the quarterfinals in 2011 and won the tournament four years ago. In Saudi Arabia, after beating Japan 1-3 in the final, they showed that they are a team to be reckoned with.

Directed by Spanish coach Félix Sánchez since 2017, Qatar lacks great figures. His strength is the collective, although midfielder Almoez Ali is one step above him, who in the last Asian Cup was the tournament’s top scorer with nine goals in seven games. Then, at the 2021 Gold Cup, which Qatar attended as a wild card and finished third, he made history by becoming the first player to score in that competition and in the Asian Cup.

Akram Afif also stands out, his most technical player with experience in Europe. With both, and along with the rest of the players, Félix Sánchez has managed to put together a group with few cracks but with a recognized style of play with a mixture of young talent and experience. In addition, the bulk of the team is made up of players from Al-Sadd, Xavi Hernández’s former team. Up to twelve entered the last call.