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This is a representational image. AFP

This is the easiest group of the eight in the Qatar World Cup 2022. By ranking alone, Group A averages the lowest percentage. Qatar sits at No. 50 in the FIFA Ranking, with no World Cup experience and automatically qualifying as host nation. 'The Maroon' established some football cred after beating Japan in the Asia Cup final in 2019 and losing by the minimal difference to USA in the 2021 Gold Cup semifinals. Ecuador, doesn't fare much better at No. 44, and clocks in as the fourth team from South America's Conmebol (Peru would have been the 5th but lost to Australia on penalty kicks in playoffs for the next to last spot in the World Cup). La Tri is more than capable at prevailing in this group, after all, they scored draws with Argentina and Brazil in the qualifying stage and beat Colombia, Chile and Uruguay. But the lack of goalscoring of late could not have arrived at the worst time for the youthful squad led by Gustavo Alfaro. Aliou Cisse's Senegal knocked out Egypt in the playoffs and wears the crown of African champions. But the 'Lions of Teranga' will be missing former Liverpool and current Bayern Munich superstar Sadio Mané, out with a right knee injury sustained two weeks ago. The Netherlands are unquestionably the favorites in this group. The 8th ranked Dutch return to the World Cup after missing out in 2018. The Oranje hold the infamous record of almost-winners, having lost in three World Cup finals --1974, 1978 and 2010. Manager Louis Van Gaal rides a 7-game unbeaten streak since returning in August.

Players to watch

NETHERLANDS: Virgil van Djik (Liverpool), Nathan Ake (Man City) and Justin Timbers (Ajax) anchor a solid three-man defensive line for the Dutch, with midfielder Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona) distributing the ball and Memphis Depay (Barcelona) leading the attack.

SENEGAL: Edouard Mendy (Chelsea), the 2021 FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year and centre-back and captain Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea).

ECUADOR: A trio of Premier League teammates Moisés Caicedo, Jeremy Sarmiento and Pervis Estupiñán (Brighton)

QATAR: Hassan Al-Haydos is the veteran, captain and leads the attack.

Schedule (all times ET)

Nov. 20: Qatar vs Ecuador, 11am
Nov. 21: Senegal vs Netherlands, 11am
Nov. 25: Qatar vs Senegal, 8am; Netherlands vs Ecuador, 11am
Nov. 29: Netherlands vs Qatar and Ecuador vs Senegal, 10am

Prediction

Netherland wins the group and Ecuador vs Senegal will decide the other squad that advances to the knockout phase, to meet England, USA, Wales or Iran.

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