World Cup 2022 predictions: Hosts Qatar have their work cut out
Hosts Qatar face a tough task at their first World Cup tournament after being drawn alongside Ecuador, Senegal and the Netherlands in Group A.
Barcelona-born coach Felix Sanchez worked with the Qatari youth teams before taking charge of the senior squad in 2017 and qualifying for the knockout stage would be an impressive achievement.
Qatar's squad is made up of players from the domestic Stars League so a lack of top-level experience is a concern, though they won the 2019 Asian Cup thanks to an entertaining 3-1 victory over Japan in the final.
Sanchez's men were invited to the 2019 Copa America, where they were not outclassed in testing group fixtures against Paraguay, Colombia and Argentina, while they also held their own at the CONCACAF Gold Cup two years later.
The Qataris are not, therefore, complete rookies when it comes to tournament football but their World Cup group represents a serious step up in class.
Dutch determined to make up for Euro exit
The Netherlands gained plenty of plaudits after winning all three of their group matches at Euro 2020.
But their campaign ended with a surprise defeat to last-16 opponents Czech Republic, who scored twice after Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt was sent off.
The Oranje replaced coach Frank de Boer with the experienced Louis van Gaal after their Euros disappointment and they eased through World Cup qualifying, thrashing Group G runners-up Turkey 6-1 in Amsterdam.
Barcelona forward Memphis Depay scored a hat-trick in that game and he is part of a classy core of players that includes Barca team-mate Frenkie de Jong, Juventus stopper De Ligt and Liverpool rock Virgil van Dijk, who missed last summer's Euros due to injury.
As ever, the Dutch have some exciting youngsters coming through the ranks, including Ajax pair Jurrien Timber and Ryan Gravenberch, and they are solid favourites to start their bid for a maiden World Cup triumph by topping Group A.
Senegal bidding to cap a memorable year
The biggest danger to the Netherlands appears to be Senegal, who have already enjoyed a glorious 2022 thanks to a long-awaited first Africa Cup of Nations title in February.
They cruised through the knockout phase, beating Cape Verde 2-0, Equatorial Guinea 3-1 and Burkina Faso 3-1 before holding their nerve to see off Egypt on penalties in the final.
Senegal repeated the trick with another shootout victory over the Pharaohs to seal their place in Qatar, with their team built around a top-class spine of Liverpool's Sadio Mane, Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly and Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy.
They conceded just two goals in seven games at the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup draw gives them a good chance of demonstrating their knockout-stage mettle once again.
Ecuador not just making up the numbers
The Netherlands and Senegal will be expected to progress from Group A but Ecuador have to be respected after a top-four finish in the ever-competitive South American qualifying section.
Former West Ham and Everton striker Enner Valencia is their key attacking weapon and impressive young Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo is a rising star, although most of their best qualifying results, including draws against Brazil and Argentina, were achieved with home advantage.
Gustavo Alfaro's side scored only five times from open play in nine away qualifiers and they will have to improve that output to reach the last 16 of the World Cup for only the second time in their history.