Nations learn Qatar World Cup fates
The draw for the 2022 FIFA World Cup has produced a host of intriguing group-stage contests including a clash between the USA and Iran, while elsewhere European giants Spain and Germany have been pitted in the same group.
Defending champions France will meet European rivals Denmark in their group, while Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal face what looks like a tricky passage to the knockout stages in a group containing Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea.
FIFA's showpiece tournament kick offs on November 21 with hosts Qatar taking on Ecuador in Group A, which also contains the Netherlands and Africa Cup of Nations champions Senegal.
In Group B, England will meet the United States in a repeat of a 2010 World Cup fixture, while the American showdown with Iran is sure to be politically charged.
Depending on who makes it out of the remaining European qualifying matches, one of either Scotland, Wales or Ukraine will be added to Group B.
Wales have already earned passage to a European playoff final by beating Austria, but await their opponents after the semifinal between Scotland and Ukraine was postponed until June due to the ongoing conflict with Russia.
FULL FIFA 2022 QATAR WORLD CUP DRAW:
Group A: Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands
Group B: England, USA, Iran, Ukraine/Scotland/Wales
Group C: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland
Group D: France, UAE/Australia/Peru, Denmark, Tunisia
Group E: Spain, Costa Rica/New Zealand, Germany, Japan
Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia
Group G: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon
Group H: Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, Korea Republic
Beaten 2018 finalists Croatia appear to have a relatively kind road ahead of them to the last 16 with Canada and Morocco in their way, but their game against world number-two ranked Belgium in Group F could be one of the best the early stages of the competition has to offer.
Seeking a record sixth World Cup triumph in Qatar, Brazil have been placed in Group G with Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon.
Spain and Germany seem set to battle for the top spot in Group E ahead of either Costa Rica or New Zealand and Japan.
Yet hosts in 2018 Russia will play no part in the tournament after a FIFA ruling made alongside UEFA banned Russian teams and clubs from international competitions as a response to the country’s military operation in Ukraine.
Russia’s football union the RFU has thus far unsuccessfully appealed the ruling, and instead their qualifying semi-final rivals Poland were handed a bye and reached Qatar by beating Sweden on Tuesday. The Poles will join Lionel Messi's Argentina, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia in Group C.
The build-up to Qatar 2022 has been blighted by controversy with regular accusations of human rights abuses of migrant workers that have built the tournament’s stadiums. According to The Guardian at least 6,500 of them have died thus far.
At a FIFA congress in Doha on Thursday, Norwegian football association head Lise Klaveness claimed that in 2010: "World Cups were awarded by FIFA in unacceptable ways with unacceptable consequences."
Klaveness added that there is "no room" for employers "who do not secure the freedom and safety of World Cup workers" nor hosts that "cannot legally guarantee the safety and respect of the LGBTQ+ people coming to this theater of dreams".
Qatar 2022 secretary general Hasan Al Thawadi said figures such as Klaveness should "educate" themselves before speaking out and insisted that organizers "have spent 12 years of continuous work dedicated to delivering a tournament that leaves truly transformational social, human, economic and environmental legacies."
England boss Gareth Southgate has also been warned about speaking out on Qatar's alleged human rights abuses and the fears LGBTQ football fans traveling there may have by Chief Executive Nasser Al Khater.
Such issues have led to calls for a boycott, but even Southgate has admitted alongside others such as Germany stars Toni Kroos and Joshua Kimmich that such action would be futile and comes too late.
Qatar 2022 will get underway on November 21, in a maiden winter edition of the tournament to battle unbearable temperatures in June and July when the spectacle is usually held. It will also be the first ever edition of the tournament to be held in the Arab world.
On the opening day of the showpiece there will be four fixtures in total – two from Group A and two from Group B – as opposed to just the host's game which traditionally got the action underway in previous years.
The competition is set to conclude with its final on December 18, with favorites to reach it including holders France and five-time winners Brazil, who have recently moved to a number one FIFA ranking.