The Netherlands missed out on qualification for the 2018 World Cup but they have been given a good chance of making amends with a straightforward draw in Group A.
This article was originally published on 20 November 2022
They begin their campaign against a Senegal side that have been rocked by the news that their talisman Sadio Mane will miss the tournament through injury.
Mane helped lead his team to their first ever Africa Cup of Nations title earlier this year, scoring the winning penalty in their victory over Egypt in the final.
The 30-year-old repeated the trick against the same opponents to win the play-off that saw his nation qualify for Qatar.
The Lions of Teranga have made their name for their defensive prowess, they conceded just twice in seven games at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Mane gave them a creative attacking spark that could provide moments of magic.
Without him, they look set to struggle going forwards, particularly against a Netherlands team with Virgil van Dijk at the heart of defence.
Since Louis van Gaal took over for his third spell in charge of the Dutch national team in August last year, his side are unbeaten in 15 games, winning 11 of those.
That run includes beating Belgium 4-1 and Denmark 4-2 and they have been one of the form sides in Europe since crashing out of Euro 2020 at the hands of the Czech Republic.
They are likely to be without Memphis Depay for this opening matchup but can still spread the goals around and should be too strong for their opponents.
Senegal’s reputation for being sound defensively may have taken something of a knock in recent months, with their two star figures in that backline, Kalidou Koulibaly and Eduoard Mendy, both struggling for form with club side Chelsea.
Two teams who have both endured absences from the World Cup face off in their Group B opener as the United States take on Wales.
The USMNT failed to qualify for Russia four years ago but are back on the world’s biggest stage while their opponents Wales have had a considerably longer spell away, with this their first World Cup since 1958.
A series of talismanic performances from Gareth Bale, who netted all three goals that his nation scored in their play-off semi-final and final wins over Austria and Ukraine respectively, have seen the Dragons return to the tournament for just their second time.
The core of players who reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016 are approaching the veteran stage of their careers and will be hoping to be boosted by some of the youngsters that have been slotted into the side recently.
Wales endured a tough Nations League campaign this summer, losing all but one of their six games against Poland, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Rob Page’s side did score in all but one of those matches however and both teams to score has landed in seven of their last nine games.
The United States know their way to goal, netting 18 times in their last eight matches and both sides are fancied to get on the scoresheet at in what looks set to be a competitive encounter between two evenly matched teams.
Bale’s predisposition for scoring big goals for his country, coupled with the fact that he will be their free kick and penalty taker, makes him an interesting proposition at to get his name on the scoresheet at any time.