Cope: The names, teams and stories behind the 2022 FIFA World Cup, part 2 |

Cope: The names, teams and stories behind the 2022 FIFA World Cup, part 2

Dave Cope
Fans watch fireworks after the World Cup inauguration match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Corniche sea promenade in Doha, Qatar on Sunday.
Francisco Seco/AP

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a preview on the FIFA World Cup. Part one was published in Sunday’s Vail Daily.

Group C features our North American brothers, Mexico, in their quadrennial search for the “quinto partido,” or fifth game. Mexico consistently advances out of their group only to fall in the first knockout round. Getting out of the group this time will be a tough task. The best player in the world — Lionel Messi — will be making perhaps his last stand at a World Cup.

The great forward is playing some of the finest football of his career at his new club, Paris St. Germain, and is surrounded by his best supporting cast yet. Look for them to still be playing while you put up the Christmas tree. This group also has the top European striker of his generation in Robert Lewandowski and his Polish mates.

The quality continues in Group D with the hipster’s choice — Denmark — and the World Champions from France. I’m picking Denmark and talismanic leader Cristian Eriksen — after surviving his near-death experience on the pitch during the Euros — to make the final four while the French will make a surprisingly early exit. 

The French run on an every-other-World-Cup cycle. They missed qualifying in 1994, won it all in 1998, flamed out in 2002, reached the final in 2006, succumbed to turmoil and tears in 2010 only to emerge as champions again in 2018. I know I skipped one there, but I don’t see them becoming the first team since Brazil (1958 and 1962) to win back-to-back World Cups, especially without their midfield leaders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. Look for an early shock when Australia beat them in the group phase! South Korea and Spurs will be looking for a gallant performance from Tottenham Hotspur legend, Heung Men Son, to lead them and Denmark out of the group.

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Spain and Germany landed in the same group, D, and should both advance. Germany has fallen on relatively hard times since their last title in Brazil in 2014. The ABG (anybody but Germany) crowd around England — and the Cope house — had high hopes when Mexico beat them last time, but they advanced anyway. Look for a quarterfinal exit for both of these favorites if they even get out of a tough group, rounded out by talented teams from Costa Rica (quarterfinalists in 2014) and Japan. The latter team made the knockout rounds last time and went up 2-0 over Belgium before losing that game on a heartbreaker in the 94th minute (the best game of the 2018 tournament and proof that you must watch all the games!).

Group E is fascinating, with Croatia, Canada, Morocco and Belgium squaring off. Croatia made a surprise semifinal appearance in 2018 led by the impetuous Luka Modric. If any of us do a job for as long and as well as Modric has been spinning passes between defenders with the outside of his right foot for Spurs, Real Madrid and Croatia — well, then we will truly deserve the watch and luggage they give us at the company party. 

Belgium can see the dying embers of its Golden Generation. Even after knocking out Brazil four years ago, this might be a bridge too far. Then again, it could be foolish to count out any team with City’s Kevin DeBruyne — speaking of spinning passes and stylish midfielders — on the roster. 

Qatar’s Pedro Miguel, left, challenges for the ball with Ecuador’s Pervis Estupinan during the first game of the FIFA World Cup on Sunday.
Darko Bandic/AP

Canada is one of the best stories in the World Cup. In their first appearance since 1986, the team is led by Alphonso Davies, plying his trade at Bayern Munich. Born in a refugee camp in Ghana, Davies rose through the ranks of schoolboy football in Edmonton before becoming a pro in Vancouver, starring in MLS, and eventually making his way to Europe. He’s become one of the most exciting young players in the world and is a beacon of hope for a welcoming nation and for refugees in a cruel world. Don’t sleep on Canada; they won a qualifying group with USA and Mexico in it.

Group F has Switzerland, Serbia and mighty Brazil. Every generation deserves a transcendent Brazil team to remember. It’s been 20 years since Brazil last won it; hard to believe it’s been eight years since the hosts were ruthlessly dispatched by Germany in a 7-1 mauling. Just like Pele’s 1958 team, which had to erase the memory of a home defeat at the hands of Uruguay in 1950, this group will want to slay that dragon. Young Manchester United starlet, Antony, was recently scolded by grumpy old football men for spinning a complete 360 with the ball glued to his feet during a close match. If he can replicate that trick in a World Cup, it could replace the memory of those Neymar dives four years ago. In a bold pick, with very poor betting odds, Brazil is my pick to win it all. 

Portugal and Uruguay hope to advance out of group H. I see a deep run by Uruguay, an aging Luis Suarez will benefit from the work of a young Darwin Nunez as the South American game continues to evolve (see what I did there?) and an outside-of-Europe World Cup ends up with three South American semifinal teams (Argentina and Brazil being the others). Portugal might have been my other semifinal pick, but Cristiano Ronaldo is coming into this World Cup fresh off a temper tantrum at Manchester United, where he refused to enter a game as a sub. That was before giving a burn-the-boats, there’s-no-going-back, interview this week with — it could only have been — Piers Morgan! Will it destroy or galvanize his team? Only one way to find out.

Oh, and to my students: there will be no work due at the end of World Cup, I mean, Thanksgiving break!

Dave Cope is a social studies teacher at Battle Mountain High School, where he coaches boys and girls soccer.

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