They were the unlikeliest of all European champions and to this day remain the poster boys for all underdogs.

Denmark, the Euro 92 winners, gave hope to generations of teams that would follow them onto the big stage.

How could a nation with a population of a little over five million in 1992 sweep away the competition, when that competition looked so formidable?

Michel Platini's France squad boasted Papin, Cantona, Deschamps, Blanc and Boli; Germany had Klinsmann, Hassler, Moller and World Cup final match-winner Brehme; the Netherlands fielded Van Basten, Gullit, Rijkaard and a young Bergkamp.

Nobody was tipping Denmark, who were called into the tournament 10 days before it began after the expulsion of Yugoslavia, a decision taken by UEFA amid war in the Balkans.

Denmark have given hope to teams who logically should have none. This hope has often been outrageously misplaced. The notion that 'if Denmark can do it, so can we' is a fallacy. The Danes opened the door and fantasists walked through.

The 1992 Denmark team were a band of brothers who seized their unexpected opportunity, facing on-field and off-field challenges along the way. Thirty years since the June 26 final, we celebrate them.

HOW ON EARTH DID THEY DO IT?

There was little indication of what was to come when Denmark followed a 0-0 draw against England by losing 1-0 to hosts Sweden; however, a 2-1 victory over France in Malmo snapped the watching continent to attention.

Peter Schmeichel. John Jensen. Brian Laudrup. Kim Vilfort. Torben Piechnik. The football world knew about goalkeeper Schmeichel, a year into his Manchester United career, and Laudrup was Denmark's star outfielder. But many in their side were barely known outside Denmark. Twelve of their 20 still played in the Danish league.

Michael Laudrup was in international exile, after he and Brian quit the national team in late 1990, unimpressed with new coach Richard Moller Nielsen. Brian came back shortly before the Euros, but Barcelona forward Michael continued to give international football a swerve. Denmark got by without him.

"We were very fortunate that we were one group of people who felt like pioneers in Danish football," Schmeichel told UEFA.com. "We felt we had responsibility to break the waves and go against the tide and prove to everyone that we can compete."

He said it was a "myth" that the Danes had been summoned from the beach, not least because the Danish season was still in full swing.

It was "like a funeral" in the Denmark dressing room after the England stalemate, according to Schmeichel.

"But from that moment on we felt we were definitely in a position where we can compete in this tournament," he said.

SLAYING THE GIANTS

In an eight-team tournament, scraping through in second place from Group 1 meant the Danes went straight into a semi-final.

Getting the better of the Netherlands looked beyond Denmark, given the defending champions were so strong.

Both teams knew Germany were waiting in the final, having got the better of Sweden 3-2 in the first semi-final. The Netherlands had beaten Germany in the group stage, but their hopes of a second clash with Berti Vogts' side were to be shattered in Gothenburg.

Henrik Larsen's double either side of a Bergkamp strike almost gave the Danes victory in 90 minutes, but Frank Rijkaard grabbed a late leveller. When it came to penalties, Schmeichel's save from Marco van Basten made all the difference, every other player scoring from the spot as Kim Christofte sealed the shoot-out success.

In an interview at the FIFA Best awards in 2022, Schmeichel recalled how he had found inspiration in the national team from a young age.

"I have to go back to even 1984 when Denmark lost to Spain in the semi-finals of the Euros," Schmeichel said.

"I was in the generation that came after that and [took] the inspiration from that, and the understanding that even though we are from a small country with a limited number of people playing football, if you work hard and look for your luck, and we always produce skilful players, then there is an opportunity to create very, very good results."

Denmark were winning their battles on the pitch, but the most important struggle was being fought away from the spotlight, with Vilfort's young daughter Line battling leukaemia.

He missed the France game to be with his family in Copenhagen but returned to Sweden before the semi-final. A movie dramatisation of Denmark's great triumph that summer portrayed Line telling her father he should go back and join his team-mates.

Come the June 26 final against Germany, the Danes were not alone in thinking the improbable might just be possible.

At the Ullevi stadium, Germany began strongly but were caught out in the 18th minute when Jensen sent a sizzling strike past Bodo Illgner.

Schmeichel and his defence defied Germany, and in the 78th minute came a magical moment for Vilfort when he found space between Brehme and Thomas Helmer before sending a low left-footed shot in off the right post, sealing a 2-0 win.

Schmeichel said Denmark's achievement came "from not accepting we're a small country".

"If we get the right circumstances, we can go and do whatever job we want to do, so it's more a mentality thing," he said. "I think that, more than anything, was why we won the European Championship. It was magical and unexpected."

Coach Moller Nielsen later reflected on his sudden change of plans for June 1992.

Moller Nielsen, who died in 2014, was quoted by UEFA as saying: "I was supposed to fit a new kitchen [in my house] but then we were called away to play in Sweden. The kitchen is finished now. I got a professional decorator to do it."

From a hospital bed, Line Vilfort got to see her father lead Denmark to the country's greatest footballing success.

She died a few weeks later, at the age of seven. Dad was a national hero, but this would be the cruellest of final chapters in the story of these great Danes, a personal tragedy amid a summer-long national celebration.

Andreas Christensen hopes he will soon be able to announce his next club after leaving Chelsea, as the Dane fuelled speculation he will join Barcelona by hailing the Blaugrana as one of Europe's biggest clubs.

Chelsea announced Christensen's departure last week, with the defender having been strongly linked with Barca.

Christensen joined Chelsea from Brondby in 2012 and after a spell on loan with Borussia Monchengladbach, went on to make 161 appearances for the Blues, winning the Europa League, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup during his time at Stamford Bridge.

Having played the full 90 minutes during Denmark's 2-0 Nations League win over Austria on Monday, the 26-year-old hopes to announce his next destination shortly, having made his decision some time ago.

"I know where I have to play," the defender told reporters.

Pressed on when an announcement regarding his future could be expected, he responded: "Unfortunately, it's not entirely up to me. There are also other things that need to fall into place.

"Hopefully soon. But I have known what I was going to do for a while. I'm just waiting for the right time."

Barcelona have been beset by financial difficulties in recent years, with LaLiga president Javier Tebas recently suggesting Xavi's team must sell prized assets – such as midfielder Frenkie de Jong – in order to fund any rebuild of their squad during the transfer window.

However, Christensen, who has been touted to provide competition for current Barca centre-backs Gerard Pique and Ronald Araujo, says Barca are a team that would interest any player. 

"It is one of the biggest clubs in Europe," he added. "I think it is for everyone.

"Whether they have had their problems or not, it is still one of the biggest clubs for a player to get to."

Austria manager Ralf Rangnick says it is "an absolute miracle" Christian Eriksen is alive, let alone playing football again without any worries.

Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest when playing for Denmark against Finland at Euro 2020 a year ago and was brought back to life on the pitch.

However, the 30-year-old was unable to play for Inter on medical grounds as Italy prevent players from competing after having a cardioverter-defibrillator fitted.

Brentford offered the midfielder a six-month contract in January and he subsequently delivered, scoring once and assisting four to help the Bees away from the relegation zone.

Thomas Frank remains hopeful of keeping Eriksen at the Brentford Community Stadium next season, despite interest from Manchester United and former club Tottenham.

Rangnick, speaking before Austria's Nations League clash with Denmark on Monday, cannot believe that Eriksen is back on the football pitch exactly a year on from the issues on June 12.

"It's an absolute miracle [that Christian Eriksen is still alive]. I can remember the pictures of the team forming a circle around him as he was being treated," Rangnick told reporters. 

"It really was a matter of life and death. If anyone had predicted at the time that months later, six months later, he would be able to play football again, he would not have believed it.

"I talked to Kasper [Schmeichel] about it before the game, and he also said he doesn't worry about [Eriksen] anymore, because Eriksen enjoys it, he has no problems at all anymore so sees no problems playing.

"And it's extraordinary that when something like this happens to you, that you go about your job and play again without any worries. This is also something extraordinary."

France's surprise 2-1 loss to Denmark in the opening game of their Nations League title defence was down to a lack of sharpness, according to assistant boss Guy Stephan.

Substitute Andreas Cornelius scored twice for Denmark in Friday's contest at Stade de France, where Les Blues had taken the lead through Karim Benzema's 51st-minute strike.

The defeat is France's first inside 90 minutes in a competitive game on home soil since losing 1-0 to Spain in March 2013.

It is also the first time the reigning World Cup winners have lost a game in which they have led since going down 3-2 to Colombia in a friendly a little over four years ago.

And at the end of a long season, France coach Stephan – filling in for Didier Deschamps, who is mourning the passing of his father – believes fatigue played a big part.

"We knew that Denmark were a good team, with a very good structure," Stephan told M6. 

"Without looking for an excuse, we're coming to the end of a season in which the players have played a lot. I have nothing to blame them for.

"It was a match between two good teams. We had some good spells and some less good spells.

"We just needed some freshness to be able to express ourselves and we didn't have that today."

 

The hosts had 19 shots to Denmark's eight, yet Cornelius' double – making him the first substitute to score twice against France – earned his side a shock win in Paris.

Cornelius volleyed in from a fine Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg pass for his opener and then thumped a winner past Hugo Lloris at his near post two minutes from time.

"There are never good times to suffer defeats," Lloris told M6. "There's still a long time to go until the World Cup, though of course it's never good to start a campaign with a defeat.

"We fell against a good, well-organised team. At 1-0 we had chances for a second, but we were so committed to the attack that there were also risks that Denmark exploited."

France replaced Kylian Mbappe with Christopher Nkunku at half-time, which Stephan confirmed was a precautionary measure after the Paris Saint-Germain star injured his knee.

Raphael Varane also hobbled off in the second half and will undergo a scan on his thigh ahead of Monday's trip to Croatia in Les Blues' second Group A1 outing.

Deschamps is set to return to the France camp on Saturday ahead of that game, which takes on added importance following Croatia's 3-0 loss to Austria elsewhere on Friday.

Andreas Cornelius struck twice in the second half as France's Nations League title defence began with a shock 2-1 loss to Denmark in Paris.

France took the lead through Karim Benzema at the Stade de France, the venue where he lifted the Champions League with Real Madrid six days earlier, but they were unable to see out the win.

Trabzonspor striker Cornelius volleyed in a delightful equaliser and then fired in a winner two minutes from time to stun France, who lost Kylian Mbappe to a first-half injury.

Denmark join Austria, who beat Croatia 3-0 elsewhere on Friday, at the top of Group A1.

The visitors enjoyed a near-perfect campaign in qualifying for Qatar 2022, where they will meet France in the group stage, and started the brighter in this contest.

Kasper Dolberg got in behind the home defence inside the first three minutes and picked out Joakim Maehle, who hit the outside of the post with the angle against him.

France soon grew into the game, with Benzema having a goal-bound shot blocked by Jannik Vestergaard and a low strike past Kasper Schmeichel ruled out for offside.

Mbappe sustained an injury shortly before half-time and played no part after the break, but Didier Deschamps' men did not require long to open the scoring in the second half.

Benzema played a one-two with Mbappe's replacement Christopher Nkunku, took the ball past three opposition players and slid the ball away from Schmeichel for the 51st-minute opener.

Les Blues did not build on that lead, however, as Cornelius flashed a first-time finish past Hugo Lloris in the 68th minute with the side of his boot after being spotted by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

N'Golo Kante hit the post with a curled effort, but it was Cornelius who had the final say in Paris with a thumping finish into the roof of the net at Lloris' near post.

Kylian Mbappe was forced off the field at half-time in France's Nations League opener against Denmark on Friday.

The striker, who last month signed a new deal with Paris Saint-Germain despite interest from Real Madrid, sustained a knee injury towards the end of the goalless first half.

He pulled up with nobody around him and did not return to field for the start of the second period, with Christopher Nkunku introduced in his place.

Mbappe limping down the tunnel would have been a concern for Didier Deschamps, whose side have three more Nations League games to come in the next 10 days.

However, Deschamps' assistant Guy Stephan confirmed to French outlet M6 that the substitution was purely precautionary.

Mbappe watched the second half from the substitutes' bench at Stade de France with his leg heavily strapped.

France coach Didier Deschamps has backed Paul Pogba to find a new club and arrest his slump in domestic form, as he hailed the upcoming Aurelien Tchouameni.

Pogba endured another frustrating season with Manchester United, who finished sixth in the Premier League and will hope Erik ten Hag can transform their fortunes next campaign.

World Cup-winning midfielder Pogba is widely expected to depart Old Trafford when his contract expires in June, with Juventus seemingly in the running to bring the 29-year-old back to Turin, while Paris Saint-Germain have also been linked.

Pogba has come under scrutiny for failing to replicate his international performances for France, who he will not feature for in upcoming Nations League games due to injury.

Deschamps heaped praise on Pogba's efforts for his country and expects the France star to move on from United after another underwhelming campaign.

"Pogba has had a lot of injuries, with his club's results not up to par," Deschamps told a news conference on Saturday.

"He too will have to change scenery this summer."

Deschamps additionally spoke of players who may have struggled on club duty, saying: "There has to be credit for what they have been able to do with the France team."

Tchouameni has enjoyed another productive season in Ligue 1 with Monaco, leading to reports he could join Liverpool, Chelsea or Real Madrid in the next transfer window.

The midfielder appeared 35 times in Ligue 1 this campaign, with only Wissam Ben Yedder (37) and goalkeeper Alexander Nubel (38) featuring more for Philippe Clement's side.

The 22-year-old represents a threat at both ends of the pitch, leading Monaco's charts for successful opposition-half passes (932), while making the most tackles (86) and winning the most duels (260).

Tchouameni will compete with the likes of N'Golo Kante, Adrien Rabiot and Matteo Guendouzi for a spot in midfield, and Deschamps is delighted to see the Monaco man coming into contention.

"He doesn't have the experience of Pogba and Kante, but he has potential... I took him on quite early, and in his head, he has the necessary maturity," Deschamps said.

"It's good to have these young people who make sure the older players do not rest on their laurels! The young players continue to grow, and even the others who are not selected are also growing.

"It's the new generation. Today a 19-year-old, it can seem a bit presumptuous, they go to the big clubs, but they have no worries, they do everything to succeed."

Kylian Mbappe staying at Paris Saint-Germain can only be a positive outcome for French football, according to Les Bleus coach Didier Deschamps.

World Cup winner Mbappe appeared set to move to Real Madrid when his contract expired in June, but opted to sign a three-year extension with PSG.

That denied Madrid talisman Karim Benzema the chance to link-up at club level with international team-mate Mbappe, who insisted he stayed at PSG "because the project had changed" and for sentimental reasons.

Deschamps will have the attacking duo to call upon for the Nations League campaign, starting against Denmark next Friday, and the France coach was delighted to see Mbappe stay in Paris.

"It's his choice. It's obvious that he stays in Ligue 1, it's a very good thing for French football," he told reporters on Saturday.

"He is attached to the club, he said what he had to say but in being French, that can only be a good thing.

"We can grow by staying. Today the objective of PSG is the same as in all the big clubs, and to win the Champions League. It may be necessary one day to go abroad, but that is not an obligation.

"We are not going to speak in other periods when there was a lag compared to France. But today, the choice of players is not the same.

"It is perhaps less of an obligation to go abroad to accomplish beautiful things."

 

There were reports of tension between Benzema and Mbappe after the former uploaded a photo of late rapper Tupac Shakur that was deemed to be a veiled reference to betrayal.

Benzema has since denied those suggestions, insisting he does not feel betrayed by Mbappe, and Deschamps does not envisage problems between the pair when they arrive for international duty.

"From my position as coach, where I have the players live where I know from A to Z what is going on, the main thing is the group," he added.

"It can lead to misunderstandings. From a situation where we can all draw negative conclusions when they are not necessarily negative... It can turn into a misunderstanding, which does not reflect reality.

"Today with the connected world it can go very very quickly, the slightest photo goes quickly. Even if I'm not on there!"

Christopher Nkunku, Moussa Dembele and Wissam Ben Yedder will also join Mbappe and Benzema in France's attacking ranks, with Olivier Giroud missing out from selection.

Deschamps says he did not call up Giroud as he wanted to offer the likes of Nkunku, Dembele and Ben Yedder a chance to show their worth.

"I said that in relation to the attacking players, who will be supposed to have a little more playing time," Deschamps continued.

"Olivier Giroud is not with us, it's to give playing time to Moussa, Christopher and Wissam, who are with us regularly, who have had playing time and will have the opportunity to have a little more.

"If possible we will make sure to involve everyone, some will play more than others. Through the four meetings, we will make sure that they are active, so that they get stronger, to have more experience. It will give additional information on the final list for the World Cup."

Christian Eriksen says he is "enjoying the moment" at Brentford, but refused to commit to his next steps ahead of a reunion with former club Tottenham on Saturday.

The Denmark international will face his old club for the first time since he linked up with the Bees in January, a move which came seven months after his cardiac arrest at Euro 2020.

The playmaker has defied expectations to make a full return to football after his collapse in Copenhagen last summer, and has been at the heart of Brentford's revival since arriving. 

He will reunite with Spurs for the first time since he left for Inter in 2020 this weekend, as well as with former Nerazzurri boss Antonio Conte.

Those close links have fuelled speculation he could return to his former North London home at the conclusion of the season, but for now, Eriksen is focused on enjoying his time with the Bees.

"When I signed here in January, it was actually [about] coming back and showing I was a football player and could play football," he told Sky Sports ahead of the Bees' clash with Spurs.

"There was also the six months of a test trial. By now, it feels good. But for the future, I don't know.

"I'm just enjoying the moment, every game is really fun to play in. What happens in the summer will be a decision for me as a footballer and as a family man.

"Everything is open. I've been taken good care of at Brentford, they've really shown me a lot of love and [I'm] trying to repay them for what they've showed me.

"Every option is open, either at Brentford or anywhere else."

Spurs captain Hugo Lloris, meanwhile, says his side are looking forward to seeing their old team-mate, who helped them to the 2019 Champions League Final during his time with the club.

"After what happened to him, it's always nice to see an ex-team-mate but even more, a player who was special for the club," he told Tottenham's official website.

"He spent more than six years at the club and he had a great time, we had a great time as team-mates.

"Then after what happened last summer… for most of us, it's going to be the first time that we’ve seen him.

"Obviously the most important thing for us right now is the game and the three points. We will have time after the game to enjoy the moment with him."

Former France international Christian Karembeu has declared Les Bleus the favourite for this year's World Cup after the draw was announced.

France are trying to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend their crown but will have history working against them as the last three teams to attempt that feat have all fallen in the group stage.

After drawing Group D, France will have fixtures against Denmark, Tunisia and the eventual playoff winner out of Australia, UAE and Peru.

Karembeu, who was part of the France side who prevailed on home soil in 1998, believes they have earned the title of favourite this time around.

"[France] are the [World Cup] favourites, which is a topic I have spoken about a lot," he told reporters in Qatar.

"We have a young team with a lot of quality, not to mention the head coach [Didier Deschamps] – I have to say that, otherwise he will yell at me. 

"We have a Federation that works, allowing us to be focused on that objective of winning the World Cup."

Fellow former World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff was less emphatic about his prediction, instead pointing towards the interesting timing of the event, which begins in November.

"A draw in itself doesn't mean anything," he said.

"Yes, the World Cup is starting so you prepare, and you know when you are going to play, but there is no good or bad draw. Especially at this time of the year when all the teams are going to be competitive. 

"That's where [this] World Cup will be different from the others.

"All the great players and all the teams are going to get to a point in the season where they are going to be competitive. 

"It's not the end of the season, where it's long and there are a lot of big games. It's almost the beginning of the season. 

"It's going to be very interesting."

Former France international Christian Karembeu has declared Les Bleus the favourite for this year's World Cup after the draw was announced.

France is trying to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend their crown, but will have history working against them as the last three teams to try have all fallen in the group stage.

After drawing Group D, France will have fixtures against Denmark, Tunisia and the eventual playoff winner out of Australia, UAE and Peru.

Karembeu said he thinks France has earned the title of favourite this time around.

"[France] are the [World Cup] favourites, which is a topic I have spoken about a lot," he told reporters in Qatar.

"We have a young team with a lot of quality, not to mention the head coach [Didier Deschamps] – I have to say that, otherwise he will yell at me. 

"We have a Federation that works, allowing us to be focused on that objective of winning the World Cup."

Fellow former French international Youri Djorkaeff was less emphatic about his prediction, but instead pointed towards the interesting timing of the event.

"A draw in itself doesn't mean anything," he said.

"Yes, the World Cup is starting so you prepare, and you know when you are going to play, but there is no good or bad draw. Especially at this time of the year when all the teams are going to be competitive. 

"That's where [this] World Cup will be different from the others.

"All the great players and all the teams are going to get to a point in the season where they are going to be competitive. 

"It's not the end of the season, where it's long and there are a lot of big games. It's almost the beginning of the season. 

"It's going to be very interesting."

Didier Deschamps highlighted Denmark's quality as he warned of the difficulties of France's 2022 World Cup draw.

World champions France were entered into Group D on Friday, alongside Denmark, Tunisia and one of Peru, the United Arab Emirates or Australia.

Les Bleus also faced Denmark, Peru and Australia in the first round en route to the title in Russia four years ago and are now expected to comfortably get out of their group.

However, Deschamps was anything but complacent following the draw, well aware of the threat Denmark in particular pose.

Semi-finalists at Euro 2020, Denmark are ranked 11th in the world, with only Mexico and the Netherlands above them from pot two. Germany, widely considered the toughest opponents, are 12th.

And Kasper Hjulmand's side will get a good look at France in the Nations League at the end of this season, too.

Were France to fall into second place in their group, they would face the winners of Argentina's pool. Les Bleus beat Lionel Messi and Co. in Russia but would undoubtedly rather avoid one of the sport's great names in what seems set to be his last World Cup.

Deschamps, speaking to beIN SPORTS, said: "I do not know if this draw is perfect.

"The Danes will also have the advantage of getting to know us better after the two Nations League games this summer. And then it's not the same competition, so it's something else.

"You have to have a lot of respect for this team and especially not think that it's a given. We are talking about the 11th world nation that reached a semi-final at the last Euro. They rank higher than Germany.

"I saw that we will cross with the group of Argentina, but the most important thing is to know the schedules of the matches. We could go from 1pm to 10pm and it's not the same thing at all.

"We already know the dates, but we will wait to know the schedules."

Qatar 2022 is fast approaching and the anticipation will surely be at its most intense so far when Friday's draw for the group stage is completed.

The Doha Exhibition and Convention Center plays host to the milestone event, which will see eight groups drawn from pots as the eventual storylines of the World Cup begin to unfurl.

Among the narratives that will start being mapped out on Friday is France's title defence, with Les Bleus hoping to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend their World Cup crown.

Ahead of the draw, Stats Perform provides a lowdown of all the key information…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, the draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section ahead of Mexico and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

It's nearly four years since Didier Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and coach, as he guided France to their second success on football's grandest stage.

The target now for Les Bleus is to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain their crown, and that journey begins on Friday with the draw for the group stage of Qatar 2022.

Four years is a long time to wait for anything, but the draw for the World Cup is always a milestone event that sees the anticipation taken up a notch.

The eyes of the football world will be on the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center, where the eight groups will be drawn and potential routes to December's finale can start being plotted.

But there is a little more to the draw than that…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, Friday's draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

Christian Eriksen's best performances for Denmark could well be yet to come, according to coach Kasper Hjulmand. 

After scoring when Denmark faced the Netherlands last week – his first international outing since suffering a cardiac arrest on the pitch last June – Eriksen took the captain's armband for his return to the site of his collapse in Tuesday's friendly against Serbia at Parken.

The Brentford midfielder marked the occasion with a lovely curling finish from the edge of the box, adding to strikes from Joakim Maehle and Jesper Lindstrom to complete a 3-0 victory. 

Eriksen was greeted by a banner reading "Welcome back, Eriksen" as led his team-mates out in Copenhagen and was given a standing ovation when he was substituted in the second half. 

"It was Christian Eriksen's comeback at Parken – it was magical," Hjulmand said. 

"We can see the blueprint for a relaxation and lightness in Christian's game, which is fantastic. He is so clear and calm, and he plays a lot of deep balls with his right and left feet, he keeps the game going when he needs to. It is a pleasure to see the way he makes himself comfortable on the pitch. 

"I think we can get something even better out of Christian for the next few years." 

Jannik Vestergaard believes Eriksen, who only returned to competitive action last month, has a new outlook on life and his career that is enabling him to perform to a high level. 

"You have to be careful what you say, but he was almost better than ever," said Vestergaard. 

"He played with ease … it may have really dawned on him how happy he is to play football. The pressure on him as our best player for many years then takes second place. 

"I think Christian enjoys every moment. Football is not everything in life, but for us football players it takes up quite a lot. He looks like someone who loves to be back, loves to play football and loves to play for Denmark. 

"I think there were many people who looked forward to getting Christian Eriksen back at Parken, and we had that too. 

"It was also great for us. It was a way to really put an end to some experiences we have had." 

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