Real Madrid will see a "totally different" Eden Hazard next season, according to Belgium coach Roberto Martinez, who says the winger is "obsessed" with succeeding at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Having joined Madrid in a blockbuster £103.5m deal in 2019, Hazard has struggled in Spain, making just 48 appearances in LaLiga for the club - 20 of which have come from the bench.

Hazard has only recorded 10 league goal involvements in that time (four goals, six assists), and was a virtual spectator as Carlo Ancelotti's men won LaLiga and the Champions League last season, starting just seven league games.

But the 31-year-old impressed for Belgium during the recent international break, and was adamant he will get back to the player he was after assisting Kevin De Bruyne's goal in a recent 6-1 win over Poland. 

Martinez agrees that prediction, and believes the winger's goal of winning the World Cup in Qatar this year will provide an additional motivation when he returns to Madrid.

"Eden Hazard is in the best period of his career," Martinez told radio programme El Larguero.

"I was surprised by the state of mind and physical condition he was in in June," he said. "Real Madrid fans are going to see a totally different Hazard.

"He is obsessed with succeeding at Real Madrid. He has not thought about changing his objective. He wants to win the World Cup."

Meanwhile, Martinez's own future as Belgium boss has been questioned in recent months, with the former Everton man failing to lead the Red Devils' so-called "golden generation" of stars to tournament glory since taking charge in 2016.

The 48-year-old recently said he will not discuss any prospective new contract with Belgium until after the World Cup, but has now refused to close the door to coaching the Spanish national team in the future.

"I'm always open to any project with real belief behind it," he said.

Belgium and Spain could potentially face off in the round of 16 in Qatar, with Martinez's men facing Canada, Morocco and Croatia in Group F and Luis Enrique's team drawn alongside Germany, Japan and Costa Rica in Group E.

Roberto Martinez said his future as Belgium head coach will only be discussed after the World Cup later this year, having watching his side beat Poland 1-0 in the Nations League.

Michy Batshuayi's first-half header helped Belgium to their second win of this Nations League campaign, although they still trail the Netherlands by three points in Group A4 after being thrashed 4-1 by Louis van Gaal's men in their opening game earlier this month.

Results such as that one, as well as Belgium's failure to lift a major trophy despite producing a supposed 'golden generation' of talent, have led to suggestions Martinez's job could be under threat.

But the former Everton manager will only entertain questions over his future after leading the Red Devils to the World Cup in Qatar.

"That will be the right decision [to discuss the future after the tournament]," he said. "Not for me as a coach, but for Belgian football. 

"Everyone can be sure, my only will and wish is that we will see Belgium as strong as possible at the World Cup.

"I want to make the fans as proud as possible. All my work will go into this in the coming months.

"We'll see after the World Cup. In international football, it is logical that you look at it from major tournament to major tournament. There is nothing strange about that."

Belgium will face Canada, Morocco and Croatia in Group F in Qatar, having finished third in Russia in 2018.

Martinez's team were comfortable for long periods against Poland, limiting their hosts to just two shots on target and only allowing Robert Lewandowski one attempt throughout the game.

But Belgium almost conceded a dramatic equaliser when Karol Swiderski twice went close in the dying stages, and Martinez was delighted with the character his team displayed when clinging on for the win.

The Red Devils have claimed seven points from their first four Nations League games this month, and the coach believes the matches have proven valuable as they build towards their trip to Qatar.

"We defended well and showed a lot of personality," Martinez said. "It is even more satisfying to win like this than [if] it was a simple victory. 

"These matches were used to gather information for the World Cup, and we got it. 

"The results weren't always good, but perfection doesn't exist. Not in football and not in life. The reaction after Wales [a 1-1 draw last week] was there. I remember that."

Michy Batshuayi's first-half goal helped Belgium to a 1-0 win over Poland, keeping the Red Devils in with a chance of reaching the Nations League Finals.

Less than a week after scoring five second-half goals in a 6-1 thrashing of Poland, Roberto Martinez's side were without several star names including Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku for the return fixture.

But Belgium were mostly comfortable after Batshuayi nodded them into an early lead, with Nicola Zalewski and Karol Swiderski squandering Poland's best chances to equalise.

Martinez's team trail the Netherlands by three points with two group-stage contests remaining, meaning the two rivals could be set for a straight shoot-out for qualification when they meet in September.

Wojciech Szczesny raced off his line to deny Thorgan Hazard early on, but he was helpless when Batshuayi headed Belgium into a 16th-minute lead, the Chelsea man stooping to divert Youri Tielemans' cross into bottom-right corner.

Sebastian Szymanski sent a wild volley over from a good position after half an hour, before Eden Hazard was flagged offside having beaten Szczesny with a deft chip after racing onto Batshuayi's pass.

Although Belgium dominated much of the opening period, Zalewski went agonisingly close to levelling shortly before the break when he volleyed Robert Lewandowski's right-wing cross narrowly wide.

Thorgan Hazard almost doubled Belgium's lead when he sent a low strike wide of the left-hand post after 52 minutes, before Jan Vertonghen saw a driven cross deflected just wide of the bottom-left corner.

Swiderski twice went close to a dramatic equaliser when he forced Simon Mignolet into an acrobatic save before clipping the post with a deft header, but Belgium held on for their second Nations League win of the campaign.

What does it mean? Belgium keep Netherlands in their sights

Having been thrashed 4-1 by the Netherlands during their Nations League opener earlier this month and dropped points in a 1-1 draw with Wales last week, Martinez's men needed a victory to stay in touch with their neighbours at the top of Group A4.

Having prevented Poland from mustering a shot on target until the 87th minute, Belgium deserved a victory which keeps them in with a chance of overhauling Louis van Gaal's men to qualify for next year's finals.

Brilliant Batshuayi maintains hot streak

While Batshuayi - who has been sent out on loan five times since joining Chelsea in 2016 - has struggled for consistency at club level, the Nations League is quickly becoming his favourite competition.

Batshuayi has now contributed to eight goals in the Nations League overall, a tally only bettered by Lukaku (11), and has registered two goals and two assists in his four appearances in the 2022-23 edition.  

Lacklustre Lewandowski struggles 

Despite missing several of their star players, Belgium produced a disciplined defensive performance to complete a double over Czeslaw Michniewicz's team, keeping Lewandowski's influence to a minimum.

The wantaway Bayern Munich man managed the joint-fewest touches of any player the pitch in the first half (13), and over the course of the match, attempted just one shot.

What's next?

Belgium's next outing is a home Nations League clash with Wales on September 22, while Poland host the Netherlands on the same day.

Roberto Martinez felt Belgium had two Nations League points taken away from them by the VAR after Brennan Johnson's late equaliser gave Wales a 1-1 draw.

Youri Tielemans' 50th-minute strike looked as though it would prove enough for Belgium, who were without Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku in Cardiff.

But Wales, who had an early Ethan Ampadu strike contentiously ruled out by the video assistant, were grateful to see Johnson's 86th-minute leveller allowed to stand despite the linesman initially flagging for offside.

Martinez, however, was left furious by the decision.

"I can't analyse this game until I get an explanation from someone about that goal against. It was a shocking decision," Martinez told VTM. 

"The assistant referee makes the right decision, but somehow the VAR makes it in his head to overrule. Those lines are not parallel.

"We should have won this match. They took two points away from us tonight, it was simply offside.

"My players don't deserve this, because we defended really well."

The stalemate meant Belgium failed to capitalise on the Netherlands' 2-2 draw with Poland in the other clash in Group A4.

Martinez's side remain three points behind the Netherlands with three games played.


 

Substitute Brennan Johnson struck late on to get Wales off the mark in the Nations League with their first point in a deserved 1-1 draw against Belgium.

The Red Devils have often struggled against Wales in recent times, namely at Euro 2016 when losing at the quarter-final stage, and they were again frustrated on Saturday.

Youri Tielemans' 50th-minute strike looked as though it would prove enough for Belgium, who were without the likes of Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku in Cardiff.

But Wales, who had an early Ethan Ampadu strike contentiously ruled out by VAR, equalised in the 86th minute through Johnson's effort to leave the visitors frustrated.

Belgium star Eden Hazard feels he is returning to his best after his side came from 1-0 down against Poland on Wednesday to storm home for a 6-1 Nations League win.

From the moment Robert Lewandowski put Poland ahead in the 28th minute, it would be all Belgium, controlling 60 per cent of the possession for the match while producing nine shots on target to zero in the second half.

Axel Witsel made it 1-1 before half-time, before the Red Devils' dynamic duo combined, with Hazard assisting Kevin De Bruyne to pull ahead 2-1.

The last 20 minutes was an attacking exhibition from the Belgians, with two goals to Leandro Trossard, one to Leander Dendoncker, before Lois Openda completed the rout in the 93rd minute.

Speaking to RTL Sport after the win, Hazard said consistent playing time will be the key to returning to his top form.

"I'm going back to being the player I was," he said. "I will become the player I was again by stringing together games, minutes. 

"In the team, there was no more desire than against the Netherlands, it's the score that is very different. 

"But it's true that after Friday's defeat, we talked to each other and made resolutions. But it remains between us, a secret.

"It's a great reaction from the team. We needed to answer after the defeat, it's done, I think a lot of people will sleep well – and me too."

Hazard also highlighted the depth of the Belgian squad, and that he hopes there will be some rotation in the starting-11.

"There are two matches left, we will go to Wales and Poland to win," he said. "I hope coach [Roberto] Martínez will consider that there are plenty of players who can play – not just 11 or 12 players. We really are a group"

While Hazard wants to see some fresh faces getting some run, Martinez made it clear that the Real Madrid man is not willing to be the one to take a seat – and that he is looking like his former self.

"When you see Eden Hazard walk into a room, you can see straight away if he is happy or not," he said. "And there it is clear: there is no more pain. 

"He was better today, his physical stats today are as good as they have been in the past. Hazard's idea is to be in all four games to give him the rhythm he needs."

Martinez was also full of praise of the combination of Trossard and Dendoncker, saying the future of Belgian football remains bright.

"There is a lot of satisfaction tonight, in many areas," he said. "Players have met expectations, such as Leandro Trossard or Leander Dendoncker in defence.

"Leandro Trossard, we have seen him grow over time. And he is one of the examples why Belgium should never worry about the talent there is in this country. For some, talent must take its time to develop.

"Hans Vanaken, Leandro Trossard have had a constant evolution since their arrival in the national team. Leandro must be inspired by boys like Eden Hazard to understand the 'gap' that can exist with the world's top, but he has come so far.

"Dendoncker, sometimes we don't give him enough credit because he is versatile, between a defender and a midfielder. But he never let the team down, defensively he was very alert.

"We saw that Dendoncker could project himself as a midfielder. It was Leander's most mature performance with the national team. There were a lot of games where he proved he could be trusted, and that was the case again tonight."

Belgium bounced back from their thumping by the Netherlands with an emphatic 6-1 Nations League win over Poland on Wednesday.

Roberto Martinez's side suffered a resounding 4-1 defeat to the Oranje on Friday, but a much-improved display at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels saw them return to winning ways in Group A4.

They fell behind to Robert Lewandowski's 28th-minute strike, yet pulled level before half-time thanks to Axel Witsel's superb effort from outside the penalty area.

Kevin De Bruyne then put them ahead after the interval, before a double from substitute Leandro Trossard, a long-range strike from Leander Dendoncker and a late sixth from Lois Openda put the seal on a convincing win.

Despite a bright start, Belgium fell behind shortly before the half-hour mark when Lewandowski controlled Sebastian Szymanski's pass before clipping past the onrushing Simon Mignolet.

However, the Red Devils pulled level three minutes before the interval, Witsel superbly whipping in from 20 yards after Bartlomiej Dragowski had kept out De Bruyne's close-range effort.

Dragowski made an excellent double stop after the break, first pawing away Dendoncker's header and then getting down well to repel Eden Hazard's drive. 

He was powerless to stop De Bruyne in the 59th minute, though, as the Manchester City man rolled past him after being played in by Hazard. 

Trossard made it three with a cool finish after cutting in from the right, before the Brighton and Hove Albion forward added a second with a looping strike from the edge of the penalty area. 

Dendoncker added a fifth with a sublime strike from 25 yards that flashed past Dragowksi, before substitute Openda wrapped up the scoring with almost the last kick of the game.

Belgium star Romelu Lukaku will miss the Nations League clash with Poland due to injury as Roberto Martinez implored his side to respond from defeat to Netherlands.

Martinez's side are ranked second in the world but were thoroughly outplayed on Friday as Netherlands cruised to a 4-1 victory.

Lukaku limped off in the first half with the scores level, before goals from Steven Bergwijn, Denzel Dumfries and Memphis Depay secured Netherlands' first win on Belgian turf since 1997.

Martinez assured the issue with Lukaku was simply "a knock" after the game, but Belgium confirmed on Monday that the Chelsea striker will be absent for the clash with Poland on Wednesday.

The Red Devils added Lukaku has started treatment, leaving it unclear whether he will be fit to feature for the remaining clashes in June against Wales and the reverse fixture with Poland.

While Martinez may be without his talisman as Belgium ramp up their World Cup preparations for Qatar, the Red Devils coach urged his team to respond against Poland.

"[The Netherlands defeat] reminded us of the level we have to reach for the World Cup," he told reporters.

"This type of tough game will help us improve. We don't like to lose but we'll learn. It's an ongoing process, and the next test will come quickly against Poland."

 

The defeat to Netherland was also the first time Belgium had lost on home soil against any side since September 2017, while it was the first time the Red Devils had conceded four goals at home since October 2010.

Poland visit Brussels in the next League A Group 4 fixture and coach Czeslaw Michniewicz expects Belgium to come out fighting for a response.

"The Netherlands [won 4-1 in] Belgium, but both teams could have scored more; the Belgians had a lot of chances, plenty of set-pieces," Michniewicz said.

"We will have an interesting meeting with a team that has many classy individuals. Belgium will be motivated after such a heavy defeat."

Roberto Martinez had reassuring words on Romelu Lukaku's status and even attempted to put a positive spin on Belgium's 4-1 defeat to the Netherlands following the stunning reverse.

Belgium are the world's second-ranked side but were completely outclassed on home turf by a team they had not lost to since 1997.

It had still been 0-0 when Lukaku hobbled off in the first half, however, with the Chelsea forward trying and failing to play on after sustaining an injury in a tangle with Nathan Ake.

However, with three more Nations League matches to come this month, Martinez could at least inform fans Lukaku's ailment was not as serious as might have been feared.

"Lukaku's problem was a knock," he said, although he accepted: "From then on, it became a more difficult match."

This was far from an ideal result in Belgium's first competitive match of a World Cup year, but Martinez believes his side can benefit from the experience.

"This is what we needed to prepare for the World Cup," he said. "It's a hard result, but it's clear what we need to work on.

"The World Cup does not start until November, but with the national team it is already within 17 days. We will have to work in a specific way."

 

The former Everton manager added: "It is clear what we need to work on. We have to use the Nations League to prepare for the World Cup.

"We started well and found spaces. After that, it became physically difficult for players who didn't play much. The result is the result of all these aspects."

Jan Vertonghen disagreed, however, with the Belgium defender identifying issues that were not purely physical.

"It's a very painful defeat," he said. "We didn't get off to a bad start, though. We made it through a few times, especially via the left side.

"We lacked momentum after Romelu's substitution. The Dutch have had just as tough a season as we have. That shouldn't be an excuse. The physical part is not tonight's shortcoming.

"In particular, we had difficulties controlling the deep striker.

"This defeat puts us with both feet on the ground. It is clear that we will have to keep working hard."

Simon Mignolet hopes Belgium can learn from their shock 4-1 defeat to the Netherlands, who outclassed the world's second-ranked team in Brussels.

The form book was on Belgium's side heading into their Nations League opener at home to the Oranje on Friday.

The Red Devils had not lost to their neighbours since September 1997 and had not lost to any side at home since September 2016.

But both of those runs came to an end as Belgium were blown away, with Mignolet – in for Champions League final hero Thibaut Courtois – left horribly exposed.

Nine of the Netherlands' 15 shots came over a 25-minute first-half stretch in which Belgium did not attempt one.

Steven Bergwijn netted the opener shortly after that onslaught, before Memphis Depay scored twice either side of a simple Denzel Dumfries finish in the second half.

It was the first time Belgium had conceded four goals at home since October 2010, but Mignolet had no complaints about the scoreline.

"There are no excuses for this defeat," the goalkeeper said. "You get the chance to play against the Netherlands and you have to grab that opportunity with both hands.

"In the run-up to the World Cup, tonight's game and the remaining matches in the Nations League were good opportunities to measure ourselves.

"We have to learn from this and take things forward to the preparations for the World Cup in Qatar."

The mood in the Dutch camp was rather more cheerful, as captain Virgil van Dijk told NOS: "It was a good win with good football. Everyone was good today.

"Steven Bergwijn in particular was excellent – they couldn't get a grip on him – but also Steven Berghuis and Frenkie de Jong. Actually, I can be positive about everyone. It was a great team performance.

"We did an excellent job, we forced them to make mistakes and we scored good goals."

Van Dijk came straight from playing against Courtois in the Champions League final and will now bring his long season to an end while the Netherlands turn their focus to further Nations League matches.

"It's time to recover," the centre-back added. "I'm going on holiday now and the rest can prepare for Wales [on Wednesday]."

The Netherlands deservedly defeated Belgium for the first time since September 1997 on Friday, sensationally winning 4-1 in Brussels in their Nations League opener.

A 25-year wait for an Oranje victory against their nearest neighbours was emphatically ended by Louis van Gaal's side.

Steven Bergwijn – reportedly set for a move back to the Netherlands with Ajax – set the visitors on their way, before Memphis Depay netted either side of a Denzel Dumfries goal in an outstanding display.

In their first competitive match of a World Cup year, the Netherlands hinted at a return to form against elite opponents, whose big names crumbled as both Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard were substituted early - Michy Batshuayi's last-gasp goal proving scant consolation.

Careless defending at either end contributed to a lively encounter, although Timothy Castagne's early effort against the angle of post and crossbar was one of Belgium's few threats in the game.

The Netherlands soon took control – aided by Lukaku's departure with an injury – and Simon Mignolet was finally beaten five minutes before half-time.

Bergwijn arrowed a fine finish into the bottom-right corner from 25 yards, although an Oranje penalty was struck off before half-time as a VAR review showed Dumfries' cross had struck Castagne's face and not his raised arm.

Depay, who had been set to take that spot-kick, had to wait only until six minutes after the restart for his goal, charging beyond the Belgium defence and firing past Mignolet.

A brief Belgium flurry was followed by a further two Dutch goals, as Mignolet parried Steven Berghuis' curler only as far as Daley Blind, who squared for Dumfries to score, then the left-back nodded down a long ball for Depay to control and lash in the fourth.

There was belatedly a Belgium response, after Castagne had been denied by an offside flag and Dries Mertens thumped against the post, but Batshuayi's stoppage-time strike came far too late to take the shine off a stunning Netherlands win.


What does it mean? Dutch domination

Belgium were in command for the opening quarter of an hour, but they soon bowed under a barrage of Netherlands attacks. The Oranje kept 70 per cent of the possession for the next 15 minutes and attempted the next nine shots, scoring through Bergwijn.

After waiting so long to beat Belgium, Van Gaal's men did not settle for the single goal, adding real gloss after the interval in a landmark result.

Memphis moving up

With two more goals, Depay now has 41 for his country and surely has his sights set on Robin van Persie's record of 50. Only Klaas Jan Huntelaar (42) now stands between the pair.

Van Gaal is getting the best out of Depay, who has now been involved in 17 Netherlands goals since the coach's return.

Boos for Belgium

It was little surprise to hear the home crowd turn on Belgium, who were completely outclassed by a side ranked eight places below them by FIFA.

The Red Devils were not helped by the departures of Lukaku and Hazard. The Chelsea forward tangled with Nathan Ake and could not shake a knock, while his captain followed at half-time – albeit without any obvious injury.

What's next?

Belgium must bounce back when they face Poland on Wednesday in the same stadium, while the Netherlands are at Wales next.

Romelu Lukaku lasted less than half an hour of Belgium's Nations League opener against the Netherlands on Friday.

The Chelsea forward, who endured a difficult first season back at Stamford Bridge, started up front for Roberto Martinez's side in Brussels.

But Lukaku stayed down for an extended period after tangling with Manchester City defender Nathan Ake midway through the first half.

While his Belgium team-mates appealed for a red card – or at least a foul, with Ake, the last man, not penalised – Lukaku required lengthy treatment.

The striker eventually lifted himself and continued playing but pulled up soon after when attempting to close down Frenkie de Jong.

The former Manchester United and Inter man immediately signalled he would have to be replaced, with Martinez bringing on Leandro Trossard as a substitute.

Eden Hazard hopes to prove he is "not done yet" but remained non-committal on his future past the World Cup with Belgium.

The Real Madrid winger has endured another frustrating season, despite Los Blancos wrapping up a 35th LaLiga title with ease and 14th European Cup with Champions League victory over Liverpool on Saturday.

Hazard started just seven games in LaLiga this season for his 18 appearances, totalling 713 minutes of action, and recorded just one assist without finding the net.

That has been the disappointing trend for the 31-year-old, who has managed just 48 outings in the league for Madrid since leaving Chelsea for a reported fee of €100million in 2019.

Hazard remains a well-liked member of the Madrid dressing room, regularly seen surrounded by team-mates at the various celebrations this campaign, but he is striving to improve next season.

His next task sees him lead Belgium into their Nations League campaign, starting against the Netherlands on Friday, and Hazard is hoping to prove a point with his country, who will aim for World Cup glory in Qatar.

"I was disappointed at the European Championship. I had done everything I could to stay fit, but then I missed out against Portugal," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"Now we have even bigger players and young people who will show themselves. We have to go to Qatar with the hope of winning. I want to be able to play without any problems and get back to my old level. 

"But I don't know yet if I will continue after Qatar. It depends on so many things. My family, but also my body for example. I also have to be able to handle it physically.

"I don't know if I'm going to play all the games. You should not forget that I have played very little football in recent months.

"But I want to use these matches to find my feeling and the rhythm again. Ideally, I'll do good preparation to play everything next season and be strong for the World Cup."

While he remains unsure on his future past the World Cup with Belgium, Hazard insists he will give his all to succeed with Madrid before his contract expires in 2024.

"My career was already beautiful," he continued. "Playing at the most beautiful club in the world is great, although the past three years have not been great. 

"For me personally it was bad, but I have come across great players and people. My contract has two more years left and everything points to it getting better. 

"There are no more physical problems and I want to show that I am not done yet. I never thought of leaving. I didn't want to leave. I know I can show something when I get to my level. 

"I just have to play again to be the old, the real Eden Hazard. For me, the new season started three weeks ago. 

"I knew it would be difficult to play this season, but the most important thing for me is to prepare well and be ready for next season."

Wales are among the countries to have declared an interest in hosting the 2022-23 Nations League finals.

UEFA confirmed on Wednesday that the football associations of Wales, Belgium, Poland and Netherlands have all declared their interest in making a bid, with the deadline to submit final bid dossiers not until October 5.

The league phase begins in June 2022, and will run until September, with a break between then and June to allow for the remainder of the domestic season and the 2022 World Cup.

The hosts will be confirmed in January 2023, with the finals due to be held from June 14-18.

The draw for the competition took place in December, with 2018 World Cup finalists France and Croatia together in Group A1, Spain and Portugal among those in Group A2, and the trio of Italy, England and Germany featuring in Group A3.

Interestingly, the four nations to have declared an interest in hosting the finals have all been pitted against one another in Group A4.

Portugal staged the first edition of the tournament in 2019, while Italy hosted in 2021.

The dust is settling following the 2022 World Cup draw, which has provided a number of subplots and talking points aplenty to discuss between now and the opening set of games on November 21.

France, placed in a group that contains Denmark, Tunisia and one of Peru or Australia, will look to avoid becoming the fifth defending champions in the past six tournaments to exit at the first hurdle.

Spain and Germany, the winners of two of the past three World Cups, face off in arguably the pick of the group games in what will be their fifth meeting in the competition and the first since La Roja's 2010 semi-final triumph.

There are some good omens for England, who are in action on the opening day of the tournament – the last time that was the case they went on to lift the trophy on home soil in 1966.

As the debate rumbles on as to which is the most interesting group this time around, and supporters of participating nations plot out their route to the latter stages, Stats Perform picks out a key stat for each team.

GROUP A – Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands

Qatar are competing in their first World Cup and will aim to avoid becoming only the second host nation to be knocked out in the first round after South Africa in 2010.

They will begin their campaign against Ecuador, who have not faced a nation from outside of the UEFA or CONCACAF regions in their previous 10 World Cup matches.

Senegal are participating in the event for a third time and are the third African Cup of Nations title holders to qualify this century after Cameroon in 2002 and Nigeria in 2014.

However, the heavyweights of the group are the Netherlands, who have won 11 of their last 14 World Cup matches when not factoring in penalty shoot-outs. Three times Oranje have reached the final; three times they have been beaten. They failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, of course.

GROUP B – England, Iran, United States, Scotland/Wales/Ukraine

England have progressed past the quarter-finals just once since 1966, although the most recent occasion came four years ago when losing in the semi-finals.

First up for England are Iran, who have scored nine goals in 15 World Cup matches – that goals-per-game average of 0.6 the lowest of any side to have played at least 10 times.

Back involved after missing Russia 2018, the United States will be looking to reach the knockout stages for a fourth time in their past five participations in a World Cup.

Should Wales reach the finals, the gap of 64 years between their only two finals appearances will set a record.

Scotland, who meet Ukraine in a play-off for the right to face Wales, have made more World Cup appearances (eight) without making it past the first round than any other nation.

 

GROUP C – Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland

One of three South American teams to have lifted the trophy, Argentina have made it past the first round in 12 of their past 13 appearances, the only exception being in 2002.

It would be an understatement to say that Saudi Arabia have had less success in the finals, having won only three of their previous 16 World Cup matches – albeit one of those coming against Egypt in the 2018 edition.

Mexico have reached every World Cup since missing out in 1990 and tend to do well in the group stage, having advanced to the last 16 in each of their last eight appearances.

Whereas Mexico have won five of their past six opening games, first opponents Poland have won just one of their previous eight curtain-raising fixtures and have lost the last three.

GROUP D – France, Peru/Australia/UAE, Denmark, Tunisia

France are out to become the third team, after Italy (in 1938) and Brazil (in 1962) to retain the trophy. However, the last three defending champions have fallen in the group stage.

Denmark boasted the best defensive record of any side in European qualifying and have made it out of the group stage in four of their five World Cup appearances.

That is in contrast to Tunisia, who have not made the knockout rounds in six previous attempts. The Eagles of Carthage have also not beaten a European side in 10 World Cup games (D3 L7).

Tunisia have lost 60 per cent of their World Cup games, the third-highest by a team to have played 15+ games behind Saudi Arabia (69 per cent) and possible Group D opponents Australia (63 per cent).

 

GROUP E – Spain, Costa Rica/New Zealand, Germany, Japan

Spain won the World Cup in 2010, but that is the only occasion they have reached the semi-finals in their last 13 participations. However, they have won the group in four of their last five appearances.

Germany, champions in 2014, were the first side to reach Qatar 2022 aside from the hosts, and have made it to the semi-finals in four of the five World Cups this century – the best record of any side.

After reaching the last 16 in 2018, competition regulars Japan will aim to book a place in the knockouts in back-to-back editions for the first time.

Completing arguably the toughest group is either Costa Rica or New Zealand, who meet in a play-off in June. Costa Rica have appeared at five previous World Cups, while the All Whites have made it to the finals twice before.

GROUP F – Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia

Belgium have qualified for more World Cups without winning it than any other European team, with this their 14th appearance. With much of their 'golden generation' either 30 or close to it, however, this is realistically the final chance for that batch of players to cement their names in the history books, after a third-place finish in 2018.

Roberto Martinez's team might meet Spain or Germany in the last 16 but should have little trouble in getting out of their group.

Canada are competing in the global showpiece for the first time since 1986, when they lost all three matches and failed to score.

Morocco have won just one of their last 10 World Cup games, with that coming against Scotland in 1998, while their last knockout-round appearance was in 1986.

Beaten finalists in 2018, Croatia have had a mixed time of things in the finals, having been eliminated in the group stage (three times) or reached the semis (twice) in their past five appearances.

 

GROUP G – Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon

Brazil are the competition's most successful side with five trophies and are unbeaten in their last 15 World Cup group games, winning 12 of those. Their last such defeat was against Norway in 1998.

The next side with a chance to end that long run are Serbia, who have lost seven of their last nine World Cup matches, which is the most of any European nation since 2006. They also met Brazil in the 2018 group stage.

Another team to have been drawn with Brazil and, indeed, Serbia in Russia was Switzerland. History has repeated itself this time around. The Swiss finished above Italy in qualifying to make it to their fifth successive finals. Including the European Championships, they have reached the knockout stages in their last four major tournaments, a record only Belgium and France can match.

Cameroon make up Group G. They have played more matches at the World Cup than any other African nation (23), but they have lost the last seven of those – only Mexico (nine) have ever lost more in a row.

GROUP H – Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea

Heavyweights they may be, but Portugal have won only three of their last 14 World Cup matches, each of those in the group stage. Their last knockout-round win was in the last 16 against the Netherlands in 2006. 

All being well, Cristiano Ronaldo will be featuring in a record-equalling fifth World Cup. It will almost certainly be his last, though.

Ghana's quarter-final appearance in 2010 remains the joint-best finish for an African side, alongside Senegal in 2002 and Cameroon in 1990, and they have scored in their last five World Cup games.

Uruguay controversially eliminated Ghana in the quarter-finals 12 years ago but the Black Stars have a chance for revenge here in the final round of fixtures.

First up for Uruguay, meanwhile, are South Korea, but the South American side have won their opening match at just one of their last seven World Cups.

That is good news for Son Heung-min and Co. as South Korea look to win successive finals matches for just the second time ever, having knocked out Germany four years ago.

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