World Cup Group A: Five talking points as England learn likely last-16 opponents

Netherlands and Senegal progress as Ecuador fall short and hosts Qatar exit without a point

Karl Matchett
Tuesday 29 November 2022 17:07 GMT
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Daniel Sturridge sings while praising Kylian Mbappé’s World Cup performances

Group A has become the first of the eight at the World Cup 2022 to conclude, after Tuesday afternoon’s clashes ended in a somewhat less tense manner than might have been the case.

Netherlands dispatched with Qatar in fairly routine fashion, 2-0 the scoreline there, while Senegal produced the victory over Ecuador they needed to also make the last 16, a 2-1 win being deserve on the balance of play.

Here are five talking points from the two games played simultaneously to wrap up Group A.

Senegal most likely opponent for England

It was topsy turvy and changed up along the way more than once, but Senegal eventually triumphed over Ecuador to make their way into the knockout stage.

Having finished second behind Netherlands, it means they’ll play the winners of Group B in the last 16 - which, ahead of the evening fixtures, means England as it stands.

The Three Lions are best-placed to top the group and will guarantee that spot with a win against Wales regardless of the other fixture’s result.

England have never played against Senegal - but if Gareth Southgate’s side slip up and finish second, it’ll be the Dutch they face.

Gakpo mantains form as Dutch struggle for fluidity

Bergkamp, Neeskens, Sneijder - and now Cody Gakpo.

The Dutch forward joins an elite list of national heroes to have scored in three consecutive fixtures at the World Cup.

Having already notched against first Senegal and later Ecuador, the PSV attacker left Qatar’s defence standing and buried a low, right-footed finish for three in three in the final group game - putting himself joint top-scorer in the process.

Netherlands have not yet been totally convincing in build-up play and finding the right combination in attack is still a work in progress for Louis van Gaal, but Gakpo has hit the ground running at the finals and remains in magic form.

Qatar fall short, but not embarassed as hosts

On the other side of that result, Qatar made it three defeats from three games - the first host nation of a World Cup to fail to win a game or even earn a point.

It’s far from impressive and they were clearly below the required level from the outset, but at the same time it looked in the opening game as though Qatar could be ridiculed and easily beaten at every turn.

Ultimately, they have avoided that scenario.

They grew into the match in their second outing and scored their first goal, while against Netherlands they at least attempted to have a go while the game was somewhat in the balance.

Their record on the pitch will remain as open to criticism as the fact they were selected as hosts, but the team far from disgraced themselves as much as might have been feared to be the case early on.

Ecuador impress in spells but lose their nerve...twice

Just don’t concede, and go through.

That’s the job which faced Ecuador at kick-off, which they failed to do. But it was also the job which faced them with 23 minutes left on the clock and which they again failed in.

Ecuador were extremely decent in their opener against the hosts and at times showed fine attacking moves in their second game with the Dutch.

Yet defensively they were not solid enough when it mattered most and their most fluent passages of play deserted them entirely in this winner-takes-all finale.

A matter of mindset more than technique and it felt as though Ecuador choked.

Senegal overcome Mane absence to roar through

And back to the team of the day so far - African champions Senegal.

The Afcon winners would have come to the World Cup in confidence, but that was rocked in the build-up when they lost Sadio Mane to a very late injury. With Keita Balde also omitted from the squad, that was a severe hit to their goalscoring chances.

But like in so many other groups, there was one probably decisive fixture for who would take second, and this was it.

Perhaps it’s fitting that with Mane absent, their biggest other name in the team settled the matter: Kalidou Koulibaly with a fantastic finish to seal the 2-1 win and put Senegal through to the last 16 for the first time in 20 years.

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