What are the top rivalries to watch out for at the 2022 World Cup? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
The FIFA World Cup brings together fans from around the world like no other – until it’s time to face a rival.
Rivalries in international football tend to be territorial and continental in nature, but there are some exceptions.
Qatar seems no different as there are numerous matchup opportunities where rivals could go head-to-head in a high stakes showdown.
What rivalries could we see at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar? Let’s take a look:
USA, England – Group B
Starting with rivalries in group matches, Group B starts as there is no rivalry match in Group A (Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands). Group B will have two, with USA vs England sure to be No. 1. The history between these two sides extends well beyond the football field, but the USA has a win-draw-loss record of 1-1-0 against the Three Lions. Let’s see what fireworks this Thanksgiving matchup has in store.
England, Wales – Group B
While the previous matchup was a rare non-territorial rivalry, this is certainly the case. Alongside England is Wales, a country that hasn’t had too many high points in international football but will look to change that in Qatar. Gareth Bale will also be making his World Cup debut, which should make for an entertaining affair considering his career in the English Premier League with Tottenham. England have won 68 of the 103 meetings between the two.
Spain, Germany – Group E
These nations aren’t the greatest of rivals but with high expectations and the history of each programme, this will be an intense competition between two European powerhouses. Germany has an all-time win-loss record of 9-8-8 against Spain, so these two teams are very even on paper. However, Spain have largely dominated Germany since 2003, most recently winning 6-0 in a UEFA Nations League affair in 2020.
USA, Mexico – Possible quarterfinal matchup
Group stage games aside, these rivalry matchups could materialize depending on how the tournament goes. The USA and Mexico are undoubtedly bitter rivals, with El Tri winning 38 of the 76 matchups. There are two ways they can meet in the quarterfinals if they also progress through the round of 16: if USA wins Group B and Mexico finishes second in Group C, or if USA finishes second and Mexico wins Group C.
Iran, Saudi Arabia – Possible quarterfinal matchup
These two countries have not faced each other since 2009, with political ties and territorial distance also playing a big role, but a quarter-finals scenario is possible. It would have to follow the USA-Mexico route as Iran is in Group B and Saudi Arabia in Group C: If Iran wins Group B and Saudi Arabia finishes second in Group C, or if Iran finishes second and Saudi Arabia Arabia wins Group C.
This is one of the most unlikely possibilities given the quality of the opponents they have to defeat, but as mentioned before, it’s still possible.
Croatia, Serbia – Possible matchup in quarterfinals
In the second half of the table, Croatia vs. Serbia emerges as a rivalry to watch. This rivalry stems from political history and the clubs’ encounters in league competitions (Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb stand out), but they have only met twice in an international environment.
So they could meet in the Quarterfinals provided they also win their Round of 16: if Croatia wins Group F and Serbia finishes second in Group G or if Croatia finishes second in Group F and Serbia wins Group G. Saudi Arabia, that’s also unlikely, but possible.
Japan, South Korea – Possible quarterfinal matchup
Japan and South Korea have a similar history to the Mariana Trench – it’s extremely deep. Although Korea has a win-draw-loss record of 54-21-15 against Japan (although Japan has improved significantly over the past decade), political history and territorial distance play a role. These teams can meet in the quarter-finals if they win their round of 16 in the following scenarios: if Japan wins Group E and South Korea finishes second in Group H, or if Japan finishes second in Group E and South Korea wins Group H.
Add this to the Unlikely but Possible column, though, as it’s going to be a grueling challenge for each team to get out of their respective groups.
Spain, Portugal – Possible matchup in quarterfinals
Here’s a rivalry that has a good chance of materializing. Much like Wales-England, Portugal are a smaller nation alongside Spain, although Portugal perform better at international level with their top-flight squad. Spain has a record of 17-16-6 against Portugal, but Portugal have not lost in five of their last six meetings (four have ended in a draw).
How this duel could play out is the same as Japan-South Korea: if Spain wins Group E and Portugal finishes second in Group H, or if Spain finishes second in Group E and Portugal wins Group H. This can definitely come into play.
Brazil, Uruguay – Possible quarterfinal matchup
Similar to Spain-Portugal, this one could turn out too. Their history doesn’t just go back to territorial distance, it stretches back to the early World Championships where both teams competed in steadfast competition. Most notably, Uruguay beat Brazil in the Maracanã in the final of the 1950 World Cup and remains the smallest country to win the tournament. However, Brazil have not lost to Uruguay in their last 12 matches since 2003.
These two will meet in the Quarterfinals if Brazil finishes first in Group G and Uruguay finishes second in Group H or if Brazil finishes second in Group G and Uruguay wins Group H.
Germany, Netherlands – Possible semi-final or final
Moving on to broader matchups that could take place in the semis or finals, Germany and the Netherlands, it creates a tight fight that is on the horizon. There have been more draws than wins in their all-time 45 meetings, so it’s a head-to-head rivalry with deep political roots.
They can meet in two ways in the semi-finals, if both teams in Group A and Group E finish first, or if they both finish second. A fight in the finals would occur if one finishes second and the other finishes first, winning all knockout matches.
Argentina, Uruguay – Possible semi-final or final
Hitting an opponent a whopping 192 times is bound to result in intense friction. Argentina may have a win-draw-loss record of 90-45-57 against Uruguay, but this rivalry combines quantity and territorial distance above all else.
They can meet in two ways in the semi-finals, if both teams finish first in Group C and Group H, or if both finish second. A fight in the finals would occur if one finishes second and the other finishes first, winning all knockout matches. It might be more difficult for Uruguay to achieve that, but it will be a mighty showdown when it comes to that.
Brazil, Argentina – Possible semi-final or final
Rounding that out are Brazil and Argentina, who have fought 113 times, which makes sense given their territorial distance and history as elite in sport. Brazil beat Argentina with a win-draw-loss record of 46-26-41, and a clash this late in the World Cup would certainly be heated.
The two ways they can meet in the semifinals, if all goes well, are if both teams finish first in Group C and Group G, or if they both finish second in those groups. A finals clash would occur if one finishes second in their group and the other finishes first, winning all the knockout matches.