World Cup Group C Rundown: Messi, Lewandowski, Quinto Partido Curse

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With just the intercontinental playoffs and one European playoff to be completed, we have set 29 of the 32 teams for this winter’s World Cup in Qatar. This year’s World Cup is unique for many reasons. First and foremost, you have the dates on which it is occurring. FIFA deemed the Middle Eastern summer too severe for the competition to be played in the usual June/July time slot. The governing body of world football then decided, much to European football’s chagrin, to move the dates to the end of the year.

It has thrown many of the biggest European league schedules for next season into chaos. The other reason this World Cup will be unique is the Middle Eastern setting. The tiny, but incredibly rich nation of Qatar has the privilege of hosting the biggest international sporting competition in the world. 

With so much anticipation surrounding it, the draw took place this past Friday in Doha and it has thrown up some incredibly tasty-looking fixtures. In this series, I am going to look at each group and give some context to each team.

Group C – Messi & Lewandowski Headline

  • Argentina
  • Poland
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Mexico

Group C contains two sides that sit inside the top ten of the FIFA World rankings. Those two clubs are Argentina (4th) and Mexico (9th). Argentina, of course, is a former winner of the World Cup in both 1978 & 1986. They also have arguably the best player we have ever seen in Lionel Messi.

Although Argentina and Mexico take the headlines, Poland has one of the most prolific strikers in world football in their ranks. Robert Lewandowski is one of Europe’s most lethal strikers and will be a constant danger. Finally, we have Saudi Arabia. The Green Falcons may not have the pedigree of their opponents, but qualified automatically from a tough AFC confederation group that contained heavyweights Japan & Australia.

Argentina

Argentina comes into this World Cup as South American champions after winning the Copa America last summer. 

It was an immense relief for Lionel Messi as he finally got his hands on a trophy while representing his home nation. Realistically, this has to be considered Messi’s last ever World Cup appearance. After what has been a thoroughly underwhelming debut campaign for PSG this season, the perfect cure might just be a deep World Cup run.

It is not just about Messi, however, as Argentina has built a strong squad with quality from the top of the pitch all the way back to the goalie.

La Albiceleste qualified automatically after finishing second in South American qualifying, behind rivals Brazil. Brazil and Argentina still have to play each other in a World Cup qualifier that had to be rescheduled because of COVID. The match, which is a dead rubber, will take place on September 22nd. Less than two months before the World Cup kicks off.

Mexico 

El Tri confirmed yet another appearance at the World Cup by finishing second in CONCACAF’s Octagonal final round of qualifying. Usually finishing above the USMNT would ensure you had topped Central and North American qualifying. But not this time as Mexico were runners-up to surprise stage winners in Canada.

Along with head coach Gerardo Martino, who has coached both Argentina and Barcelona in the past. Mexico has some elite talent playing in Europe’s top leagues. Jesus Corona at Sevilla, Raúl Jiménez at Wolves & Hector Herrera of Atletico Madrid will be expected to do a lot of heavy lifting for the Mexicans.

Martino and co. will hope to take this talented squad beyond the Round of 16.  El Tri hasn’t made it past this stage in the past seven World Cups. Mexico will hope they can vanquish the Quinto Partido curse in Qatar 

Poland

Poland boasts one of the most prolific strikers in all of Europe in Robert Lewandowski. It’s not all about the Bayern striker. Aston Villa star Matty Cash and Napoli midfielder Piotr Zielinski are amongst the marquee names in a strong Orly squad.

Poland had to qualify for the World Cup via the playoff process. After initially being drawn the Russian national team in their play-in semi-final, Poland received a bye. That followed Russia’s expulsion from the competition following their country’s invasion of Ukraine. Their play-in final against Sweden finished 2-0, which granted them passage to the competition in Qatar this winter.

The Polish will want to improve after they failed to get out of the group stage in the 2018 World Cup.

Saudi Arabia

FIFA ranks the Saudi Arabian national side at number 42 in the official rankings. They will be up against it as they attempt to make it out of the group stage in Qatar. The last four times they have appeared at the World Cup, that has been their ceiling.

The Green falcons qualified impressively from Group B of AFC World Cup qualifying. Placed in the same group as Asian heavyweights Japan & Australia, no one gave the Saudis much hope of an automatic qualification spot. Not only did they secure just that, but they also suffered only one defeat on their way to obtaining it.

With a bunch of players from the mega-rich Saudi Professional League & French gaffer Herve Renard, the Saudis will hope to give their traveling fans plenty to cheer about in Qatar.

Stuart Kavanagh is an up-and-coming sports journalist from Melbourne, Australia. Along with being the owner of the sports and entertainment website thepyrrhic.com, he is also the co-host of the ‘After Extra Time’ podcast. Football mad, he is always down for debate and discussion at @stueyissickofit on Twitter.

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