With Fiorentina set to swing back into full gear on Sunday against Empoli, I’ll take one last moment to reflect on this past international break. It was a hectic one, as fourteen nations earned their place at the 2022 Qatar World Cup. All the matches and drama culminated in the draw on April Fools’ day in Doha, where all potential participating Fiorentina players learned their group in the competition. Even with Italy failing to qualify, there are plenty of players to consider, and I’ll run through the list here.
Argentina (LMQ, Nico González)
Qualification was a breeze for the Albiceleste, except for maybe the Covid-related farce of a match against Brazil. Still, after squeaking through thanks to Lionel Messi’s brilliance last time around, a casual undefeated eliminatorias run is an amazing achievement. Nico González started both of Argentina’s two matches this window, with LMQ and ex-Viola German Pezzella rotated in for one match each. Nico scored the opener in a 3-0 win against Venezuela, showcasing a finishing touch that will hopefully carry over to Firenze.
Expect both Nico and LMQ to be in Qatar, although Nico is far likelier to get significant minutes. Argentina’s draw itself was favorable, as they landed Mexico from Pot 2, much to the happiness of goalkeeper (and known s***houser) Emiliano Martinez.
Emiliano Martinez’ reaction after being drawn with Mexico pic.twitter.com/JWcb6GFYEv— Ziad is NOT in pain (@Ziad_EJ) April 2, 2022
While Poland is one of the scarier Pot 3 teams, Argentina should be heavy favorites against Saudi Arabia. All in all, the easiest group for any Viola, and Argentina needs to focus on avoiding France (who are in group D) again in the round of 16.
Poland (Bartłomiej Drągowski, Krzysztof Piątek, Szymon Żurkowski)
After Paulo Sousa left the Orły out to dry and ditched for Flamengo, no one expected much from Poland in the UEFA playoffs. However, they were gifted a free pass to the final against Sweden due to a certain warmongering dictator, then ground out a 2-0 result that still felt like an upset even though they were the hosts.
Oddly enough, Żurkowski is the likeliest of the three Polish Viola to be on the team next season, due to his excellent play down the road in Empoli and Fiorentina’s need for quality midfielders. Whether Daniele Pradè can get a discount for Piątek likely depends on whether Hertha Berlin is relegated or not, and even if he can someone like Agustín Álvarez would give the Viola a higher ceiling next season.
Regardless, he scored for Poland at the last moment in a friendly against Scotland and should make Poland’s final roster despite the wealth of talent at the striker position. Drago should also be in there as either the backup or third choice to Wojciech Szczęsny, with Łukasz Fabiański’s international retirement a boon to his chances. Zurkowski is more of a wildcard, just receiving his first call-up this past window. If he can establish himself for Fiorentina next fall, however, he should have an excellent shot.
For Poland, their opening match against Mexico will decide their qualification chances, and with Mexico’s tendency to get to the round of 16 (and then lose), I would bet against them here. Still, this is the weakest Mexico team I’ve seen in the past decade, so it is short-sighted to rule out the Orły.
Morocco (Sofyan Amrabat, Youssef Maleh)
It was a high-stakes international break for Morocco, as they played DR Congo in a two-legged tie to determine which nation would qualify. After conceding in the 12th minute in Kinshasa, there may have been some nerves amongst the Atlas Lions’ faithful. However, Morocco dominated and scored the next 5 goals en route to a 5-2 aggregate win and their second consecutive World Cup qualification.
Sofyan Amrabat played the full 90 in both matches, while Youssef Maleh was not called up to the squad. Although Amrabat is likely to leave this summer, he’s guaranteed a spot in Qatar with Morocco. Maleh is a trickier situation, as he’ll need to pass long-time national team players such as Fayçal Fajr in the pecking order to earn a place in the final 23.
Morocco also received a tough draw, as they’ll be up against Belgium, Croatia, and Canada. However, both Belgium and Croatia are older (and less scary) than they were four years ago, so the Atlas Lions will like their chances better than in 2018 against Spain and Portugal. Whether the continued absence of Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui is due to coach Vahid Halilhodžić’s brilliance or ineptitude is undetermined. But, advancing from this group would silence a lot of doubts which tend to arrive when you leave some of your most talented players at home.
Serbia (Nikola Milenković, Matija Nastasić, Aleksa Terzić)
It was a peaceful break for Serbia, as they already qualified for the World Cup back in November at the expense of Portugal. All three of Fiorentina’s Serbs played in the last break, which was a pair of friendlies against Hungary and Denmark. In a running theme, it’s conceivable that all three will not be on Fiorentina’s roster come November for various reasons. Expect Milenković to be the first center-back on the team sheet, with the other two having a high likelihood to make the cut as backups.
There was a touch of Déjà Vu to Serbia’s draw, as they drew Brazil and Switzerland, the same opponents from their 2018 campaign. There was even a chance Costa Rica could have been the fourth team drawn to complete the weirdness, but Cameroon was drawn instead. While not a group of death, Cameroon is better than Costa Rica was in 2018, while Brazil is also playing at another level, so advancing may seem tough. At the same time, Serbia is also much-improved thanks to the emergence and growth of top talents such as Filip Kostić, Milenković, the midfield duo of Sasa Lukić and Marko Grujić, and of course, Dušan Vlahović. Serbia also possesses the best midfielder in Serie A in Sergej Milinković-Savić, and a front three composed of him, Dušan Tadić, and Vlahović is a scary thought. This time around, Serbia doesn’t play Switzerland until the final match, so there will be a lot on the line, especially after the drama from 2018.
Uruguay (Lucas Torreira)
A controversial 1-0 win against Peru last week booked Uruguay’s spot in Qatar. Lucas Torreira came of the bench in that match and started in the following 2-0 win against Chile. Torreira will certainly make Uruguay’s final roster, although he’ll have a more supplemental role than the starting spot he had in 2018.
Uruguay’s group is one of the toughest, as they were paired with Portugal, South Korea, and Ghana. Expect the Celeste to be favorites to progress, but far from a lock. Three points from South Korea in the opening match is a must.
The Long Shots
The players I’ve already mentioned are the likeliest to go to Qatar, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few others with a chance.
Arthur Cabral has been called up to the Brazil squad before, although he hasn’t played. Should he replicate Dušan Vlahović’s form next fall, however, he’d have a real chance of making the final roster due to Brazil’s lack of strikers. Of course, that’s a long shot, and why he’s on this list.
Alfred Duncan has the talent and pedigree to be a starter in Ghana’s midfield, but has not played for the Black Stars since the fall of 2019. We can mindlessly speculate about why that is, but at the end of the day he’s not in Ghana’s plans at the moment. However, a lot can change in the next six months, and we shouldn’t be surprised if whatever fences exist are mended and Duncan travels to Qatar.
The super long shots and Jonathon Ikoné and Álvaro Odriozola, who would both need to play spectacularly and have an injury or two ahead of them to make the final cut.
As I mentioned earlier, it does seem that many current Viola which should be going to Qatar will not be with Fiorentina come November. Regardless, with LMQ, Nico, and Torreira all likely to stay, we should have someone to root for even if our own nations aren’t competing or are knocked out dissapointingly early.