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World Cup 2022: U.S. draws England, Iran and UEFA playoff winner in group play

U.S. teammates celebrate with Christian Pulisic, center, after he scored a goal.
U.S. teammates celebrate with Christian Pulisic, center, after he scored a goal on a penalty kick against Panama on Sunday.
(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)
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The path the national team followed through World Cup qualifying was the most challenging in its history, with 14 games in eight countries squeezed into 7 1/2 months. The U.S. learned on Friday its World Cup journey will be no easier, with the Americans opening play on the first day of the competition in what could prove to be the tournament’s deepest group.

The Americans will play their first World Cup game in more than eight years on Nov. 21 against the winner of a three-team European playoff featuring Wales, Scotland and Ukraine. That playoff series, which will take place in June, was delayed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S., ranked 15th in the world by FIFA, will also face No. 5 England in group play on Nov. 25 and No. 21 Iran four days later. England was a semifinalist four years ago.

If No. 18 Wales wins its playoff, Group B would be the only World Cup group in which all four teams are ranked among the top 21. The group will include two European teams and the U.S. is 1-10-6 against European teams since returning to the World Cup in 1990.

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The United States fell to Costa Rica, 2-0, but still qualified for the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday in San Jose, Costa Rica.

March 30, 2022

“Traditionally European teams are very strong,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “When you play them in a World Cup, it means they got through European qualifying, which means they’re very good. That’s a great challenge for our guys, that’s a great opportunity.

“We just look at each opponent, we analyze their strengths and weaknesses, and we try to figure out how to beat them. That will be no different there. It’ll be an exciting group.”

It could get even more exciting if war-torn Ukraine advances.

“If Ukraine makes it, it’s a wonderful accomplishment,” Berhalter said. “If the people of Ukraine can get some hope by its team playing in the World Cup, it’s amazing. And I think it will be more of a celebration in my eyes. I think we’re all pulling for Ukraine.”

Added defender Walker Zimmerman: “If they end up in our group, we would be honored to share the field with them on the world’s biggest stage.”

Playing on the first day of the tournament will be an added challenge because players will not be released from their club teams until Nov. 14, seven days before the first fall World Cup opens with host Qatar meeting Ecuador. The final will be played Dec. 18.

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The U.S. is returning to the World Cup for the first time since 2014 after placing third in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament Wednesday. Canada finished first, edging second-place Mexico on goal differential.

For LAFC midfielder Kellyn Acosta, one of three holdovers from the U.S. team that came up short in qualifying four years ago, making it to the World Cup overshadows the potential obstacles that lie ahead.

“It was truly, truly special,” he said. “As a kid, you dream of playing in a World Cup. You watch draws in the past, but this one hits harder because you have opportunity to actually be in a World Cup, playing these respective nations. It was definitely special. And I’m excited for it.”

The top two teams from each of the eight four-team groups will advance to the knockout rounds. The winner of Group B, the one that includes the U.S., will play the runner-up team from Group A (Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands) while the second-place finisher will play the Group A champion.

Mexico, ranked ninth in the world, was drawn in Group C alongside Lionel Messi’s Argentina, Robert Lewandowski’s Poland and Saudi Arabia. Canada will play in Group C with Croatia and Belgium — who finished second and third in Russia four years ago — and Morocco. Canada, 38th in the FIFA rankings, made its only World Cup appearance in 1986 and did not win a game.

Defending champion and third-ranked France was drawn into Group D alongside Denmark, Tunisia and the winner of an intercontinental playoff between Peru, Australia and United Arab Emirates. The reigning World Cup champion has not made it out of group play since 2006.

Five-time champion Brazil, the No. 1 team in the world, will play in Group G with Switzerland, Serbia and Cameroon.

“You start to realize going through qualifying and just watching World Cups before there’s really no easy game,” U.S. midfielder Tyler Adams said. “When everyone’s playing on such a stage, what you think is going to be the easiest game ends up being the hardest game.

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“It was just exciting to see our country called at the end of the day.”

2022 World Cup draw

(FIFA rankings in parentheses)

Group A: Qatar (51), Ecuador (46), Senegal (20), Netherlands (10)

Group B: England (5), Iran (21), USA (15), Wales (18)/Scotland (39)/Ukraine (27)

Group C: Argentina (4), Saudi Arabia (49), Mexico (9), Poland (26)

Group D: France (3), Peru (22)/United Arab Emirates (68)/Australia (42), Denmark (11), Tunisia (35)

Group E: Spain (7), Costa Rica (31)/New Zealand (101), Germany (12), Japan (23)

Group F: Belgium (2), Canada (38), Morocco (24), Croatia (16)

Group G: Brazil (1), Serbia (25), Switzerland (14), Cameroon (37)

Group H: Portugal (8), Ghana (60), Uruguay (13), South Korea (29)

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