Which Arab team stands the best chance at the 2022 World Cup?

Which Arab team stands the best chance at the 2022 World Cup?
6 min read
18 November, 2022

The World Cup kicks off on Sunday with hosts Qatar taking on Ecuador, the first of four Arab teams to be in action. Only twice in history, Morocco in 1986 and Saudi Arabia eight years later, has the region seen a team survive the group stage and get into the second round. The New Arab takes a look at their chances this time around. 


Opponents: Ecuador, Senegal, The Netherlands

Chance of 2nd Round: Medium

Being host nation does bring certain pressures but the term ‘home advantage’ exists for a reason and only once, South Africa in 2010, has a host fallen at the first hurdle. It goes without saying that Qatar doesn’t want to join that club.

There will be 60,000 fans at Al Khor to cheer on the Asian champions on Sunday against Ecuador.  They couldn't have been more prepared, with appearances in tournaments in South America, North America and Europe but this is the real thing.

The question is can a team that has never been to the World Cup before handle the attention and perform? Results of late have been a little mixed but if the team that won the 2019 Asian Cup with such style can recover that form then there is a real chance.

A man poses for a photo next to the FIFA World Cup Trophy while on display at the Katara cultural village in Qatar's capital Doha
A man poses for a photo next to the FIFA World Cup Trophy while on display at the Katara cultural village in Qatar's capital Doha [Getty Images]

The group is not the hardest. Qatar may not have any World Cup experience but Ecuador and Senegal are not exactly seasoned campaigners on this stage either.

The first game is crucial. If Qatar can settle and deal with the pressure, then they can take three points against the South Americans to set themselves up nicely for the next game against the African champions. And perhaps by the time they meet the Dutch, the Europeans will have six points, already in the second round and will rest players. 

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Star player: Akram Afif

The attacker has the licence to roam up front for the hosts and provides the bullets for striker Almoez Ali to shoot. If the 2019 Asian Player of the Year is the creative fulcrum of the team can shine then Qatar can too.


Opponents: Croatia, Belgium, Canada

Chance of 2nd Round: Medium

There is some real talent in this North African team who were much better than the one point they picked up in 2018. Not many countries outside the big boys of world football have stars such as Achraf Hakimi at Paris Saint-Germain, Noussair Mazraoui at Bayern Munich and Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech to call upon. If these big names can bring their ‘A’ games then there is a real chance. 

A change of coach in August, with Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic leaving to be replaced by Walid Regragui was always going to be a risk but the fiery European was not to everyone’s liking and local hero Regragui, who won the African Champions League with Wydad AC in the summer, is a popular appointment.

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The first two games are tough, Croatia and Belgium were 2018 runners-up and third-place teams respectively, but they are not the forces they were and are beatable. The aim is to take enough points from these clashes to mean that a win over Canada in the final game will be enough.  

Star player: Achraf Hakimi has been perhaps the team’s biggest player in the past couple of years and is a genuine world-class talent. The Paris Saint-Germain full-back has already played for Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Inter, and could lead the Atlas Lions to glory.


Opponents: Denmark, Australia and France

Chance of 2nd Round: Low

This is Tunisia’s sixth time at the World Cup and they are still chasing a first appearance in the knock-out stages. The group is tough with Denmark, who made the last four of the 2020 European championships, Australia and then defending champions France. 

Yet there is hope if Tunisia is at their best. A point in the opener against the Danes would not be a surprise and then the target would be a win against a limited Australian team. Four points may be enough on its own before the game against France especially if the defending champions have won their first two games and are resting players ahead of the knockout stages.

Tunisia fans march along the Corniche in Doha ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup [Getty Images]
Tunisia fans march along the Corniche in Doha ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup [Getty Images]

Tunisia are well-organised and hard-working under local coach Jalel Kadri but still has that little spark of unpredictability. The Carthage Eagles defeated a strong Japanese team 3-0 in Osaka in June, a hugely impressive result, but then were thrashed 5-1 by Brazil in September. If they can replicate the performance from the former game, then anything could happen.

Star Player: Youssef Msakni

This is going to be the last World Cup for the captain. The forward makes things happen and provides inspiration for the North Africans. Has a chance to leave a real legacy for his country. 

Saudi Arabia

Opponents: Argentina, Poland and Mexico

Chances of 2nd Round: Very Low

The Green Falcons made it to the second round on their first appearance back in 1994 but the group they find themselves in this time looks more difficult. Taking on Argentina, a team with genuine ambitions of a third world title, in the opening game is cruel.

It is hard to imagine anything other than a defeat and the South Americans warmed up ominously by thrashing the United Arab Emirates 5-0 in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

After facing Lionel Messi and co, the second game may be a crucial encounter. Poland doesn’t have much talent but has Robert Lewandowski, one of the world’s most feared strikers and deadly in the air which has traditionally been a vulnerable point for Saudi Arabian defences. It ends with a tough match against Mexico a team that habitually gets through the group stage.

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A case can be made for the other three Arab teams making it to the last 16 but it just seems too tough for the Asian powerhouse. The team have improved, were impressive in qualification and have become more organised and disciplined at the back under French coach Herve Renard and more cohesive and aggressive going forward.

The defence may have tightened, and the preparation may have been excellent but the team lack a cutting edge and has scored just four in the last ten. They should be competitive but, in a tough group, that may be the best they can hope for. If somehow, Saudi Arabia makes it through, it would be a stunning achievement but just being competitive would be good enough.

Star player: Salem Al-Dawsari

The winger is the most creative talent in the Green Falcons line-up. With a certain swagger on the ball, he scored the goal that won the game in the last World Cup against Egypt and has a penchant for the spectacular. Captain Salman Al-Faraj may make the team tick but Al-Dawsari brings something extra.

John Duerden has covered Asian sport for over 20 years for The Guardian, Associated Press, ESPN, BBC, New York Times,  as well as various Asian media. He is also the author of four books.

Follow him on Twitter: @johnnyduerden