Key matches, main stars and more: a complete look at the World Cup group stage

Lionel Messi possibly facing Robert Lewandowski, Spain definitely playing Germany, and Luis Suarez handed a rematch against old foe Ghana. The draw on Friday for the World Cup group stage set up some intriguing prospects, and will start on Nov. 21 with host Qatar playing Ecuador.

Canada will play Belgium, Croatia and Morocco in Group F action

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, seen after a European qualifiers playoff match against visiting North Macedonia on Tuesday, could become the first player in history to score in five different FIFA World Cups in Qatar. (Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

Lionel Messi possibly facing Robert Lewandowski, Spain definitely playing Germany, and Luis Suarez handed a rematch against old foe Ghana.

The draw on Friday for the World Cup group stage set up some intriguing prospects, and will start on Nov. 21 with host Qatar playing Ecuador.

England will play the United States, and both must face Iran and potentially Ukraine which resumes in the playoffs in June. Ukraine was unable to field a team last week during the invasion by Russia.

A total of 37 teams were involved on Friday because three entries in the 32-team lineup are not yet known. Like Ukraine's playoff bracket, two intercontinental playoffs delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic finish in June.

Kickoff times and stadiums for each game will be decided this month. That lets FIFA allocate games to prime broadcast slots for viewers in a team's home country.

The top two teams in the standings of each group advance to the round of 16 knockout stage.

Here is where the teams landed for the Nov. 21-Dec. 18 tournament:

Group A

Host Qatar will make its World Cup debut against Ecuador on Nov. 21. A game between teams currently ranked Nos. 51 and 46, respectively, will have much more significance as the first World Cup finals game played in the Middle East.

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal sees the historic moment a little differently. He said last week it was "ridiculous" the tournament was being played in Qatar and cited FIFA's interest in money.

Perhaps it is best the Dutch do not face Qatar until the last Group A games on Nov. 29. The three-time World Cup runner-up will start against Senegal, the new African champion.

Group B

A very political group, and even more so if Ukraine completes the lineup.

The U.S. and Iran previously met at the 1998 World Cup, where the Iranians won 2-1. England will open against Iran in a first ever World Cup game between them.

England and the U.S. meet in their second game. They drew 1-1 in the 2010 group from which both advanced.

English striker Harry Kane, seen playing against Switzerland at Wembley Stadium on March in London, is his country's biggest hope for goals at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

England's final game could be a British derby against either of its neighbours, Wales or Scotland, or Ukraine โ€” those three teams are in a playoff bracket in June.

"Ukraine is [a team]ย everyone's pulling for in a way because of everything they are going through," U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said, adding "you'd be thankful" if soccer could help Ukrainians return to normal daily life.

If Scotland does qualify, it is due to play England on Nov. 29. Would FIFA push back the game one day? Nov. 30 is the 150th anniversary of soccer's first international match, in 1872, between the two countries in Glasgow.

Group B teams should also start play on Nov. 21. That gives those teams fewer days to prepare for the World Cup but builds in more rest days if they go deep into the tournament.

Group C

Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski โ€” the holders of the Ballon d'Or and FIFA Best player in the world awards, respectively โ€” are on track to meet when Argentina plays Poland in the last round of group games.

Argentina finally won a Copa America with Messi last year and opens against Saudi Arabia, which impressed in qualifying under coach Herve Renard.

Lionel Messi, 34, is headed to his fifth FIFA World Cup looking to carry the momentum of Argentina's 2021 Copa America title. Above, he's seen playing Ecuador on March. (Franklin Jacome/Getty Images)

Poland starts against Mexico, which resumes what seems to be a national obsession to get beyond the round of 16.

Groupย D

Powered by superstar forwards Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema, defending champion France and Denmark will know each other so well by November.

They were in the same group four years ago and will meet twice more in June and September, in UEFA's Nations League.

Denmark has a sense of destiny with playmaker Christian Eriksen. He returned to the team last week just nine months after suffering cardiac arrest on the field at the European Championship.

"What a player. I can say he is back and maybe he's even better," said coach Kasper Hjulmand, who led his team to the Euro 2020 semifinals

In 2018, they also faced Peru and Australia in their group so a three-team reunion is also possible depending on the outcome of an intercontinental playoff bracket in June.

Group E

The 2010 champion Spain will face 2014 winner Germany in a rematch of the semifinal the Spanish won in their title campaign.

"Easy group, easy group, eh?" Spain coach Luis Enrique quipped. "A great group, great rivals and I think we have to try to enjoy that."

Costa Rica was a quarterfinalist in 2014, going deeper then than Spain, but must first get past New Zealand in a playoff in June.

Group F

Belgium was a semifinalist four years ago and Croatia was the beaten finalist. Croatia coach Zlatko Daliฤ‡ย knows his team cannot be a surprise this time.

"Four years ago nobody believed in us, nobody trusted my team," Daliฤ‡ย said. "Now we deserve respect. We deserve everything."

Canada is an intriguing and difficult option from the lowest-ranked teams after topping its qualifying group ahead of Mexico and the U.S.

It has two potential stars in defender Alphonso Davies and forward Jonathan David, and a history-making coach, John Herdman, who previously led Canada's women's team to a World Cup.

The Canadian men's national soccer team clinched a FIFA World Cup berth for the first time in 36 years on Sunday after a 4-0 victory over Jamaica at the BMO Field in Toronto. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Morocco gets a group with two tough Europeans in back-to-back tournaments. Last time, it was Spain and Portugal.

Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodziฤ‡ย has made World Cup history in leading a fourth different nation through qualifying.

WATCH l CBC Sports' John Molinaro speaks about Canada'sย World Cup opposition:

John Molinaro speaks about the CanMNT's World Cup opposition

6 months ago
Duration 2:47
CBC's Aarti Pole speaks with John Molinaro about the stiff competition that CanMNT will face at the World Cup after Friday's draw.

Group G

Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia are quickly reunited after all were in the same group in 2018. Brazil will open against Serbia, which it beat 2-0 four years ago.

The Switzerland-Serbia game was among the most controversial four years ago. Both Swiss scorers in a 2-1 win, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, made provocative double-headed eagle hand gestures to honour their Albanian family roots.

"I don't care about politics," Serbia coach Dragan Stojkoviฤ‡ย said after the draw.

Now aged 30, Neymar is set to lead Brazil's attack into a third World Cup in search of a title his country last won in 2002.

Brazil should be among the last teams to start play on Nov. 24 โ€” more time for the squad to prepare but a more congested 25-day program if it is to win a record sixth title.

Groupย H

Cristiano Ronaldo is on track to open his fifth straight World Cup finals at age 37 by facing Ghana.

Coach Fernando Santos acknowledged "this will be a very tiring tournament," but preferred a late start in the congested schedule to help prepare his team.

The group reunites Luis Suarez and Uruguay with Ghana for the first time since their infamous quarterfinals game at the 2010 World Cup. Suarez was sent off for punching away an almost certain winning goal for Ghana deep in extra time. The penalty was missed and Uruguay went on to win the shootout.

Earlier in the 2010 knockout rounds, Suarez scored twice when Uruguay also eliminated South Korea 2-1.

WATCH l Canada fullback Sam Adekugbe reacts during World Cup draw:

Canada's Sam Adekugbe reacts to the 2022 World Cup

6 months ago
Duration 8:24
CanMNT fullback Sam Adekugbe joins the Qatar 2022 World Cup Reaction Show to discuss his emotions watching the draw. He also discusses which teams he is most excited to play in the group stage along with the support of his mom on social media.

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