UEFA Champions League: Looking at both the deadly and perfectly safe groups

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Amid the tidal wave of instant analysis that ravaged us in the wake of yesterday’s UEFA Champions League draw came a seminal moment in the etymology of “Group of Death.” The subtle conflict between two, competing definitions ended in a rout, the “no easy games” view eviscerated like the paper slip-carrying balls Steve McManaman relentlessly twisted in two. What survived was the idea that every tournament must have a “Group of Death,” with Group D earning this year’s unfortunate moniker.

The group drew Real Madrid, a co-favorite, out of Pot A. When English Premier League champions Manchester City came out of Pot B, Death Watch was on, though most flicked it off when Paris Saint-Germain, destined to go to group A or D, were slotted with Porto and Dynamo Kyiv. When Dutch champions Ajax took PSG’s place, Group D became a difficult though not exceptional group, even after German champions Borussia Dortmund ratcheted up the level of difficulty. Ultimately, the foursame was almost but not quite as fearsome as last year’s toughest group: Bayern Munich, City, Napoli and Villarreal.

That the group wasn’t as deep as last year’s toughest should have precluded the loose use of “Group of Death.” Or perhaps there’s a more commonsensical reason to avoid a term that would be at home in a History Channel documentary or Hunger Games sequel. The cliché is crass, lacks elegance, creativity, or cleverness, evoking emotion and imagery that has little place in sport. Us obsessives who devote too much time to things like soccer already have overused, overdramatic Bill Shankly quotes to buttress our passions. We don’t need to imply the ultimate stakes when talking about a stupid tournament draw.

But let’s, for the sake of discussion, put aside all these qualms about the label. Even if you’re fine with using “Group of Death,” applying it to Group D overstates some of the clubs’ credentials. Borussia Dortmund is a quality side, but having finished fourth on their group upon returning to Champions League last season, BVB showed it takes more than winning a major European league to be a relevant in UCL. The same logic holds for Manchester City, who also failed to get out of their group last season. As for Ajax, it’s nice that people still feel romantic about the long passed glory of the club and its league, but Ajax haven’t advanced to the knockout round since 2005-06. Despite the talents of City and Dortmund (and the past at Ajax), these are not the resumes of continental powers.

But here, I’m making the mistake of using the old definition of “Group of Death”. Does it matter that City, Ajax, and Dortmund still have something to prove in Europe? Yes, but only relative to the other groups, and when you look at the draw’s other seven quartets, Group D seems strongest.

Group A

Teams (in order of pot draw, A-to-D): Porto (Portugal), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine), Paris Saint-Germain (France), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)

PSG’s the clear favorite, with Porto and Dynamo likely fighting for second. They’ll do so on the third and fourth match days of the group (Oct. 24 and Nov. 6). Porto will be bolstered by having won in Ukraine last year (over Shakhtar Donetsk, in group stage), but they also lost group stage matches at Zenit (Russia) and APOEL (Cyprus). They’ll be favored to go through.

Group B

Teams: Arsenal (England), Schalke 04 (Germany), Olympiacos (Greece), Montpellier (France)

Depending on how high you are on Arsenal, this may be the weakest group (though the foil hats touting warm ball conspiracies will focus on Manchester United’s group). Schalke, semifinalists two years ago, will be favored to go through over Olympiacos, though the teams’ Sept. 18, group-opening match in Piraeus will quickly render pre-tournament odds irrelevant.

Group C

Teams: Milan (Italy), Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia), Anderlecht (Belgium), Málaga (Spain)

Zenit got a monkey off their back by getting out of group last year. With Milan and Málaga both having taken steps back (talent-wise) from last year, Luciano Spalletti’s team have a chance to take this group. Anderlecht, Belgium’s biggest club (but one that hasn’t been in the tournament in six years), will have a chance if they play to their talent; however, it’s a big ask for a squad to leap into Champions League and have an immediate impact. Look for Milan to join Zenit in the Round of 16.

Group D

Teams: Real Madrid (Spain), Manchester City (England), Ajax (Netherlands), Borussia Dortmund (Germany)

Real Madrid should win this group, though trips to Manchester and Dortmund ensure they’ll have a tougher time this year than last, when they went 6-0-0 in group with a +17 difference. The quartet’s second spot will come down to City and Dortmund, with the clubs meeting in Germany on Dec. 4 on the last day of group play. Give City the slight edge.

Group E

Teams: Chelsea (England), Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), Juventus (Italy), Nordsjaelland (Denmark)

Chelsea should have no problem with this group, with their Nov. 20 trip to Turin one of the more intriguing nights of group stage. Juventus is coming off a tumultuous summer that ended with their head coach suspended while the club added Lucio, Kwadwo Asamoah, Mauricio Isla and Sebastian Giovinco to a team that went undefeated in league. They have the talent to beat Shakhtar, but as we saw the last time Juventus returned from a Champions League sojourn (failing to make it out of group in 2009-10), it’s difficult to hit the ground running after taking a break.

Group F

Teams: Bayern Munich (Germany), Valencia (Spain), Lille (France), BATE Borisov (Belarus)

F is a refreshingly straight-forward group. There’s a clear first, second, third and fourth choice, a dynamic that usually means the two-vs.-three games will be the best of the group. Valencia host the first of those matches on Oct. 2, with Lille getting the return game at the Grand Stade on Dec. 5. Winner of that mini tournament likely moves on with Bayern

Group G

Teams: Barcelona (Spain), Benfica (Portugal), Spartak Moscow (Russia), Celtic (Scotland)

Last season, Benfica defeated Russia’s best (Zenit) in the Round of 16 to make the quarterfinals. This year, their main obstacle to a return trip to the knockout round will be another, lesser Russian side. Spartak has added some valuable pieces since January (Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Kim Kallstrom, Romulo, Juan Insaurralde), but bringing back nearly the same team that made the final eight last year, Benfica should go through with Barcelona.

Group H

Teams: Manchester United (England), Braga (Portugal), Galatasaray (Turkey), CFR Cluj (Romania)

The foil hats got more ammunition on Thursday. How does Manchester United continue to get these types of group stage draws? If only there was some kind of – oh, I don’t know – actual proof of a pro-United conspiracy, this would be something worth talking about. As is, the Red Devils get a quartet so easy it would take an even greater breakdown than last year’s to miss out on the knockout round. Braga, having gone 3-3-0 (W-L-D) in their Champions League debut two years ago, could have trouble with Galatasaray, but with Turkish teams perpetually underperforming in Europe, it’s hard to pick the Super Lig champions.

Cameroon vs Serbia, live! Score, updates, how to watch, stream, videos

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Cameroon and Serbia clash in Group G as both aim to get off and running at the World Cup after losing their opening game.

STREAM LIVE CAMEROON v SERBIA

Cameroon were dangerous for large spells against Switzerland but lost 1-0 and Rigobert Song’s side need to be better in the final third. On the counter attack they were excellent against the Swiss but they have to take their chances.

As for Serbia, they were beaten by Brazil and although they hung in there until 30 minutes from time, they never had control of the game. That’s okay. Brazil are one of the favorites to win it all. Let’s now see if this golden generation of Serbian stars can get a big win to set up a showdown with Switzerland in their final group game.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub

Here is everything you need for Cameroon vs Serbia.


How to watch Cameroon vs Serbia live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 5am ET – Monday, November 28
Stadium: Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)

 


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Cameroon will be dangerous on the counter and their gameplan was pretty spot on against Switzerland and it will be the same against Serbia. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Bryan Mbuemo will cause all kinds of problems on the break and Andre Onana is going to have to excel in goal if the Indomitable Lions are going to get a huge win.

Serbia won’t be too disheartened to lose to Brazil in their World Cup opener but they now know this is basically must-win after Switzerland beat Cameroon in their opening game. Dusan Tadic, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic hold the key for Serbia who will have to be patient as they will see plenty of the ball.


Cameroon quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 43
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 8
How they qualified: Qualified from CAF playoffs
Coach: Rigobert Song
Key players: Andre Onana, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Vincent Aboubakar, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting

Serbia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 21
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 12
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs
Coach: Dragan Stojkovic
Key players: Aleksandar Mitrovic, Dusan Vlahovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Dusan Tadic


Offsides rules at 2022 World Cup: Explaining how VAR technology impacts referee calls

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The 2022 World Cup is underway from the Middle Eastern nation of Qatar and as the group stage continues, we’ve seen unexpected upsets and some new contenders emerge – but there’s still a long way to go until the tournament champions are crowned in late December.

Along the way, spectators have already seen most matches impacted in at least some capacity by VAR technology when it comes to determining penalties, possession and, frequently, offsides decisions. After introducing semi-automated offside technology at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, FIFA announced this summer that the tool would return for this year’s tournament. Read on to learn how offsides works and how VAR technology is utilized to make decisions at the 2022 World Cup.

RELATED: World Cup 2022 schedule – how to watch, groups, calendar, match schedule, brackets, dates

What is the offsides rule?

A player is in an offsides position when they are in the opponent’s half of the field and any part of their head, body or feet is “nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.” Simply put, a player needs to be entirely in front of the last defender when their teammate passes them the ball. The offsides rule exists to keep players from lingering near their opponent’s goal to try and scoop up scoring opportunities.

The offsides rule does not apply when the player receives the ball directly from a corner kick, throw in or goal kick.

RELATED: What are the group stage tiebreaker rules at the 2022 World Cup?

What is VAR?

By now a familiar acronym to any fans of year-round leagues like the Premier League, VAR stands for “Video Assistant Referee.” It refers to officials off the pitch who are watching the match with access to multiple cameras, angles and data points, as well as slow-motion replay, who can weigh in on decisions including goals and penalties, with the objective of making officiating more accurate.

RELATED: World Cup 2022 odds: Favorites, underdogs, group stage winners

How does technology impact offsides calls at 2022 World Cup?

In Qatar, FIFA is using multiple forms of VAR technology to support officials in determining offsides. This includes 12 tracking cameras constantly collecting data on the limb position of each player, as well as “connected ball technology,” a sensor within the official match ball sending kick-point detection data to the video operations room. Per FIFA, “by combining the limb- and ball-tracking data and applying artificial intelligence, the new technology provides an automated offside alert to the video match officials inside the video operation room whenever the ball is received by an attacker who was in an offside position at the moment the ball was played by a teammate.”

After the video referee and the officials on the pitch have confirmed a decision, a 3D visualization of the offsides penalty is available to clearly communicate the infraction.

Germany v Japan: Group E - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

World Cup 2022 schedule, start time, dates, how to watch live

  • When: November 20, 2022 to December 18, 2022
  • Group stage game kick-off times: 5am, 8am, 10am, 11am, 2pm (all ET)
  • Location: Qatar
  • TV channels en Español: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock
  • Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)

Follow along with ProSoccerTalk for the latest news, scores, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 World Cup, and be sure to subscribe to NBC Sports on YouTube!

World Cup Today – Latest news, analysis, reaction on 2022 World Cup in Qatar

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During the 2022 World Cup we are breaking down all the action and will be discussing all of the key storylines from Qatar.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]  

From upsets to powerhouses flexing their muscles, from the USMNT to new stars emerging and everything in-between, we have you covered.

Joe Prince-Wright, Andy Edwards and Nick Mendola will provide updates, analysis and reaction across our platforms here at NBC Sports.

[ LIVE: Watch World Cup en Espanol en Peacock

Below you can find every episode of their World Cup shows and above is the latest edition to make sure you’re up to date with everything you need.


World Cup Today – Day 8 (November 27)


World Cup Today – Day 7 (November 26)


World Cup Today – Day 6 (November 25)


World Cup Today – Day 4 (November 23)


World Cup Today – Day 3 (November 22)


World Cup Today – Day 2 (November 21)


World Cup preview show (November 17)

Saudi Arabia vs Mexico: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Mexico needs a win to have hope of reaching the World Cup knockout rounds, while Saudi Arabia’s hopes of the final 16 may require the same at Stadium 974 in Doha on Wednesday.

The Saudis stunned Argentina 2-1 In Lusail to open the tournament but could not repeat the feat against Poland at Education City in Al Rayyan on Saturday to leave themselves with three points through two matches.

STREAM LIVE SAUDI ARABIA vs MEXICO

Mexico remains without a win after their scoreless draw versus Poland led to a Lionel Messi-inspired loss to Argentina In Lusail.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Saudi Arabia vs Mexico.


How to watch Saudi Arabia vs Mexico live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Wednesday Nov. 30
Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

The Saudis have arguably been the most fun team at the tournament amongst non-powers, always running and getting exceptional goalkeeping. Salem Al-Dawsari was very good in both games but his missed penalty before halftime against Poland looms large of a match that could’ve been 1-1 going to the break and instead ended 2-0.

Mexico has not scored at the tournament so far, and Raul Jimenez has only been used as a super sub. Hirving Lozano and Alexis Vega combined for just three shot attempts before being subbed out of the Poland loss, while Lozano and Henry Martin combined for two versus Poland (Vega attempted five). They need better up top to keep up their streak of making Round of 16 appearances at the World Cup.


Saudi Arabia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 51
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 5
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC (Won Group B)
Coach: Herve Renard
Key players: Salem Al-Dawsari, Fahad Al-Muwallad, Mohammed Al-Owais

Mexico quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 13
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 16
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONCACAF (2nd place)
Coach: Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino
Key players: Guillermo Ochoa, Hector Herrera, Raul Jimenez