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We’re hot for Canada, of course, but we have wandering eyes. This World Cup offers a feast of tantalizing matchups in the group stage and intriguing games to set your pulses racing. You know we will all be watching Croatia versus Belgium (Thursday, Dec. 1, 10 a.m. ET) with the keenest interest. And best remember, for Canada’s team and all others, when the tournament begins, all existing stats can be deceiving and the world rankings are irrelevant. Here are five seductive opening-round matches to anticipate with gusto.

Who should I root for at World Cup 2022? A guide to the teams that qualified for Qatar

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Senegal's Sadio Mané and Netherlands' Virgil van DijkKENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images, INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images

Senegal versus Netherlands

(Group A, Monday, Nov. 21, 5 a.m. ET)

The opening day of the World Cup, Nov. 20, features host Qatar facing Ecuador, but Group A’s second game looks very tasty. Senegal is the toughest of the five African countries in Qatar, champion of the Africa Cup of Nations and dogged in its pursuit of a World Cup place. Former Liverpool and now Bayern Munich striker Sadio Mane is its star, and he could face former teammate Virgil van Dijk here. The young, revived Netherlands team, managed by a very canny Louis van Gaal, has immense young talent in Memphis Depay and Frenkie de Jong. Never underestimate Senegal, though. In 2002 it trashed World Cup champion France in the opening game. I was there and it was like the still-point of the world turned over.

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Argentina's Lionel Messi and Mexico's manager Gerardo MartinoAgustin Marcarian/Reuters, Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Argentina versus Mexico

(Group C, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2 p.m. ET)

It’s Messi time. Lionel Messi’s international career with Argentina has ebbed and flowed – beaten by France at Russia 2018, with him his country had previously reached one World Cup final and two Copa America deciders, and lost them all. The politics of soccer in Argentina are murky (I’ve been to Buenos Aires for a national-team match in which the backroom whispering is intense) and much depends on Messi’s relationship with the manager. Under the lowkey Lionel Scaloni he has thrived and played when his country finally won the Copa America again in 2021. This is a confident, renewed Messi and Argentina. Mexico, as Canadian followers know, is eminently beatable. It’s not even clear if legendary Javier (Chicharito) Hernandez, the fulcrum of the team, will play, having fallen out with manager Gerardo (Tata) Martino. Expect Argentina to turn on the style.

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France's Olivier Giroud and Denmark's Christian EriksenFRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images, John Sibley/Reuters

France versus Denmark

(Group D, Saturday, Nov. 26, 11 a.m. ET)

The reigning World Cup winner will try to defend its title but this France is looking shaky. Injuries and commitment are the issues. At age 35, Olivier Giroud is becoming a key man, and opposing teams have learned how to shackle Kylian Mbappé. One of those teams is Denmark, which has played France often recently. The most recent was a 2-0 victory for the Danes. There are long-standing, reliable reports of friction among France’s top players and the word “implosion” has been used in advance of the tournament. There’s no friction among Denmark’s players, who play a high-tempo game and unite around Christian Eriksen, who has returned for club and country in magisterial style.

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Spain's manager Luis Enrique and Germany's manager Hansi Flick.Luis Vieira/AP Photo, Heiko Becker/Reuters

Spain versus Germany

(Group E, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2 p.m. ET)

Spain has problems, its young team looking fragile in defence against mediocre opponents. Manager Luis Enrique has prepped the public for disappointment by saying neighbour Portugal has a stronger squad than his. But anything can happen with this team, which plays an electrifying short-passing game when in top gear. Germany is going through a cycle of change that doesn’t always look positive. Manager Hansi Flick hasn’t really settled on a core group of players or a style of play. Will Kai Havertz start or be an impact substitute? Will Flick overpack the team with Bayern Munich players? Germany never panics, however, and this match against Spain is not just between two traditional European elite teams. It’s a showpiece game between two former World Cup and European champions with a lot to prove in the here and now.

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Uruguay's Luis Suarez, left, stops the ball with his hands to give away a penalty kick in the last minute of extra time, during the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals between Uruguay and Ghana.Ivan Sekretarev/AP Photo

Ghana versus Uruguay

(Group H, Friday, Dec. 2, 10 a.m. ET)

Talk about a bitter, long-awaited rematch. The only time these teams met before was in the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals, and it was tied 1-1 near the end of extra time. That’s when Uruguay’s Luis Suarez blatantly used his hand to stop Dominic Adiyiah’s header, a certain goal. Suarez got a red card and Ghana got a penalty kick. But Asamoah Gyan missed. Ghana lost in the subsequent penalty shootout and missed becoming the first African team to reach a World Cup semi-final. Suarez is still playing for Uruguay and is still the most-hated world player in Ghana. In World Cup warm-up games, Ghana struggled to score while Uruguay looked confident. Anything can happen here.

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