As people around the planet watched the official draw for the group stage of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in Nouhou, the Seattle Sounders players Jordan Morris (USA), Cristian Roldan (USA), Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) and Nouhou (Cameroon) were paying particularly close attention.
The quartet of Sounders recently returned from the final round of World Cup Qualifying, where they each helped their nations secure passage to the biggest global sporting event. Following the draw in Qatar on Friday, the United States Men's National Team landed in Group B, while Ecuador and Cameroon were placed in Group A and Group G, respectively.
Group B evokes a bit of a deja vu for fans of the Stars & Stripes, as the Americans are accompanied by England, Iran and the winner Wales vs. Scotland/Ukraine in the upcoming European Playoff. The USMNT earned a 1-1 draw against England at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa courtesy of a goal by club legend Clint Dempsey, which helped them advance to the knockout rounds as winners of the group. Conversely, the United States lost to Iran during group play in the 1998 World Cup in France, finishing last in the group and failing to advance to the knockout rounds.
For Morris and Roldan, both of whom will be in contention for roster spots at the World Cup after playing a part in the qualification process, the unveiling of the USMNT's group opponents elicited a new level of excitement.
"It's really exciting seeing who the U.S. are going to play against," said Morris. "It's all starting to happen now. It's all coming up quick and it's going to get really exciting."
Roldan echoed those sentiments.
"I think we have the quality and the players to [make a run]," he said. "It's going to be exciting."
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Placed in Group A alongside Senegal, the Netherlands and host nation Qatar, Ecuador booked a spot at the 2022 FIFA World Cup by finishing fourth in the rigorous CONMEBOL qualifying process in South America. Arreaga, who has been a consistent member of the Ecuadorian squad in recent years, will also be vying for a spot on the World Cup roster for his home nation.
"We are going to play against three very good teams," Arreaga told media on Friday. "We have to prepare in the best way to get a good performance and advance to the next round in the World Cup."
Cameroon will square off against Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland in Group G. Nouhou, who enjoyed a breakout run with Cameroon during the African Cup of Nations, helped his country advance to the World Cup in a two-legged playoff against Algeria. The Indomitable Lions went away to Algeria needing a win after losing 1-0 at home in the first match. After the match ended 1-0 in favor of visitors in regulation time (1-1 on aggregate), Cameroon's World Cup hopes appeared to be in shambles when Algeria scored in the 199th minute. However, Cameroon managed to grab a late dramatic goal five minutes later in stoppage time, securing a spot in Qatar on the away goals tiebreak. With seven months between now and the start of the tournament, Nouhou will be competing for one of the 23 spots on the Cameroonian roster.
"It's a dream to play in the World Cup," said Nouhou. "I remember in 2014 I was watching the World Cup on TV. Now it's [almost] here... and I think I'm ready for that."