United's FIFA World Cup 2022 links: Group A
There are Manchester United connections throughout the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and here we're exploring the Reds' relationship with the countries that make up Group A...
CURRENT REDS IN THIS GROUP
There is just one United representative in Group A and that’s Tyrell Malacia, who will be wearing the orange shirt of the Netherlands in the tournament. Having represented his country throughout the lower age levels, the left-back earned his first call into the senior Dutch squad in September 2021, for three World Cup qualifying matches played that month. Having watched the 1-1 draw with Norway from the bench, Tyrell played the full 90 minutes of the second game – an emphatic 4-0 victory over Montenegro – and provided an assist for the final goal.
Malacia has since extended his record to six senior caps, having played five times for the Netherlands during 2022, including in their final match prior to the World Cup, a 1-0 win over Belgium in the UEFA Nations League in September. Tyrell was duly named in the final squad of 26 on 11 November, and the 23-year-old will hope to be in the starting XI when the Netherlands take on Senegal in their opening Group A match.
The Dutch go into the tournament on an impressive run of form under former Reds manager Louis van Gaal, unbeaten in 15 games – winning 11 of them – a sequence that stretches back to defeat in the Euros last 16 in June 2021. For a relative newcomer to the senior national team, it is an incredible opportunity to experience the pinnacle of international competition.
UNITED PLAYERS AND MANAGERS, PAST AND PRESENT
Of course, current United boss Erik ten Hag is Dutch too. He took over at the club in the summer and has since experienced a positive start to life at Old Trafford. Ten Hag's blueprint is becoming clearer with every passing week, and supporters will no doubt be excited to see what happens next with the former Ajax manager at the helm.
Two Dutch players that van Gaal signed while he was Reds boss are under his international management now, in Daley Blind and Memphis Depay. Blind was signed from Ajax in 2014 at the start of van Gaal’s United tenure, winning the 2016 FA Cup under his compatriot and going on to win the Europa League under van Gaal’s successor Jose Mourinho in May 2017. Daley – a classy and versatile operator at either left-back, centre-back or defensive midfield over the course of 141 Reds appearances while at Old Trafford – rejoined Ajax, where he remains, at the end of the 2017/18 season. He has 94 Netherlands caps to his name – no doubt he’d love to get to a century at the World Cup, as it would mean the Dutch have gone deep into the tournament.
Memphis was another Dutchman recruited by van Gaal for the Reds, signing him in 2015 from PSV Eindhoven when he was just 21. The explosive attacker was still a relatively raw talent at the time, with huge potential – he’d just scored 28 goals for PSV in the 2014/15 season – and he played 45 United games in 2015/16, scoring seven goals. Amid stiff competition for places, in January of the following season he was transferred to Lyon, and he has gone on since then to deliver on that potential, scoring 76 goals in 178 games in France to earn a move to Barcelona in 2021.
United’s Dutch pedigree is well established, of course. Our first Netherlands international was Arnold Muhren, the cultured midfielder who scored in the 1983 FA Cup final replay win over Brighton and played 23 times in total for his country, including winning the 1988 European Championship (he provided the ball from which Marco van Basten scored that volley). Our list of Dutch players to have represented the club at first-team level stands at 14, including such luminaries as Edwin van der Sar, Robin van Persie, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Jaap Stam, and current Reds midfielder Donny van de Beek.
There’s a popular Ecuador connection to United as well. Winger, then full-back and also a captain, Antonio Valencia was a Red for 10 seasons after joining from Wigan Athletic in summer 2009, playing 339 times in total and scoring 25 goals – one of which was our Goal of the Season for 2011/12, a campaign in which he was also named Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year (the latter prize he won again in 2016/17). Antonio is an Ecuador legend, having played 99 times for his country – including at the 2006 and 2014 World Cups – to place him seventh in their all-time appearances list. Valencia retired from football last May, but was recently back at Old Trafford in a United shirt, taking part in the Legends of the North charity match against Liverpool.
Another United link in Group A comes in the shape of former Reds and Senegal international Mame Biram Diouf. Sir Alex Ferguson brought the striker to United from Norwegian football in 2009, and he memorably scored a header on his Old Trafford debut, adding the third from the bench in a 3-0 win over Burnley in January 2010 (set up by Antonio Valencia) and celebrating with an acrobatic back-flip. Diouf played nine times for United’s first team before going on to play for Blackburn Rovers (on loan) and Stoke City in the Premier League, either side of a successful period in the Bundesliga with Hannover, and he’s currently playing in the Turkish top flight for Konyaspor. After first playing for his country in 2009, Diouf has amassed 50 caps for Senegal, and appeared twice for the Lions of Teranga in the last World Cup in 2018.
OTHER UNITED LINKS
When it comes to other links with Group A countries, the Netherlands understandably leads the way again. Dating back to 1963, we’ve played five different Dutch opponents in competitive football (Willem II, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord and AZ Alkmaar) across 19 matches in three different competitions. There was one particularly special European night played out on Dutch soil as well, but not against Dutch opponents: the 1991 Cup Winners’ Cup final against Barcelona, the famous 2-1 victory at Feyenoord Stadium in Rotterdam, with that inspired winning goal blasted in by Mark Hughes.
We have a highly valued connection with Ecuadorian club football, as well. It was against a side from the country’s capital city – Liga de Quito – that we won the FIFA Club World Cup in December 2008, Wayne Rooney scoring the only goal against Antonio Valencia’s later club in Yokohama.
On the World Cup theme, one famous game involving United players going up against the Netherlands was in the 1978 finals. The talented Scotland squad – including four Reds in Martin Buchan, Gordon McQueen, Joe Jordan and Lou Macari – were fancied to do well in that tournament in Argentina, but found themselves needing a three-goal win over a strong Dutch side in their final group game to progress. It ended in the heroic failure of a 3-2 victory – a win on the day, but the end of their World Cup dream – and both Buchan and Jordan played in the game. Bryan Robson was in the England side that drew 0-0 with the Dutch in the group stage of the 1990 tournament, while Roy Keane was in the Republic of Ireland midfield (and Denis Irwin on the bench) when the Netherlands knocked the Irish out 2-0 in the last 16 in the USA in 1994.
Jaap Stam (soon to be a United player) and Edwin van der Sar (who became a Red a fair bit later) were in the Netherlands squad that reached the 1998 semi-finals in France, and in 2006 van der Sar was in the squad along with Ruud van Nistelrooy (and future Reds striker Robin van Persie) when they battled an Argentina team containing Gabriel Heinze (and Carlos Tevez) and a Serbia and Montenegro squad featuring Nemanja Vidic in the group stages. The Dutch went out in the last 16 that year to a Portugal side including 21-year-old United sensation Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Netherlands team provided a learning experience for future Reds midfielder Christian Eriksen, who made his World Cup debut in Denmark's group-stage defeat to them in 2010, when he was that tournament's youngest player at the age of 18.
The Dutch went on to knock out United players past (Diego Forlan) and future (Edinson Cavani) by beating Uruguay in the semi-finals, only to lose in the final to Spain who had one ex-Red, Gerard Pique, and two future Reds, Juan Mata and Victor Valdes, in their squad.
Four years later, the Netherlands – with van Persie at his third World Cup and by now a United player – gained some revenge by thrashing the defending champions Spain, with Mata and David De Gea among their ranks, 5-1 in the group stage. Spain went out, while van Persie went on to knock out another team-mate in Mexico’s Javier Hernandez in the last 16, only to meet his match in the semi-finals against an Argentina squad featuring two players who would sign for United soon after the tournament ended: Angel Di Maria and Marcos Rojo.
When Ecuador first qualified for the World Cup finals in 2002, they went out at the group stage. At their second tournament in 2006, armed with a 20-year-old Valencia, they tangled in the group stage with a Germany team including Bastian Schweinsteiger, before meeting England in the last 16. That iteration of the Three Lions boasted Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Gary Neville, David Beckham, Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen. In 2014, with Valencia now stalwart and skipper, Ecuador clashed with Patrice Evra’s France (also including Paul Pogba, then at Juventus between his two United spells, and future Reds defender Raphael Varane).
Senegal qualified for their first ever World Cup finals in 2002, and sensationally beat holders France 1-0 in the opening game with United keeper Fabien Barthez in goal for the French, and defender Mikael Silvestre on the bench. To secure passage to the knockout stages, Senegal also earned a 3-3 draw with Uruguay – for whom one of the goals was scored by Forlan. In the last 16 they proceeded to knock out a Sweden side which featured a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Zlatan would go on to wear a United shirt well over a decade later.
Senegal next qualified for the World Cup in 2018, when – complete with Diouf coming off the bench – they faced a Japan side including former Reds midfielder Shinji Kagawa, drawing 2-2.
For Qatar, this is of course a first World Cup finals, so they’re yet to create any connections with United players past, present or future at the tournament. That will change on 29 November when they take on Malacia’s Netherlands.
UNITED'S SUPPORT IN THESE COUNTRIES
We have an official supporters club in the Netherlands – the Dutch Mancunians, a club that was first formed in The Hague back in December 1995.Their members are regular visitors to Old Trafford, with group visits taking place around four times per season.
There’s also an official supporters club in Qatar but while there is plenty of support for the Reds on the South American and African continents, there aren’t official supporters clubs in either Ecuador or Senegal yet.
GROUP A FIXTURES
SUNDAY 20 NOVEMBER
Qatar 0 Ecuador 2
MONDAY 21 NOVEMBER
Senegal v Netherlands
FRIDAY 25 NOVEMBER
Qatar v Senegal 13:00 GMT
Netherlands v Ecuador
TUESDAY 39 NOVEMBER
Ecuador v Senegal 15:00 GMT
Netherlands v Qatar 15:00 GMT
Kick-off times are 16:00 GMT unless stated.