We’re into the second week of the 2018 World Cup and I must say the first was full of unexpected results. As we advance into Week 2, where several teams have the chance to secure a place in the next round, we are bound to see more surprises and most definitely, more goals. And thanks to VAR, we’ll be sure to witness more penalties! Here we preview the best games happening this week:
Belgium vs Panama
The dark horses of the 2018 World Cup are undoubtedly Belgium. Just have a look at the depth in their squad – Courtois, Vermaelen, Kompany, De Bruyne, Lukaku, Hazard, Dembele, Batshuayi and need I say more? These gentlemen have the experience playing the highest level of football and shepherded by a manager who knows their quality better than anyone else, Martinez has a team that can actually go on to win the whole thing. But like every underdog we’ve seen thus far, expect Panama to be ultra defensive in an effort to come away with a draw.
Prediction: Belgium 2-0 Panama
Tunisia vs England
Every fan of English football will have their eyes on the Three Lions as they kick-off their 2018 World Cup campaign. By the looks of Southgate’s choices, he has a team filled with determined men who have a point to prove. England have had a strong qualifying run and a set of wins during preparations to boost their morale. Tunisia are historically a weak side and that will be an advantage for the English lads. Apart from the string of veterans in their ranks, the Tunisians do not have an ace up their sleeve. The forward line of Kane, Vardy, Alli and Sterling should be more than enough to ensure three points for England.
Prediction: Tunisia 1-2 England
Colombia vs Japan
Japan are a powerhouse in Asia, after finishing top of the Asia qualifying group ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. And this looks to translate onto the grandest stage of football against the dexterity of Colombia. Strength and speed will play a big part in this game and the Japanese have proved time and time again that they have what it takes to rub shoulders with the “big boys”, especially with star power in the form of Kagawa, Okazaki and Yoshida – all of whom are familiar with football on the European front. There is no doubt that Colombia are dark horses for this tournament, but it looks like they are putting too much faith on Rodriguez to produce results. The Bayern man will be a thorn in Japan’s sides, but him alone will not be enough to overcome the never-say-die attitude of the men from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Prediction: Colombia 1-2 Japan
Russia vs Egypt
The Russians opened their campaign in emphatic fashion, demolishing Saudi Arabia 5-0 in Moscow. Now they will face Egypt who were solid in their opener, denying Uruguay’s two-prong attacking force in Suarez and Cavani, only to go down 1-0 at the death. But that happened without the trailblazer Salah. Cuper needs a win to ensure his team’s continuation in the competition and this could see the Liverpool striker start. The Russians had an easy run the last time out with Saudi playing like school boys, but Egypt are obviously better and will be a tougher challenge to overcome.
Prediction: Russia 2-0 Egypt
Portugal vs Morocco
Portugal have a chance to put one foot in the Round of 16 when they meet Morocco in the second game of their 2018 World Cup campaign. They were able to pull off a five-star comeback against a sturdy Spanish side and if a similar team shows up this time, Morocco could start packing their bags. Ronaldo will be a key man for the Portuguese and we can be assured a goal or two from the multi-time Ballon d’Or winner. Morocco have Harit, who can run at and around defenders, but that will not be enough to stop Ronaldo and Co.
Prediction: Portugal 2-0 Morocco
Iran vs Spain
Spain will be running on adrenaline after gifting Portugal a point in their opener last week. De Gea will be looking to redeem himself, while Costa shoots for the skies in the hunt for the competition’s Golden Boot. Then there’s Isco, who was absolutely untouchable against the Portuguese and was unlucky to be on the losing end when they dropped two points. Iran already have one win to their name and a second would be ideal, but head coach Queiroz should know better and be wary of the Spaniards. It’s highly likely that he will employ a more defensive approach to aim for a draw and if they should concede, he’ll switch to a more attacking one to try and salvage something.
Prediction: Iran 0-2 Spain
France vs Peru
Peru was on the losing end of a lacklustre Denmark side and the exclamation point came when the Peruvians missed a penalty. Gareca’s men have the attacking capabilities to score a lot of goals, but it was Schmeichel who literally single-handedly denied them at every turn. The question now is whether or not France’s defence can hold them out. Deschamps was quite fortunate to squeeze out a victory against Australia the last time out. We weren’t able to see the flair of the French attack and if they fail to show up again, Peru could nick one past them and revive their World Cup run. All the Peruvians need to do is to be more clinical in front of goal.
Prediction: France 1-1 Peru
Argentina vs Croatia
The two favourites in Group D will meet in what could be a cagey affair. Croatia do have a victory to their name, but their attack was nowhere to be found while Modric and Rakitic untiringly pulled the passes in the middle of the park in the match against Nigeria. Argentina’s attack was unceremoniously subdued by Iceland, but it’s obvious that if they were given the room to play, any defence will be punished by the prowess of Aguero and Messi. So something will have to give in this tie. Croatia will be going all out to secure a spot in the last 16 while the Argentineans will be chasing a way back to form. Expect Messi to be cancelled out once again, but this time we could see the utilisation of Dybala to add the extra aptitude upfront.
Prediction: Argentina 1-0 Croatia
Brazil vs Costa Rica
After the dismal showing against a gutsy Switzerland side in their opening game, Brazil will be out for blood when they face Costa Rica – a team that has never beaten the Samba Boys in over 20 years. The Costa Ricans did not help themselves when they failed to capitalise on their opportunities against the Serbians. Their game plan was to attack on the wings, but they were caught out with a set-piece. Honestly, the Serbians aren’t that good in the final third – unlike the Brazilians who are constantly pacey and tricky. Tite’s men will be scoring goals in this encounter and with VAR in full effect, we could see a couple of penalties given.
Prediction: Brazil 2-0 Costa Rica
Germany vs Sweden
Mexico shocked the world when they came away with a 1-0 win over Germany in their opening game of the 2018 World Cup. Their strength is clear – they are very fast and have the ability to hit defences on the counter attack with ease. But their weakness, however, lies in finishing. One thing we can say for sure is that Sweden are not like the Mexicans and this only means that the Germans have a chance to pick themselves up and press on for their title defence. Low will have to fix his team that had no clear chances and no defensive intelligence against Mexico. He has the players – all he needs is the right strategy to get the wins. Perhaps he could be regretting the fact that he cut Sane from the squad – a player that has the pace and wherewithal to make a difference in attack.
Prediction: Germany 2-0 Sweden
England vs Panama
This one has an upset written all over it, but considering how we haven’t seen these two sides open their campaign, it could go either way. Regrettably, Panama are arguably one of the weakest sides in this year’s tournament, so their game plan at every turn should be a defensive one. England are expected to win against Tunisia while Belgium are heavily backed to punish Panama in the Group G opener this week. If the Three Lions are as good as they claim to be on paper, Panama has no real chance to come away with anything. Unless of course, if the English get complacent and decide to gift points.
Prediction: England 1-0 Panama