The biggest stage in the world of football is set. The 2018 FIFA World Cup is upon us and as Russia prepares the battlefield for the 32 qualified teams, the entire world gets into gear for a month of tantalising matches as early as Day 1. With less than three days to go, we look at the top games happening this week.
Russia vs Saudi Arabia
The curtain-raiser – Always built around an anthology of fanfare, football fans will be treated to a show before kick-off. But that can’t mask the gravity this match holds, opening the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Russia are favourites going into this tie, hands down.
Their players have more experience going up against world-class talent, be it in the Champions League or Europa League. Add to that the unparalleled Akinfeev, bringing his experience into play as the Russian captain, and defender Ignashevich who’ll be celebrating his 39th birthday on opening day, Saudi Arabia will have their work cut out for them.
Taking nothing away from the Saudi’s, they do have a good squad of players, but success at this level seems a little too far-fetched for now.
Prediction: Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia
Portugal vs Spain
This match has World Cup Final written all over it and we’re glad that we get to watch a match of this calibre this early in the competition. Both teams have the capability and depth to make it all the way in this tournament and based on the configuration of Group B, it looks like these two will most likely progress to the Round of 16, at the very least.
But who will come away with the three points? Portugal might have won the Euros two years ago, and as much as some may fail to see it, these guys are pretty much a one-man team lead by Ronaldo. They’ll still be running on adrenaline from lifting the European Championship in France, but Spain look like a better side with strengths in every area – De Gea, Ramos, Iniesta, Isco, Costa – just to name a few good men.
Ronaldo will be a big boost for the Portuguese, but the Spanish already know the mutli-time Ballon d’Or winner too well and will be able to shut him out.
Prediction: Portugal 1-1 Spain
France vs Australia
With how Australia have been preparing for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, an upset could be on the cards when the Socceroos meet France in their Group C opening match. A draw against Colombia and two wins over European nations are what they have accomplished thus far – 2-1 versus Hungary and a monumental 4-0 mauling of Czech Republic.
On the flipside, we have France, who’ve been decent leading up to the competition, but ended their preparations with a shoddy draw against USA. On paper, the French should have enough to pull off a victory here. Griezmann and Mbappe should be getting goals between them while Pogba heralds the midfield with Kante.
Prediction: France 2-0 Australia
Argentina vs Iceland
Expect Iceland to be schooled by Argentina in the Group D match as they officially begin their campaign as the smallest nation by population to ever clinch a FIFA World Cup berth.
Ever since the Icelanders made history by qualifying for football’s biggest competition, they have been on a downward spiral with losses at every corner and most recently a 2-2 draw with Ghana, who are not even in the competition.
Argentina have a huge point to prove, especially with Messi in their ranks and with that alone, they will be out for blood. Sampaoli has a very strong attacking-minded squad and with Iceland’s weaknesses in defence. Aguero should be flanking Messi, alongside Di Maria, Dybala and Mascherano. Higuain will be added to the mix somehow and that can only mean that Iceland could be facing a meltdown.
Prediction: Argentina 2-0 Iceland
Germany vs Mexico
Defending champions Germany have the world on their shoulders as they begin their 2018 World Cup campaign against Mexico. The Germans are clear favourites to win the competition, let alone this match.
But with the furore going on about Low’s cutting of Sane from the squad, a failure here could put the manager in a lot of negative heat. Sane aside, the Germans still have a fantastic squad at hand. Bolstered by the returning Neuer in goal, Hummels in defence, Kroos, Ozil and Draxler in midfield and the attacking connection of Reus and Gomez, the frail defence of Mexico need to be very cautious if they want to come away with at least a point.
El Tri have a very experienced squad, having organised a team who’ve played together for years, but that would not be enough to defeat a nation like Germany.
Prediction: Germany 2-0 Mexico
Brazil vs Switzerland
Have you seen the Brazil team as of late? Then you’ll know that the Brazilians are running on red-hot form and it doesn’t look like their going to slow down any time soon. With Neymar back from injury, they have brought back the free-flowing football that we all have grown to love.
Backed by the fast feet of Marcelo, Jesus and Coutinho, Brazilian Samba just got better and it’s going to take a brick wall to stop them. Fortunately for the Swiss, they have the experience of new Arsenal signing Lichtsteiner to marshall their defence. They have Xhaka and Shaqiri too, but they haven’t been at their best in recent times. This is a match in the first round of games that could see a horde of goals.
Prediction: Brazil 4-1 Switzerland
There you have it, folk – my picks for the top games of the opening week of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The anticipation for this competition can only get bigger as the hours count down to Russia. If you haven’t picked your side, it’s not too late, but if you’re a neutral, sit back and enjoy the best that the world of football has to offer.