We are just a few days away from the biggest football tournament in the world – the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Four years ago, the Germans shined the brightest on the grandest stage – including an absolute mauling of then hosts Brazil.
With so many new stars raising the bar and shock dropouts, like Holland and Italy, a pathway for new world champs could be on the cards. Let’s have a look at the how the groups form up in the 32-team competition.
All eyes were on this group, not because it contains the hosts, but mainly because of Egypt and Salah. As much as it would be great to see the Liverpool talisman recover on time to feature in the tournament, things are not looking too good for the 25-year-old.
And with Belgium cruising past them with ease in a recent friendly, Egypt’s future doesn’t look too bright. Uruguay, with the likes of Suarez and Cavani are my picks to finish on top of this group. Then it should be a horse-race between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Morocco and Iran are unfortunate to be placed in the same group with Spain and Portugal – two European teams that have the capabilities to win this year’s World Cup. Lead by Ronaldo, the Portuguese will be looking to add the World Cup to their list of accolades after shocking the world at the Euros two years ago.
Spain, on the other hand, are hungry for silverware and considering their strong squad, consisting of De Gea, Iniesta, Silva and Costa, it’s going to take a lot to overcome them. Portugal and Spain should win the group, and perhaps meet again in the knockout stage.
France were so close to clinching the European championship in 2016, falling to Portugal during extra-time in what was a twist of fortune for Ronaldo and co. Deschamps has selected a similar squad featuring Pogba, Kante and Matuidi, who’ll probably own the midfield, and the hot striking duo of Griezmann and Mbappe.
It’s going to be tough to overcome the French and it doesn’t look like the other three teams in this group can do it. From the looks of it, this could set up an epic encounter in the last 16 between France and Argentina.
All eyes will be on Argentina as Messi looks for success in what could be his final campaign for his country. On the attacking front, Sampaoli’s 23-man squad are well-equipped to score at will. There are Aguero, Messi, Higuain, Di Maria, Dybala, but defensively, the Argentineans are not all that.
On the flip side, flanked by the experience of Corluka, Modric, and Mandzukic, Croatia are in good shape to push for a top-4 finish in this year. And don’t count out the dark horses in Iceland. They shocked the world in Euro 2016 and we could see them cause more upsets this year.
As for Nigeria, they have been on losing streak as of late and one can only hope that their highlight will not only be their pretty-looking jerseys.
The 2018 World Cup draw has been kind to Brazil. Neymar has made a triumphant return to his national team and based on their recent run of form, they will easily make it past the group stage. The battle for second place will be tight, but Costa Rica should get first dips to progress with Brazil.
Their squad is filled with regulars who’ve played together for a long time, and if there’s a team to be worried about, it will be the one consisting of men who gel well. And let’s not forget about Navas who’s been phenomenal between the sticks and a multiple-time Champions League winner.
Defending world champions Germany have the strongest team in Group F even though they clearly made a mistake by leaving out Sane. They may not have fared well in the friendlies leading up to the World Cup, but they are favourites to win the group, as well as the entire competition.
Just like Group E, there will be a three-horse-race to determine who progresses via a second-place finish. While it would be nice to see more representations from Asia in the knockout stage, South American flair should see Mexico face Brazil in the Round of 16.
My heart is always with England, make no mistake about it, but Belgium look like they have a better team this year. With a star-studded squad and 11 of them playing club football in England, they will be able to overcome the Three Lions.
Southgate’s forces are not too shabby themselves, racking up important wins leading up to the World Cup. However, England must somehow try to avoid Germany in the last 16 and if they do, they could go as far as the semi-finals. Nothing against Panama or Tunisia, but this group is just too much of a mountain to climb for them.
This is probably the only wild-card group with all four teams dealt an open chance to progress to the next round. Besides one or two key players, it’s quite difficult to pin-point outright winners here. There’s Lewandowski in Poland, and Falcao & Rodriguez boosting Colombia.
While Colombia is my pick to win the group, this presents a great opportunity for a second dark horse to emerge (besides Iceland). If Poland fail to show up in Russia, Japan could very well make an emphatic statement and take the second spot for a formidable showdown in the last 16.
The stage is set folks! The 2018 FIFA World Cup is upon us and we will be treated to an exciting month of football. Big guns are bound to do well, but upsets will be on the cards. It will be interesting to see new stars emerge on the world stage, but none more exhilarating than the goals that will keep us at the edge of our seats. Pick your team, enjoy the games and may the best country win!