World Cup 2018: The Predictions

World Cup 2018

The dust has settled after the prestigious World Cup draw in Russia last week and the groups are in. They have been decided, discussed and dissected by millions of people around the world. Last week, I wrote a mini-series showcasing all 32 teams, conveying how they qualified. Now that we know who they are playing, it is time to have a look at how I think they will do.

Group A

Russia
Saudi Arabia
Egypt
Uruguay

Group A is ugly. Plain and simple. Russia were always going to be top seed in Group A, on account of being hosts, but many were hoping that the second seed would be a glamour team such as Spain or England. Uruguay were the second seed drawn in Group A, along with the Arabic duo Egypt and Saudi Arabia. There is a silver lining to this uninspiring group – unpredictability. Russia have not played competitive football in two years, and were disappointing at Euro 2016 in France. They are the hosts, and will have the crowd firmly behind them, which cannot be overlooked. Uruguay have the best squad on paper in this group, and should strive to top the group with the likes of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani in their midst. Egypt are likely to ruffle a few feathers in Russia. They are a side who have been competitive in the African Nations Cup for years, but who have failed to qualify for the World Cup ever since 1990. With Mohamed Salah in their ranks, the Egyptians will be looking to overcome the vocal home support and usurp Russia to a qualification spot. Saudi Arabia are a good team, but even in this group with no clear favourite, it is hard to see the Saudi’s win.

I will predict Group A to finish as such:

Uruguay
Russia
Egypt
Saudi Arabia

Group B

Portugal
Spain
Morocco
Iran

Group B looks fairly cut and dry, with the only questions being who will finish higher between Portugal and Spain and who will finish lower between Morocco and Iran. Portugal were top seeds after a dramatic final day group win over Switzerland, and of course, as reigning European Champions. They also have current Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo. But their group rivals are Spain, a team that formed a football dynasty between 2007-2014. They suffered what can only be described as a complete balls-up in Brazil 2014 and a mediocre Euro 2016 performance, but after a magnificent qualification process, Spain look like one of the teams who will be pushing for the trophy come the end of the tournament. It is just hard to see either Morocco or Iran shocking the world next summer. Of the two teams, Iran look the more likely to have a chance of finishing second, they did have a wonderful qualification process, and have a tactically sound manager in Carlos Queiroz. If either Spain or Portugal start the group poorly then they will be there to capitalise. Morocco were a solid defensive unit in qualifying but their attack is nothing to write home about. With Morocco playing Iran and Spain playing Portugal in the outcome of the group will be shaped early on.

I will predict Group B to finish as such:

Spain
Portugal
Iran
Morocco

Group C

France
Australia
Peru
Denmark

France are undoubtedly the favourites in Group C. After the horror show that was their World Cup 2010 campaign, they have been steadily building ever since. They have one of the greatest squads in the world today, with an incredible depth to their team, stacked in every position. The race for second place is a harder one to call. Denmark should be secure in grabbing second place, especially if Christian Eriksen plays to his usual high standard. Peru and Australia both should not have enough about them to make it to the next round, however, both sides are capable of pulling off an upset on their day. Australia are a shadow of their former selves, with their head coach Ange Postecoglou stepping down after sealing qualification. Peru have an astoundingly passionate fan base, but how many of them will travel to Russia next summer? A large amount, but not enough to influence a game. The battle for second will really take shape when Peru play Denmark in Saransk on June 16th.

I will predict Group C to finish as such:

France
Denmark
Peru
Australia

Group D

Argentina
Iceland
Croatia
Nigeria

Despite a fairly disappointing qualifying campaign, which saw Argentina nearly miss out on a World Cup place, they still go in to this group as favourites. Despite the poor qualifying record, they boast some of the world’s best attackers, who will put fear into the hearts of the defences of Group D. Assuming that Argentina will show up and take top spot as their own, the question is who will come second. The obvious choice is Croatia. Luka Modrić, Ivan Perišić and Mario Mandžukić are an intimidating array of names to face. They have the potential to finish top of the pile, although they did finish below Iceland in Group I of qualifying. Iceland may not have the names of Argentina or Croatia in their squad, but what they do have is good old fashioned team spirit. The big problem for Iceland is that they are no longer the surprise package, they come into the World Cup as every non-English fan’s second team, and will hope to continue this throughout the tournament. They finished above the Croats in qualifying, yet it is hard to see them do so in Russia next year, especially after an opening match against Argentina. Nigeria should probably be propping up the group in an ordinary year, however with a talented, hungry young squad, they are capable of squeezing out a result on their day. It is tricky to call this group, with some teams underachieving and others overachieving.

I will predict Group D to finish as such:

Croatia
Argentina
Nigeria
Iceland

Group E

Brazil
Switzerland
Costa Rica
Serbia

Let’s not over think this; Brazil will top this group and they will do it at a canter. It is hard to see that Brazil team
pick up any less than nine points . They have been reinvented under manager Tite and will hope to push through to the semi finals at the very least. The battle for second will be intriguing, with Switzerland and Serbia both aspiring to grab that honour. Both teams have a solid defence and some star players, but this may come down to whoever gets the easier schedule. Both teams play each other in the second game. Serbia play Costa Rica first, so a win here and a win against Switzerland may see them through before their final match against Brazil. This is of course assuming that Costa Rica will be the whipping boys. While they enjoyed a sterling World Cup in 2014, it is hard to imagine them repeating their heroics again. I cannot envisage them wining a match this time around, and may find themselves on the losing side of a couple of beat downs, in a group where goal difference may prove pivotal.

I will predict Group E to finish as such:

Brazil
Serbia
Switzerland
Costa Rica

Group F

Germany
Mexico
Sweden
South Korea

I predict that this group will finish as it is drawn. Germany are reigning world champions and boast a squad which on its day could hit each of their group rivals for ten. They may be going to a World Cup without Miroslav Klose for the first time since 1998, but they do have Thomas Müller, who may feel that the all time top scorer accolade may be his, if he finds his shooting boots. Mexico enjoyed a strong CONCACAF campaign, topping their group and doing so in style. The climate may be a lot harsher than what the bulk of their squad is used to, but they should have the quality to see them through, they do have some players who play in Europe, such as star striker Javier Hernandez. If they can get on the front foot and dictate the play against Sweden and South Korea then they should prevail. Sweden are on a high, having put the Italians out in the playoffs. they finished behind France in qualifying, but ahead of the Netherlands. If they want to steal second spot then it is imperative that they get three points against South Korea in Nizhny Novgorod. South Korea will have the question raised prior to the World Cup that they always do: can they repeat the heroics of 2002? The simple answer is no. They don’t have the home comforts, the home fans or the ear of the referees. They might scrape a few points, but they won’t make it out of Group F.

I will predict Group F to finish as such:

Germany
Mexico
Sweden
South Korea

Group G

Belgium
Panama
Tunisia
England

Similar to Group B, this should be another case of there being a distinct top two and bottom two, with the only question being which order they actually finish. Belgium and England will undoubtedly finish in the top two. They simply have too much quality. When push comes to shove, Belgium should top it. They have technically better players, and had a better qualification campaign. Harry Kane and Dele Alli are a saving grace for the Three Lions, but Lukaku, De Bruyne and Hazard are simply a cut above. Panama have the aura of that fan that manages to sneak past security to the VIP section at a concert; starry eyed, overawed and simply happy to be there until they are unceremoniously eliminated. Tunisia will probably slot into third place, beating Panama but being overrun by England and Belgium. England will be focused primarily on improving on their last couple of World Cup campaigns, although admittedly the standard for that isn’t very high…

I will predict Group G to finish as such:

Belgium
England
Tunisia
Panama

Group H

Poland
Senegal
Colombia
Japan

Group H is arguably one of the hardest groups to call. Poland were drawn as top seeds, and rightly so after a staggeringly good qualifying campaign. They scored 28 goals, sixteen of which were netted by UEFA qualifying top scorer Robert Lewandowski. If he finds form, Poland have every chance of winning the group. However, if he gets injured in the next six months, Poland might struggle to finish off their chances. Colombia will be the other team aiming to win the group. They have James Rodriguez, the darling of World Cup 2014, and Radamel Falcao, who sadly missed the last World Cup through injury. Both Colombia and Poland play each other in Kazan on match day two, in what could be a group deciding fixture. Japan will be hoping to take advantage of any slip up from the top two. They had a strong qualification campaign and will be looking to build on their previous best at the World Cup, the round of 16 in 2002 and 2010, although even if they sneak through the group, they will likely play either Belgium or England in the next round. Senegal will likely finish bottom of their group. They had a decent qualifying campaign, and have in-form Liverpool winger Sadio Mané at their disposal, but Senegal simply don’t have the quality in depth. Their only hope is that with no clear favourite in the group, they can take advantage of teams dropping points around them, and a bit of magic/luck.

I will predict Group H to finish as such:

Colombia
Poland
Japan
Senegal

And so concludes my round up of World Cup 2018. Like so many people, I have musings and ideas that will no doubt change over the next six months. I am aware I have been far too conservative, I have made statements saying a team have the quality to cause an upset on their day, but then resorted to putting the favourites down to qualify regardless. We all know there is always one big team who don’t make it past the groups, there is always at least one team, if not more, who pull through in miraculous fashion, but it is easier to be lazy like myself and simply plump for the favourites. No doubt I will regurgitate a variation of this piece in a few month times with a more insightful look in to how the teams will perform. Right now I am basing this off past form, in May and June there will be a much clearer picture.