I AM HYPED!!!!
Like, really 🙂 The Men’s World Cup, taking place in Russia this year, is nearly a month away. And as the spring season of local soccer is wrapping up (and European soccer is drawing to a close), my passionate focus on the beautiful game can turn to the international competition at its highest level. And while the USMNT crashed and burned in CONCACAF qualifiers, I still have high hopes for some amazing team play and golazos. And so in anticipation for this tournament, I’m going to do a little breakdown of each group and make a prediction on who is gonna advance to the knockout stages. For those who are not familiar with traditional soccer tournament scoring for group stages, a win is worth 3 points, a tie is 1 pt for each team, and loss is 0 pts. A tie in points at the end of group stages is decided by goal differential.
GROUP A: Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay
Arguably Russia, as the tournament hosts, got an “easy” group. However, I don’t actually think Russia is that good, and so having less skilled teams in their group doesn’t actually mean they have a guaranteed ticket to the knockout rounds. Uruguay has definite talent up top (ie- the vampire Luis Suarez and the speedy Edinson Cavani) and finished second behind a red hot Brazil in CONMEBOL qualifying. Egypt, riding the prolific finishing of Mo Salah (of Liverpool FC and the likely EPL Golden Boot winner for this season), is going to test many a defense. Saudi Arabia, unfortunately, is probably going to leak goals and be this group’s punch bag.
Prediction: Uruguay (7 pts), Egypt (7 pts), Russia (3 pts), Saudi Arabia (0 pts)
GROUP B: Iran, Morocco, Portugal, Spain
Clearly a group dominated by European powerhouses, the only real question is who comes out on top. Ronaldo might be looking at his last real chance at international greatness, having already won 2016 Euros with Portugal, but when I look at the Spanish squad, I see one of the most dangerous midfield and forward lineups in the tournament. I really don’t have much to say about Iran and Morocco, though I could see either European side getting complacent and letting a goal in, which could decide whether Spain sweeps the group or Portugal actually makes it out.
Prediction: Spain (9 pts), Portugal (6 pts), Iran (1 pt), Morocco (1 pt)
GROUP C: Australia, Denmark, France, Peru
This is one of a couple groups that have a clear favorite (in my mind) to come out in first, but the battle for second place could be bloodbath. France, I feel, has the talent to easily notch a few goals per game and clear the group with three wins. Australia barely qualified and has struggled internationally since the last world cup. Peru is a similar story, but they showed grit and has the endurance to win points in close matches. Denmark is a young European squad, with talent like Christian Eriksen in midfield and Kasper Schmeichel in goal, might even give France a good fight if they stay on top of their game.
Prediction: France (7 pts), Denmark (5 pts), Peru (2 pts), Australia (1 pt)
GROUP D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria
This group is one I definitely will be watching, as it could be one of the most competitive. Not only does it feature arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen (Lionel Messi, if anyone had doubts who I was talking about), but it features two European teams who had strong showings in the 2016 European Championship. And who doesn’t love Iceland? Like, how can you not root for a team who comes from a country of ~300,000 yet goes toe to toe with European giants like England, France, and Portugal. Croatia has a star-studded midfield and can threaten any goalie into making some spectacular saves, or otherwise drop points. And let’s not forget about Nigeria. Consistently a strong team coming out of Africa, I expect a physical and fast style that could potentially steamroll the more technical styles of Argentina and the European squads.
Predictions: Argentina (7 pts), Croatia (4 pts), Iceland (3 pts), Nigeria (1 pts)
GROUP E: Brazil, Costa Rica, Serbia, Switzerland
This is definitely Brazil’s group to lose, considering the talent they are bringing. As some might remember, Brazil completely embarrassed themselves the last time around as the hosts losing to Germany in the semi-finals by several goals. That squad was arguably an old guard of Brazilian football, this squad is much younger and way flashier. With Neymar leading the charge on offense, I expect them to make a deep run into the tournament. But the teams they face aren’t going down quietly. Costa Rica featured solid play in CONCACAF qualifying and has enough talent to pick up pts against any of their opponents. Serbia fills a rather weird place in this group and in my mind could play spoiler for who advances in 2nd place. Switzerland has some big name players, but many of said players are coming off poor seasons with their domestic clubs, which could affect their ability to play in the World Cup.
Predictions: Brazil (9 pts), Costa Rica (4 pts), Switzerland (4 pts), Serbia (0 pts)
GROUP F: Germany, Korean Republic, Mexico, Sweden
Many would call this the “group of death” for this tournament, which I would agree with if you consider it a two man fight. And if one considers Germany to be a favorite going in to win it all (coming off the last World Cup as victors and fielding many of the same players) as well as a Mexico team that is possibly at its strongest in years (2017 Confederations Cup participants and looking to avenge their loss to Germany there), there will be fireworks. Sweden qualified out of Europe without Zlatan Ibrahimovic and dares to brave the competition without the man, the myth, the legend. Korea generally competes, but I don’t see them having much success against this group.
Prediction: Mexico (7 pts), Germany (7 pts), Sweden (3 pts), Korea (0 pts)
GROUP G: Belgium, England, Panama, Tunisia
Another interesting group (arguably the true “group of death”), which features a CONCACAF surprise contender in Panama, a serial under-performer in England, and a rising dark horse in Belgium. Tunisia, despite being 14 in the FIFA World ranking, is probably way out of its league in the group and will be lucky to pick up any pts here. I feel Panama will carry their momentum from CONCACAF and give the European teams a run for their money. Belgium, with talent all across the board, should make a strong showing, and could push out some solid teams in the knockout stages. England “should” be playing with a massive chip on their shoulder and features many rising stars, with some veterans to provide backbone, and may actually not choke and bow out in unseemly fashion this time around.
Predictions: Belgium (5 pts), England (5 pts), Panama (5 pts), Tunisia (0 pts)
GROUP H: Colombia, Japan, Poland, Senegal
The final group and one featuring another set of potentially interesting match-ups. Colombia features last World Cup’s Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez while Poland boasts Bundesliga’s prolific giant Robert Lewandowski. Japan has always been a team to watch but is often hit or miss in international competition. Senegal happens to be the second highest ranked African nation and could bring a brutal, physical style that’ll wear down their opponents. This group could be very close, or completely lopsided. I feel it’ll probably the later, being the finishing quality of Rodriguez and Lewandowski.
Predictions: Colombia (9 pts), Poland (6 pts), Japan (1 pt), Senegal (1 pt)
Biggest Losers: Chile, Italy, Netherlands, United States
*Sob* There are no words to mourn the lack of these teams in this world cup, but honestly they all under-performed in their respective qualifying and got beat out by much less talented squads. It might be irreverent for these teams to play a mini-tournament between themselves this summer, but it’s one that would still feature a lot of great talent and one I would definitely want to check out.
So there you have it, my predictions for the 2018 Men’s World Cup. Drop a comment if you disagree with any of my group rankings, or even just to argue if Lionel Messi isn’t actually the GOAT (which he is, his all-around game is just otherworldly). Once the group stages are over, I plan on making another set of predictions (with scores this time!) for the knockout stages, and predict the overall winner of the tournament. And boy, I can’t wait for some great soccer!