IN just over 12 short hours the 2018 FIFA World Cup will officially be underway. The time for talking and debating is almost over as drama continues to swirl right up until the opening kick off. Russia plays host to this years’ tournament and there is plenty of concern/speculation as to how the next month will unfold off and on the pitch. Luckily for you, I’ve quickly broken down what to expect in the next 64 games of soccer (I refuse to call it football. Sorry not sorry).
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I’LL be honest I don’t know enough about each nation to do a HUGE deep dive into the team’s chances of claiming top honours in Russia. However, I do follow enough soccer to understand which teams are in an envious position and which ones face a steep, uphill climb. Here is how I think the group stage will unfold.
Group A – Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uraguay
Group B – Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
Group C – France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Group D – Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Group E – Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Group F – Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
Group G – Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
Group H – Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie
THEY didn’t make it easy but they are here. The Australians face an uphill battle under new management and the French should be the ones to beat in Group C. Denmark and Peru aren’t easy beats but if things fall the Aussies way a trip to the knockout stage, albeit unexpected isn’t impossible. To advance they will have to find a way to break through Peru’s stellar defense and suffocate Denmark’s playmaking star, Christian Eriksen. Again, unexpected but not impossible.
POSTECOGLOU developed an attacking style of play that is rooted deep in the team ethos but they may lack the personnel to deploy such a strategy. Still, what they lack in star power they make up for in depth with a sense of poise and steadiness. The coaching position they are in at the moment makes it tricky for the team to piece much together and there aren’t a ton of expectations on the Aussies. That being said, they could emerge as the second-best team in the group if everything clicks. That’s a pretty big ‘if’ though.
Image from beinsports.com
Group Stage Matches You Can’t Miss
Spain vs. Portugal
THIS one speaks for itself. In a match that will all but decide who wins the group, there is plenty to play for. Finishing second in the group stages sets up a potential challenging match up against Uraguay in the knockout stages, while the winner of Group B will probably clash with Russia or Egypt. I know who I’d rather play against.
Egypt vs. Russia
SPEAKING of the two Group A foes, the hosts’ vs. Egypt will be another can’t miss clash. All eyes will be on Mohamed Salah, who has starred for both his home country and Liverpool in the Premier League in recent times. He has the talent to win the match off his own boot and the Russians will put a lot of time and effort into quelling the Egyptian goalsneak.
Argentina vs. Croatia
THERE are some pundits that think the Argentines are in for a rough outing this World Cup. If this is true, then the Croatians are the ones who will cause the most headaches, with their dynamic midfield stars eager to go on a deep run. Don’t forget though Leo Messi will be in uniform for Argentina, making anything possible.
The 4 Biggest Questions
What Impact Does Spain’s Coaching Drama Have?
LITERALLY, as I was writing this preview news broke that Spain has fired their former head coach Julen Lopetegui after he announced he had decided to take on the Real Madrid coaching job. The timing of the news enraged Spanish football president Luis Rubiales was furious with the timing of the news and as a result dismissed Lopetegui of his duties A DAY BEFORE THE WORLD CUP BEGINS! Fernando Hierro will be his replacement and has big shoes to fill. Time will tell if the change galvanises the group or ruins them.
Are Messi And Ronaldo Running Out Of Time?
BOTH superstars are nearing the end of their international careers and so far they have one glaring hole in their trophy cabinets. At 33 Ronaldo might be looking at his last chance to claim the best international prize on offer while the 30-year old Messi isn’t exactly a spring chicken anymore. Could we see one of our generations icons raise the trophy in a month’s short time?
Just How Big An Impact Will The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) System Have?
I’M not breaking news by stating that the VAR system is still a work in progress. It is still a relatively new technology and there are still kinks that need to be ironed out for it to become a successful tool. Fingers crossed A) it doesn’t slow down and halt the momentum of games and B) it isn’t forced to make a controversial call with a game in the balance.
Will The Host Nation’s Fans Be A Problem?
I swear to god we have this discussion every World Cup only for nothing to eventuate. However, the Russians aren’t exactly the friendliest nation when it comes to hospitality and if their team falters early then we could see just about anything. Controversy and concerns have been swirling ever since Russia was named as the hosts and an angry bunch of fans cheering for an uninspiring 65th ranked squad doesn’t foreshadow good times.
Top Goal Scorer – Neymar, Brazil
Final Four Teams – Brazil, France, Spain, Germany
Final – Brazil defeats Spain
Image from uk.reuters.com
YES, I know my picks are boring, but I’ve stuck with the big guns. It’s hard to ignore Neymar as the best goal threat in the World Cup, especially if the Brazilians go on a deep run. I think they are the best team in the tournament, so naturally, I’m picking them to win it all. By no means is it a whitewash though with any of the final four I have chosen viable champions. Watch out for the likes of Uraguay and Belgium too, as I think if presented with the right scenario, they could go all the way.
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