2018 World Cup Guide – Preview
Before I begin this 2018 world cup guide, let me start with an anecdote.
I remember my first World Cup memory. The year was 2002. I was about six or seven years old. Japan and South Korea were the hosts of the tournament that year. Despite being quite young, I remember it for one reason in particular. It was because Ireland had qualified for this World Cup.
I have memories of waking up at 6:00 am for some of the games. It was during the Summer and so I was spending a few weeks at my grandad’s holiday home Wexford with all of my cousins and extended family. We would all gather around one little TV, anxiously waiting for the games to begin.
Fast-forward to 2014. I had just arrived in Magaluf after finishing my Leaving Certificate Exams. While Ireland hadn’t qualified, there was still that buzz going around. Even if you’re not a football fan, the World Cup is always exciting. I remember the last World Cup so well for one weird reason. We were staying in a hotel with loads of English fans and always ended up watching the games beside a bunch of them. Loud, annoying, drunk, in the traditional white jerseys, shouting abuse at the TV.
As an Irishman, I naturally wanted England to lose every game. This year though, this year we were praying for it.
The fact that England came away from that World Cup with zero wins was something special. Ireland may not have qualified, but watching our neighbours fail so miserably is always enjoyable to watch
The wait for the biggest competition in sport is finally over. The stage is set, and the action is about to get underway.
Russia got off to an incredible start recently with a 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the opening game of the tournament, but it’s difficult to tell how good they will be as the tournament progresses. Both Egypt and Uruguay looked poor in the opening game but it’s too early to tell how they get on.
Mo Salah will need to perform well for Egypt to get out of the group, but it’s unlikely.
I can see Uruguay and Russia progressing here.
The two giants meet in Group B as Portugal battle Spain in the early stages of the competition. Cristiano Ronaldo will be looking to replicate his success at the last major tournament when he led his countrymen to success at Euro 2016. Morocco and Iran will do well to pick up points in this group.
Spain will, of course, be one of the favourites going into the competition, despite getting rid of their coach just before the competition got underway. I imagine Andres Iniesta will be looking to finish his professional international career strongly, so look out for a good showing from him in the opening fixtures especially.
I reckon Spain and Portugal get through without too much difficulty.
One of the tournament favourites, France will be looking to progress on top of Group A, with Christian Eriksen‘s Denmark, Peru, and Australia standing in the way. The French team looks so good on paper, but it’s a whole other game when they walk onto the pitch.
I find it hard to see them not topping the group. Olivier Giroud has looked great recently, I see him and Griezmann linking up nicely. And with Pogba and Kante sitting in midfield, they’ll probably go far.
I see Denmark getting through with France in this one.
Group D should be an interesting one. Argentina will likely be the favourites to go through on top but the other teams are fairly closely matched.
Croatia, Nigeria, and Iceland will all likely battle it out to progress alongside Team Messi but it’s a tough one to call. Luka Modric will surely shine in a Croatian shirt just as he has been doing with Real Madrid for the last few years. That said, Iceland will be confident after getting to the Quarter Final of the Euro 2016, and with their incredible fans, I can easily see them progressing.
Nigeria has without a doubt their best jersey in the tournament. Whether or not their quality of football will match is left to be seen. If Ihad to predict, I’d say Croatia will join Argentina in the Round of 16.
Another one of the tournament favourites, and historically, one of the most dominant teams in the competition find themselves in Group E. Brazil will face Costa Rica, Serbia, and Switzerland in this one and I can’s see them facing much trouble.
Costa Rica was the surprise package of the 2014 World Cup as they escaped the Group of Death which contained England, Italy, and Uruguay before beating Greece and then narrowly losing to the Netherlands in the Quarter Final. Four years on, they’ll be hoping to be just as successful.
I can’t see Serbia or Switzerland posing much of a threat, and see Brazil and Costa Rica sailing on to the next round.
In my opinion, the favourites of the whole tournament, Germany will be looking to get off to a good start in Group F as they face off with Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea.
South Korea isn’t going to do much let’s be honest here, and Sweden have literally no one without Zlatan, but Mexico has a few decent players who will be keen to impress on the biggest stage in world football.
Despite not getting off to the best start at West Ham, I see Javier Hernandez helping Mexico through with Germany dominating the group.
The team I have supported for the last few years, Belgium finds themselves in Group G alongside the ever-optimistic England as well as Tunisia and Panama.
We all know England are likely to panic as they always are, but they couldn’t really have gotten a better group here. Panama will lose every game 5-0, and despite being 2nd in the African rankings, Tunisia is hardly a team to fear, are they?
Belgium is such a sexy team on paper but seems to be cursed by their ‘golden generation’ tag. I honestly see Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne stepping up this time. Romelu Lukaku will need to have a strong performance, but as long as they don’t rely on the long ball to Fellaini, I’m excited to see what Belgium offer at this year’s tournament.
As much as I hate to say it, England will probably go through alongside the Red Devils.
Lastly, and probably the most boring group, we see the highlight team of the 2014 World Cup in Colombia take on Japan, Poland, and Senegal. It’s tough to expect the same dazzling displays from the Colombians two World Cups in a row, but they should get through this group.
Poland will be fancying their chances too with Robert Lewandowski enjoying himself at Bayern Munich lately. I’d imagine he is itching and twitching to channel his inner Lebron James and pull his compatriots with him into the deeper trenches of the competition.
My prediction: Poland get through alongside Colombia
It’s never who you think. Last year, we said it would be Neymar or Messi. And James Rodriguez came along to kick us all in the face. For this reason, I’m thinking outside the box this year.
Throw yourself back to 2010. The Spaniards were successful that year. A young man named Thomas Muller came along and made a name for himself as he joined Diego Forlan, David Villa, and Wesley Sneijder to win the Golden Boot. I predict something similar happening at this year’s tournament.
Timo Werner is a 22-year old striker for Stuttgart and I’m predicting him to win the Golden Boot. Not for any particular reason, but because I put a bet on earlier this week, 14/1. Fuck it.
Team to watch
It might sound a bit weird but I see Croatia getting far this year. Luka Modric is coming of age now. He is in his prime and i feel he can lead his country quite far this year. Look out for them to impress in their group. I’d even fancy them to progress as group winners and get themselves a handy route to the Quarter-Final.
I could be wrong, but I’m never wrong.
To go all the way
Maybe they’ll panic. Maybe they’ll do what they tend to do and fail to live up to people’s expectations. But, I think they can do it. They’ll need Kevin de Bruyne to hit the ground running from his phenomenal title-winning season at Manchester City. Also, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku need to be at their absolute best.
The only team that has a strong a squad is France, and it could be a case of great individuals, not a great team, but I can see Belgium lifting the trophy this year.
England will surely get out of their group, but I see them faltering fairly early on as usual. It will depend on who they get in the Round of 16, and maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but they’ll go out early.
Brazil will also fail to live up to the tag of tournament favourites I believe. They have some fantastic players in Neymar, Coutinho and Thiago Silva. They’ve got some talented players who had great seasons in Casemiro, Jesus, and Firmino, but I just don’t see them competing with the big dogs this year.
What are your predictions? Got any bets on? Let us know!
SJB & GQ.