We’re just a few days away from the biggest sporting event in the world, with the FIFA World Cup 2018 kicking off on Thursday as hosts Russia take on Saudi Arabia. Here’s Def Pen’s look at the eight groups, and how the final standings might shape-up the knockout stages:
Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
Led by Luis Suarez and Edin Cavani, Uruguay are the clear favorites in the group and should top it. The competition in the second position is really between Russia and Egypt. The latter would be sweating on the fitness of Mohammed Salah, who they would need from the get-go, while the former wouldn’t want to be knocked out in the group stages as the host country. Considering question marks over Salah’s fitness, Russia might edge Egypt for the second spot.
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
This World Cup’s ‘Group of Death’ is without a doubt Group B. Not only does it host two of the top 10 teams in the world in Portugal and Spain but, two other gritty teams Morocco and Iran which can make things interesting for the soccer powerhouses. I mean don’t get me wrong, Spain & Portugal is the shoe-in favorites to move on from this group. But with the Spaniards and their offensive finesse and Portugal riding the back of Cristiano Ronaldo, it will be up to Morocco and Iran to challenge. Iran will have to bet on their whole team and country being behind them to even contest in these games. However, with Morocco, their defensive toughness will be a key factor in every game with Juventus defender Mehdi Benatia leading the club in that respect. Although Spain & Portugal are favorites, don’t be surprised if you see Morocco steal a game. Don’t forget this might be Ronaldo’s last chance at a World cup.
Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Euro 2016 finalists France is one of the most star-studded sides in the tournament, with the likes of Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe headlining the squad. While Les Blues would be the favorites to top the group, the second position is up for grabs, in what should be a three-way tussle. Denmark would be relying on Christian Eriksen, Peru on Paolo Guerrero and Australia on a midfield heart of Mile Jedinak and Massimo Luongo. Peru is on a hot streak at the moment, but the Aussies might fancy their chances.
Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Like Ronaldo, this might be Lionel Messi’s last shot at winning the World Cup, having come excruciatingly close to doing so four years ago. But while Argentina might be overwhelming favorites to top the group, they’ll be facing sides that would not only feel capable of challenging the South American giants but also be contesting among themselves for the runners-up slot. Croatia would be favorites to finish second, but both Nigeria and Iceland – the latter donning the giant killer tag – are more than capable of damaging any side in Groups
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
The injury for Neymar Jr in the months leading to the World Cup might turn out to be a blessing for Brazil, for, unlike his peers, their talisman should be fresh for the tournament. Brazil should cruise through the group to further establish themselves as one of the absolute favorites to bag the coveted trophy. Switzerland would be favorites for the second slot but would need Xherdan Shaqiri to be firing on all cylinders. Serbia have a young and exciting side, and Costa Rica did manage to qualify for the World Cup with relative ease – both would be looking to displace the higher ranked Swiss side and qualify for the Round of 16.
Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
The defending World champions Germany will be looking to get off to the right foot (no pun intended) in the tournament against a talented group. This group might as well be called ‘Group of Death 2.0’ because of the other teams in Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea. Mexico was undefeated in their qualifying tournament. Sweden is a powerhouse with talented players (despite Ibrahimovic’s absence) and South Korea has surprised the world before in the tournament. Germany is almost certainly going to move on as the top seed in this group but who is 2nd? It’s a complete toss-up between some pretty talented teams but if I had to bet I’d say Mexico. The Mexicans have their best chance at advancing this year because of one man; Javier Hernandez. The best striker Mexico has ever seen. So if there’s any year they move on, it should be 2018 for Mexico.
Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
Group G offers us some well balanced ‘footie’ as the British like to call it. England would like to tell you every year that they are the favorites to win the World Cup, but this year it’s really hard to tell. They’re a young team that may have a good shot at in 2022, but it’s too soon for Sterling, Rashford and Harry Kane. Belgium is a shoe-in to win this group and ultimately even a favorite to win the whole tournament. 4 years ago, they were the dark horse and now they’re walking in as contenders. The burden lies in their ability to seize the moment. In terms of Panama and Tunisia, they’re talented teams, but the athleticism and sheer talent of Belgium and England will have to move on in this group.
Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
If you’re a true soccer fan, you’ll know this group is harder than it seems. Poland is the favorite to win this group because of one man and one man only; Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski. Outside of Poland, Senegal, Columbia, and Japan will make every game between the 4 teams entertaining. Japan has set piece makers in Honda and Kagawa who are threats when in the right position and Senegal has some youth and athleticism. However, my pick is Columbia and James Rodriguez to advance in this one alongside the Polish. Columbia also has a good shot at going far in this one if James can play to the moment.
What do you think about the FIFA World Cup? What team are you rooting for? Who is your sleeper squad? Let us know below or on twitter @DefPen !