Complete World Cup predictionsDate: June 13, 2018
By Alex Melillo
Every four years something magical happens around the World. Every country stops and watches to see some of the world's most impressive athletes compete in a tournament style competition. No this isn't the Olympics, it's the World Cup. According to a Washington Post article, in 2014, the FIFA World Cup drew over 3 billion viewers when the game's biggest stars took center stage in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
We'll start first by going group by group and predicting which two teams will make it out of each group. There are four teams to a group, with the number of groups going from Group A through Group H (eight groups). Each team is there based on different methods of qualifications, including being the host nation and winning various tournaments and playoffs. With that said, lets now take a look at each group individually and highlight the two predicted winners and dark horse in each group.
*Disclaimer* if March Madness has taught me anything it is that you cannot over think games and expect upsets where there are none. No team outside of the world's elite teams have won the World Cup (Brazil, Germany, Italy, Uruguay, Argentina, Spain, France and England have all won it at least once.) So, I'm going with gut reactions and not over thinking things.
Group A- Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Uruguay
Group A is by far the most wide-open group there is in the competition this year. All four teams are not what most would consider amongst the world�s elite footballing countries. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have not made the tournament since 2006 and 1990 respectively. And to complicate matters even more, arguably the groups best player, Liverpool winger Mohammed Salah, was forced to leave the Champions League final early with a shoulder injury. Early reports suggest that the Pharaohs will have their star man back in time, but his injury concerns further clouds the group predictions.
Uruguay is perhaps the closest of the four to a sure bet with the South American country being led by Barcelona front man Luiz Suarez and Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani.
Second Spot: Egypt (I'm banking on Salah being healthy as reported)
Group B- Portugal, Spain, Morocco, and Iran
It's fairly safe to say that this group is a two-horse race between the neighboring rivals, Portugal and Spain. Both teams boast impressive depth and star power. The Portuguese feature one of the world's best in Christiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid forward just captured another Champions League title over Liverpool and his Portuguese side is coming off of a Euro 2016 title against France. Ronaldo is surrounded by a burgeoning team of young talent including Manchester City's Bernardo Silva, Sporting CP's Bruno Fernandes and loads of other talented players.
Spain on the other hand fields a team of seasoned veterans both internationally and at the club level. With names like David De Gea, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Isco, Thiago, Marcio Asensio, and Diego Costa, this is a team that has won just about every tournament or club trophy there is. Ultimately, this group, in my opinion, comes down to whether or not the talent level around Ronaldo can level the playing field for the Portuguese. If that can happen and Portugal is not a one trick pony like they have been at times in the past, this team can be dangerous.
Second Spot: Spain
- Group C- France, Australia, Peru, and Denmark
he first group so far where the winner is as clear as day and will have the remaining three teams fighting for scraps. The French national team has some of the most talented individual players in the world, let alone this group. With world class players like Paul Pogba, Hugo Lloris, Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane, it's easy to see the French as the runaway favorites of the group. Simply put, the French have loads of talent. However, this squad has had some defensive issues in the past, but this may be the year that they can finally put it all together and enter the best of the best on the world stage.
Denmark, Australia and Peru will have to try to take points from each other but the second spot may come down to goal differential in the end. My dark horse team for the tournament is here in Denmark. The Danes are led by Christian Eriksen. The Tottenham Hotspur midfield maestro is coming off an impressive campaign in North London and will be join at the international stage by fellow Premier Leaguers Kasper Schmeichel and Andreas Christensen as well as teen sensation Kasper Dolberg from Ajax to form an impressive spine up the middle for the Scandinavian squad.
Second Spot: Denmark
Group D- Argentina, Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria
This group is perhaps one of the more over looked groups but the most interesting of them all. One of the reasons it is so interesting is one word. Messi. Argentina is so dangerous on attack. They have Leo Messi who in and of himself can beat a whole team but add in Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala of Juventus, Sergio Aguero of Manchester City and Angel Di Maria and Gio Lo Celso of PSG and the South American giants have one of the deadliest attacking cores in the world. The problem for them is whether their defensive back line can hold against other top tier teams. However, it shouldn't trouble them in the group stage.
Iceland is the team everyone fell in love with during the 2016 Euros. The tiny country captivated the world when they not only finished above Portugal in the group stages but also took down the English in a historical win for them. They have a chance to advance again but the battle will have to be one in the center of the park as Croatia is sure to deploy one of the more experienced midfields around. Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic all play for either Barcelona and Real Madrid and have therefore been in their fair share of top competitive games. Modric is arguably the worlds best box to box midfielder. Iceland's Gylfi Sigurdsson is going to have his work cut out for him there.
Not to be overlooked, Nigeria is a team of young, exciting players. Not a lot of household names are in the team sheet but to those who know the sport, they are exciting none the less. Arsenal's Alex Iwobi and the Leceister City trio of Ahmed Musa, Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho offer some exciting names and some promise for the African nation.
Second Spot: Croatia
Group E- Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia
Once again, the elite team in the group will take all the headlines. Anytime that can lineup an attacking trio of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, and Gabriel Jesus is going to be the heavy favorites. Combine that with a defense stacked with veterans like Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Marcelo and you have enough fire power to breeze through the group stages.
The rest of the group is interesting with Switzerland, Serbia and Costa Rica rounding out the last three to all battle for that likely to be second spot. Rumor has it that Switzerland will be without Arsenal regular Granit Xhaka for the tournament. Even though Xhaka has his detractors in England, he is still an important piece for this Swiss side and dazzled at the Euros in 2016. With him gone, I'll be banking on a tough and rugged Costa Rican team to sneak in into the second spot. Another team without a ton of household names but they do have Real Madrid keeper Keylor Navas between the sticks. And if Tim Howard taught us anything, it's that a hot goal keeper can carry you a long way in a tournament.
Second Spot: Costa Rica
Group F- Germany, Mexico, Sweden and South Korea
I look up and down the groups and my first reaction is this is the group of death. You have Germany, reigning World Cup champs and three teams that could justifiably expect to move on to the knock out stage. To begin with, the German side is the deepest team talent wise on and off the field. What I mean by that is, their second-choice team, the guys that didn't make the 23 man roster for the World Cup, could compete in this tournament alone. But with a 23 man squad featuring the likes of Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, and Marco Reus, the defending Germans are heavily favored at the top of this group. So pencil the Germans into the top spot and you're left with Mexico, Sweden and South Korea for the second spot.
Sweden just isn't the same threat they were when they had Zlatan. Without a true world class player on their side, they might lack the offensive punch that they would need to beat tough sides like Mexico and South Korea. Still, the pedigree is there and they should be a decent side. Mexico is a tough and experienced side. Tons of veterans from overseas and in the MLS. One of the more promising players, Hirving Lozano, will be deployed on the wing for the Mexicans. The Dos Santos brothers, Hector Herrera, Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez provide an experienced spine to the side. South Korea is my wild card in this group. If they can defend well enough and use speedster Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan on the counter attack, they could sneak enough points to get into the knock out rounds.
Second spot: South Korea
Group G- Belgium, Tunisia, Panama and England
This is a two-horse race between two of the world's elite nations. Belgium has the world class talent all over the pitch. Their one weakness is their full backs and with a English team with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling that is an area to watch. They have the talent to breeze by Tunisia and Panama and go in strong into the knock out round.
England is in a state of flux right now with a bit of a changing of the guard happening. Despite the obviously talented side that rookie manager Gareth Southgate has at his disposal, the Three Lions will have a tall task to end what has been a consistent nightmare in world football for England. The English have only won six knockout games since they won the World Cup in 1966. Knowing that history, look for the English to make a statement in the group and try to build momentum for a historical year for them. (Hint, I think they'll go far.)
Second Spot: Belgium
Group H- Poland, Senegal, Columbia and Japan
A group that has a lot of what ifs. What if Sadio Mane plays like he can and can take advantage of lackluster fullbacks in the group? Senegal can be in play if Mane, Keita Balde and Idrissa Gueye can pick apart subpar defending teams in the group. Can Serbia ride the shoulders of Aleksandar Mitrovic who had a career renassiance at Fulham this year in the EPL? Will the defense keep up with the world class attacking of Poland? Will Robert Lewandowski continue his brilliance despite what some would consider a down year at Bayern Munich? Will transfer rumors distract him? Columbia is the most complete team, in my opinion, from start to finish. What they lack in world class talent like Senegal and Poland, they make up for with playmaker James Rodriguez in the midfield and young Tottenham anchor Davinson Sanchez in the back. Again, a complete toss up in the group.
Second Spot: Columbia
As you can see above, I didn't take too many outsiders in terms of the world's most elite footballing countries. This year was actually easier to pick given the likes of Italy, Netherlands, Chile and the United States not competing this year. With that being said, my predicted winner is France. They're overall the deepest team in the world at the moment. They have a blend of youth and experience. The problem with them has always been their inability to stitch it together, especially given their efforts against the United States this past weekend in a friendly. But, with Dembele, Mbappe, Varane and Lloris just to name a few (seriously, their roster is full of club studs) they are in pole position to win this year's crown.
Alex can be reached at email@example.com