On Friday, the field was set for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. As a result of a new configuration for the draw pots (by ranking instead of confederation), groups were supposed to be more “balanced,” and as a result, we have more soft groups than ever before. These games won’t change though, so it’s time to make our predictions for how the tournament will go while players still have six months to make the case to their countries that they should be a part of the 23-men squads.
Group A: Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay
The hosts will breathe a sigh of relief for getting such a soft group (which didn’t happen for South Africa in 2010 or Brazil in 2014). With Egypt dependent on Mohamed Salah and Saudi Arabia being, well Saudi Arabia, the Russians will feel confident about finishing second in their group behind Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez, and Uruguay. However, Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev’s didn’t play well in Brazil, letting Lee Keun-ho’s shot slip through his fingertips and coming out for an Algerian free kick that he was never going to get, costing his country a knockout stage appearance. Factor in Salah’s brilliant form for Liverpool, and it’s possible that the hosts could go crashing out of the group stage.
PREDICTIONS: Russia 2-0 Saudi Arabia, Egypt 1-3 Uruguay, Russia 1-1 Egypt, Uruguay 4-0 Saudi Arabia, Uruguay 1-0 Russia, Saudi Arabia 0-3 Egpyt
ADVANCING: 1st Uruguay, 2nd Egypt
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
Poor Iran. In 2014, it was Lionel Messi, and now they get to play Cristiano Ronaldo. Oh, and Spain. So this group is pretty much done and dusted already, and the opening match between Spain and Portugal is essentially to avoid Uruguay. Morocco and Iran will just be happy to be at the tournament.
PREDICTIONS: Morocco 1-1 Iran, Portugal 1-3 Spain, Portugal 2-0 Morocco, Iran 0-1 Spain, Iran 0-1 Portugal, Spain 3-0 Morocco
ADVANCING: 1st Spain, 2nd Portugal
Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
This is an “almost there” group for Australia, who have been subject to difficult groups for the last two World Cup cycles. Realistically, they’re hoping for second. Between Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, Anthony Martial, and many others, the French are simply too good to be challenged by anyone else in this group. The other three teams will fight hard for their place in the knockout stages, but Peru hasn’t played any matches this big since 1982, so their chances are slim to nonexistent. The Danes have Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, and with just one moment of brilliance needed to put any of these three teams through, the Tottenham midfielder is the most likely to provide it.
PREDICTIONS: France 2-0 Australia, Peru 0-1 Denmark, Denmark 1-1 Australia, France 3-1 Peru, Denmark 1-2 France, Australia 0-0 Peru
ADVANCING: 1st France, 2nd Denmark
Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Lionel Messi is still the best player in the world, and knowing that he’ll be nearly 35 by the time the next tournament begins in Qatar, he’ll be giving everything to win the World Cup before the end of his prime. Croatia, for all their brilliance, have flopped on the international stage recently, and there’s not a soft group for them to really gain momentum before the knockout stages. Nigeria is no joke, and Iceland will be a well-organized side, similar to the way they played in the Euros. Nigeria is certainly the team here with the most World Cup pedigree after Argentina, and that is why The Super Eagles will advance.
PREDICTIONS: Argentina 3-0 Iceland, Croatia 1-2 Nigeria, Nigeria 2-1 Iceland, Argentina 2-0 Croatia, Nigeria 2-4 Argentina, Iceland 0-0 Croatia
ADVANCING: 1st Argentina, 2nd Nigeria
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
The Brazilians are simply brilliant, and none of the other teams in this group can match the star power that all of Brazil’s attacking talent brings. Switzerland may come closest with Xherdan Shaqiri, but don’t expect any surprises from this group. Costa Rica isn’t the same side it was in 2014 when it shocked the world, and Serbia’s best goal threat is potentially its left back, Aleksandar Kolarov.
PREDICTIONS: Costa Rica 1-1 Serbia, Brazil 4-1 Switzerland, Brazil 4-0 Costa Rica, Serbia 0-1 Switzerland, Serbia 0-3 Brazil, Switzerland 2-2 Costa Rica
ADVANCING: 1st Brazil, 2nd Switzerland
Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
Don’t listen to anyone who says there isn’t a “Group of Death,” because this is the one. The defending world champions will need to be switched on when they face the most exciting Mexican team in years, a Swedish team that qualified without legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and a South Korean team that will be well-organized and still has the talented Heung-Min Son. A slip-up for any of these teams will doom their tournament hopes as the rest of the group is strong enough to take advantage. Expect Mexico’s Hirving Lozano’s star to continue rising after what could be another breakout tournament after an exciting performance in a 3-3 draw with Belgium.
PREDICTIONS: Sweden 1-2 South Korea, Germany 3-2 Mexico, South Korea 1-2 Mexico, Germany 3-0 Sweden, Mexico 1-0 Sweden, South Korea 0-2 Germany
ADVANCING: 1st Germany, 2nd Mexico
Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
Group A is pretty soft, but this group is even softer. Panama and Tunisia simply don’t have a shot, and Belgium has more attacking quality than England and will likely pip them to the top spot in the group. There’s really no reason to watch this group if you’re a neutral fan. You’ll be subjected to boring games.
PREDICTIONS: Belgium 4-0 Panama, Tunisia 0-3 England, Belgium 4-0 Tunisia, England 4-0 Panama, Panama 2-2 Tunisia, England 0-1 Belgium
ADVANCING: 1st Belgium, 2nd England
Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
Poland gamed the FIFA rankings system for a Pot 1 seed, and now, despite the incomparable talents of striker Robert Lewandowski, they probably won’t even get out of their own group. Colombia is the class of the group, and dark horse candidate Senegal, led by Sadio Mane, will look to run rings around a group that has a lot of teams that aren’t the greatest defensively. Japan is always a decent side that can cause problems, but likely won’t have the physicality to compete with the more powerful teams in the group.
PREDICTIONS: Colombia 4-1 Japan, Poland 1-2 Senegal, Japan 2-3 Senegal, Poland 0-2 Colombia, Japan 1-3 Poland, Colombia 2-2 Senegal
ADVANCING: 1st Colombia, 2nd Senegal
The favorites should stay in the tournament, but with the reorganization of the pots, we’ve lost much of the intrigue of the group stages. They’ve been reduced to almost a formality, warm up matches for the teams expected to make some noise before the knockout stages begin. Nevertheless, those are the matches on the schedule, and with the groups now previewed, we can look ahead to the knockout stages and predict our champion. Stay tuned.