It has been a whole 18 days since Sergio Ramos’s stellar performance in UFC 225. However, the football-sized hole in our lives is about to be filled. It’s time to forget about our ills, about Brexit, about Trump, about Eyal from Love Island. The world’s greatest sporting event is upon us. That also means it is time for some well-thought out and educated predictions, cue the football enthusiast.
If Russia versus Saudi Arabia won’t whet your appetite for the World Cup then nothing will. The opening game isn’t exactly a national derby and will determine 3rd place in the group. Uruguay will have a tough route in the knockout stages but have the quality and experience to do well. Egypt need their talisman, Salah, back as soon as possible but they possess a decent squad.
Prediction: Uruguay (1st), Egypt (2nd)
This group provides the first big clash of the tournament on Friday, pitting Spain against their neighbours and Euro 2016 winners Portugal. The Spaniards possess a disgustingly talented squad and will top the group and progress deep into the tournament despite losing their coach on the eve of the tournament. I am not convinced by Portugal – Ronaldo’s gravitational pull never gets the best out of his teammates. Iran and Morocco should not be underestimated though.
Prediction: Spain, Portugal
Les Bleus should top this group with the incredibly-talented squad they possess but Deschamps is still yet to find the right blend up front. If Eriksen is on form he could drag Denmark out the group, he’s a world-class player– the loss of Bendtner will surprisingly have little impact on their quest for glory. The other two teams should not be taken lightly though. Peru could provide an upset and the Socceroos do seem to bring their best to the global stage. Any of these three could come second (…pretty confident with that prediction).
Prediction: France, Denmark
This is Messi’s final chance to move out of the shadow of Argentina’s first son, Maradona. Sadly for Leo, I don’t think La Albiceleste will progress further than the quarter-finals. Nigeria will not offer much apart from their snazzy kit whilst Iceland, the smallest nation ever to make it to the World Cup, have the potential to scrape through. This relies on Sigurðsson recovering adequately from injury. Croatia have an ageing defence but are sprinkled with quality and should progress as runners-up.
Prediction: Argentina, Iceland
Brazil will waltz through this group, scoring plenty of goals, and it will be a scrap for second. Switzerland have a knack of squeaking through to the last 16 and I think they will do it again. Serbia have some undoubted quality, including Matic and Milinković-Savić, but will just miss out. Costa Rica were underestimated in 2014 and went on to win England’s group but I can’t see them repeating that feat. They’ll be the whipping boys of the group.
Prediction: Brazil, Switzerland
Another easy group to pick the winner, the Germans will glide effortlessly to the knockout stages. However, who will join them is up for grabs. Son will try to carry the South Koreans on his cheery shoulders but I’m not sure that will be enough. Sweden are without Zlatan for the first time since 2002 and will struggle to score. That leaves Mexico who possess enough pace and guile to guide them through.
Prediction: Germany, Mexico
Belgium’s squad should make them a favourite for the tournament but they are perennial under-performers and always seem to bottle it at the final stage – I think they will do so again. The Three Lions have an inexperienced team lacking the stardust we are accustomed to but Southgate has taken to the poisoned chalice of England manager with gusto. I’m starting to get carried away…we might even get out the group. Realistically, a quarter final finish would be a success. Panama have done incredibly well to make it to Russia but should prop up the group with a solid Tunisia coming 3rd.
Prediction: Belgium, England
Colombia are the only side of quality in this group and will hope Rodriguez can summon the performances that won him the Golden Ball in Brazil. The rest of the teams are quite run of the mill. Lewandowski must be firing if Poland are to do well but I doubt he will receive the service necessary to repeat his qualifying heroics. Senegal have a spattering of English based players that could serve them well and I would love to see a repeat of their performances in the 2002 World Cup. The fact Okazaki will be leading the line for Japan does not fill me with hope.
Prediction: Colombia, Poland
The Golden Boot is never straightforward and the lack of out-and-out strikers in many of the leading teams makes the top scorer prediction even trickier. Muller seems a sensible candidate having scored 5 goals in both the previous World Cups but he is coming off a poor season in Munich. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lukaku continues his flat-track bully status and grabs some goals against Panama and Tunisia while Lewandowski is in cracking form. Looking at the draw though, I am backing Suarez or Cavani to rack them up in the group stages against poor opposition. Messi and Neymar will also bag a few as they look to banish the bad memories of four years ago but I’m sticking with their ex-Barcelona teammate.
Prediction: Luis Suarez (Uruguay)
It comes down to four teams: Germany, Brazil, Spain and France. Brazil are the bookies favourite and you can see why. They have a glittering attack bolstered by a steely central midfield, but have a weak defence that can be exploited. France have very similar problems to Brazil with the added obstacle of a manager without any clear vision. For me, Germany and Spain are the two strongest teams and if it wasn’t for the bizarre sacking of Lopetegui I would’ve backed the Spaniards. However, after that strange move I’ve regretfully got to go for Germany to win back-to-back World Cups for the first time since Brazil in ’58 and ’62.
So there are my predictions. Guaranteed money down the bookies. So, enjoy the festival of football and we’ll see just how badly these predictions go in 32 days.