Soccer’s biggest event on the world stage is taking place in Russia this summer from June 15 to July 14, and will be sure to contain surprises, devastation, goals and glory for one nation. With the 2018 FIFA World Cup less than five days away, I took a look at each group and predicted the winners. If you’d like to take your own stab at World Cup predictions, check out ESPN FC’s match predictor, FIFA’s official interactive match predictor or if you’re like me and prefer good ol pencil and paper, use this handy bracket.
Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
Summary: Though Uruguay can be an incredibly tough team to face — when they’re on their game — with a strong, physical presence backing up their potent attacking front line of Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez, this side is just the 14th best team in the tournament according to FIFA’s rankings. Uruguay finished second in CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying, and if they can bring that same energy to the World Cup, the rest of the group is a laugher. Egypt’s star player, Mohamed Salah, had a fantastic debut season with Liverpool, and the way he powered Egypt to their first World Cup since 1990 makes him equal to a god in the eyes of many Egypt supporters. If Salah can recover from his shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final, I see him leading Egypt out of their group into the round of 16. Meanwhile, Russia goes into the tournament as the lowest ranked of the 32 teams, having failed to advance past the group stage of any major international tournament since 2008. While Russia hopes to have home field advantage on their side in their historically easy group, I don’t think they have the talent or the organization to make it out of the group stage.
Prediction: Uruguay, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
Summary: There will be no niceties in Group B. International neighbors and heavyweights Portugal and Spain face off on June 15, the second day of the tournament. Morocco and Iran, sadly, have almost no chance of stopping these two powerhouses. Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, will be fully motivated after winning their first ever European Championship in France last year. Spain, will look to bounce back after a poor 2014 World Cup. I think Spain will defeat Portugal, and nab that top spot in the group with their versatile and unstoppable squad. With veterans Andrés Iniesta, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos to guide them, young starlets Isco, Marco Asensio and the rest should have no problems winning.
Prediction: Spain, Portugal, Iran, Morocco
Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Summary: Debate over who will win this group is mostly pointless as France’s talent and deep squad makes them the obvious frontrunners. The real competition will be for second place, with Peru and Denmark both being dark horses. Denmark have real talent in Christian Eriksen, but as this is Peru’s first World Cup since 1982, I expect these underdogs to fight harder than ever. Peru definitely has some skilled players in Christian Cueva, Edison Flores and Raul Ruidiaz, directed by a tactically gifted manager, Ricardo Gareca. Also, after much back and forth drama of will he, won’t he, Peru’s all-time leading goalscorer and captain, Paolo Guerrero, will indeed be available for selection for the tournament this summer, despite a 14-month ban, following a positive test for cocaine metabolites which he said he accidentally consumed in tea. I think Peru poses a real challenge to Denmark, who struggled to qualify for the World Cup, ultimately defeating Ireland over two legs, thanks to a Christian Eriksen hat trick. Australia only hired their coach a mere five months before the tournament. I don’t think they will be a real force, and will likely fail to advance from the group stage.
Prediction: France, Peru, Denmark, Australia
Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Summary: Group D is definitely one of the most balanced and unpredictable groups. While Argentina is arguably the most talented team, oftentimes they struggle to put all the pieces together and perform consistently. And let’s not forget how Argentina gave their fans a scare when they barely managed to qualify for the tournament. Jorge Sampaoli still needs to figure out how best to get Paulo Dybala and Lionel Messi to combine their talents, and how to effectively manage his aging defense. And then Argentina will surely be a force to be reckoned with. Croatia are a strong team and with a midfield of Ivan Rakitić and Luka Modrić, they definitely shouldn’t be overlooked as a possible threat. Nigeria are one of the strongest African nations, and I think they will battle with Croatia for that second spot. Iceland won the hearts of so many during the 2016 European Championships when they knocked out England in the round of 16 before losing to the host, France in the quarterfinals. They’ll be hoping for a similar world-shocking performance in the World Cup, but frankly, I don’t think they’ll be able to pull it off.
Prediction: Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria, Iceland
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Summary: Brazil have been playing great free-flowing football for a while now, and I don’t think this group will pose any challenges to them. There’s not much to separate Costa Rica, Switzerland and Serbia, but I think Los Ticos will be able to replicate the form they showed at the 2014 World Cup, when they finished quarter finalists. From what I’ve seen, South American teams are usually very difficult to overcome on their day.
Prediction: Brazil, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Serbia
Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, Korea Republic
Summary: While this seems like a straightforward group, I see the possibility of a “Zlatan-less” Sweden upsetting Mexico, and taking the second spot if Mexico aren’t careful. What, you didn’t think I’d say Germany would slip up, did you? Germany have got this group in the bag with their insanely deep squad of talented players and brilliant tactician Joachim Löw. I do have Mexico taking that second spot in the group because I think that neither Sweden nor Korea have enough to overtake Mexico.
Prediction: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, Korea Republic
Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
Summary: Belgium will easily soar through the group stage, with their plethora of attacking power and flair in Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and more. England fans will hope their team doesn’t lose focus and suffer a shock loss against the likes of Panama or Tunisia, as they have been known to do in the past. As long as Southgate’s young phenoms like Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane show up to play, I think there’s a good chance that they live up to the hype on the world stage. Don’t go expecting anything close to a semifinal appearance from England, though. Let’s keep things in perspective, people.
Prediction: Belgium, England, Panama, Tunisia
Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
Summary: I’m not expecting James Rodriguez and Colombia to light up the tournament as they did in 2014, but I do think they definitely have enough talent to finish top of their group, and advance to the knockout stages. With the quality and ability of Robert Lewandowski, the expectations are high for him and Poland this summer. Do I think Poland rely too heavily on Lewandowski? Of course, but I think they’ll succeed over the likes of Japan and Senegal, who haven’t done enough for me in qualifying to be convinced that they’ll pull off an upset. This group could well be one of the surprises of the tournament, though. We’ll see.
Prediction: Colombia, Poland, Japan, Senegal
World Cup Final Prediction: I predict that Brazil’s 16-year wait for more World Cup glory will end this year. Football is a sport that revels in history. There have been many historic games over the years, few more shocking than Germany’s 7-1 win over Brazil during the 2014 World Cup semifinals. I think Brazil will definitely relish this opportunity to take revenge, and prove themselves to the world, while providing plenty of goals and tricks galore. With attacking wonders like Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Neymar, Brazil will surely make any team they face quake in their boots.
Runner-up: Germany. If anyone can win two back-to-back World Cups, it’s this German team. However, I think if anyone can beat this team in a World Cup Final, it’s this Brazilian squad. Neymar will be hungry to prove himself after a rocky season with Paris Saint-Germain Football Club and I think Brazil have the on-field talent and depth to win their sixth World Cup, with the last win coming in 2002. Somewhat surprisingly, Germany’s World Cup squad does not include Premier League Young Player of the Year and Manchester City winger Leroy Sane, and Germany do not have the greatest options in defense which could prove to be an issue as they go on to face more difficult opponents. However, Löw and the Germans always seem to come up with new ways to combat whatever problems arise in their squad. We’ll just have to wait and see. Either way, I think we’re in for an exciting tournament full of passion and beautiful football.
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