The World Cup is finally here after four long years! Despite some great teams like Italy, the United States, the Netherlands, and Chile not qualifying this year, it still has the potential to be a great and exciting tournament. Here are my picks for the group stage portion of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Let me know what you think!
Uruguay is the clear favorite here and will easily win this group behind the strong attacking partnership of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. The rest of the teams in Group A simply aren’t that good. Russia, the hosts, have the strongest team out of the remaining three and should finish in second with the home advantage. Egypt will fall just short of the knockout stages due to the fact that Mo Salah, despite being one of the best players in the world, can’t carry an awful team by himself. Saudi Arabia shouldn’t even be in this tournament. They’ll finish in dead last with no points and probably no goals either.
1. Uruguay – 7 points
2. Russia – 5 points
3. Egypt – 4 points
4. Saudi Arabia – 0 points
Although Spain fired their unbeaten head coach just one day before the World Cup starts, they should still win this group. Spain has one of the most talented squads in the tournament and should excel despite the chaos surrounding the team. Veterans like Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta will be influential in uniting the team. Portugal will finish in second, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they win the group or fail to qualify for the knockouts. They are a team that is either really good or really bad, and their fate will be determined by the performance of one of the world’s best, Cristiano Ronaldo. Morocco will finish in third after failing to defeat Portugal and Spain. Iran, another team that should not be in the World Cup, will finish last.
1. Spain – 9 points
2. Portugal – 6 points
3. Morocco – 3 points
4. Iran – 0 points
France, the team regarded by many as the tournament favorite, will have no problem topping their group. Expect players such as Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba to be very impressive in the early stages. Denmark will probably finish second, but they are a team that could make some noise here. They have a solid all-around squad led by one of the best midfielders in the world, Christian Eriksen. Australia and Peru will finish in third and fourth place respectively. Neither team has the talent or the depth to seriously compete here.
1. France – 9 points
2. Denmark – 6 points
3. Australia – 1 point
4. Peru – 1 point
*Australia beats Peru on goal differential
I predict that the first major upset of the tournament will be in this group. Argentina is the favorite, but I think that Croatia will actually finish in first over them. Croatia has a severely underrated team led by incredible playmakers such as Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, and Ivan Perisic. Argentina will finish second due to their weak defense, but I’d still expect Lionel Messi to light the tournament alive and score many goals in both the group and knockout stages. Iceland made headlines by upsetting England and booting them from Euro 2016, but their miracle will end this summer after finishing third. Teams this year won’t be so quick to underestimate them now. Nigeria will finish dead last in this group.
1. Croatia – 7 points
2. Argentina – 6 points
3. Iceland – 2 points
4. Nigeria -1 point
The five-time World Cup champions Brazil do not have as strong of a squad as many expected. However, they still have more than enough skill to easily win this group. Star forward Neymar will look to win the leading scorer this year, an award he narrowly missed out on four years back. The fight for second place will be between Switzerland and Serbia. Although Serbia has one of the best young players in the world in Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Switzerland has an overall stronger team and will edge them out for second and a place in the round of sixteen. Serbia will finish third, and Costa Rica, who made the quarterfinals of the previous World Cup after upsetting Italy and Uruguay, will lose their magic and finish in last place.
1. Brazil – 9 points
2. Switzerland – 4 points
3. Serbia – 4 points
4. Costa Rica – 0 points
*Switzerland beats Serbia on goal differential
Germany is the defending World Cup champions and will look to pick up where they left off in Group F. Unsurprisingly, they will finish in first. Germany is just too strong for the other teams in this group. German forward Thomas Muller will look to score as many goals as he can (only needs six to tie the all-time World Cup goal scoring record). Mexico will finish in second place behind a decent group of young and veteran players. I expect them to be very lethal in attack but very prone to the counter attack where they could give up some cheap goals. South Korea and Sweden will finish third and fourth respectively. Both teams aren’t necessarily bad, but both lack the firepower of Germany and Mexico. Sweden will surely miss star player Zlatan Ibrahimovic who recently retired from international soccer.
*Sweden has already ruined the tournament for me by beating an embarrassing Italy team and preventing them from qualifying, so I hope they never win a game again.
1. Germany – 9 points
2. Mexico – 6 points
3. South Korea – 1 point
4. Sweden – 1 point
*South Korea beats Sweden on goal differential
This is the most lopsided group for me. You have two teams, Belgium and England, who are miles ahead of the other two teams, Panama and Tunisia. Belgium will finish in a close first place. I predict they will squeak a win against England to give them the top spot with a last minute winner. Everyone knows about Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, but I’d advise you to keep an eye on Dries Mertens. The Napoli forward is one of the most underrated and prolific goal scorers in the world, and he is my pick to win the tournament top scorer award. England has a great goalscorer of their own in Harry Kane, but I expected their squad to be stronger than it is. Nevertheless, they’ll have no issue advancing in this group. Tunisia will finish in third, and Panama will finish in fourth. Both of these teams have exactly zero good players, and Panama could go down as THE WORST World Cup team of all time.
1. Belgium – 9 points
2. England – 6 points
3. Tunisia – 3 points
4. Panama – 0 points
For a neutral fan, this is the most equally balanced and exciting group. All four teams could move on to the knockout stages. Poland, led by superstar forward Robert Lewandowski, has the strongest squad in the group. They will finish in the top spot. Second place could either go to Colombia or Senegal. Colombia had a great 2014 World Cup before bowing out to Brazil in the quarterfinals. Midfielder James Rodriguez, the breakout star, and top goalscorer, is back this year for Colombia. Senegal will be lead by defender Kalidou Koulibaly, one of the best defenders in Serie A and Sadie Mane, the rapid winger who scored in the Champions League Final for Liverpool a few weeks ago. I actually think Senegal will use their pace and creativity to upset Colombia and finish in second place. They could be like the Colombia team from the previous World Cup. Japan is the weakest team in the group and will finish directly behind Colombia in last place.
1 Poland – 5 points
2. Senegal – 4 points
3. Colombia – 4 points
4. Japan – 3 points
*Senegal beats Colombia on head-to-head record
World Cup Awards Predictions
Golden Ball Award (Best Player): Isco (Spain)
Golden Boot Award (Top Scorer): Dries Mertens (Belgium)
Golden Glove Award (Best Goalie): David De Gea (Spain)
Best Young Player Award: Kylian Mbappe (France)
Who do I think will win the World Cup? I predict that Spain will defeat Belgium in the final. I will be doing another and more in-depth predictions article for all games in the knockout stage once the schedule is settled.
Photo: USA Today