Soccer

2018 World Cup Draw: Previewing the Field

Even people who hate soccer will acknowledge that the World Cup is one of the most exciting sporting events on the planet. Today the excitement grows even more as the world cup field is finally set. Let’s take a look at how the group draw panned out, and who’ll be favored to advance to the knockout rounds.

 

Group A: Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Iran, Morocco

Group C: France, Peru, Denmark, Australia

Group D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea

Group G: Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama

Group H: Poland, Colombia, Senegal, Japan

Group A: Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia

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The host country saw a favorable draw with a group consisting of Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Russia is a solid squad but would not look like a lock to advance in any other field but group A. Do I sense some foul play by Vladimir Putin? Everybody’s talking about him possibly interfering in the election. Meanwhile nobody’s talking about how he’s pulling the strings behind the world cup draw. Classic sleight of hand. Smooth move Vladdy, I see you. In all seriousness, Uruguay is a heavy favorite to win this group , with more quality in their side than the rest of the teams in the group combined. A defense anchored by Atletico Madrid center backs, Diego Godin and Jose Maria Jimenez, and an attack spearheaded by Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani will surely have La Celeste (The Sky Blue) running rabid on the likes of Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Russia is the clear candidate for second place in the group, with far more top flight talent than the remaining two teams in players like Igor Akinfeev and Alan Dzagoev. Yet I wouldn’t entirely write off Egypt, particularly because of the play of Mohamed Salah. The Egyptians surprised many by making the field convincingly, in a group that included Africa’ incumbent best team, Ghana. Could this team surprise us again? Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, I do not expect to make any noise.

Advancing: Uruguay and Russia

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Iran, Morocco

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Group B will provide the most exciting first round matchup, pitting Iberian powerhouses, Portugal and Spain, against each other early. As exciting as this matchup will be, the result is likely meaningless as both teams should cruise to knockout play. Despite Spain’s golden generation’s reign of terror coming to an end last world cup, the country may still have the deepest talent pool in the world. They could truly put out two full teams that would be among the top 7 in the world. As has always been the case, Spain’s midfield is where their strength lies. Andres Iniesta is still kicking. While David Silva, Thiago, Isco, Sergio Busquets, Marco Asensio, and a slew of others will carry the torch for retired national team staples Xavi and Xabi Alonso. The Spanish defense will likely be a backline filled with superstars from Real Mardid and Barcelona including Pique, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal, and Jordi Alba. However, Spain’s success during World Cup will likely depend on their ability finish in front of goal. “La Roja” (The Red) have been lacking a quality number 9 to head their attack ever since David Villa’s retirement from international football. The Spanish will be hoping that either Alvaro Morata or Diego Costa will fill that role. On the other hand, Portugal is coming off of a 2016 European Championship title. If you remember that tournament, you will recall that the Portuguese really did not play all that well, but managed to outlast the competition on the way to winning the second most important trophy in international football. Although they have not been in particularly good form the last few years, they have an easy pathway to second in this group. It would be unthinkable for a Portuguese team that features Cristiano Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva, Joao Moutinho, Andre Silva etc. to miss out on second place to a team like Morocco. Make no mistake, Morrocco has some players in Mendi Benatia and Younes Belhanda. But they are quite obviously nowhere near Portgual’s level in terms of talent. Similarly, Iran should be an afterthought in this group

Advancing: Spain and Portugal

Group C: France, Peru, Denmark, Australia

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France will enter this tournament as one of the favorites to win it all. They have what is probably the most talented young roster in the world, top to bottom. If I know one thing about this French it is that they like themselves some sex. Big time sex havers over there for sure. Their soccer team is no different. They play a sexy brand of football, and as such are the sexy world cup pick. As a soccer fan I am creaming my jeans looking at their starting eleven. I mean seriously look at it: Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial, Karim Benzema, Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe, just to name a few. In terms of technical ability, there may be no country more skilled. There’s a reason why they finished second in the Euro’s. And honestly, they were the far better team in that final against Portugal, and great throughout the entire tournament. Not to mention they are backstopped by one of the preeminent best goalkeepers in the world in Hugo Lloris. Plainly stated, the new generation of French football has arrived and will look to make their mark this tournament. Second place in this group is a little more difficult to predict, but my money is on Denmark. A lot of that comes down to my belief in their midfield talisman, Christian Eriksen. He has been a central playmaker for Tottenham for the last five years, and is deadly on set pieces. Eriksen is supremely skilled and can pretty much do it all in the offensive half of the field. He’s made his name off of setting up teammates and making those around him better, and he’ll have to continue to do that for Denmark this world cup. However, advancing is not a forgone conclusion for the Danes. Peru and Australia both will field decent teams and could make a run at the second spot; with Peru being the most likely to challenge Denmark.

Advancing: France and Denmark

Group D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria

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The structure of Group D is a little different. We have a clear favorite for the top spot in Argentina. The second spot will likely go to Croatia. The bottom two, Iceland and Nigeria, are interesting but remain significant underdogs to advance. Iceland is coming off a Cinderella run in the European Championships. Players like Gylfi Sigurosson and Alfreo Finnbogason do give the team some quality. But one still has to assume that Euro run was fluky. Meanwhile, Nigeria is one of the better teams in Africa, but have traditionally been a non-threat in international competition.  Nevertheless, they bring a more noteworthy roster to the table than Iceland with players like John Obi Mikel, Kelechi Iheanacho, Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi. Both these teams could challenge Argentina and Croatia more than expected, but will not advance. Speaking of Argentina, let’s talk about the class of the group. No team is more talented at a single position than Argentina is at attack. This squad boasts a lineup of the world’s best forwards: Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Mauro Icardi and the list goes on. Their midfield and defense finally have some of the talent to match. Lucas Biglia is a ball winner in the central midfield and will be flanked by either Angel Di Maria, Javier pastore, Manuel Lanzini, or Ever Banega. Likewise, Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Macherano, and Federico Fazio give “Los Albicelestes” strong presences at center back. An Argentina team that came up short in the last world cup against Germany, in extra time, will no doubt be a favorite to win the whole enchilada this time around. Their greatest competition for the top slot in group D comes from Croatia. The Croatian’s sneakily bring one of the better midfields in the world to Russia. Captain Luka Modric will no doubt be the general. But they bring even more quality in the form of Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic, and Mateo Kovacic. All the aforementioned can orchestrate, but Rakitic and Perisic both have a lot of goals in them as well. Nevermind the fact that the Croatians still have one of the premier aerial threats in world football with Mario Mandzukic at striker. Argentina will finish atop the group, but Croatia too could go on to make some noise throughout the tournament.

Advancing: Argentina and Croatia

Group E:  Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

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Group E is one of the groups in the conversation as the “group of death”. Brazil is a frontrunner is this group and a frontrunner in this tournament. They were dominant in CONMEBOL world cup qualifying, finishing a whopping ten points ahead of second place Uruguay. This is particularly impressive considering the group also featured Argentina. Colombia, Chile, and Peru. Along with France, Brazil will be one of the most fun teams to watch in Russia because the brand of football they play. Their samba style, known as Jogo Bonito, is characterized by individual skill and footwork. No one exemplifies these ideals more than superstar Neymar. He’ll undoubtedly be making defenders look stupid all tournament. In addition to Neymar, Brazil has a stable of young talent at the forward position including Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus, and Douglas Costa. Their skill up top is complemented by a midfield that is equally as skilled as it is dogged. Casemiro, Paulinho, and Fernandinho give the Selecao a slew of ball winning defensive midfielders who are also talented in distribution of the ball. Gritty stoppers like them will play in conjuction with two of the most talented midfielders in the word with the ball at their feet, in Willian and Philliphe Coutinho. Willian is great dribbler with both pace and amazing ability on set pieces. Whereas Coutinho will be the squad’s chief playmaker out of the midfield. With Liverpool, Coutinho has displayed incisive passing ability, providing some of the best through balls these eyes have seen.  Not only that, his dribbling ability is sublime and he possesses perhaps the best curling shot from distance in the premier league. Moreover, Brazil’s offense is so formidable that it is easy to ignore how solid they are at the back. Thiago Silva has long been one of the best center backs in the world. Phenom, Marquinhos, plays next to him at Paris Saint-Germain and will play next to him for Brazil. That is unless they opt to play the offensively talented defensive liability that is David Luiz. The center backs will be flanked by captain Dani Alves on the right, and all world offensive fullback, Marcelo, on the left. They also have younger options at the outside back positions in Alex Sandro and Danilo.

Now that I’ve spent enough time worshipping at the feet of the Selcecao, let’s consider the rest of the field. Costa Rica, Switzerland, and Serbia all have a shot at second place in group E. Costa Rica is backstopped by one of the best goalkeepers in world, Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas. The Costa Ricans have fared particularly well in major international competitions the last few years, escaping the group of death that included Italy, England, and Uruguay in 2014. Additionally, they finished second in CONCACAF world cup qualifying, behind only Mexico. Unfortunately, the Costa Ricans got another tough draw with Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia. Serbia is likely the most talented pot 4 in the entire competition. The Serbian’s roster features a number of players from Europe’s top leagues including Nemanja Matic, Dusan Tadic, and Aleksander Kolarov. They will surely present a challenge to the rest of the field. Nonetheless, I have to pick the Swiss to adavance out of this group. The reason being that they have undoubtedly the most talented roster out of the three teams in contenton for second. Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka are high level playmakers in the midfield. They have outstanding wing backs in both Stephan Lichtensteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez. Both these wingers and midfielders should be able to provide service to the likes of Breel Embolo, Ern Derdiyok, Josip Drmic, and Haris Seferovic. Not to mention they boast two solid goalkeepers in Yann Sommer and Roman Burkl. It’s a tough call, but top to bottom the Swiss have a far superior roster to Costa Rica and Serbia.

Advancing: Brazil and Switzerland

Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea

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The other group mentioned as the “group of death” is Group F. The defending champions, Germany will surely come out of this group and are looking to repeat their 2014 success. The Germans are a well-oiled machine and will bring another deep team to Russia. Their team’s strength comes from the literal strength of their staunch backline. In front of the world’s best goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels are powerful stalwarts at center back. They have incredible depth at that position and bring a number of talented young center backs and fullbacks, including Matthias Ginter, Antonio Rudiger, and Joshua Kimmich. In front of the vaunted German Defense is a group of equally strong defensive midfielders with Sami Khedira, Ilkay Gundogan, Emre Can, and Leon Goretzka. But the German midfield is full of as much brawn as it is skill. Playmakers like Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Julian Draxler, Mario Gotze, Leroy Sane etc. will help build the attack well and put goals on a platter for strikers Thomas Mueller and Timo Werner. Even in a tough group, Germany will ease its way to first place. The fight for the second place spot will be far more contentious. Mexico are a team in very good form with high expectations heading into Russia. Sweden will also present a tough challenge, having just knocked off Italy in a playoff. A South Korea team lead by Son Heung-min is also no slouch. Nothing is guaranteed, but I would be remiss not picking Mexico. All of my picks are based on which teams I believe to be most talented. The second most talented team in this group is far and away “El Tri”. Looking at it from the top down, their attack has high tier talent in Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela, and Giovanni Dos Santos. They are solid in the central midfield with Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera, and will get attacking support from fullback Miguel Layun. Goalkeeper Memo Ochoa will look to duplicate his amazing performances in the 2014 world cup. A Swedish team without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and a South Korea team with few players employed outside of Asia simply do not measure up.

Advancing: Germany and Mexico

Group G: Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama

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Group G is more straight forward. Belgium and England should finish comfortably atop the table. Both teams have all the talent to succeed, it’s just a matter of if and when they can put it all together. But its Belgium who is my favorite to finish first first. The Red Devils have world class players and a lot of depth in both the midfield and attack. Romelu Lukaku is a major threat up front and will be backed up by Dries Mertens, Christian Benteke, Michy Batshuyai and Divock Origi. In the attacking midfield they possess two of the best players in the entire tournament in Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne (as well as Yannick Carrasco). Belgium’s squad will also include a number deeper lying ball winners in Radja Nainggolan and Marouane Fellaini. Although the creativity of their attacking players is their strong suit, the Belgian defense also is composed of big names. Jan Vertoghen, Thomas Vermaelean, and Vincent Kompany will suit up at center back, flanked by Thomas Meunier and likely Toby Alderweireld at the fullback spots. Oh and in case you forgot, they have one of the best goalkeepers in the World in Thibault Courtois. Their only other feasible challenger for the top spot would be England. Every four years we have to listen to England fans yell at the clouds about how this year is finally the year the challenge the rest of soccer’s superpowers. But that year may actually  have arrived at last. The English have all the raw materials to make a run in this tournament. But will the scrutiny of English media and the pressure of great expectations again trip them up? Honestly, I love watching England fans squirm as they generally overhype their team and pretend they’re elite only to fall flat on their face. But this team is objectively stacked. Harry Kane is one of the sports premier strikers. Dele Alli is one of the best young attacking midfielders in the world. Speaking of midfielders they are incredibly stocked at the position. Midfielders like Adam Lallana, Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling, and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain all have gamebreaking ability on the ball.  Furthermore, the pace this team can play with is unreal with speedsters like Marcus Rashford, Sterling, Chamberlain, and potentially Theo Walcott. Their backline is also certainly solid enough to get the job done with John Stones, Gary Cahill, Kyle Walker, Eric Dier, and Danny Rose, among others. Longtime English National keeper, Joe Hart, will likely backstop the Three Lions, if he’s not usurped by Stoke City’s Jack Butland. At every level , England have the tools to be an upper echelon team. But could Panama potentially spoil the party for England like they did for the US? Maybe, but I certainly would not count on it. Panama have very few players employed in the European syndicate, and no one of note. Similarly, Tunisia have no one who’s name you’d recognize. They are virtually a certainty to finish last in the group.

Advancing: Belgium and England

Group H: Poland, Colombia, Senegal, Japan

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Some would argue this is the weakest group of the tournament, as there is not a clear powerhouse at the top of it. I would argue this is one of the more interesting groups in the sense that every team could potentially come out of it. That being said, there is a clear gulp in class between teams like Colombia and Japan. Therefore, Colombia is my pick to top group H. World class midfielder James Rodriguez will be trying to replicate his incredible performance in the 2014 world cup, and take “Los Cafeteros” back to the knockout stage. Creative dribbler, Juan Cuadado also played an instrumental role in 2014 and will look to do the same in Russia. But this time around, Colombia will have a healthy and in form Radamel Falcao leading the frontline. Carlos Bacca, Luis Muriel, and Jackson Martinez (if fully healthy) give the team a number of options on attack. Defense may be the only issue for the Colombians. Tottenham’s summer transfer Davinson Sanchez has enormous potential at center back, Santiago Arias also provides an attacking dimension at fullback, and David Ospina is capable in goal. But can that back line hold firm against the likes of Robert Lewandowski? Of that I am not sure. For that reason, I am picking Poland as the other team to advance. Lewandowski isn’t the only player of quality Poland possess. Jakub Blaszczykowski and Piotr Zielinski are solid in the midfield. Moreover, Poland boasts both a high quality center half and full back in Kamil Glik and Lukasz Piszczek. They have a couple of options in goal between Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski, so we’ll see who they go with. All in all, we are looking at a solid team that certainly is good enough to place second in the group. Sure, they could end up higher or lower. Yet in my mind, the real tossup is for third place between Japan and Senegal. Japan’s roster is headlined by Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, and Yuto Nagatomo. The rest of their roster has number of players employed throughout Europe. Something in my brain is telling me they are a bigger threat to the top 2, but I cannot quailify that thought in any way. On paper Senegal has more big name players and more European talent. Despite my inner urges, I have to pick Senegal for that reason. Up top Saido Mane and Balde Diao Keita are elite level talents. Not to mention Moussa Sow, Papiss Cisse, Demba ba, Mame Diouf and M’baye Niang are full of goals as well. Cheikou Koyate, Idrissa Gueye, and Mohamed Diame will anchor the midfield. Last but not least, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly is a beast of a center back at 6’5. At every position this Senegalese side is more impressive than Japan. Therefore, they should finish third, or possibly even higher.

Advancing: Colombia and Poland

 

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One comment

  1. Soccer is the biggest waste of time. I’m so glad that the US didn’t even make the World Cup so I’m not forced to watch this sport for four weeks

    Like

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