The World Cup is less than two weeks away. It’s certainly going to be an unusual tournament due to Italy, the United States, Netherlands, and Cameroon all missing out. Regardless, it’s going to be exciting.
So who is going to make it out of the Group Stage? Well, here are the early favorites:
This is their first appearance in the World Cup since 1990. About two weeks ago, Egyptian superstar, Mohamed Salah, suffered an injury during the UEFA Champions League final putting his trip to Russia in serious jeopardy. However, the injury was diagnosed as just a shoulder sprain, ruling him out for three weeks. He won’t play Egypt’s opening game against Uruguay, but will play the other two matches against Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Egypt is well-experienced, has a very solid defense, and midfield. Egypt will have to play as a strong cohesive unit as they can’t rely on Salah to carry them. The first match without Salah will be a telltale sign for the Egyptians.
Uruguay is coming to Russia as a team with even more potential and experience than they did four years ago. Forwards Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez are expected to make impacts as their knowledge and expertise are key. The midfield system looks good and it’ll be led by Cristian Rodriguez. Captain and defender Diego Godin is leading the charge for the Uruguayan defense.
Uruguay is favored to top the group, but they can’t afford to take any of their opponents lightly. Their first game is against Egypt and, as we know Salah won’t be there, but Uruguay knows that Salah’s absence doesn’t make things easier for them. Uruguay just needs to step on the field and put up a good performance. They’re more than capable of winning all three games and head into the knockout stage more confident than ever.
After what happened to them four years ago, Spain knew they needed to rebuild. Their run in the Euro 16 also ended in disappointment. Now, Spain’s got everything: potential, mentality, talent, and cohesiveness. Captain Sergio Ramos is leading the defense, Andres Iniesta is leading the midfield, and Diego Costa is leading striking attack.
Spain is one of the heavily favored teams to hoist the trophy this summer. It can be said that this team is stronger than the 2010 team that won it all, but we have to wait-and-see before we jump to conclusions there.
Since their historic Euro 16 run, Portugal has improved in mentality and experience. The defense looks solid even though they have aged stars in Pepe, Bruno Alves, and Jose Fonte, all in their mid-30’s. Cristiano Ronaldo is leading the striking attack, but he is aging too. At least half a dozen players are in their 30’s while at least three defenders have less than five international appearances. Portugal is in for a challenging journey.
Portugal is in for a tough first game against Spain, but Iran and Morocco are winnable contests. At this point, Ronaldo can’t carry the entire team on his back anymore. Portugal has to play with talent and synergy. If they do, they’ll emerge from the group. It would not look good for them if they suffered an early exit again, especially after winning the Euro.
France is a potential favorite to win it all as they are one of the most talented teams in the world. On defense, there’s Samuel Umtiti, Raphael Varane, and Djibril Sidibe. The midfield has Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, N’Golo Kante, and Thomas Lemar. And finally, there’s Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Nabil Fekir, and Olivier Giroud in the forward striking zone. However, they are a team that lacks focus at times and they are unpredictable in their play. France has won two of their friendlies with one more coming up. It’s a sign that progress is being made in their preparation.
France doesn’t want to get too comfortable with winning because one slight distraction can lead to the team falling apart. As long as the players are focused and play as a cohesive unit, they’ll be able to win all three games and head into the knockout stage with plenty of confidence.
This is Peru’s first World Cup appearance since 1982. Recently, their striker and captain, Paolo Guerrero, was reinstated to the team and will lead the forward striking attack alongside Jefferson Farfan. Forward Andre Carrillo has been listed by critics as a player to watch. Peru has a very balanced midfield and a defense with good experience, despite the team being relatively young. With their captain present on the pitch, Peru’s certainly coming to Russia motivated and focused.
Peru’s mission to making it to the knockout stage will be difficult, but not impossible. Their biggest challenge in the group will be France against the Frenchmen. Peru is certainly capable of taking care of business against Denmark and Australia. They may have been away from the World Cup for over 30 years, but they’re absence from the biggest international tournament could propel them to newer heights.
Things have been very rough for Argentina as of late. They barely qualified for the World Cup and, not long ago, they suffered a 6-1 defeat to Spain in a friendly exhibition.Talent is nothing to worry about because they have Lionel Messi, along with Angel Di Maria, Marcus Rojo, Paulo Dybala, and Sergio Aguero. The biggest question is: Can they all play and win as a team?
Argentina can’t easily win the group. Messi can’t carry the team on his back, especially at this stage of his career. Argentina needs to work as a strong and focused cohesive front. They need to take it one game at a time.
A team that is always an underdog. It’s rare for critics to have big expectations for Nigeria. Perhaps, the current squad is the most talented since the 1994 squad. They are led by captain John Obi Mikel. The defense is young and talented, but inexperienced. The same thing can be said with their forwards. They are disciplined and patient which bodes well for their chances.
The first thing Nigeria has to do is take care of business against Croatia. If Nigeria comes up short against Croatia, it’s going to be rather difficult for them to emerge to the knockouts. They have the composure to come back in games they fall behind in or even lose too. With their strong midfield, Nigeria can dominate ball control and have longer possessions to deny their opponent any opportunities. Most importantly, that can help them mask their defensive inefficiencies.
Brazil is coming into this tournament hungry for their sixth title. They are on the prowl as Germany crippled their chances at winning back in 2014 as they lost their star, Neymar, to a gruesome injury. Brazil’s coming to Russia to take care of business and prove to the world that they haven’t lost their touch. This team displays qualities like charisma, experience, talent, and chemistry They have star power too in Neymar, Marcelo, Phillipe Coutinho, Thiago Silva, Gabriel Jesus, Casemiro, and Paulinho.
Brazil’s opponents will be Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Serbia. Brazil’s the favorite to top the group, but there are some proud teams in this group. Serbia is dangerous while Costa Rica boasts a squad with a lot of the same 2014 World Cup members. Brazil has everything that is needed to win it all, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to take their group opponents seriously.
Overall, Serbia is a young team with some decent talent and experience within the players. Their manager Mladen Krstajic took over shortly after Serbia secured qualification, meaning he lacks experience, which puts the team at a disadvantage. The defense will be led by Branislav Ivanovic and captain Aleksander Kolarov. Their knowledge and expertise should make an impact on the young defenders.
Serbia has got enough talent to fight through this group. They will have a battle on their hands with Brazil. Costa Rica is a team with a proud bunch of veteran players and Switzerland will be no automatic win. No matter the odds, no matter the circumstances, there’s no excuse for Serbia to not emerge from this group.
The defending World Champions and top-ranked team in the world come into 2018 as the favorites to make it out of this group. They have the experience, the hardware, and are probably the most hated bunch because they win a lot. They still have a lot of their winning core on roster in Mezut Ozil, Mario Gomez, Mats Hummels, Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos, Julian Draxler, and Timo Werner. All with the exception of Werner were part of the squad four years ago.
Germany should make it through their group, but their challenges lie beyond this solid group of teams. They have to make sure Manuel Neuer can still perform at the elite level he is capable of following a foot injury that sidelined him for months. If Germany has a leaky defense, it will be a disappointing ending to their run.
This is their first World Cup appearance since 2006. The Zlatan Ibrahimovic era ended after their disappointing run in the Euro 16, but after the departure of their old superstar, Sweden got stronger. Midfielder Emil Forsberg along with forwards Marcus Beng and Ola Toivonen will lead the charge in Sweden’s offensive attack. The Swedish defense is solid and stacked with captain Andreas Granqvist and Martin Olsson.
Critics have Germany and Mexico advancing to the knockout stage, but the Swedish can make it through. Sweden defeated Italy to secure their spot in the tournament. Sweden preventing the four-time World Champions from qualifying must make them a potential favorite.
Romelu Lukaku and captain Eden Hazard are up front with Marouane Fellaini, Mousa Dembele, Kevin De Bruyne, and Axel Witsel in the middle for Belgium as them alone are a lot to handle. They have an elite talent covering the net in Thibaut Courtois, but the players in front of him are in question. It will be a feeling out process for the defense.
With their strong midfield and forward attack, Belgium can penetrate through opposing defenses and take advantage of opportunities to score some goals. If the defense can intercept the ball and cut off opposing attacks and clear the ball away, they’ll be okay. Belgium, like France, struggles with coming up short with lofty expectations. This World Cup the expectations are lower, so we will see what happens in the group stages.
England has not had a good World Cup run since 2006 when they made the quarterfinals. Their last two have been major disappointments. England’s got a very young team and talented team so experience is somewhat of a concern because there’s just one player with more than 30 appearances, Gary Cahill. Ashley Young will lead the English defensive charge along with Cahill. Harry Kane is strongly regarded as England’s next superstar and was named captain by England’s manager. Kane, along with forwards Marcus Rashford, Jamie Vardy, and Raheem Sterling will lead the striking attack while Dele Ali, Eric Dier, and Jesse Lingard will lead the midfield attack.
England’s got what it takes to be a legitimate scoring threat. While England has superior talent, the question about them is regarding their inexperience. England’s got the same issue as France. They’ve got the talent but not the focus. England’s first game is against Tunisia. If England plays very well with a convincing win, they’ll prove they’ve got what it takes.
Senegal’s first was in 2002 and the world remembers how spectacular it was. Unfortunately, after their Cinderella run in 2002, Senegal would go on to miss out their next three tournaments. Experience is a concern because they’ve missed the last three World Cups, but they don’t lack talent.. Sadio Mane is leading the striking attack alongside Moussa Sow and Mame Biram Diouf. The Senegalese defense and midfield are both loaded with some young experienced talents. Truth be told, this team is very much like the squad we saw in 2002. In 2002, Senegal proved that it’s not simply about World Cup experience, it’s about stepping on the pitch and doing your job and staying focused until it’s over.
Can Senegal have a similar run to 2002? They definitely can. All they have to do is exactly what they did 16 years ago which is arrive on the pitch motivated, concentrated, and ready to play. They don’t want to allow their opponents to be aware of any weaknesses and they want to penetrate through the opposing defenses and take control of the pitch.
Poland is the tenth ranked team in the world and they are in their first World Cup since 2006. During qualifying, they averaged close to three goals per game. Striker Robert Lewandowski was Europe’s top scorer for European World Cup qualification, and he will lead the Polish striking attack front alongside Arkadiusz Milik. Poland’s midfield is well-experienced. The defense doesn’t seem to be as experienced but they have Kamil Glik and Lukasz Piszczek.
Despite making the quarterfinals of the Euro 16 and topping their group during World Cup qualification, many critics aren’t convinced that they’re capable of making strong impacts on the pitch. What’s going to allow them to make a deep run into the knockout stage. Poland needs to attack and find ways to feed Lewandowski. He is known for his finishing, but his passing is noteworthy as well.
For all of these teams, the process of making it through the Group Stage is a one-step-at-a-time procedure. It’s about accomplishing one goal at a time to gain confidence and increasing chemistry and mentality in order to be ready for the knockout stages. Getting ahead of themselves will only result in an early vacation.