I can’t believe almost four years have already come and gone as soccer fans from all walks of life are getting ready for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. I personally adore the event as it invites many of my friends and family members to tune into my favorite sport (selfishly, I admit). These are casual fans who always tell me that they “only watch the Euro or the World Cup.” If 2014’s Cup was an amazing experience for you, expect 2018’s to be even better.
The official World Cup draw took place on Friday morning and there is a general sentiment of fairness and balance in all eight groups. Below, you will find all 32 teams and their respective draws along with my take on who should come out on top of their groups.
Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
At first glance, it might be tempting to crown Uruguay’s potent one-two offensive duo of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez as leaders of Group A. Controversies at Parc des Princes and underachievement at Camp Nou aside, one thing cannot be ignored: the emergence of Mohamed Salah. The 25-year-old Egyptian forward is the leading goal-scorer in all top European leagues and his dominance has been a sight to behold. The mere fact that Egypt qualified is a miracle in and of itself, and I believe that they will ride the momentum and support of one of the proudest nations on the planet heading into the 2018 World Cup.
It’s a matter of defying the odds, proving naysayers wrong, and admittedly, an unbearable amount of bias on my part.
Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
While 2016’s EURO champions Portugal should be the favorites, it’s hard not to adore Spain’s possession style of play. For many, it defines how soccer should be played– short, quick passes while patiently hold onto the ball and drawing defenders in. Creating space as opposed to always pushing the ball forward and striking unexpectedly after angering the opposition. “Tiki-Taka”– the reason why Spain should come out on top of Group B.
Oh, and the world’s greatest goalkeeper– the “Carey Price” of football if you will– David De Gea helps. And arguably the best defensive squad with the most mobile left- and right-backs in Jordi Alba and Dani Carvajal. And Sergio Busquets alongside Andres Iniesta in the deepest midfield is not too shabby. And Isco is a beast. And Alvaro Morata is a solid striker. And…
France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Let’s be frank: the French squad is likely to be one of the favorites to win the tournament, as every single player in their starting XI can be replaced by an almost equally capable teammate. Yes, Australia has shown flashes of brilliance as underdogs in 2014– how can anyone forget the wonder goal by Tim Cahill 40 seconds after Arjen Robben of the Netherlands scored:
But France has a chip on its shoulder the size of Europe itself after bowing out to Portugal in the EURO Cup final in 2016. They’re ready to prove once and for all that a squad stacked with superstars at every position can take home the most prestigious award in the world.
Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Favorite: Lionel Messi.
I mean, Argentina.
Do I really need to get into this one? Anyone who tries to argue that Cristiano Ronaldo is a better player than Leo Messi is either Portuguese or has no idea what they’re talking about. Cut that person out of your life; you don’t need that kind of negativity.
Iceland, the darlings of the 2016 EURO Cup, are underdogs that you love to cheer for. Meanwhile Croatia’s Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are a formidable midfield duo, but nobody can stop Messi. Seriously, nobody can. Show me one player who can. I’ll wait…
Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
S-T-A-C-K-E-D is how I would describe Brazil. Starved for glory, I should also add.
On the heels of an all-too-embarrassing 2014 World Cup exit on home soil at the hands of the German squad, the Neymar-led Brazilians are still seeing red and will certainly be amongst the top four teams to keep an eye on. They’re simply too good, despite having what many would deem to be a fragile confidence.
Here’s a reminder, in case you forgot:
Germany, Mexico, Sweden, Korea Republic
This one is a no-brainer. Germany reminds me of the Detroit Red Wings for the last 25 years; they’re just always good. They develop their players well, unanimously buy into the “system” and apply it to a tee, are well-managed, proud, and annoyingly always make it to the important stages of a season (playoffs, round of 16, semi-finals, finals, etc).
They’re just good– aways have been, always are, and always will be. Period.
Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
Get ready to be disappointed once again by England. At least, that’s how I’ve always felt since I’ve been rooting for this team since I was a child. They fold under pressure and they’re so poorly-managed that the best players are often found sitting on the bench or playing outside of their habitual roles. I’ve given up.
Led by Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke and Radja Nainggolan, there’s a certain arrogance with which the Belgians play that is hard to quantify. Additionally, their attacking prowess can come from anywhere– whether Benteke or Lukaku score in the penalty box or Hazard and de Bruyne dominate from just outside the 18-yard box, they will be a force to be reckoned with in Group G.
And maybe, just maybe we’ll finally see Hazard smile. Seriously. He never smiles. Right, Dad?
Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
Robert Lewandoski is the man. You’d be hard-pressed to find a thoroughbred striker as dominant as the Polish international. He’s tall, strong, can shoot with both legs, is rarely offside, can protect the ball against defenders, can score with his head, can find the space to get past defenders, and can singlehandedly win you a game. That is often the problem– he has no real passing support, but the rest of the teams in Group H don’t have much overall.
Except for Colombia, who have James Rodriguez: