Every four years, we are treated to the most thrilling month in the whole world other than the Olympics, barely (numbers don’t lie people, don’t even try to argue). I’m here to preview for you all, all things World Cup! From what to watch for, to games you can probably avoid, I’m giving you insight on this tournament, so that you can enjoy it as much as possible. No matter what level of familiarity you have with the sport or tournament itself, I’m going to try to make life easier for you, come June 14th.
We had so much fun back in 2014 in Brazil, people that didn’t even watch the sport became super into it, and I’m hoping to bring that back, despite the USA not qualifying (still, too soon to talk about). Whether you want to admit it or not, the sport in the States is definitely growing, and it’s this tournament that really gets people into it. At the end, I wrap it up with my full on predictions for this tournament, so you all can hold me to it later when I’m (probably) wrong, Let’s get started!
2018 FIFA World Cup - Russia:
First and foremost, you need to know that this tournament is going to be held all over Russia. Not a very rare thing, especially in recent years, with the Winter Olympics being held in Sochi just back in 2014, this country is definitely not a stranger to being a host nation.
Russia around this time of year does not seem to be too harsh of weather, but when you look at some of the nations in this tournament, you have to think the climate might play a little bit of a factor for those teams that are used to extreme temperatures, whether they are high or low.
The tournament starts out with eight groups of four, for a total of 32 teams, from group letters A-H, and those four teams within the groups play a round-robin against each other. With the four teams in the groups, each team plays three group stage games, and after those three, the top two teams in the group advance. For a win, it is three points to the team, a tie and each team gets one point, and the losing team gets no points. Going too fast? Nah, I think we’re good. 32 teams divided into groups of four, and the two teams with the highest point totals advance to the next round. Obviously, since you get a point for a tie, if the game in the group stage is tied after 90 minutes, it ends as a tie, and both teams get a point.
The next round, now that two teams from each group are eliminated and two go through, if my math adds up correctly, is the round of 16. I’ll try to explain this one as best I can. Group A winner plays Group B second place, and Group B winner plays Group A second place. Same thing for Group C/D, E/F, and G/H. Obviously, winning the group is the goal, especially because you’re rewarded with playing the second place team from the other group, rather than their winner.
Those round of 16 games are one game, if it’s tied after 90’, goes to two 15-minute halves of extra time, playing the full 30 minutes, even if a team scores during it. If the score is still tied after the extra 30 minutes, it goes to penalty kicks. I’m not going to sit here and explain the whole process of penalty kicks, Google works wonders, you know!
After 16, comes eight, or the quarter-finals. Just straight up bracket-style, winners from the round of 16 face whoever they are lined up with, and then the same thing for the semis, and eventually the finals. Last finals saw Messi and Argentina lose to Germany during that extra-time period, I can only imagine what’s going to happen this time around!
Let’s start with the obvious ones. The defending champions from Germany. This side, no matter how poorly their star players may be performing for their clubs, when it comes to this one month of playing together, they know how to get the results. I’d put my money on them to do what they do best and win, the only thing that sketches me out is their recent form, not having a national team win since August. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has not played all season for Bayern, but the German #1 will definitely be a big factor in seeing how this German team performs.
Yup, I’m gonna say it, next, is Brazil. Forget about the 7-1 loss at home in 2014, to that German side I just rambled on about, and look at their squad. They are possibly the only team in the tournament to have, in almost every position, two class players. From Firmino and Gabi Jesus up top; To the wings of Neymar, Willian, Douglas Costa; Being held down in the midfield by Casemiro, Coutinho, Fernandinho; And then that is anchored by the likes of Marcelo, Filipe Luis, David Luiz, Danilo, Thiago Silva, and Miranda in the back with both Ederson and Alisson to pick things up in net, I honestly see them versus Germany in the finals, if all things work out with the way the group stage ends.
After these two favorites, you have the likes of Spain, who look to get back on track after their three-straight with the 2008 Euro, 2010 World Cup, and 2012 Euro. The wheels fell off their wagon in 2014, crashing out of the World Cup in the group stages. They look for revenge this time around, and with the squad they have, something might be possible for them, with all their experience.
The high-flying Frenchmen look to bypass the doubters, and win themselves an international trophy. After hosting the 2016 European Championship, they had the trophy snatched out of their hands by Portugal in the finals. Their dangerous squad from top to bottom could out perform any side on any given day, it’s just whether or not their players can show up when they need to.
Two teams I just have to mention when we’re talking favorites are Argentina and Portugal. Portugal are fresh off their Euro win in 2016, and Cristiano Ronaldo looks to add a World Cup to his trophy case. While Ronaldo heads Portugal, Lionel Messi runs it for Argentina, after backpacking them into this World Cup in qualifying, they have a solid squad on paper, but they just could not get the results throughout that deadly South American qualifying, but Messi ended the stages with a hat trick against Ecuador, which saw them into this summer’s tournament. Two teams to watch out for, mainly because of their star power and potential for their supporting cast to do big things.
Missing Out - Teams that (somewhat) surprisingly failed to qualify:
First off, even though they are not the best quality team to not be at this World Cup, the United States missing out is a disaster. After the 2014 World Cup, the sport in the States shot up. MLS itself and its viewership, support of the national teams, for both men and women, the sport was on the rise as a whole in this country. CONCACAF qualifying, for North and Central America, is arguably one of the easiest qualifying processes out there, and all the USA had to do was tie Trinidad & Tobago, in Trinidad, and also not have two results go against us. Of course, those results went against us, and the US choked, allowing two goals and only scoring one, missing out on a trip to Russia by that much. One step forward and Two steps back for the sport of soccer in the USA.
Next, a team that has been ever-so dominant in South America these recent years, Chile. Chile met and beat Argentina twice in a row in the past two Copa America tournaments, but could not find its way through the tough qualifiers, like Argentina could in the end. It’s a shame we wont get to see the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal out there, but they’ll be back. One day.
The Dutch. Yup, that’s right, the Netherlands continue their struggles of late, and failed to qualify for this tournament, just as they did for this past Euro in 2016. Their older stars are starting to be out-performed by lesser opponents, and the ‘Oranje’ just cannot keep up with modern footy it seems. Let’s see if they can get back on track with the next round of qualifiers for Euro 2020.
Going off of historically great teams, Italy has got to be #1. They have been struggling internationally in tournaments as of late too, but I don’t think anyone could have seen this coming for the Italians. Shock sets in as Gianluigi Buffon won’t be able to play another international tournament, as they set their focus to the future, and try to get back to basics and qualifying for the European Championship as well.
One of the toughest qualifiers is the CAF, Africa’s portion of the process. Teams that traditionally are in and put a shift in throughout are Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, and Cameroon. All tough sides, but could not pull through in the end.
All of these teams know the magnitude of what they’re missing, and that makes it mean that much more next time the qualifying process comes around for sure.
W2W4 - What to Watch for, Teams and Players:
Other than the favorites I already talked about, there are some notable things to watch for, whether it be headline players, first time World Cup appearances, Cinderella stories, there’s way more to this tournament than just the top 10 teams.
Teams like Uruguay, with the likes of Luis Suarez, Edison Cavani, and Diego Godin, a solid side could see first place in Group A, without heavy competition. One of those accompanying them in Group A is Egypt.
Egypt is definitely a team to note, for one main reason: Mo Salah. Salah led the forefront of Liverpool’s attack, brought them to the CL Final, where they lost. Salah was hurt early in the match and forced off, and now seems to be recovering from his shoulder injury, right on track to return before the tournament starts. A dangerous attacker could lead to chances for the Egyptians, who look to snatch a spot from host Russians, who are surely their main competitor for that second place spot behind Uruguay. Ahmed Elmohamady will be with Egypt after a disappointing end to our Villa season, he looks to show on a world stage, what he can do.
The Vikings out of Iceland are rolling off of their quarter-final appearance in 2016 at the Euros, and that sounds pretty good in itself, but looking at the fact that it was their first major tournament. Never in a World Cup, never a Euro, and their first appearance in 2016 they were one of the last eight standing. Pretty good record for them, and now we’ll get to see how this Villan in Birkir Bjarnason performs, backed by a whole nation who really just expects this team to give it their all, all game every game. They’re in an extremely difficult group with Nigeria, Croatia, and of course, Argentina, but they shut down Ronaldo in 2016, anything is possible. Stay tuned for my coverage of Iceland and their performance throughout the tournament! Excited to hear the original Viking clap again, actually in tune.
One team I really like on paper with a few places of super strength is South Korea. Mainly composed of Japanese and Chinese-league players, some bright spots in players like Heung-Min Son at Tottenham in England, and others abroad in Germany and Italy as well could see them finish second in what a lot of people say is their Group of Death, or most difficult group. I’ll get to that part later though.
James Rodriguez really broke out last World Cup for Colombia, who once again made it out of that tough South American qualifying, and through to the World Cup where James can show, once again what he’s capable of. Also, on that note, can’t wait to see which players make a name for themselves at this tournament (and ultimately be bought by Real later in July).
I’m going to follow the always exciting Socceroos, out of Australia, as we see if Jedinak can help them hold down the fort, as he often did for Villa as of late. Tim Cahill is usually the one to bag the goals for them, but everyone thought last World Cup would be his last, but it doesn’t seem to be the case as he returns for more bangers!
England and Belgium are in the same group as each other, that’ll be an interesting matchup, they both have stars on their side, but have not really proven anything on a world stage. Maybe this year is the year one of these teams makes a deep run, unexpectedly. I’d put these teams in my dark horses/sleeper teams, but I really don’t think anyone is overlooking their players, just their recent results in tournaments like these does not bode well.
Dark Horse(s) - Teams that can unexpectedly make a run:
Wow, that transition worked out nicely. Don’t know how that worked out! Like I said, starting with Belgium and England, they are both solid squads, but when they’re all playing together, something just doesn’t seem to click, especially in these major tournaments. Last World Cup, Belgium was a young side, and England’s players were on their dying embers, so maybe it is a whole new regime and era on both sides, and these teams will shut people like me up! Not rooting against them, for sure, they have some of the most electric players, I’m just being realistic when it comes to their tournament performances! Don’t really think of these teams as traditionalal ‘dark horses,’ but I really haven’t seen a lot of people picking them.
With the way I see the bracket working out, and just looking at them on paper, Croatia is absolutely, #1, my dark horse. Their stacked midfield from Real and Barca, to big name defenders and a striker like Mandzukic to bag the goals, this team is not much different than the one that deserved to beat Portugal in the Euro’s, but lost in penalty kicks. And we all know that Portugal went on to win that tournament, so who knows if Croatia would have beat them what would happen. The way I see it is they’re going to finish second and face a tough, TOUGH team in France in the round of 16, but if they can somehow get past that then it’s looking like another matchup against Portugal for a spot in the semis. Once again, I’ll get to my play-by-play, round-by-round in a second.
If everyone could be a dark horse, there wouldn’t be any dark horses. I’m keeping it to my #1 of Croatia, with a little “*” next to England* and Belgium* on that list!
Everyone loves a little bit of good old classic Vegas sports betting, right? I know it’s a lot easier other places, but soon in the US it’ll be easy as can be. I’m gonna take a look at the odds for the teams, and say which ones would be good, versus which ones to avoid! (I am not held liable for anything I get wrong, any bets you place are on your own free will and no I don’t have to say this I just don’t want you guys to get mad at me).
Like I said, Brazil and Germany are my favorites to meet in the finals, and that’s not just because they both have the best odds. I actually said that before I even checked the odds, I said that. Brazil and Germany are both listed at 9/2, which I don’t think is that good of a bet, having to put $10 to win $45 to pick exactly right which of these two will win.
What I like is someone like Argentina, who have proven they know how to make it late in tournaments, now they just need to come clutch in the end. 9/1 odds for $10 to win $90 is pretty good for a team that’s been the last two standing for their past three major tournaments.
I like the underdogs, Croatia, my dark horses, but honestly, you would have to put $10 to win $290, and it’s that much money for a reason: it’s not realistically gonna happen. They might be a solid side that can make a run and still be my dark horses, but it’s the World Cup we’re talking about. World class sides win this tournament. It’ll take something special for someone outside of the main favorites to win this.
Teams like France, England, Belgium, and then Portugal too have massive payouts as well, but it would be so hard to predict which one of them is gonna end up winning it, especially putting real live money on it!
Time for my full on picks, explained slightly along the way! I hope you didn’t just scroll all the way down here, to only see this, but if you did then welcome! Hope you’ll get a chance to scroll up and read my rambling soon enough!!!
Fifa.com has a really cool bracket predictor that fills it in for you as you make the picks, if ya wanna go do that, that’s how I did it, and took screenshots along the way! Feel free to comment your whole bracket or let me know what you think! Gonna go group by group, and then stage by stage, hopefully this doesn’t take too long for you all!
I think this is pretty clear-cut for Uruguay to take this group, barring a mistake, but the race for second is tough, with the Salah-led Egypt squad, along with the host Russians. I haven’t said much about this Russia side, and that’s probably for the best because they’re nothing special, just the fact that they have the huge home crowd on their side could push them ahead of Egypt, but I don’t see it happening. Uruguay and Egypt through, while Russia causes a riot as they crash out of the tournament early. I know nothing about Saudi Arabia, but they qualified, so they can’t be too bad.
This group has potentially one of the best matchups in the group stages, with the Spain-Portugal game. Other than that, it’s pretty clear cut who’s going through and who’s having a shorter tournament, unless there’s a real mistake by one of the two. Don’t know why Iran says Iriran but it’s supposed to be Iran, I’m sure of it.
This was a tough one. Peru are a crappy side who may pull off a surprise, while Denmark and Australia have some solid names on their roster. Tough to choose, but I think Denmark gets the results against a slower, older Australian squad.
While many say ‘F’ is the Group of Death, this one is mine. Argentina are Argentina, I already said what I had to say about Croatia and Iceland, and even Nigeria is a good side that can find its way to getting the results needed to advance in a tough group. Unfortunately I see Iceland finishing last, and their luck ran out, but boy do I hope they prove me wrong
I said it before and I’ll say it again. Brazil are legit. Obviously, this is a group they should win, and they will. My only issue is right now, Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Serbia are all about the same level. Costa Rica from CONCACAF will not be able to keep up, and the Swiss and Serbians will get their results, but the Swiss will grab that second spot in the end.
The G.O.D. to many. I see Germany taking care of business with maybe one draw and two wins out of their three group stage games, still finishing first. I really don’t see this as a group to want to avoid, I just think that teams like Korea, Mexico, and Sweden are all on the same level on any day, that very little separates them. I think Korea shocks a lot of people and snatches it from Mexico, and yes Sweden qualified without Zlatan, but they’re still without him, and I don’t see them being very dangerous in these matchups
I think this is one of the more clear cut groups, with who’s going through. Now it’s just a matter of who’s going to win that Belgium-England battle of dark horses* (you’ll get the asterisk joke if you read the whole thing). Tunisia tied Portugal in a friendly, but I don’t see a significance in that result, honestly.
While it may not be the strongest group top to bottom, all of these games will be competitive, but I just see the star power in Colombia carrying them through, along with Lewandowski scoring an insane amount of goals as Poland advances too.
That’s a wrap for the group stage, now from 0-100 real quick with the knockout stages starting!
Round of 16
Some of those group stage games I’m sure will be snooze-fests, but I can guarantee that in the knockout rounds, every game will be huge. I’m gonna go section by section, with the pairs of games, from which the winners will face one another in the round after, the quarter-finals.
First off, Ronaldo versus Suarez. Portugal are fresh off a Euro win, and I can’t see a slip up in the group stages, or against Uruguay, as they’ll advance to the quarters, but I’ll bet that Suarez, Cavani, Godin, and the Uruguayans won’t go down easy, that’ll be a battle to watch out for. The winner of that faces a match-up that breaks my heart. Croatia, my dark horse, are such a solid side, but they’re just gonna get unlucky with who they face in France. The quality of the Frenchmen will push them through a quality team, but like I said, don’t be surprised if Croatia make a deep run, or if France’s inexperience could be their weakness that gets them bounced. Still, I think France and Portugal in the quarters
This next pair of matchups isn’t going to be as close, but the players in this game make it exciting. Neymar and Brazil are continuing their triumph and they’ll slaughter Son and Korea, as Belgium will out-class Poland, despite Lewandowski balling. What’s super interesting is the quarter-final matchup that arises from it with Brazil-Belgium
This pair is sorta like the last one, where these games are just another bump in the road for two of these teams, before they matchup against each other. Yup, Spain will beat Egypt, despite Mo Salah wanting revenge on the c— sorry, player that almost kept him out of this World Cup, Sergio Ramos. On the other side, Argentina should get things done against a barely-above-mediocre team in Denmark. I’m excited for this potential Spain-Argentina quarters already and the tourney hasn’t even started!!
Finally, it’s looking like a battle of the World War neighbor/rivals, the Brits and the Germans. Politics aside, these two sides are historically great with their football teams. Only problem is, as of late, it’s really only been Germany. Before I get to that, I’ll just mention how Germany will slide past Switzerland, while the Colombia-England battle will be just that. England are a better side, but when it comes to playing together in these tournaments, once again they just haven’t been able to get it done as of late. Colombia have James, who if he performs anything like his 2014 self, we’re in for a show. Still, England will scrappily win, and have a tough matchup awaiting them.
Hope I haven’t lost you yet, cbeause now comes the meat of the action! Eight teams left. The apparent best eight teams in the world, playing for one trophy. Let’s not waste anymore time (you’re welcome) and get to business.
Literally, the first matchup from the top is insane. Immediately it’s the rematch of the Euro 2016, which saw Ronaldo-less Portugal win in extra time, and now the French are gunning for revenge, still trying to prove what they’re worth. I think Ronaldo is hard to stop, but France will be able to at least contain him a little bit, and enough to see them through to the last four.
Shifting down to the other half of this portion, it’s that Brazil-Belgium game I was talking about! Belgium has a squad to be scared of, but I’ve already ranted all about Brazil and how deep they are with talent, and experienced talent, including and plus Neymar, who will help propel Brazil to meet France in the semis. Oh. My. Goodness.
Alright, I can’t stop thinking about that first semi-final game coming up, but I haven’t even touched on the other game yet either! We still have Spain-Argentina, which might even be better than the other semi. Messi versus Spain with a trip to the last four on the line, it all depends on how each team wants to show up on that day. Both teams can beat each other, and both can lose. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s the only way I can compare how similar they are, but also how different they are. Spain are a team who’s had success recently, but not last World Cup for sure, but they seem to be back. Argentina, have been successful, but have nothing to show for it. The squads will go head to head at full force, and there’s one reason that I’m picking who I’m picking, and it’s cause great players play great games when they’re needed, and Leo Messi tugs the straps on his backpack tight and carries Argentina to the semis.
To meet Messi, either England or Germany. I really want to be that guy who picks England over Germany, but I also don’t want to be that guy who’s so clearly wrong, so I’m going with my gut, and picking the German side who I marked as favorites. I can’t tell you how bad I wanted to pick England for the upset, the more I looked into it the more and more flaws I found in Germany’s team, but I still think they finish the deal against a new-ish looking English side. Rematch of 2014 finals coming up here in this semis.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was gonna make it to this, but here we are! At the semi-finals of the World Cup! Two insane games between four insane teams, batting for two spots in the finals for the chance to win the Cup.
Starting off with France versus Brazil, Neymar plays the country where he earns his bread. Paris Saint Germain, out of Paris, France obviously, but they themselves do not have a lot of French national team players. Instead, this France team is a high-flying, speedy team, with some of the biggest young(ish) names in the sport, from Mbappe, to Griezmann, Pogba, as well as some experience, this could be a lethal combination to watch out for, and I’m gonna do it, I’m taking them to halt of Brazil’s booming tank of a team, and pull off the upset to go to the World Cup Finals. I’m serious. I know it’s gonna come back to bite me in the you know what, when France ultimately chokes to my dark horses of Croatia in the RO16, but we’ll see.
Since I chose Brazil-Germany to be the final in the start of this, I’ll stay inconsistent with you all for this part right now, for my real bracket picks. I gotta have that Germany-Brazil rematch, and I really do see it happening, just unfortunately in the consolation match. YUP, King Leo and Argentina will get revenge against a German side who will be beat up by the time they get to this stage, and honestly, Germany hasn’t impressed me as of late, when it comes to both their international team play, and their individual players at their clubs. I think Argentina may have their style of play figured out by this stage, all it is is just get the ball to Messi and finish your damn chances when they come. Argentina-France Final incoming
Phew. We made it. Sad cause it’s almost over, happy because it happened. Cliché? Cliché. Who cares, now we’re left with two. France and Argentina. Am I right? Who knows. Probably not. Probably. I can’t even decide, but I’ll stick with it. I’m not going to try to predict all of the details of this game, its the World Cup Finals, so there’s no way anyone can predict exactly what’s in store for us. What I can say is what I’ve been saying. Big players step up in big games, and Messi and Argentina should be able to out-class France’s defense, more than France can out-play Argentina’s defense, and if everything adds up the way I just said it, Argentina will squeak by this one, earning Messi his first major international trophy for Argentina. Those who know me will say this is because of how much I love the way Messi plays, but that’s the kind of stuff it takes to win these games, and I think they’ll finally be able to finish the chances he sets up, as long as Higuain isn’t on the field to miss sitters or celebrate offside goals. Messi will finally grab that international trophy that Maradona has, and shut everybody up!
Take my picks how you will, but use this long guide as a syllabus for your soccer world, heading into this summer’s World Cup in Russia! It’s more than a game to so many, but have fun, be safe, and let me know what you think throughout the tournament! I have a poll here at the bottom to see what you all think is gonna happen! I’ll be posting more and more as the tournament goes on! Stay tuned, thanks for reading and feel free to share!
Who will win the World Cup 2018?
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