Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
Uruguay emerges as the clear favourite, possessing experience on the big stage, decent results and a squad of players who’re fighters down to the bone. Many have called this group the ‘group of death by boredom’ which is true. These teams haven’t made their mark on international football yet they seem pretty equal on paper. The real battle here seems to be for second place. Russia looks like the favourite to finish behind Uruguay, they have the backing of the home crowd which in reality, is a pretty big factor. Thousands of people cheering you on does provide belief. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are not a bad bet either, however, Egypt’s chances will be greatly hampered if Mohammed Salah misses even a single game.
KEY MATCH: Egypt vs Russia
PLAYER WHO WILL SHINE: Mohammed Salah
PREDICTION: 1st – Uruguay, 2nd – Russia
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
Spain is the nation to watch out for here, but could a Portuguese insurgency be underway? Only hours ago, Julen Lopetegui was sacked by the Spanish FA which means that with about 27 hours to go for the world cup, Spain has no coach. A new coach coming in just before the opening and perhaps most important match would surely mean some tactical changes, and can the team cope with those and still fulfil their expectations from this world cup. As for yesterday, Spain was one of the main contenders for the title but now, they seem pretty weak. The Spanish team was already being criticised for not having decent finishers up front and a stable midfield, now, they have no coach as well. Portugal, on the other hand, would look to finally exert some dominance over the globe after their European victory in 2016. Cristiano Ronaldo will probably be playing his last world cup and will want to sign off in style. Morocco and Iran also provide decent competition. Fun fact, Morocco didn’t concede even a single goal in African qualifying.
KEY MATCH: Portugal vs Spain
PLAYER WHO WILL SHINE: Medhi Benatia
PREDICTION: 1st – Portugal, 2nd – Morocco
YOUNG STAR: Marco Asensio
GROUP C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
This group looks easy enough for France and its speedsters. They are the clear-cut favourites in the group, and could perhaps even manage victories with the squad of players they’ve left back at home. An easy group seems to be ideal for allowing Mbappe to recover from his ankle injury and for Deschamps to finalise the squad for the knockout stage, Despite having perhaps the fastest team in the tournament, France look like they’re not going to go far. They will and should easily emerge out of the group round but Deschamps hasn’t been able to get his machine running yet. Australia too could perhaps alter the situation in the group with a draw or two but the real battle here seems to be between Peru and Denmark, both of whom would want to leave a lasting impression upon international football.
KEY MATCH: Peru vs Denmark
PLAYER WHO WILL SHINE: Christian Eriksen
PREDICTION: 1st – France, 2nd – Denmark
YOUNG STAR: Ousmane Dembele
GROUP D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
This is the real group of death. Iceland has become the sweetheart of world football following the 2016 European cup. Nigeria has attracted huge attention with the release of an astonishing kit and has also played some brilliant football in the last two years. Croatia looks ready to finally fulfil their potential with an amazing squad consisting of stars like Modric, Rakitic and Mandzukic. And then there’s Argentina, the country which has struggled on the international and lost three finals in three years. The Messi-Ronaldo era is coming to an end, and it seems that so is Argentinian football. They possess no measurable talent in the defensive positions with Otamendi being the lone rock at the heart of the defence, their midfield strength has diminished with injuries to Banega and Lanzini. Lo Celso cannot manage a midfield on his own. However, Argentina has perhaps the best front line in the tournament, which will surely be the only factor in their favour this summer.
KEY MATCH: Argentina vs Croatia
PLAYER WHO WILL SHINE: Lionel Messi
PREDICTION: 1st – Argentina, 2nd – Croatia
YOUNG PLAYER: Giovani Lo Celso
GROUP E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
This is perhaps the group of death because Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia will have to play against Brazil. Brazil is clearly the favourite for the world cup, with players like Neymar, Jesus, Willian, Costa, Fred, Firmino, Casemiro, Coutinho and Alisson. Brazil is in possession of an infinite amount of talent, loads of squad depth, pace, players who’re bursting with creativity, defensive solidarity and chemistry between the front line. If there’s anyone who can smash this tournament apart, its Brazil. They’ve worked hard to decrease their reliance on Neymar and this has made their squad even dangerous. Neymar was the best player in France this season, Coutinho shook apart Spain near the season’s end, Jesus has risen steadily to become a solid striker, Firmino has become a hitman for Liverpool, Alisson was perhaps the best goalkeeper in the Champions League this season and Costa and Casemiro were integral to the successes of their respective teams.
KEY MATCH: Switzerland vs Costa Rica
PLAYER WHO WILL SHINE: Neymar
PREDICTION: 1st – Brazil, 2nd – Switzerland
YOUNG PLAYER: Gabriel Jesus
GROUP F – Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
The defending champions face a tough group. They will feel confident going into the tournament but each of the team in their group has the potential to cause an uproar. Mexico and Sweden did will in their qualifying groups, in fact, Sweden even knocked out both Holland and Italy whereas Mexico caused Chile’s downfall. South Korea is the surprise package in this group, they easily look like the overwhelming underdogs but are still a tough nut to crack. Germany will probably top the group, but for the defending champions, getting their squad right is more important heading into the knockout stages. Germany possesses a lot of talent and experience in midfield, but there is a lot of competition for a starting place in all positions, even the goalkeeper’s spot which is being contested for by Neuer and Ter Stegen.
KEY MATCH: Mexico vs Sweden
PLAYER WHO WILL SHINE: Toni Kroos
PREDICTION: 1st – Germany, 2nd – Sweden
YOUNG PLAYER: Emil Forsberg
GROUP G – England, Belgium, Tunisia, Panama
The group which will host the most prominent group stage match, Belgium vs England. Both of these countries have fantastic squads but have failed to deliver at international tournaments for a long, long time. Belgium has a brilliant squad composed of stars like Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Jan Vertonghen and Dries Mertens and England have got the likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jordan Henderson. Tunisia and Panama too will look to challenge these sides and give them a run for their money ahead of the knockout stage. Ultimately, this group is an opportunity for England and Belgium to finally start playing like they should on paper, it won’t be a surprise if the group winner goes on till the quarters or perhaps even the semi-finals.
KEY MATCH: England vs Belgium
PLAYER WHO WILL SHINE: Kevin De Bruyne
PREDICTION: 1st – Belgium, 2nd – England
YOUNG PLAYER: Marcus Rashford
GROUP H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
Arguably the most competitive group in the tournament, each of these teams pose certain threats and have specific weaknesses and will certainly look to reach the quarter-finals, a feat many of them have managed in the past. Poland has Robert Lewandoski, the veteran hitman who has dragged Poland through the qualifiers and into the tournament, he is coming off a bad run of form at Bayern but has the backing of an entire nation. Senegal has Sadio Mane, the Liverpool Speedster who proved a point in the Champions League Final by covering up for Mohammed Salah (Oh! Karius!). Colombia has James Rodriguez, the best midfielder in the Bundesliga last season and a player who rose to fame because of his performances in the last world cup. Japan has Shinji Kagawa, the unsung hero of Dortmund. It will be interesting to see how this group shapes up, with one-man teams clashing against each other. One thing is for sure, we can see the winners of the group making it to the quarterfinals with enough dedication.
KEY MATCH: Poland vs Senegal
PLAYER WHO WILL SHINE: James Rodriguez
PREDICTION: 1st – Colombia, 2nd – Poland
YOUNG PLAYER: Piotr Zielinski
POTENTIAL WINNERS: In the end, it is going to boil down to either a Germany vs Brazil Final or a Brazil vs Spain final, and Brazil look like the team of the moment right now. Brazil is the only top nation who’ve looked convincing in their recent friendlies, winning 2-0 and 3-0 against Croatia and Austria respectively. Spain, on the other hand, struggled to a 1-0 victory against Tunisia and drew against Switzerland. Germany too struggled to a 2-1 victory against Saudi Arabia and lost 1-2 against Austria in a dismal outing. France is having problems with their selection, Argentina is out of form and has a number of key players out injured, Belgium has never performed well in big tournaments and we’re not even going to talk about England. Thus, our choice for the potential champion is Tite’s Brazil.
BEST PLAYER: Neymar, easily Neymar. Salah was born in the wrong country, so was Ronaldo so you can rule those two out. Messi has dragged Argentina into the tournament but we all know that he won’t get any further unless Sampaoli doesn’t make the squad click. Neymar, on the other hand, is the creative spark in Brazil, the guy who can leave an entire defence on the floor and nutmeg the keeper, A guy who can score off free kicks, a guy who picks out teammates while defying the laws of physics. Had it not been for his injury, Neymar could’ve been a contender for the Ballon D’Or, PSG might’ve even defeated Real in the Round of 16. We’ve got to hand this over to Neymar.
BREAKOUT YOUNGSTER: There are many people contending for this one, Los Celso, Jesus, Mbappe, Dembele, Asensio and many more. Hours ago, this one would’ve definitely gone to Mbappe but an unfortunate training injury is set to spoil his group stage matches. Now, this has swung in favour of Gabriel Jesus, the youngest ever to captain Brazil. Jesus has the calmness and composure of a great striker, his finishing is extremely accurate and he can link up with the wingers and the midfield. He is good at 1 on 1s and also has enough pace to trouble defenders. Also, he is a player who is currently keeping Firmino out of the squad, a player who was the backbone of Liverpool’s build-up this season.
SURPRISE PACKAGE: Sweden has the right to this category, even though they’ve knocked out Both Netherlands (2014 semi-finalist, 2010 runner-up) and Italy (2006 winners), many people rate Sweden as a team who might not even make it out of group stage. They might be the surprise package, perhaps the Iceland of the world cup. Honestly, I can see them in the quarter-finals or even the semi-finals.
SURPRISE EXIT: To be honest, this looks like the fate in store for Argentina. They lost to almost all of the teams once in Latin American Qualification and to Nigeria and Spain in recent friendlies, If Croatia wakes up, Argentina will have no chance. They already struggle against Nigeria year upon year and might even draw against Iceland. This doesn’t look like Messi’s year.