Key Players & Predictions- World Cup 2018

After 4 long years the World Cup is back, the month-long footballing spectacle is heading to Russia, where the best of the best will battle it out to become World Champions. Here are my views on how I think it is going to pan out.

ARGENTINA – Finalists 4 years ago, I don’t believe Argentina are as strong as they were in 2014 and many believe that was the best opportunity for Messi to confirm his authority on the biggest stage, having done it everywhere else but. Despite their plethora of attacking options, it is defensively where Argentina fall short and this was displayed recently in their 6-1 capitulation against, granted, a very strong Spain side.

Pre-tournament odds – 9/1

My prediction – Round of 16

Key Player – Lionel Messi

messi

AUSTRALIA – An ever present at World Cups since 2006, and although it may seem that they’re there solely to make up the numbers, players like Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic lead me to believe that this will not be the case and that they will be no pushovers. But that alone doesn’t achieve successes at major tournaments of this calibre and I do believe they lack the necessary firepower to be a major player in the later rounds.

Pre-tournament odds – 500/1

My prediction – Round of 16

Key Player – Aaron Mooy

Mooy

BELGIUM – A country that arguably has the most complete squad from goalkeeper to striker, but the issue has been finding a level of cohesion that translates into results when it matters. Following a somewhat disappointing Euro’s 2 years ago, many feel like this is the perfect time for Belgium to show what they’re truly made of. If their starting XI clicks in the way they can, then I feel Belgium will achieve great things.

Pre-tournament odds – 12/1

My prediction – Semi finals

Key Player – Kevin De Bruyne

de bruyne

BRAZIL – If newspapers are to be believed then a fully fit Neymar Jr will be travelling to Russia with his Brazilian compatriots, something that I feel will be a huge mitigating factor in this year’s competition. Although their squad is bustling with talent, Neymar has the capabilities to turn draws into victories single-handedly which is a valuable commodity to any side. Their home World Cup will be one that is remembered for their 7-1 hammering by champions Germany and not for the reasons that they would’ve initially hoped. But now with Tite at the helm they are much more organised unit and are finally looking set to reach the heights of previous Brazilian squads.

Pre-tournament odds – 9/2

My prediction – Finalists

Key Player – Neymar Jr

neymar

COLOMBIA – Fan favourites at the 2014 World Cup thanks to the performances from James Rodriguez which earned him Player of the tournament and a huge move to Real Madrid. Colombia played fast paced entertaining football and I believe we can expect the same this time around. James is now finding form at Bayern at just the right time and I feel he could be set to lead Colombia to another strong tournament, especially alongside Radamel Falcao who has rediscovered his Atletico Madrid style form for Monaco.

Pre-tournament odds – 33/1

My prediction – Round of 16

Key Player – James Rodriguez

james rodriguez

COSTA RICA – 2014 was a big year for this relatively small nation, where it showed they could hold their own no thanks to sublime performances for players plying their trade in Europe such as Bryan Ruiz, Joel Campbell and most notably Keylor Navas. Unfortunately given their tough group, I don’t feel they’ll have the same luck this time around.

Pre-tournament odds – 250/1

My prediction – Group stage

Key Player – Keylor Navas

keylor navas

CROATIA – A team notorious for claiming scalps on the international stage and I feel that this year will be no different, they are a side that nobody would like to face in the later rounds given their track record. With Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic pulling the strings in midfield then who knows how far they can go.

Pre-tournament odds – 33/1

My prediction – Quarter finals

Key Player – Luka Modric

Luka Modric

DENMARK – Denmark are a team that I feel maybe being subjected to a bit of “Overhyping” purely based off the style in which they qualified for the tournament, when they dismantled a distinctly average Ireland side. Perhaps my most questionable prediction is that I don’t believe that they will make it out of their respective group, even with the brilliance of Christian Eriksen.

Pre-tournament odds – 80/1

My prediction – Group stage

Key Player – Christian Eriksen

eriksen

EGYPT – Having qualified in extraordinary fashion and doing so for the first time in 27 years you can only hope for a fairytale story for the Egyptians. Having said this, they do not find themselves in the most difficult group and I can see it being a close battle for 2nd place behind Uruguay which Egypt may just grab. This would rely heavily on Mohamed Salah continuing his magnificent domestic form into the tournament.

Pre-tournament odds – 150/1

My prediction – Round of 16

Key Player – Mohamed Salah

salah

ENGLAND – The team which I will be cheering on more in hope than belief. England are specialists in qualification, and never turning up when it matters most. I would love to say that this year will be different but nothing so far in Gareth Southgate’s tenure has led me to believe that this will be the case. Having said that, I can appreciate his willingness to make selections based on form as opposed to big names, yet this has yielded very few eye-catching results. Hopefully we are past the era of immensely talented squads not delivering, myself and many fans alike can only hope that the new crop embrace what it means to play for England and give 110% on the big stage.

Pre-tournament odds – 14/1

My prediction – Quarter Finals

Key Player – Harry Kane

harry kane

FRANCE – France will be disappointed not to have won the Euro’s 2 years ago, when they were hot favourites due to their incredibly talented squad. It will be a similar scenario this time around with the French accepting nothing less than to win the whole tournament. If they can find their best, balanced starting XI then there is no reason why they cannot do that but as of this moment I feel that their lack of experience and nous will be their eventual downfall.

Pre-tournament odds – 6/1

My prediction – Semi Finals

Key Player – Antoine Griezmann

France v Republic of Ireland - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016

GERMANY – The dominant force of international football over the last 10 years, with very few getting in their way. I feel that this period of dominance must come to an end at some point, and now is the time for it to happen. There is no question about their talents, and I also would not be surprised if they proved me wrong and won the whole thing. But there are just too many elements to their game that I feel can be exploited, coupled with their lack of out and out striker, a necessity to win tournaments like this.

Pre-tournament odds – 9/2

My prediction – Quarter Finals

Key Player – Toni Kroos

kroos

ICELAND – A country that England fans still have nightmares about. There are no doubts about their passion and will to win but I don’t believe they have the tools to cause any upsets this time around, this would have been different should they have drawn England. They have the makeup of an underdog, and who knows it may happen again.

Pre-tournament odds – 150/1

My prediction – Group Stage

Key Player – Gylfi Sigurdsson

sigurdsson

IRAN – Admittedly my knowledge of the Iranian national team leaves a lot to be desired but given that they are in a group with both Portugal and Spain, it seems that they may be playing for 3rd place and pride more than anything. Although having looked into their qualifying campaign they did in fact go 18 games unbeaten and have 22 year old Sardar Azmoun within their ranks who has already scored 23 international goals in just 31 appearances.

Pre-tournament odds – 500/1

My prediction – Group Stages

Key Player – Sardar Azmoun

azmoun

JAPAN – Japan often have a host of players plying their trade for quality European clubs and this batch is no different, in particular Shinji Kagawa who has proved his worth whilst at Borussia Dortmund and the ever-reliable Shinji Okazaki. They are however placed in a group that is very difficult to predict and I don’t think that they will have enough to be able to take them further than the group stages.

Pre-tournament odds – 150/1

My prediction – Group Stages

Key Player – Shinji Kagawa

shinji-kagawa

KOREA REPUBLIC – I believe that their success at the tournament comes down to whether Heung-Min Son can provide the important goals needed to beat Sweden and Mexico (it is most likely that Germany will win the group) or at least take some points from them both. There will undoubtedly be Korean players that have more talent than which I am giving them credit for but given my sparse knowledge I can only assume that they do in fact heavily rely on Son’s goals.

Pre-tournament odds – 250/1

My prediction – Group Stages

Key Player – Heung-Min Son

son

MEXICO – Inspired performances from Guillermo Ochoa at the last World Cup meant that Mexico exceeded their own expectations, and I feel they could perhaps have a similar tournament this time around with stars such as Hirving Lozano and Javier Hernandez leading their prolific attack.

Pre-tournament odds – 80/1

My prediction – Round of 16

Key Player – Hirving Lozano

lozano

MOROCCO – The other team in Group B who have the mammoth task of trying to take points away from Spain and Portugal to secure a place to the latter stages of the tournament. They do have players that have unquestioned ability such as Nabil Dirar and Hakim Ziyech, but I don’t think it will be enough.

Pre-tournament odds – 250/1

My prediction – Group Stages

Key Player – Hakim Ziyech

ziyech

NIGERIA – Given their vast array of talent they could be a nation that nobody would like to face, with a new generation of players that love to run at defences and put them on the back foot. Though I do think that their side could perhaps be too raw to have any lasting impact on this year’s tournament.

Pre-tournament odds – 150/1

My prediction – Group Stages

Key Player – Alex Iwobi

iwobi

PANAMA – Their qualification to this World Cup was such a big deal that a national holiday was announced. There is no doubt that they will have an incredible backing from their home supporters, but I feel given the group they have been drawn in it may be too much of a big ask for Panama to create any kind of lasting impression on the tournament. Credit must be given for their hugely impressive qualification campaign, especially beating USA to qualification.

Pre-tournament odds – 1000/1

My prediction – Group Stages

Key Player – Luis Tejada

tejada

PERU – They cannot be ignored given that they beat Ecuador, Paraguay and even Chile to qualification to this year’s tournament. They are a side built on defensive stability and capable of nicking a goal against the run of play. They will be tough to beat.

Pre-tournament odds – 150/1

My prediction – Group Stages

Key Player – Luis Advincula

advincula

POLAND – In another group I feel this Poland team could have flourished but given that they are up against 3 strong opponents, it will be a big ask to see them get out, but with Robert Lewandowski’s goals anything can happen, and provided he brings his shooting boots then Poland will also be a threat to teams in the later rounds.

Pre-tournament odds – 40/1

My prediction – Round of 16

Key Player – Robert Lewandowski

lewandowski

PORTUGAL – After their Euro’s victory a huge weight has clearly been lifted from Cristiano Ronaldo, which I think will allow him to play with a lot more freedom in Russia. That coupled with Andre Silva’s knack for scoring when on International duty, Portugal could be a force to be reckoned with.

Pre-tournament odds – 20/1

My prediction – Quarter Finals

Key Player – Cristiano Ronaldo

ronaldo

RUSSIA – The hosts go into the tournament shrouded in controversy given current political circumstances and the behaviour of their fans is a huge concern for footballs governing bodies. On the pitch it doesn’t seem to get any better with Russians seemingly incapable of putting together a string of positive results.

Pre-tournament odds – 40/1

My Prediction – Group Stages

Key Player – Aleksandr Kokorin

Algeria v Russia: Group H - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

SAUDI ARABIA – Saudi Arabia have one of the easiest groups, but I still don’t believe that they will have what it takes to get through to the knockout rounds, their inexperience at the highest level will no doubt show here, their biggest hope will be to win a game whilst in Russia most likely against Russia.

Pre-tournament odds – 1000/1

My prediction – Group Stages

Key Player – Mohammed Al-Sahlawi

al salahwi

SENEGAL – A country famous for their World Cup heroics in the past, this squad is lined with players that perform exceptionally well domestically such as Kalidou Koulibaly, Sadio Mane and Keita Balde. On paper this squad looks as though it could potentially spring a few surprises, but overall, I feel these players perform better individually as opposed to as a squad.

Pre-tournament odds – 125/1

My prediction – Group Stages

Key Player – Sadio Mane

mane

SERBIA – Serbians are known for their grit and determination, which I feel could be a factor in their successes this year. This is arguably the best Serbian squad for several years and with Mitrovic looking set to lead their line, who is very much hot and cold, they will be hoping to have him firing come June. Serbia do have a player in Sergej Milinkovic-Savic that I think could have a breakout tournament and truly announce himself on the world stage, after a tremendous season with Lazio.

Pre-tournament odds – 150/1

My prediction – Round of 16

Key Player – Sergej Millinkovic-Savic

savic

SPAIN – Spain were brought crashing back down to earth in Brazil 4 years ago, but now they have re-built and replaced Del Bosque, they now look a different beast entirely. Isco is on the periphery of being world class which is surprising given that he is not even a guaranteed starter for his club. He has the ability to change a game entirely. They have the most complete squad provided everyone is fit and healthy. If Diego Costa finds a way to function within this side, then I do not believe that any country has the capabilities to stop Spain.

Pre-tournament odds – 6/1

My prediction – Winners

Key Player – Isco

isco

SWEDEN – Ibrahimovic retiring was undoubtedly a sad day for Swedish fans, but most teams have often flourished in his absence as it allows them to play more flowing football, but the dilemma for Sweden is actually being able to do just that after so long with Route One football to provide for the big man.

Pre-tournament odds – 80/1

My prediction – Group Stages

Key Player – Emil Forsberg

forsberg

SWITZERLAND – Memorable goals rather than performances was the story of Switzerland’s last world cup, and it appears that it will be the same this time around. With Xherdan Shaqiri capable of the improbable who knows what might happen, but it is getting him on a good day that is the problem.

Pre-tournament odds – 100/1

My prediction – Group Stages

Key Player – Xherdan Shaqiri

Switzerland v Poland - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016

TUNISIA – Tunisia are somewhat of an unknown entity outside of Africa, which could play in their favour but also could signify how little they have to offer the tournament. Given that their star player is Wahbi Khazri, a player that struggled to make any sort of impact at an already struggling Sunderland side doesn’t really bode well for the Tunisians. Although his fortunes have seemingly changed since his loan move to Stade Rennais having scored 11 goals in just 24 appearances which could be a sign of things to come.

Pre-tournament odds – 500/1

My prediction – Group Stages

Key Player – Wahbi Khazri

Wahbi-Khazri-Tunisia

URUGUAY – Controversy has surrounded Uruguay at the past 2 tournaments, both involving the same player, Luis Suarez. He will presumably be back this time around and hoping to ruffle a few feathers, alongside fellow lethal striker Edinson Cavani. Despite all of the goals that Uruguay have within their ranks, their squad is ageing and there doesn’t seem to be a vast array of future replacements coming through at this moment, which leads me to think that they may struggle to go the distance this year.

Pre-tournament odds – 25/1

My prediction – Round of 16

Key Player – Luis Suarez

suarez

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