On June 14, Russia will face Saudi Arabia in the opening game of the 2018 World Cup Finals, setting in motion a series of 64 games across just over a month of football action to decide who will succeed Germany as the 2018 World Cup Champions.
The tournament is split into two distinct phases. The opening phase is the Group Stage where each of the 32 has been drawn into one of eight groups of four teams. They will play each opponent once in the group phase and the top two teams from each group will head into the second phase of the tournament.
That second phase is the Knockout Stage Here the 16 qualified teams will play through one Round of 16, the quarterfinals, semifinals and then the final (plus a third-place match) to decide who are the new World Champions.
In this the first of a series of World Cup articles taking you through the tournament, we are going to give you our tips on how we see the first four groups, A through to D, will go. We’ll tell you who we think will finish top of the group, who will likely earn second spot and which two teams will be eliminated and why.
We’ll also bring you the best odds on the competition from our usual provider Coral Sports. Remember, you can sign up with Coral on any site and still gain access to Coral’s excellent sports betting service.
Only a select group of teams have ever won the World Cup, Brazil (5 times), Germany and Italy (4 times each), Argentina and Uruguay (twice each) and England, Spain and France (each winning once). Will one of these teams, all of whom have qualified for the tournament, add another trophy to their cabinet, or will we see a new and surprise winner of the tournament?
I’ll bring you my tip to win the World Cup outright on the eve of the finals in next week’s article, but for now, here’s how I think the four opening groups will likely go. The FIFA rankings for each team competing are shown in brackets.
Saudi Arabia (67)
Group A Matches and Predictions
- Russia v Saudi Arabia – Russia Win
- Egypt v Uruguay – Uruguay Win
- Russia v Egypt – Russia Win
- Uruguay v Saudi Arabia – Uruguay Win
- Saudi Arabia v Egypt – Egypt Win
- Uruguay v Russia – Draw
Group A Winner Odds – Uruguay 4/5, Russia 8/5, Egypt 11/2, Saudi Arabia 33/1
- Group Winner – Uruguay (on goal difference)
- To Qualify – Russia
- Eliminated – Egypt & Saudi Arabia
Looking at Group A, I think that the final game between Uruguay and Russia will decide who tops the group as I think both Uruguay and the host nation will win their opening two games. Egypt I think are the strongest of the other teams in this group, but that injury to Mo Salah in the Champions League Final means he is not likely to be 100% fit for the start of the finals and I think that could well be a big blow to their hopes of progressing.
I think Saudi Arabia may be the weakest team in the tournament and I can’t see them winning any of their games to be fair and I think Egypt may just beat them in the fifth game in the group. I see this one being a tight group at the top, but I think Uruguay’s greater goalscoring prowess against Egypt and Saudi Arabia may just be enough for them to top the group ahead of the host nation.
Man to Watch – Luis Suarez (Uruguay) – Suarez has courted controversy at both previous World Cups, for a handball to deny Ghana a goal in the 2010 quarterfinal and then for biting Giorgio Chiellini in 2014. I think this may well be Suarez chance to prove his talents, without the controversy, at the highest level.
Group B Matches and Predictions
- Morocco v Iran – Draw
- Portugal v Spain – Spain Win
- Portugal v Morocco – Portugal Win
- Iran v Spain – Spain Win
- Iran v Portugal – Portugal Win
- Spain v Morocco – Spain Win
Group B Winner Odds – Spain 1/2, Portugal 2/1, Morocco 14/1, Iran 25/1
- Group Winner – Spain
- To Qualify – Portugal
- Eliminated – Morocco & Iran
Portugal are the European Champions and the top FIFA ranked team in this group but for me they are distinct second favourites behind Spain. The Spanish have produced some excellent results in recent times, most notably a 6-1 thumping of Argentina and they have by far the more talented, experienced and dangerous of the two squads.
That’s not to say Portugal are a bad team, any side that boasts Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks will always be a threat, but their all round team isn’t anywhere near as strong as Spain and when the two clash in the opening match of Group B for the two of them, I’d expect Spain to win.
In truth, I think the two big European teams will then win the remainder of their games to clinch the qualifying spots as I think the Moroccan side is a little inexperienced at this level and the Iran team just lacks the quality compared to the other two sides in the group.
Man to Watch – Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) – Ronaldo has amassed 81 goals for his country in 149 games and his influence on the team is huge. They may struggle a little against Spain but I think he will be the catalyst for Portugal to get the two wins they need to claim second spot in the group.
Group C Matches and Predictions
- France v Australia – France Win
- Peru v Denmark – Denmark Win
- Denmark v Australia – Draw
- France v Peru – France Win
- Australia v Peru – Draw
- Denmark v France – Draw
Group C Winner Odds – France 3/10, Denmark 9/2, Peru 8/1, Australia 18/1
- Group Winner – France
- To Qualify – Denmark
- Eliminated – Peru & Australia
This is an interesting group as while I think France will win the group, I think Australia could cause the teams in this group a few problems, far more so than the much higher ranked Peru. My gut feeling is that France will win their opening two games and then likely rest key players for the Denmark game, which I think gives Denmark a chance to scoop a point in that match.
However, the Danes I can see beating Peru but I think Australia match up against them well and I can see the Australian side perhaps nicking a point here. Then when the Aussies face Peru, I’m going to back them to earn another point against a Peru side that traditionally doesn’t travel well to Europe.
Man to Watch – Christian Eriksen (Denmark) – France have a bucketload of immensely talented players and they’ll win this group, but how Denmark fare will depend largely on the creative and goalscoring threat posed by the talented Tottenham midfielder.
Group D Matches and Predictions
- Argentina v Iceland – Argentina Win
- Croatia v Nigeria – Croatia Win
- Argentina v Croatia – Draw
- Nigeria v Iceland – Iceland Win
- Iceland v Croatia – Draw
- Nigeria v Argentina – Argentina Win
Group D Winner Odds – Argentina 4/7, Croatia 12/5, Nigeria 9/1, Iceland 11/1
- Group Winner – Argentina
- To Qualify – Croatia
- Eliminated – Iceland & Nigeria
I think this is the toughest of all the groups in the World Cup finals, regardless of what the FIFA rankings tell you. These are four generally well matched teams but I do think Argentina’s attacking talent, which is frankly obscene, will likely see them score enough goals to win enough games to take top spot, a crucial factor given that France will likely lie in wait for the team finishing 2nd in this group.
Who finishes second I think will be a real battle between Croatia and Iceland. I can see both of these teams beating Nigeria, who I think are the weakest team in the group and will likely end up pointless, but I think Croatia’s extra attacking talent means they could nick a point against Argentina, who have a very poor defensive record of late.
That point may well be enough to split them and Iceland and may be the edge that lands them that runner’s up spot in the group.
Man to Watch – Lionel Messi (Argentina) – Messi is due a stellar World Cup after a stellar career but he has not yet had his “Maradona” moment. He’s the one player that could inspire this team to World Cup glory on his own, if they can tighten up their defence.