World Cup 2018 Preview

World Cup 2018 preview

Russia – Hosts under pressure

Headed by Stanislav Cherchesov, the Russians have high hopes of making a positive impact on their home soil.

Host nations of major tournaments usually show difficulties to handle pressure. But it can also be success stories such as World Cup 2002 in South Korea.

Or it can turn out to be the same faith as South Africa in 2010, Poland & Ukraine in the Euros 2012 who all failed to survive the group phase as host nations.

It remains to see what Russia can produce while carrying the largest country in the world on their shoulders.

To watch out for: Fyodor Smolov made his debut in the national team 2012 under Fabio Capello.

Today, he is the main striker and the player who needs to be in the form of his life if Russia wants to proceed to the later stages of the tournament.

Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt & Uruguay.

Brazil – Revenge, beauty and skill

Brazil

The always feared Brazilians are coming from the most brutal of exits in a disastrous performance against Germany. The 7-1 slaughter at Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte.

Brazil is hoping to give their reputation a lift in Russia, and the nation never seems to run out of talent.

It thus makes perfect sense that Brazil is being depicted as rightful pre-favorites for the trophy.

They have won 5 World Cup titles, 7 Copa America trophies and 4 Confederations cup titles. Winning is not a choice - it is in the Brazilian core when it comes to football

To watch out for: There are too many players to watch out for. But the question is how the new faces of Brazil will handle their first major tournament appearance, such as forward Gabriel Jesus.

His talent is huge, but can he show it on the biggest scene the world can offer, or will it be too much pressure on the young man’s shoulders?

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica & Serbia.

Iran – An organized success?

Iran 2018

One of the most successful nations in Asia, and also a team on the rise as they make their fifth-ever appearance in the World Cup.

Managed by Carlos Queiroz, Iran has proven to be stingy and difficult to beat. He leads the team since 2011 and only lost 8 times in his 69 matches with Iran.

They went undefeated through the Asian qualifiers with 6 victories and 4 draws and only conceded two goals.

A gut feeling says that Iran can become an unpleasant surprise for Spain and Portugal because they have an ability to keep games close thanks to a stellar defense and organization on the pitch, which of course rhymes well with Carlos Queiroz philosophy.

To watch out for: Despite being born in 1995, forward Sardar Azmoun plays for Rubin Kazan, so Russia is not a strange place for him.

Additionally, given his young age, having scored 22 goals for Iran already is impressive.

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco & Iran.

Japan – Experience matters

Japan 2018

Participating in their 6th consecutive World Cup tournament, Japan certainly belongs to one of Asia's best teams. They have a very loyal, consistent and experienced team.

Defenders Sakai, Nagatomo, and Yoshida have over 220 international matches combined. Also, the attack being led by Okazaki with over 100 international matches, as well as Kagawa, Honda, and Konno with nearly hundred each.

This might be one of the most internationally experienced teams when it comes to representing the nation. Being led by Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic, who has led Algeria as late as 2014, there is a solid base of leadership in this team.

To watch out for: The speed! This might be the agilest team in the tournament and should have potential to be a dangerous counter team with much creativity and speed on the flanks in particular.

For talent monitoring, keep an extra eye on forwards Asano, and Kubo, born 1994 and 1993 respectively.

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia & Japan.

Iceland – Hard work and the volcano, a winning concept?

Iceland 2018

The sensation from the Euros in France, where they tied with Portugal in the group and then knocked out England, but later fell short against France.

Iceland has done it again - they won the group consisting of Turkey, Croatia, and Ukraine, and will participate in their first ever World Cup in Russia.

We welcome back the famous Volcano supporters to make noise in the Russian stadiums.

The team is without the successful coach Lars Lagerback, but current coach Heimir Hallgrimsson have done a great job. He maintains the typical Icelandic style of play, with an enormous work ethic, excellent set pieces, and counter-attacks.

Iceland has the third highest average age in the tournament – many experienced players, but none of them have played a World Cup before.

To watch out for: Gylfi Sigurdsson is the heart and soul of the team. One of the most underrated players in the Premier League and his right foot is what will be the difference for Iceland's progression chances in the tournament.

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia & Nigeria.

Sweden – Reborn Swedes looking to make impact

Sweden 2018

Life after Ibrahimovic is clearly bright after all. Sweden qualified to World Cup through the playoffs, where they beat Italy 1-0 on aggregate.

Having also beaten France in the qualification phase, the Swedes can stand up tall against the very best on a good day. The lack of individual quality is evident, but they are more of a unit than a one-man team.

Coach Janne Andersson has been given a lot of credit for the achievement of qualifying, thus ending the thirst of the Swedish population to see their team in World Cup again for the first time since 2006 in Germany.

To watch out for: Emil Forsberg won the assist league in Bundesliga last season and is the difference maker with his technique, creativity, and set-piece threat.

Look out for a stingy Swedish team who plays to their roots - tall center backs, clear the box and run. It has worked in Europe, but will it be enough in the World Cup?

Group F: Germany, Mexico, South Korea & Sweden.

Denmark – Solid Nordics

Denmark 2018

Aage Hareide left Malmo FF and took over the Danish national team, but little did he know that he would take Denmark to compete in Russia, and even less so, to be undefeated since being in charge.

The Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen is emerging to be one of the best players in Europe on his position, while the talent also exists on defense with Andreas Christensen from Chelsea, learning from his more experienced partner Simon Kjaer.

The icebreaker can absolutely be the Celta Vigo winger Pione Sisto who provides the trickery. Denmark qualified by knocking out Ireland in the playoff, after a dominant performance in both legs and a 1-5 aggregate victory.

Out of the Nordic teams in the competition, Denmark certainly looks like a complete team, having more tools in their box than its neighbors.

To watch out for: Apart from the already obvious star Christian Eriksen, keep an eye on Pione Sisto who is entertaining to watch with his agile body movement and quick turns and also links up well with Eriksen. They both held key roles in Denmark’s road to the World Cup.

Group C: France, Australia, Peru & Denmark.

Mexico – Group specialists, but then what?

Mexico 2018

The Mexicans confidently won their qualifying group with 5 points margin which solidified their place in the World Cup. Sure, one can question the quality of the teams that Mexico compete against, but with clashes against Costa Rica, Panama and USA it is not as easy as it looks.

They will compete in Russia under the guidance of the Colombian coach Juan Carlos Osorio who is approaching 50 matches in charge of Mexico, and have only lost 6 matches with the national team to date.

This is a group who are used to winning and that should not be underestimated. There are many quality players who have been in the World Cup before and various big scenes (Carlos Vela, Andres Guardado, Oribe Peralta, Giovanni Dos Santos to mention a few).

Mexico certainly feels like a mature team but without a clear superstar, but still can never be disregarded in their matches. On beforehand, Mexico feels like one of the most unpredictable teams in the competition.

To watch out for: Born in 1995, winger Hirving Lozano from PSV Eindhoven has already scored 7 goals for the national team since making his debut in early 2016 at the age of 20.

With his pace and ability to making things happen when having the ball, he is perhaps one of the hottest targets for scouts in the tournament. He already sits on a long contract until 2023 with PSV, but in case of a successful World Cup, big clubs might stand in line.

Group F: Germany, Mexico, South Korea & Sweden.

Belgium – The enemy is Belgium themselves

Belgium 2018

One of the strongest teams on paper, Belgium have got all the tools to go deep in the competition. What about Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens and Axel Witsel?

I intentionally left out Romelu Lukaku, just to show that there are world class players available even without the dangerous striker.

Under the guidance of Roberto Martinez, Belgium plays possession football, and due to their superiority of having the most creative midfield in the world, rarely leaves the field without scoring a goal.

The team needs to close introduction – but the expectations are undoubtedly very high on this Belgian side. Their weakness is to themselves and they need to be ready to unlock deep sitting defenses with success. If they do master that, the trophy can end up in the hands of Belgium.

To watch out for: There are many stars in the team, and it also means that leadership will be a key factor to handle all these strong characters who are normally obvious superstars in their clubs.

The challenge is that they have to learn to play together with nobody being the lone star player. Remember the saying “too many cooks”? Belgium is their own enemy when it comes to how they handle their potential.

Group G: England, Belgium, Panama & Tunisia.

South Korea – No pressure on unpredictable South Korea

Korea 2018

We all remember 2002 and what a year it was for South Korea. They do have a new poster boy after the icon Ji Sung Park retired, and nowadays the people of South Korea are giving their hope to Heung-Min Son from Tottenham.

South Korea has traditionally always possessed great work ethics, but lacking the overall “killer instinct” in front of goal.

Coach Tae-Yong Shin is newly appointed since summer 2017 and was previously in charge of the national youth teams of South Korea.

He is yet winless in competitive matches in the position and remains the question mark in this team. In tough competition with Iran, South Korea were the runner-ups to Group A of the Asian qualifiers.

To watch out for: Finishing as runner-ups behind Iran in the Asian qualifiers, the South Korean team conceded 10 goals, which is as many as China (who finished second last).

There is work to be done, but keep an eye on interesting offensive players such as Red Bull Salzburg’s forward Hee-Chan Hwang, born 1996.

Group F: Germany, Mexico, South Korea & Sweden.

Saudi Arabia – The older the better?

Saudi Arabia 2018

Five – is the number of time Saudi Arabia have featured in the World Cup. In fact, they will arrive in Russia with the oldest team on paper, as their average squad age is just below 29 years.

The former Argentina and UAE coach, Edgardo Bauza is in charge since September 2017, and therefore it is yet unknown how Saudi Arabia look under his leadership.

There is a lot of international experience, not least in defender Osama Hawsawi with shy of 130 appearances and midfielder Taisir Al-Jassim around the 130 mark as well.

Note that all players play their weekly football in the Saudi Arabian league, so they will have a very particular style of play without influences from any major football leagues.

To watch out for: The strength is in the pride of their team and many players are playing the last ever major tournament as many have surpassed the age of 28-30.

It can perhaps be an extra motivator and I believe Saudi Arabia can clinch a point in World Cup, but overall they will be one of the weaker teams in the tournament.

Due to lack of youth in the team, look at the veteran captain, 33-year-old Osama Hawsawi at the defense and how he stands against the top quality opposition.

Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt & Uruguay.

Germany – Football is played between two teams, where Germany always wins

Germany 2018

Officially the second most successful team in the world with their 4 World Cup trophies. In the European qualifiers, Germany was the only team to go clean with 10-0-0 and an astonishing +39 in goal difference.

As the current title holder after the World Cup victory in 2014, there is pressure and a favorable reputation on the Germans to defend their title.

It is historically very difficult to do, and last time that happened was in 1958 and 1962 when Brazil won twice in a row. The squad is as always very talented and anything less than a semifinal would be regarded as a disappointment.

Joachim Low is still in charge and has an impressive record leading this German side, who average 2.49 goals per game under his time in charge and concede as little as 0.95 per game.

With such figures, you are likely to progress far in the most tournament and this is not an exception. Germany remains one of the favorites, and rightfully so.

To watch out for: Literally everybody on this team, but forward Timo Werner is off to a hot start in his national team career with 7 goals in his first 10 appearances.

If he is given the confidence to start in the World Cup, we are talking about a potential golden boot winner.

Group F: Germany, Mexico, South Korea & Sweden.

England – Realistic expectations key for England's performance

England 2018

We used to hear about England as one of the most hyped teams ahead of every single major tournament, but most of the time it ends up in disappointment.

The loss against Iceland in the Euros is still fresh on the eye, and England is looking for some sort of redemption of their status.

The Englishmen progressed in the qualifiers in their group consisting of Slovakia, Slovenia, and Scotland as the main competitors. It was a pleasant group for England who was not exposed or tested enough.

In recent years, England has tried to become more modern and implemented a possession-based approach but lacking the real creativity in the final third to unlock defenses in a variety of ways.

It is a younger era of England we have seen over the last major tournaments, they are carrying a very spoiled country on their shoulders (no offense to England).

But the people of England always expect a lot and it leads to a lot of pressure, and in essence, leads to cramp-looking performances when it matters the most.

Group G is a pleasant one for England, but Panama and Tunisia are no push-overs and if the respect is not there, England might have a short World Cup again.

To watch out for: The young talent in the squad, many players belong to clubs who have taken major steps in the development, such as Tottenham and Dele Ali, Eric Dier, Kieran Trippier but also “newborn” Ashley Young after his position swap in Manchester United.

Sure, there are some familiar names, both new and old – but the majority of the players in the English squad have a positive form and development curve. It makes you wonder how far it can go if they peak at the right time.

Group G: England, Belgium, Panama & Tunisia.

Spain – Possession wins it?

Julen Lopetegui

It is hard to believe that a strong nation like Spain only has one World Cup title historically. Julen Lopetegui is still undefeated as manager for Spain, with a row of impressive results (12 victories out of his 16 first games in charge).

The only result with a negative feeling is the 3-3 draw against Russia in the friendly match in November 2017 – showing that despite having world class players, the focus must be present at all times.

The team is stacked offensively with loads of talent and the typical Spanish style of play is difficult to defend against for 90 minutes.

There is a lot of creativity, finesse and finishing ability with Alvaro Morata or Marco Asensio, who are quite physical pieces as well, which adds a new dimension to Spanish football.

When seeing the team on paper, it is certainly a team who should be able to go all the way along with Germany, Belgium, and Brazil. It is a boring “prediction” to do, but difficult to deny as well.

Spain will have the fun task to try unlock Iran’s and Morocco’s rock solid defenses in order to make the group stage a comfortable journey.

To watch out for: It is difficult to believe that Marco Asensio is born 1996, and already such a mature and complete football player.

Born in Mallorca, the young talent have always been a goal scorer with 15 goals in 29 appearances for Spain U19 and U21 combined. He is still waiting for his first senior national team goal for Spain - Perhaps it will come on the biggest of scenes.

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco & Iran.

Nigeria – Talented youth to surprise in the "group of death" ?

John Obi Mikel

Gernot Rohr, the 64-year-old German coach in charge of Nigeria have a long history of managing African national teams. He has got 1 loss against South Africa during the time in charge in Nigeria.

The impressive result is the 4-2 victory against Argentina in a friendly, against a strong Argentina side on paper, despite it being a friendly.

Nigeria is particularly talented on the forward positions with the English Premier League trio Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa available.

If you remember the Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, he is now 30 years old and provides the leadership in the defensive midfield role.

An extra fact for you is that Nigeria has the youngest team in the World Cup, so they should be exciting to watch with all that youth, but they are also physically strong and possess a lot of paces.

If you hear the melody, they have very exciting ingredients to be successful in the long run. Perhaps this World Cup is too early for them, but give them another four years under solid management and Nigeria can be an incredibly charming team to watch.

It is safe to say that Nigeria ended up in one of the toughest group with Argentina, Croatia, and Iceland.

To watch out for: There is plenty of youth on the team, but the forward partners Iwobi and Ihenacho have been lethal together and it is exciting to see how they will cope with experienced teams.

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia & Nigeria.

Morocco – Stingy defense and talented offense

Sofiane Boufal morocco

Morocco went through the African qualifiers without conceding a single goal with the impressive goal difference of 11-0.

Hervé Renard has made wonders with a very talented player material which consist of defensive leaders and individual skill in the final third.

Mehdi Benatia is the captain of the center back position, sided by Nabil Dirar on the right flank, both representing big clubs in Juventus and Fenerbache respectively.

It is on the final third where it gets interesting, where Hakim Ziyech from Ajax is a wonderful passer of the ball and Sofiane Boufal from Southampton who can be an x-factor.

Karim El Ahmadi on the defensive midfield position is the glue that holds midfield and defense together. Unfortunately for Morocco, the group is very tough with Spain, Portugal, and Iran, but this is also a great test.

The positive vibes in this Moroccan side can steal points from all group opponents but they need to be at their best.

In my opinion, Morocco is the most underestimated team in the World Cup considering their player material and a very competent coach

To watch out for: 24-year old attacking midfielder Hakim Ziyech from Ajax is very technically gifted and possess the vision to split defenses or score on his own. A successful tournament will see him move to a bigger club.

Group B: Spain, Portugal, Morocco & Iran.

Tunisia – Highest ranked team in Africa

Wahbi Khazri tunisia

For the first time since 2006, Tunisia participates in the World Cup again. It is the highest ranked team in Africa, which shows that the performances have been consistent for a long period of time.

It is a team without a shining star but a strong unit to their disposal. Tunisia went undefeated through the qualifiers which do not necessarily say a lot but still shows that Tunisia is used to winning matches.

Midfielder Wahbi Khazri from Rennes is the most known name in the squad along with winger Youssef Mskani who scored 3 goals in the qualifiers, which was enough to be the top scorer for Tunisia.

Coach Nabil Maaloul will have to make sure his side is up to standard defensively, as they will be tested against Belgium and England primarily.

To watch out for: The unpredictable and rather anonymous Tunisian side is easy to take lightly, but they are difficult to beat over 90 minutes.

In such circumstances where every game matters, the veterans play a significant role. That being said, Wahbi Khazri is the man who should carry this Tunisian side.

Group G: England, Belgium, Panama & Tunisia.

Costa Rica – World Cup Quarter finalists 3 years ago

Keylor Navas costa rica

Even if Mexico finished top of the group, Costa Rica successfully clinched a spot in Russia after securing the second place in the qualifiers.

They are arriving in Russia with a different status than last time when they were more of an unknown national team. Nowadays they have one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Keylor Navas and gained valuable experience from major tournaments.

The lack of youth is obvious, as Costa Rica has one of the oldest squads on paper, just behind Saudi Arabia in that category.

Coach Oscar Ramirez will try to recreate the success of the team but it is certainly a difficult task in a tricky group consisting of Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia.

The Costa Ricans have no obvious star-man in the final third, but similar to the recent years it is a hard-working squad which is how they reached success at big scenes before and won people’s hearts all over the world.

That being said, in a tough group – Costa Rica’s chances are slim, but they can definitely strike from an underdog position.

To watch out for: The experienced Celso Borges on the midfield is not a spectacular player, but always gets the job done when he is on the pitch.

In modern football, it is full of step-overs and flair, which is why players like Celso Borges is rare when he plays and keeps it simple.

He makes a lot of the dirty job in disguise. We can also expect to see some spectacular saves from Keylor Navas with his cat-like reflexes.

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia & Costa Rica.

Croatia – Loaded with quality

Ivan Rakitic croatia

The fantastic jerseys of Croatia will once again decorate the stadiums in the World Cup.

It certainly feels like Croatia have one of the most interesting teams on paper, where you find quality all over the pitch but tend to ask yourself - Why have they not gone further with this player material?

Croatia has been a quite turbulent football nation with internal battles in the football association, supporter problems, and coach issues.

It is easy to say that Croatia has not been given optimal circumstances to make the best of their quality, but perhaps can Zlatko Dalic give the nation a lift. Croatia finished second in the group, behind Iceland, but comfortably beat Greece in the playoffs.

With Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic on a midfield, you can rest assured there are chances to stand tall against any national team in the world.

Until being knocked out by Portugal in the Euros in France, Croatia did beat Spain and played perhaps the best football that far in the tournament.

With a new respected coach ready to start fresh – look forward to seeing Croatia play Argentina, Iceland, and Nigeria in a group of death.

To watch out for: Are you weak for brilliance? Most of us are. In that case, enjoy Luka Modric on the pitch and see his constant awareness and ball movement.

The man who scored an unforgettable goal in the Champions League - Mario Mandzukic and his never-ending runs is also a man to watch.

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia & Nigeria.

Senegal – The rise after 15 absent years

sadio mane senegal

With nearly twice as many points as the runners-up in the qualifiers, Senegal certainly stormed their way into World Cup with convincing performances.

We have not seen Senegal on the big scenes since 2002 in South Korea/Japan, where they beat Sweden in golden goal to progress.

Coach Aliou Cisse was part of the team back in 2002, and now he has guided his nation back to the World Cup.

With emerging stars such as Sadio Mane and Idrissa Gueye, Senegal has good chances to collect points in the most evenly matched group containing Poland, Colombia, and Japan where Senegal have solid chances to finish among the two best.

The defense is promising with Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli, while the midfield is Premier League influenced by Cheikh Kouyate and Idrissa Gueye – both rock solid physical defensive midfielders.

To watch out for: Keita Balde and Sadio Mane make for the quickest flanks in the World Cup.

If Senegal plays to their strengths which is physicality and pace, they can progress further than the group stage.

Welcome back, Senegal.

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia & Japan.

Serbia – Consistent performances on the pitch, but turbulent on the sideline

dusan tadic serbia

After securing the place in Russia, Serbia sacked their coach Slavoljub Muslin as he was criticized for his team selection and defensive tactic.

Whatever Muslin did, it worked and made Serbia finish top of the group ahead of Ireland and Wales. Mladen Krstajic is now in charge for the pre-friendlies but the coaching carousel might not be finished just yet.

Serbia have a solid base of players and offensively Dusan Tadic, Adem Ljajic, and Filip Kostic make for a technically gifted trio.

The most exciting part about Serbia is to see their starlet Sergej Milinkovic Savic emerge to a real top class midfielder at 22 years of age, and already a key piece of Lazio in Serie A.

The Serbs will be brutally tested in a group with Brazil, Switzerland, and Costa Rica, in a generally even group with strong outsiders.

Similarly to many Balkan teams, the technical level of Serbia is high and the defensive work rate likewise. If they get the unit together properly along with a stable coach on the sideline, Serbia is a team that can progress.

To watch out for: Sergej Milinkovic Savic is very talented and will have many eyes on him. Being born in 1995 and already the second highest transfer market valued player in this Serbian team is impressive.

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia & Costa Rica.

Poland – Predictable Poland need to find versatility

Robert Lewandowski poland

It is not a secret that Robert Lewandowski is the face of the Polish national team. In fact, Poland did very good qualifiers except for the 6-0 loss in Copenhagen against Denmark.

Coach Adam Nawalka has a good mixture of experience and talented players to use, especially in Piotr Zielinski who is getting more and more key status in a strong Napoli team.

The real question is whether Poland can find more creative solutions when going forward because opponents have understood that many balls will go to Lewandowski and will generally cope well with this being figured out.

That being said, Poland’s success will not only depend on one striker but also the flexibility. Versatility will be needed in an extremely even group with technical Colombia, quick and physical Senegal and experienced Japan in the same group.

Poland will face three different oppositions and will need to get out of their safe-play style in order to gain results.

To watch out for: In order to filter out the most obvious answer, being Lewandowski – the midfielder Piotr Zielinski will play an important role and be the one who takes initiatives.

He is used to dictating games in Napoli, but with more limited space and not necessarily being the best team in the group, all his qualities will be put to the test immediately.

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia & Japan.

Argentina – Questionable qualifiers make Argentina difficult to predict

messi argentina

It may look good on the standings, but Argentina finished third place behind Uruguay and Brazil in the South American World Cup qualifiers, however, the truth behind that position is 4 losses and 7 draws, which is not too impressive if you wear the Argentinian jersey.

Coach Jorge Sampaoli advocates a very attacking philosophy as we saw in Chile between 2012 – 2016 when his Chilean side was one of the most entertaining teams in the world.

With quality players available all over the field, he should be able to achieve something similar with Argentina as well.

The competition for the top spot in the group is tough, as Argentina will battle Croatia, Nigeria, and Iceland, all being capable of stealing points from each other.

To watch out for: The Argentinian offense! I will pick an outsider though – Emiliano Rigoni has played very well in Zenit St Petersburg and scored lots of goals in Europa League.

If he is given playing time, he can shine in Russia.

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia & Nigeria.

Peru – Back on the big scene for the first time in 35 years

Jefferson Farfán peru

At the time of qualifying after the playoff against New Zealand, Peru was ranked 10 on the FIFA ranking, which might not say much, but should not be taken lightly either as it shows their step by step success in recent years.

It has been a long wait (1982) since Peru participated in a World Cup, so the support from home will be incredible.

Many of the key players are close to the end of their careers which means that this is the last chance in a major tournament for many of them.

It is worth to note that coach Ricardo Gareca is undefeated with Peru (5 wins, 4 draws) since being appointed in February 2015.

Together with France, Denmark, and Australia, Peru have decent chances to cause harm to Denmark and Australia in particular, while France will be the ultimate test.

To watch out for: Jefferson Farfán plays his club football in Russia (Lokomotiv Moscow).

I think it can help Peru to feel more comfortable to have someone who knows the country and stadiums, especially when it is a key player like Farfán himself.

Group C: France, Australia, Peru & Denmark.

Australia – Tourists in Russia or capable of more?

Mathew Leckie australia

After a successful playoff battle against Syria, the Aussies managed to clinch a place in the World Cup.

However, coach Ange Postecoglou decided to resign and the coaching post is therefore unclear heading into the tournament.

We can rest assured the management situation will be solved in time, but the fact remains that Australia might be one of the weaker teams in the tournament.

Similarly to their group rivals Peru, many players in Australia are at the end of their careers which makes this tournament special for them.

Mile Jedinak (33), Mark Milligan (32), James Troisi (29) and Robbie Kruse (29) are possibly making their last major appearances in this context.

To watch out for: The brightest star is Mathew Leckie from Hertha Berlin, where he is a key player and one of the more reliable scorers.

He possesses great speed and trickery, but in a team like Australia with limited dictating ability, he will have a different role and more defensive responsibility than usual.

Group C: France, Australia, Peru & Denmark.

Switzerland – Strong Switzerland in strong group

Breel Embolo switzerland

It was almost a perfect group stage in the European qualifiers, but Portugal woke up and surpassed the Swiss side who needed to battle Northern Ireland in a hard-fought playoff matchup.

Coach Vladimir Petkovic plays a controlled possession-based style, with a talented young defense and a sharp offense with flair and talent as well, this is surely an interesting team who look solid all over the field.

Their FIFA rank is 11, which says something about the recent successful campaigns they have had.

For being a European side, they have good physicality in the squad in Granit Xhaka, Blerim Dzemaili, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schär.

The group is very tough with Brazil, Serbia, and Costa Rica, but the Swiss have good chances of points in all three games

To watch out for: Breel Embolo is born in 1997, and at 20 years of age already have a place in the national team, and usually sparks when coming off from the bench. He is physical and technical and a true X-factor for Switzerland.

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia & Costa Rica.

Panama – An unknown team have got nothing to lose, and everything to win

Ricardo Avila panama

According to transfer values, Panama arrives at World Cup with the cheapest squad out of all teams, which is not very surprising as they make their first-ever appearance.

Coach Hernan Gomez has been in charge since 2014, but probably not even himself believed they would be among the participants in World Cup.

However, Panama has an unknown team but have all the chances of becoming the people's favorites, similar to what Costa Rica did during their success.

Center back Felipe Baloy is 36 years old and plays his club football in Guatemala, for Municipal, which is the same club as national fellow striker Blas Perez (36 years old) too.

It is a tight-knit group of players, and that should not be underestimated. The progression chances look slim, not necessarily because Panama is weak, but more due to the fact that England and Belgium are two of the teams in the group.

To watch out for: Midfielder Ricardo Avila who plays for KAA Gent in Belgium looks like an interesting prospect on his midfield position.

To represent his country at this scene at 20 years of age is huge, and a great opportunity for him to show himself.

Group G: England, Belgium, Panama & Tunisia.

Uruguay – Fantastic depth makes Uruguay a team to watch

Edinson Cavani uruguay

It is always difficult to keep up with Brazil, but Uruguay did well to secure the second place in the South American qualifiers.

It is a new generation on the midfield with some youngsters who have really made an impact at their clubs, not least Rodrigo Betancur in Juventus and Gastón Pereiro in PSV.

On top of a new look talented midfield, the star power in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez will always be able to give Uruguay a chance to win.

What about the defense then? Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin both belonging to Atletico Madrid, make for a solid consistent center back pair.

Should they need to add depth, Sebastian Coates or Mauricio Lemos are available. When speaking about Uruguay, you have to acknowledge their impressive depth in all positions.

That being said, fancy their chances to make some noise in this World Cup qualifiers. They will have the privilege to face the host nation Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

To watch out for: If we skip Luis Suarez or Edinson Cavani, do keep your eyes on Rodrigo Betancur from Juventus.

If you follow Serie A, you cannot have missed what a talented player this is in his midfield position.

At only 20 years of age, being a regular at Juventus and a starter for his national team, that record speaks for itself.

Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt & Uruguay.

France – After Euro success comes world success?

Kylian Mbappe france

On paper, this is a stacked team in all positions. However, regardless of player material, you need a functioning unit.

France did top their group in the qualifiers ahead of Sweden but did put up some questionable results along the way. The 0-0 draw at home against Luxembourg and the 2-1 loss against Sweden were two jaw-dropping results.

It makes you feel like you do not really know what to expect from France. With the player material in hand, France will remain a strong contender even if their character can be questioned.

Being led by Didier Deschamps since 2012, the highlight has been the final at the European Championships, despite the loss to Portugal on home soil.

Finishing second in Europe should be regarded as a success, and the question is whether their participation in Russia will be a success as well.

Together with Denmark, Peru, and Australia – France should qualify with not too much trouble.

To watch out for: The trio with Alexandre Lacazette, Antoine Griezmann, and Kylian Mbappe is worth almost a combined 300 million EUR.

However, let’s look at the team from a more interesting view: Nabil Fekir belongs to Lyon but has been rumored to several big clubs.

The technically gifted midfielder might not be a 90-minute player, but could be one to watch if he is given enough confidence from the coach.

Group C: France, Australia, Peru & Denmark.

Portugal – European champions looking to make yet another statement

cristiano ronaldo portugal

First, they conquered Europe – now, they are looking to make a statement on World’s biggest scene.

In their previous World Cup appearance, they failed to progress from the group after miserable matches against Germany and United States.

Portugal has matured and started to play on a higher level more accurate to their material available. Their European qualifiers campaign really took off and even surpassed brilliant Switzerland, which shows this teams character.

I would be boring if I even mention Cristiano Ronaldo, but his determination will decide how this Portuguese team will perform.

They have recently gotten a taste of success and winning something huge. If they can build on that, Portugal can harm anyone.

Iran will be their first opponent in the group, an “easy” game on paper but a tricky opponent that can potentially set the tone for this group right away.

Morocco and the “derby” against Spain will be next – perhaps a very deciding match against Spain in the last match.

To watch out for: Concalo Guedes has been superb in Valencia, and one of the main reasons for Valencia’s magnificent season in La Liga.

He belongs to PSG, but considering the competition in that star-filled team, Concalo Gueses might find himself a new permanent club soon enough.

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco & Iran.

Egypt – A whole nation on the shoulders? Egypt knows!

Mohamed Salah egypt

While it is obvious that the people of every nation are happy to see their team in World Cup, there is an extra spice to Egypt and their passionate fans.

FIFA reported that Egyptian fans were among the biggest ticket requesters already, which suggests they will have a fantastic support.

There are good reasons to be optimistic for Egypt, as they have an open group with Russia, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia where progression is wide open.

Mohammed Salah probably deserves a statue already for his performances in Liverpool, but he is just as important for the national team and is undoubtedly already a national hero.

Egypt is in World Cup without pressure, but huge potential to be on the more interesting teams and most loved team in the tournament.

In their first participation since 1990, we wish Egypt a welcome back!

To watch out for: No doubt, Mohammed Salah is the man to watch.

It is not because the rest of the team is not good enough, but similar to many one-man teams such as Sweden (Ibrahimović), Poland (Lewandowski) and Portugal (Ronaldo) it is safe to say that Egypt is just as reliant on Salah’s form.

Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt & Uruguay.

Colombia – Even group, but Colombia favorites?

James Rodriguez colombia

The Colombians finished 4th in the South American qualifiers, showing good defensive performances especially.

New wonderkid at the back, Davidson Sanchez (Tottenham) could partner up with Yerri Mina and combine for one of the youngest (perhaps the youngest) center back pair in the tournament at 21 and 23 years old respectively.

The team is led by a very experienced man in Jose Nestor Pekerman since 2012, and as such will always be hard working and organized.

It is difficult to break this Colombian team down, as they have good physicality and size on them, combined with technical brilliance.

They are very versatile, which will suit them well in this group together with Poland, Senegal, and Japan – three very different teams

To watch out for: We mentioned it earlier. How will this young defense cope against top class opponents?

On an individual level, it is always fun to see if James Rodriguez and score one of those wonder goals. He is the key to everything going through the midfield and therefore he deserves to be mentioned in this category.

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia & Japan.

3 Responses

  1. Shibby says:

    Great read Sweem :)

  2. john says:

    Very interesting post. Totally fun to read

  3. Sweem says:

    Cheers Shibby, appreciate it!

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