The wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is very nearly over with only a couple of weeks to go until the tournament begins. With Portugal, Brazil, and England in tricky groups, it will be interesting to see which team turns out to be the Costa Rica of the 2018 World Cup. The festival begins on June 14th, with hosts Russia kicking things off against Saudi Arabia.
Let us analyze the path of every team, group by group, to understand their expectations and take the risk of predicting the teams which might move ahead from the group stages:
Belgium has one of the most talented groups of players, yet they fail to attract the biggest National managers on a regular basis. Marc Wilmots was a disaster and Roberto Martinez is gearing up for a disaster with the exclusion of fan favorite Radja Nainngolan.
From Thibaut Courtois to Romelu Lukaku, Belgium is filled with talent. They have the best players of some of the biggest clubs in Europe in the name of Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens. Yet they somehow fail to bring the best out of them as a cohesive unit on a regular basis.
Disappointing exits in the World Cup 2014 and Euros 2016 have only increased the pressure on Martinez, who will have to produce a minimum of a semifinals run to finally get something out of this aging yet talented squad.
Verdict: On paper, Belgium should cruise through their group, with England being the only relative threat. But their quality should be enough to ensure that they go past the Round of 16, with luck and the form of big players deciding the depth from there.
Gareth Southgate has been hailed by pundits and fans alike as the man who has finally united the England squad into a well drilled cohesive unit which can be the dark horses that they have threatened to be for such a long time. Yet, on paper, their squad looks a Round of 16 contenders at best.
In Harry Kane, they have a deadly and world-class striker, but a lack of real quality international players behind him is the worrying sign. Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling have been consistent performers for their clubs, but they have failed to recapture that magic on the International stage.
Their defense is also one mistake away from falling apart, with Gary Cahill well past his best and John Stones enduring a tough second half of a once-promising season. The Ashley Young story does add a tinge of a feel-good factor to the squad, but apart from that, it is hard to find inspiration in this squad. Ruben Loftus-cheek is Southgate’s favorite guy, and he could be a revelation at this World Cup if given a good run in the first team.
Verdict: With one of the easiest groups to contend with, England should be confident about their chances of making it into the Round of 16, but it is hard to see them move past that round, bar a favorable draw.
Panama will be in a festive mood come that start of the World Cup. This is their first ever qualification into the show-piece, coming at the expense of a lackluster USA. They have already declared National holidays on all their match-days, with the nation just happy to see their team compete in the World Cup.
In Luis Tejeda, they have a striker who has scored 43 International goals and he will be desperate to get one on the biggest stage of them all. With the track record that England have in the last few big tournaments, it is not stupid to expect the dream come true against them. Their coach Hernan Dario Gomez certainly will be hoping that his main man gets the reward he so richly deserves.
Hernan is a serial qualifier, with his expertise taking a once mediocre Colombia into the World Cup in 1998 and another big underdog Ecuador into the World Cup in 2002. He will be hoping to enjoy his time in Russia, even though it might be for a mere 15 days.
Verdict: Panama is relative unknowns, with this being their first ever World Cup. But they will be looking to put up a fight and cause one or two upsets to hamper the cause of their group mates.
Tunisia was exceptional during the entire qualification campaign. Under the guidance of Nabil Maaloul, they went unbeaten throughout the qualification campaign and entered the pot for the World Cup with some style.
While they don’t have a lot of familiar faces, with Leicester City CB backup Yohan Benalouane and former Sunderland frontman Wahbi Khazri being the only known faces. Also pairing with the Leicester City center-back is the hugely promising and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour.
Tunisia has a very well drilled cohesive unit, and with their opener against soft-weights England, they will be hoping to start off their campaign with a major upset and show their mettle to the World.
Verdict: While England is heavy favorites to accompany Belgium into the Round of 16, it is not difficult to imagine Tunisia causing an upset and going through to the next round.
We will be analyzing each and every group to understand the profile of the teams participating in the World Cup, so look out for these posts on the indifoot app.