World Cup 2018: Predicting the winners: Group A and B

World Cup fever: the quadrennial illness we all hope to get struck down with. For English fans like myself, it’s starting to become the regular showcase of hilarity and mediocrity that only England can provide. Russia 2018, however, does promise to be a true spectacle: from group stage matches like Spain vs Portugal and Belgium vs England to having one of the most unpredictable lists of potential winners of the 21st century so far. Therefore, I’m going to list my prediction for how the entire month-long Tournament will pan out, using a merely a neutral’s opinion and random guesswork; the most credible source of predictions and knowledge known to man. This post is dedicated to Groups A and B in the Tournament.

Group A:  Russia (70), Saudi Arabia (67), Egypt (45), Uruguay (14)

Who’s who?

Upon first glance, this looks to be a very straightforward group to predict. Uruguay bolsters one of the strongest strike partnerships in the whole competition (Barcelona’s Luis Suarez and PSG’s Edinson Cavani), as well as the Atletico Madrid defensive partnership of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez being a formidable pairing, so one should expect them to top the group. Saudi Arabia is quite obviously the team few to no people outside of Riyadh expect to go through, given their minnow status and lack of noteworthy names (friendly reminder former Winners Italy and former finalists The Netherlands failed to qualify this year, and they say this Tournament hosts the top teams…). Russia and Egypt are two teams who can either flop on the big stage or prove to be a team that shocks many: in the case of Russia, they do have some established names like Feodor Smolov up top and Mario Fernandes at Right Back, and being hosts may even up the playing field against Uruguay and Egypt. Speaking of Egypt, they may be regarded by many as a One Man team, but what a one-man Mo Salah is: Liverpool’s star player may have finished his record-breaking debut season in tears after being subbed off in the Champions League final, but one can just see the parallels between what Lionel Messi did with Argentina in 2014, and what Salah is expected to do this time around.

Prediction?

Uruguay boasts a similar team and similar star power as they did in 2014, with the inclusion of Sampdoria’s Lucas Torreira making their team even stronger. Although they faltered and struggled in 2014, one can see there’s a clear contrast in quality between a group of Costa Rica, Italy, and England has to what they have this year.

I reckon that whoever beat Saudi Arabia by a greater margin of goals will be the team to go through between Russia and Egypt. They may both get beaten by Uruguay, play out a draw against each other, so Saudi Arabia may actually hold some significance in who joins Uruguay in the knockout stage. Russia plays Saudi Arabia in the opening game with the latter still participating in Ramadan on that night, whilst Egypt plays Saudi Arabia in game 3 where they may be forced to play in desperation and Salah going for a 30-minute first-half goal frenzy before faltering for the remaining 60. Therefore, Egypt poses a greater attacking threat than Russia, and both teams’ defence should be able to remain locked and solid against the rock bottom Nation.

  1. Uruguay: 9 Points (3-0-0) To defeat all 3 teams in their group
  2. Egypt: 4 Points (1-1-1) To defeat SA, draw with Portugal, and lose to Uruguay
  3. Russia: 4 Points (1-1-1) To defeat SA, draw with Egypt, and lose to Uruguay
  4. Saudi Arabia: 0 Points (0-0-3) Fail to record a win or draw in the group.

Egypt to advance on goal difference, Russia to still win the Final and be crowned World Champions without even playing it. Definitely not hacked or rigged Guys…who would even consider that…?

Group B: Portugal (4), Spain (10), Morocco (41), Iran (37)

Who’s Who?

This group appears to be more straightforward and less close or contentious. Portugal and Spain both have a great history in major competitions, with the latter undergoing a golden era between 2008 and 2012 establishing Spanish football dominance in the closest Spain claim to being a credible world power since the 17th century. Their neighbours recently won the Euro Tournament in 2016, and who can forget that Cristiano Ronaldo is still one of the top 3 players in the World even at the age of 33: for a Country without true World Cup glory (their best performance being the semi-finals in Germany 2006), Ronaldo and Co will be seeking to assert themselves as Superior to Messi’s Argentina. Morocco and Iran may very well decide to play for pride and to avoid embarrassment, but neither team is competing without star players. Morocco is captained by Medhi Benatia, who’s enjoyed a career-best season at Italian giants Juventus, and their main threat is Hakim Ziyech from Ajax, a versatile attacking midfielder known for his dribbling and free kick prowess. Speaking of the Dutch giants, Iran’s star man is Alireza Jahanbakhsh (solid Scrabble score right there) from AZ Alkmaar (another good Scrabble score) who boasts enough pace and skill to actually be considered an attacking threat, and to provide ideal link up play for Rubin Kazan’s Sardar Azmoun. Neither team has much international pedigree or success to their name in the World Cup, however, so experience is very much against them compared to the European heavyweights expected to top the group.

Prediction?

The above statements surely give a simple answer to who I see going through to the round of 16 right? Well, that’s what 95% of my mind is saying, but the other 5% is seeing a shock waiting to happen with Morocco at one of Portugal or Spain’s expense. Portugal was pretty unconvincing in their capture of the Euros in 2016, having only one convincing victory against Wales in the Semi Final. Their last good World Cup performance came in 2006 where young Ronaldo was just emerging as the next big thing. With this World Cup 12 years later looking to be the final in the Real Madrid Ace’s illustrious career, it would be unsurprising to see the Portuguese play Pass to Ronaldo-Ronaldo scores-Repeat and then failing due to the remaining 10 men of the 11 being, well, a bit average in comparison. Could Portugal’s performance be an omen for things to come for the side post-Ronaldo? Perhaps, let’s just leave it to Spain and Morocco to make that decision for us.

  1. Spain: 7 Points (2-1-0) To defeat Iran and Morocco, and draw with Portugal
  2. Morocco: 6 Points (2-0-1) To defeat Iran and Portugal, and lose to Spain
  3. Portugal: 4 Points (1-1-1) To defeat Iran, draw with Spain, and lose to Morocco
  4. Iran: 0 Points (0-0-3) Fail to record a win or draw in the group

Morocco to cause an upset, Spain to reaffirm their status as a favourite to win it all, Portugal to crash out on a whimper, and I score a minimum of 49 points Scrabble points for Alireza Jahanbakhsh.

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