To see who I saw winning Groups A and B, click the link to the previous post at the bottom of the page.
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 C and D in the Tournament.
Group C: France (7), Australia (36), Peru (11), Denmark (12)
On paper, and looking at the World rankings next to their names, this group should be one of the closest. But it isn’t. It really isn’t. Although the French prior to Euro 2016 failed to showcase much potential or growth as a national side, the 23 men travelling to Moscow are the textbook definition of having squad depth. Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette and Karim Benzema are three attackers who would get into almost every World Cup starting 11, but Didier Deschamps’ side instead is expected a field a terrifying front 3 of PSG prospect Kylian Mbappe, Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele, and Atletico Madrid’s Antonie Griezmann leading the charge. It’s not just the attack that is intimidating, France’s midfield consists of dab merchant Paul Pogba, Chelsea’s Ngolo Kante, and Juventus veteran Blaise Matuidi. Is there a better front 6 than that in Russia? However, the defence, in particular, the fullbacks, are lacking in quality compared to the talent ahead of them. This is where the other Countries can come in and show their attacking might. Whilst Christian Eriksen is clearly the focus of the Danish, young attackers like Yussuf Poulsen and Pione Sisto creates an attack worthy of being dubbed a Tournament Dark Horse. I’d be lying if I said I knew who Australia was fielding, but all I know is that experienced national hero Tim Cahill will be there: in my eyes, he’s like a Miroslav Klose or Ibrahimovic; ready for the tap in like Klose, but could always score a screamer if his Country needed him to score, like Zlatan. Peru enters the World Cup on good form, having not lost since November 2016, and have a well rounded enough team that could surprise a few who wrote off a team that came through after an Intercontinental playoff victory. 2nd place will be hotly contested, that’s for certain.
If there’s a lesson to be learnt from British History; never trust the French, or never trust the French to succeed. Henry VIII learned that the hard way. 2010 saw the French players mutiny in protest against management and finish bottom of Group A to hosts South Africa, and 2014 saw them go out on a whimper against Germany. Surely third time lucky for the Squad post the glory years of French international football.
Now here’s where it could all go wrong for my prediction. Where Denmark have flair and finesse in their team, Australia have courage and determination that one simply cannot show a lack of admiration for. And where Australia have that, Peru brings expectation and form that must be recognised after a 36 year World Cup drought. It is not hope what wins you games on the biggest stage of them all however, it’s being the best unit with coverage across the pitch, and Denmark has that aplenty in comparison to the relatively weak starting 11s of their group opponents, expect them to not go through without resistance and fight. This will be close.
- France: 9 Points (3-0-0) To defeat all 3 teams in their group
- Denmark: 4 Points (1-1-1) To beat Peru, draw with Australia, and lose to France
- Peru: 3 Points (1-0-2) To defeat Australia, but lose to France and Denmark.
- Australia: 1 Point (0-1-2) To draw with Denmark, but lose to France and Peru.
France to advance with high expectations, joined by Denmark, and England looking for revenge against both sides after 1066. History and form will be important in this group and what lies ahead. More France 98, no Bants 2018.
Group D: Argentina (5), Iceland (22), Croatia (20), Nigeria (48)
If any group summarises the idea of ‘hipster’ and the despised ‘second teams’, this is that group. Argentina may be one of the most successful teams in World Cup history, but they have become far too reliant on Lionel Messi. This is bizarre considering the attack of Argentina is in itself a Who’s who of current Italian football: Juventus pairing Gonzalo Higuain and Paolo Dybala, along with Inter Milan’s controversial Captain Mauro Icardi, rivals France and Brazil for the attack to be most feared. Yet, Argentina fails to utilise this attack effectively: Icardi has been effectively exiled from the Squad for the Maxi Lopez/Wanda Scandal, Higuain became a scapegoat for Argentina’s failure in the 2014 Final and both Copa America defeats to absent Chile, and Dybala’s debut Tournament could expose his need for a greater midfield that he has at club level, yet may not find at national. Speaking of great midfield, Croatia is universally regarded as akin to the Spanish and Italian sides of the late 2000s. From Luka Modric to Ivan Rakitic to Ivan Perisic, the saying ‘beautiful football’ comes to mind. They will be like watching prime Jonjo Shelvey and Matt Ritchie pinging balls and passes like it’s no one’s business. Iceland and Nigeria are two sides with a major cult following heading into Russia, and I don’t think I would be incorrect to say a large number of England fans see Iceland or Nigeria as their second team (just the combination of those two words makes me shudder). Iceland had strong qualifying, and are looking to replicate their Euro 2016 heroics, albeit without marquee man Gylfi Sigurdsson from Spurs, who’s out due to injury. Nigeria recently made the news for having sold out their three million replica shirts almost instantly: they have a nice shirt. They also have Alex Iwobi. For every blessing in life, there’s also pain, and I reckon Iwobi is worth enough pain to watch play for more than a lifetime.
Remember how I previously mentioned how France collapsed in 2010, and Portugal did the same in 2014? Argentina will be teetering on failure this Summer. A lack of defensive solidarity, nor convincing midfield dominance leaves them at risk of the chasing team who may become too dependent on Messi and Dybala to make magic. Croatia, as the most well rounded and cohesive team in the group, should try and top the group to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Whilst I would love to see Iceland continue to capture the hearts and minds of World football with their upsets and shocks, but no Viking clap may be able to will them on further than the group. Nigeria is in a similar spot, although they are not particularly bad, they aren’t particularly good either, and a lack of star power will sadly force them to fall at the first hurdle with Argentina living to survive another round.
- Croatia:7 Points (2-1-0): To defeat Nigeria and Iceland, draw with Argentina
- Argentina: 5 Points (1-2-0) To defeat Nigeria, and draw with the rest
- Iceland: 4 Points (1-1-1) To defeat Nigeria, draw with Argentina, but lose to Croatia
- Nigeria: 0 Points (0-0-3) Fail to record a win or draw in the group.
Argentina barely survives but does just enough. Let us never speak of our “second teams” ever again, and Croatia remains almost everyone’s tournament outsider and dark horse (you’ll find out who mine is later).