To see who I had picked to win any of the previous groups, feel free to check out my posts on Groups A and B, Groups C and D, and most recently, Groups E and F.
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 G and H in the Tournament.
Group G: Belgium (3), England (12), Tunisia (21), Panama (55)
Some people might say I’m a Pessimist. Some say I’m a Realist. I prefer to think of myself as the latter, because then I’m correct, or I’m pleasantly surprised: it’s a win-win situation. Speaking off win-win, does anyone expect Belgium and England not to top this group? On one hand, we have Belgium, who have the best on paper team in the World Cup since perhaps the winning sides of Spain 2010 and Italy 2006. Midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne will be pulling all the strings in Roberto Martinez’s side, and while many doubt the consistent quality and cohesiveness of the Red Devils (no, not Man United, but now you mention it…), they simply cannot be overlooked this Tournament. I want to talk about England in comparison to Belgium, but I really feel like I’m better comparing them to Tunisia and Panama instead, just to make me feel a bit happier and hopeful of reaching the quarterfinals. England field a youthful, internationally inexperienced side, and although they bring some of the Premier League’s best performing players (see Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling), they also bring some dire/Dier choices in Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones. Whilst Tunisia’s high ranking indicates good form, I’m sure I’m in the majority in saying what threat do they pose? Boy am I going to look stupid when Wahbi Khazri chips Jordan Pickford from 40 yards out on a free kick just like Ronaldinho did to David Seaman in 2002. Panama could end up being our Costa Rica from 2014 this year, in that they somehow run riot with only 2 known players, then we draw against them to finish bottom of the group after getting beat off the other teams in the group. Is this one of Shakespeare’s tragicomedies?
Say what you will about the quality of the teamwork and consistency found in the Belgian and English teams, they will prove simply too much for either Panama or Tunisia to handle. All for teams will be merely playing for pride and consolation points on Matchday 3 (assuming both England and Belgium are on 6, whilst Tunisia and Panama are on 2), in which case, a pair of dull draws will signify the end of a pretty predictable group. Belgium will narrowly secure a 1st place position on goal difference.
- Belgium (7 Points) (2-1-0): Draw with England, defeat Panama and Tunisia.
- England (7 Points) (2-1-0): Draw with Belgium, defeat Tunisia and Panama.
- Tunisia (1 Point) (0-1-2): Draw with Panama, lose to England and Belgium.
- Panama (1 Point) (0-1-2): Draw with Tunisia, lose to Belgium and England.
Group H: Poland (8), Colombia (16), Senegal (21), Japan (61)
I like to think of each of these teams as some of the very best ‘secondary teams’ in World football and on their respective continents: no one expects them to ever perform well in their regular Continental cup or the World Cup itself (such as Poland being in the quarterfinals of Euro 2016, and Japan only recording a handful of wins in the World Cup finals) but they seem to perform exceptionally well when it comes to qualifying for the Tournament. This makes Group H extremely unpredictable and even the slightest shock or upset result could change the entire complexity of the group.
Senegal’s squad boasts regulars of strong European sides, like Napoli CB Koulibaly and Liverpool winger Sadio Mane, but then they also boast a keeper who plays in Guinea. Strong contrast in quality. The same applies for Japan (Kagawa and Keisuke Honda regarded as national Heroes amongst the 11), Colombia (featuring 2014’s Player of the Tournament James Rodriguez), and Poland (definitely not reliant on a certain Bayern striker). Each team is fairly balanced with ace Players and exploitable weak links. Expect there to be goals in this group: lots of them. These teams all boast attack at the expense of weaker to average defences.
Remember how I’ve been slowly hinting my dark horse team lurks within this group. Allow me to elaborate: we all saw what Colombia did last Tournament, and it can be argued that their South American has only been strengthened by Falcao’s resurgence (in the French league I know, I know: not as credible but still) and improved defenders in Yuray Mina and Davidson Sanchez. To join Colombia I believe will be Senegal: the World Cup is usually deciding who the best team is rather than who the best player is: Germany won without Messi in 2014, as did Italy in 2006 without Zidane. Who can say they have the strongest 11 out of the remaining Group H Teams? In my eyes, this honour falls to Senegal. No team will emerge out of this group in a particularly strong way with 7 or 9 points, but the endurance and squad depth will do away with Japan and Poland, leaving Colombia and Senegal to progress to the round of 16.
- Colombia (6 points) (2-0-1) To lose to Senegal, but defeat Japan and Poland
- Senegal (5 points) (1-2-0) To defeat Colombia, and draw with Japan and Poland
- Poland (4 points (1-1-1) To defeat Japan, draw with Senegal, and lose to Colombia
- Japan (1 point) (0-1-2) To draw with Senegal, but lose to Poland and Colombia