World Cup 2018: Group Stage review and Round of 16 predictions

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve published my predictions as to who would progress into the knockout rounds of the 2018 FIFA World Cup from the 8 groups. It’s fair to say that should my Journalism career go down the drain, fortune telling or being a psychic won’t be very suitable occupational choices either.  This Summer truly epitomises why football is indeed the beautiful Game, with shocks, upsets, and goals galore enthralling a worldwide audience.

For a quick refresher, here’s the teams I predicted would advance to the next round:

Uruguay/Egypt, Spain/Morocco, France/Denmark, Croatia/Argentina, Brazil/Serbia, Germany/South Korea, Belgium/England, and Colombia/Senegal.

You see the teams in bold there? They’re countries that made me and my wallet look like a complete mug to the Lads at the Pub (it may have been the choice of Koppaberg that led to ridicule from them in the first place, but the predictions didn’t exactly help). The biggest mistake I made was my bold claim that Germany would become the first Nation since Brazil in 1958-62 to retain the Trophy…I believe the word used here is Schadenfreude for us Englishmen, and mistake for me.

Moving on from my mistakes then, the rest of the Tournament bracket presents a plethora of potential classics: (credit: Business Insider)

Image result for world cup 2018 bracket

From frequent favourites France and Brazil being drawn in the same half, and eternal dark horses Croatia wreaking havoc in a manner similar, if not better, than their 1998 debut effort being a possible finalist, the 2018 World Cup is shaping up just nicely. Let’s get into the predictions then. First, the round of 16 ties;

Uruguay vs Portugal:

Ronaldo vs Suarez. Pepe vs Godin. Dislikeable team vs dislikeable team. This is a game of equals. Uruguay got off to a sluggish start in Group A, but still managed to show conviction and dominance, topping with 9 points. Portugal meanwhile produced an all time classic with Spain in an enthralling 3-3 draw, with a subsequent win against Morocco and late draw against the surprisingly resilient Iran booked them a place in the last 16. Each team produced feats of attacking superiority in the group stage, yet also felt inconsistent and scrappy at the same time. Defence may not matter in this close tie, but rather who will capitalise on their chances more? Madrid’s Ace or Barcelona’s Poacher? For me, the stage is set for Ronaldo to continue in his pursuit for another Ballon D’or following a record breaking Champions League campaign, and he will drag Portugal by the scruff of the neck into the Quarters.

Result: Uruguay 1: 2 Portugal

France vs Argentina

Many fans were surprised to see Argentina so easily on the brink of elimination in Group D, having fallen victim to a rampant Croatia and Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s insistence on not starting the likes of Higuain, Aguero, or Dybala to help Messi. France too are a team I’ve observed to be stagnant in the group stage, having only just scraped past Australia and produced the Tournament’s sole 0-0 draw thus far against Denmark. The question to be posed here is whether Argentina or France can step up and deliver a convincing performance that has so far evaded them in Russia? With many critics and pundits seeing the current iteration of Argentina as one of the weakest sides the Country has ever produced in an international Tournament, one must surely see this as the French being lucky to draw against a side with such misfortune. Assuming France field the attack of Griezmann behind Giroud and Mbappe, expect there to be more goals from either side than what we saw in the group stage, and the tie to swing to the French. Another World Cup goes by, and the possibility of Ronaldo’s Portugal facing off against Messi’s Argentina once again fails to come to fruition. Perhaps we may never see this opportunity come by again…

Result: France 3: 2 Argentina

Mexico vs Brazil

For the third Tournament in a row, Mexico managed to escape from the Group of Death, but this is straight out of the German frying pan into the Brazilian fire. Despite a shock defeat to Sweden in their final group game, the Mexicans have impressed many and could be considered as outsiders to reach the semi finals, having won a legion of supporters for exciting counter attacking play and for helping knock out Germany (last time England went further than Germany in a World Cup tournament was in 1966). Brazil remain an unchanged, unwavered favourite to win it all for the 6th time, with its midfield prowess in particular shining, with Coutinho and Paulinho both finding the back of the net at crucial times. With Mexico reliant on a high defensive line in their opponents, we could see Brazil’s attacking full backs turn out to be an exploitable weakness. Neymar has yet to truly shine at this World Cup, only bagging 1 goal in the group stage (John Stones scored more), whilst the compact Mexican defence could prove a problem. This is the World Cup of upsets, so I predict a shock result; Brazil will bottle it not in ordinary time, but in either extra time or the subsequent penalty shootout.

Result: Mexico 1-1 Brazil (Mexico to win on penalties)

Belgium vs Japan

Out of all the ties made in the Round of 16, this appears to be the most one sided, obvious game of the lot. Belgium cruised to victory in their group, whilst Japan became the first team to qualify on Fair Play rules (having got 2 less yellow cards than Senegal). I think I’m going to keep this brief: Belgium will be looking to make a statement that they will not concede their spots as favourites to either Brazil or France in their half of the draw. Though Japan could snatch a goal, we’ve seen that as the game goes on, the more dangerous and attacking Belgium can get with their star-studded attack. No questions or qualms about this outcome.

Result: Belgium 3-1 Japan

Spain vs Russia

In recent Tournaments, the host nation has usually done quite well: France 98, Korea 02, Germany 06, and Brazil 14 saw these aforementioned sides all reach at least the semi finals of the Competition. The one deviation from that trend, the 2010 Tournament, was rather coincidentally won by Spain. I don’t expect Russia to go through in the standard 90 minutes, if at all. This decision influenced by the heavy defeat against the Uruguayans in their final group stage match, showing how Russia may fare poorly against more even, dangerous sides. Spain may boast a far superior team on paper, but Russian determination could sometimes outclass and outplay the often lax approach seen in tiki-taka football. But in my eyes, if Spain was to go out here, France and Brazil could see this as an easy victory should one of them make the final. Don’t doubt Spain to produce moments of magic to keep their 2nd World Cup hopes alive.

Result: Spain 1-0 Russia

Croatia vs Denmark

Croatia were one of three teams to win all of their group stage games (along with Belgium and Uruguay), and on first glance, appear to be the stronger, more in form team. Denmark too proved they could tussle with some of Europe’s Elite with a dour 0-0 draw against favourites France. Although neither team is particularly exciting nor enthralling to watch as a neutral, the class offered in midfield is nothing short of extraordinary and worthy of a place in the Quarters. Momentum takes precedence sometimes however, and this is one of those times: Croatia will edge this one out, and remain the favourites to progress to the semi finals and beyond. A true Underdog story may be on the cards…

Result: Croatia 2-1 Switzerland (aet)

Sweden vs Switzerland

Sweden caused a major upset in their group by escaping Germany and leapfrogging Mexico into 1st place and arguably the easier half of the draw: neither them or Switzerland would really be considered as one of the top 8 international sides in Football , but it would be wrong to say that either team is undeserving. Emil Forsberg and Xherdan Shaqiri are the dangerous men here, though I believe that Sweden will win the battle of endurance given the fantastic tournament their defence, in particular Granqvist and Lindelof, have had so far. As an England fan however, would prefer Switzerland.

Result: Sweden 1-0 Switzerland

Colombia vs England

The most important England fixture in over 8 years. The last tie with such magnitude and expectation for the England squad would turn out to be a 4-1 humbling by Germany in South Africa. Although momentum may have seen an abrupt end at the hands of Adnan Januzaj’s strike for Belgium (one of the few players to have played for both Man Utd and Borussia Dortmund yet is still poor to watch), England appear revitalised and hungry for victory, pleasantly surprising even pessimists like myself. Colombia started off the Tournament with a shock defeat to Japan, before victories against Poland and Senegal gave my dark Horse a place in the last 16. Star man James Rodriguez has failed to appear 100% match fit however, and doubts can be cast over whether or not he will make the starting 11. This could spell bad news for Colombia, as Rodriguez makes the proverbial Colombian clock tick, and the likes of Quintero and Cuadrado may fail to cover for James’ absence. With Harry Kane as Captain and a front runner for the Golden Boot, I’d expect England to win only by a narrow margin, but Colombia’s performance may not be fully convincing or pose as great a threat as hyped to be.

Result: Colombia 1:2 England

1 comment

  1. Scheduling made the publication date on this one look awkward for me. Going to do a QF onwards prediction before Friday’s 3pm KO.

    Like

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