With less than 48 hours to start the World Cup, here is a sneak preview of how the teams will perform, the star players from different countries and some key facts for all the groups.
Teams: Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay
Star Players: Mohamed Salah (Egypt), Luis Suarez (Uruguay), Edinson Cavani (Uruguay), Diego Godin (Uruguay), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Saudi Arabia)
Egypt is making a return to the World Cup for the first time since Italia 90’ thanks to the last gasp winner of Mohammed Salah.
Uruguay has won the World Cup twice, the inaugural competition on home soil in 1930, and in Brazil 1950.
Saudi Arabia’s Al-Sahlawi notched in 16 goals en route to Russia. The 30-year-old forward finished 2018 World Cup qualifying series as the joint-top scorer, alongside Poland’s Robert Lewandowski and UAE’s Ahmed Khalil.
Prediction: It’s going to be a three horse race between Uruguay, Egypt, and Russia. The Uruguayans can bank on their experience and key players like Cavani, Suarez, and Godin to go through. Meanwhile, Russia will have the advantage of the 12th Man to roar them to success. Egypt are not pushovers either, a fit Mohammed Salah in their ranks can weave the magic all the way. La Celeste and the Pharaohs of Egypt will qualify from this group.
Teams: Iran, Morocco, Portugal and Spain
Players to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Bernardo Silva (Portugal), Diego Costa (Spain), Sergio Ramos (Spain), Sardar Azmoun (Iran)
The Iberian derby between Portugal and Spain is a tantalizing fixture in this group. Portugal enters the competition as reigning Euro winners, while Spain won the 2010 World Cup.
Morocco is making a return to the World Cup for the first time since France 98. They topped a tightly-contested African zone Group C to secure qualification to Russia 2018, eliminating the Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Mali.
Prediction: Most people think this group will be a straightforward contest between Spain and Portugal. However, I fancy some upsets particularly with the Atlas Lions of Morocco led by a confident Herve Renard. The Iberian derby will determine the winner of the group especially if Morocco defeats Iran in the other tie. The Spaniards were shocking in Brazil 2014 when they were knocked out in the group stages. Though I don’t see that happening this time, I think there will be few upsets. Portugal is a difficult side to beat, and they showed that in the Euros. Spain and Portugal on paper will qualify but watch out for Morocco.
Teams: Australia, Denmark, France, and Peru
Star Players: Paul Pogba (France), Antoine Griezmann (France), Christian Eriksen (Denmark), Jefferson Farfan (Peru), Tim Cahill (Australia)
France will be aiming to win another World Cup since they last won it on home soil in 1998. The last time Les Bleus played against Peru was back in 1982 in a friendly game for Spain 82.
Aussie Legend Tim Cahill will be aiming to become the fourth player to score in four different World Cups, joining Uwe Seeler, Pele and Miroslav Klose on the prestigious list.
According to the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking in November, Group C is the most challenging pool of Russia 2018, featuring France (ninth), Australia (39th), Peru (11th) and Denmark (12th).
Prediction: Les Bleus are one of my favorites to win the trophy. I believe they have enough ammunition to get through the group stages despite the number of young players in the squad. The Aussies might cause a few upsets, but Denmark may be too strong for them. France to top the group. Denmark or Australia to finish second.
Teams: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, and Nigeria
Players to watch: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Sergio Aguero (Argentina), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Iceland), Victor Moses (Nigeria), Luka Modric (Croatia)
Iceland are making their World Cup debut, while the Super Eagles of Nigeria will trade tackles with Croatia for the first time, same with Argentina and Iceland.
Argentina and Nigeria are familiar foes as they are set to meet for the fifth time in this tournament with Argentina winning the last four ties: 2-1 in 1994, 1-0 in 2002, 1-0 in 2010 and 3-2 in 2014.
Barcelona teammates Messi and Ivan Rakitic (Croatia) will face off June 21, marking one of the most intriguing matchups between club teammates.
Prediction: This is a difficult group to predict. The Icelanders have been written off, but most World Cup debutants have proven to be decent teams, and in most cases, the surprise team of the tournament, Croatia in France 98’, Turkey and Senegal in Korea/Japan 02’ are few examples. This might be the last World Cup for Lionel Messi, and he will give his all to push his team all the way. Croatia and Nigeria are outstanding teams on their day. The Croats are blessed with star players like Modric, Rakitic and Perisic, while the Super Eagles have a solid team spirit that has worked for them. Argentina and Nigeria to qualify.
Teams: Brazil, Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland
Players to watch: Neymar (Brazil), Marcelo (Brazil), Nemanja Matic (Serbia), Joel Campbell (Costa Rica), Ricardo Rodriguez (Switzerland)
This group evokes the memories of Brazil 1950, where the host Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia (competing as the former Yugoslavia) were all drawn in the same first-round group
Brazil are the record holders with five World cup trophies in 1958,1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002. They became the first team to qualify for the tournament after beating Paraguay 3-0.
Prediction: Another three-horse race between Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia. I don’t think the Costa-Ricans will pull the same shock like four years ago where they won the group. The Serbians are stronger and more physical in their style of play. While the tactical nous and the fluidity of the Swiss team might prove to be difficult to handle. Tite’s Men are well equipped to win this tournament and will qualify from this group. Switzerland and Serbia will keenly contest for the second position.
Teams: Germany, Korea Republic, Mexico and Sweden
Star Players: Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (Mexico), Hirving Lozano (Mexico), Thomas Muller (Germany), Timo Werner (Germany), Son Heung-min (Korea Republic),
Die Mannschaft are competing as defending Champions after their triumph in Brazil four years ago. They also won the FIFA Confederations Cup last year, beating Mexico 4-1 in the Semi-finals.
Mexico has lost in the Round of 16 in each of the last six World Cups.
Sweden and Germany scored a combined 16 goals during 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification. Joachim Low’s side threw away a 4-0 lead in an incredible game in Berlin in October 2012 that ultimately ended 4-4. A year later, the Germans turned a 2-0 deficit into a 5-3 win.
Prediction: Joachim Low has done a fantastic job by building a formidable German team that are world beaters. The Swedes denied the Italians a spot in the World Cup for the first time in their history. Mexico has experience in prosecuting group stage ties; their Achilles hill is in the knockout stages. Korea will pose little threat in this group. Germany will finish as group winners with Mexico in the second position.
Teams: Belgium, England, Panama, and Tunisia
Star Players: Harry Kane (England), Raheem Sterling (England), Eden Hazard (Belgium), Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium), Roman Torres (Panama)
Panama are World Cup debutants following in the footsteps of fellow Caribbean nation Trinidad and Tobago that made the bow in Germany 2006.
Tunisia will be aiming to end their World cup hoodoo by winning a match in the tournament with their only victory in 12 World Cup matches traced back to 1978 when they defeated Mexico to register the first ever win by an African nation on the global stage.
Belgium’s Golden generation will be hoping to do better than their last outing in Brazil where they were ousted in the quarterfinals.
Prediction: Belgium and England are going to qualify. No disrespect to Panama and Tunisia, but it’s difficult to see how they can make it out of the group. The group winners will be determined in the tie between Belgium and England where so many Premier League players will trade tackles against each other. The Red Devils will top the group with the Three Lions claiming the second spot.
Teams: Colombia, Japan, Poland and Senegal
Star Players: Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Piotr Zielinski (Poland), James Rodriguez (Colombia), Shinji Kagawa (Japan), Sadio Mane (Senegal)
Lewandowski scored 16 goals in 10 appearances to top the European qualifying scoring charts.
Colombia earned the last automatic qualification spot out of South America. It reached the quarterfinals in 2014 for the first time in history.
Senegal’s previous lone appearance at the World Cup was a memorable one, as it reached the quarterfinals of Korea/Japan 2002.
Prediction: It may not have the features of the typical group of death. However, the talents in the various teams award them that tag. It’s another tough group to predict; all four teams have the firepower to make it through. Senegal with Sadio Mane in beast mode is unplayable. Colombia uses pace and determination to beat opponents, while Poland’s structured defense and midfield rely on Lewandowski for goals. Senegal and Colombia to qualify.