Predicting the FIFA World Cup from Start to Finish
Thankfully the International break is over and we’re back to domestic football as per usual. However, even if these friendlies now are of no official significance and not as interesting as the Champions League and domestic leagues it does give us some good insight into what we should expect to see at the World Cup. Not many people had been suggesting Spain as front-runners for glory but their emphatic 6-1 victory over Argentina despite the absence of Messi will still change people’s perspectives on them and certainly mine. The build-up to this year’s World Cup has been massive and we’re all hoping it doesn’t disappoint and with the format of the knockout stages, I can now predict an exact wallchart to map out my predictions for who will become the next World Champions.
4- Saudi Arabia
Uruguay have been handed a relatively straight-forward group and with their merciless strike force of Cavani and Suar,ez they should be looking for 9 points. Their only challenger should be Egypt, or rather Salah should I say. The Liverpool forward has been electric this season but without any support behind him with the possible exception of Elneny, he will struggle against an experienced Uruguay defence. The hosts will battle it out with Egypt and Saudi Arabia and I predict them to finish in between the two, they have some experienced players and some talent within the squad but I don’t think it will be enough, even with a home crowd supporting them, to put them through to the next round.
Spain and Portugal will have mixed emotions about drawing each other in the group stage. It’s a fantastic opportunity for one of them to get one over on their rivals but Spain’s experience and outstanding technical ability should be enough to overrun a Ronaldo-led Portugal. As a big game player, Ronaldo could cause Spain problems but with the amount of quality in the Spain squad, they, like Uruguay should be looking for 9 points with Portugal picking up 6. Morocco and Iran barely stand a chance and a win over Iran will be a mere consolation for Morocco’s exit.
France is another team that should be looking for 9 points but no one should underestimate a Danish side full of some fantastic individual talent. They’ve got a fantastic goalkeeper in Schmeichel who will be shielded by an up and coming Christensen who’s been one of the first names on Conte’s team sheet this season. Wass, Delaney and Eriksen will also add some flair to the team but the squad depth and amount of World Class talent that France have to offer should be enough to keep Denmark in 2nd. Australia will look to bounce back from their cricketing disaster and redeem themselves on the International stage but just like in 2014, they’ve been handed quite a difficult group.
Argentina looks to be clear winners here but the 2nd-4th place is considerably hard to predict. Croatia has got the creativity of Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic with some experience in defence provided by Lovren. Kovacic and Rakitic will also hold the midfield down and should provide enough solidity to come out on top against both an over-performing Iceland team and a young and promising Nigeria squad with the likes of Ndidi and Iwobi. Iceland has success at the Euros but the World Cup is different and it's the biggest stage of all, always hard for the underdogs.
4- Costa Rica
Brazil should be looking to coast through this group and although there’s some quality in the other 3 teams in this group, it won’t match up to a potentially Cup winning Brazil. Milinkovic-Savic, Matic and Kostic of Serbia will all help Serbia to get past Costa Rica and Switzerland. Costa Rica had huge success for their standards in 2014 but as a potentially controversial view, I’ve put them to finish last in this group. Players like Shaqiri, Rodriguez and Embolo should all help Switzerland to challenge Serbia but I don’t see them getting any further than an exit in the group stage.
3- South Korea
Another group, another fairly obvious 1st place nation but it’s also another group with a very difficult selection for 2nd place. Sweden has shown their quality by knocking Italy out of World Cup qualification, South Korea has got an in-form Son Heung-Min to aid them in putting in a fair fight for a ticket to the knockout stage and Mexico have got lots of World Cup experience and a well-developed squad looking to go far in the competition. I’ve picked Mexico to come out on top due to the talent of players like Lozano and Vela as well as the experienced Chicharito. I don’t see either Son’s individual talent or Sweden’s team spirit being enough to take them further in the competition but don’t rule them out until it’s over.
Group G will be an interesting group but not for the same reasons as previous groups. World Cup groups tend to come in two different sorts, either you have 2 very good teams and 2 very weak teams or you have 1 clear winner and 3 others to battle it out for 2nd. Here we have the first option, as did Group B and I don’t imagine too many people that will disagree with Belgium above England. Now, as much as England could bottle a World Cup final against an u10’s team, I don’t think we’ll see them getting knocked out (just yet). Tunisia and Panama is a hard pick because I don’t know much about either but I’m going to go for Tunisia simply because I know some Tunisian players (Khazri and Abdennour) but anything could happen there.
When you think of Colombia, you think of James Rodriguez and when you think of him, you think of his 2014 World Cup performances. Who could forget? Colombia struggled against Australia of all teams recently and this group is incredibly hard to pick but I’m confident in my selection. Colombia has some top class talent on offer, as does Poland undoubtedly but given the craziness of the World Cup, it’s very hard to predict who will come out on top but my gut feeling is Colombia, they have talent combined with experience and it may come down to a battle between Lewandowski and James. However, don’t rule out Senegal or Japan. Sadio Mane, Koulibaly, Keita Balde, Gana Gueye and Cheikhou Kouyate will all be familiar names for World Cup viewers and don’t be surprised if they pull Senegal further than I’ve predicted them.
Round of 16
Match 49) Group A Winners (Uruguay) vs Group B Runners Up (Portugal)
A feisty knockout game to start us off with Suarez going head to head with Cristiano Ronaldo. Although Portugal had some incredible success at Euro 2016, I’ve tipped Uruguay to go further in the competition, it’s difficult to call but defensively Uruguay seem more stable and if Suarez or Cavani get one chance, you’d put money on them finishing it off. I don’t think Ronaldo has enough support up front and that showed at the Euros with just 9 goals in 7 games.
Match 50) Group C Winners (France) vs Group D Runners Up (Croatia)
France will be one of the favourites to win the competition and even with some quality in midfield in the Croatian team, France’s midfield isn’t too shabby either not to mention the attacking threat of Martial, Lemar, Mbappe, Griezmann, Lacazette and obviously Olivier Giroud. In the unlikely event that they fail to score some goals, they can be thankful to have an experienced and talented defensive backline of Koscielny, Varane, Laporte and Umtiti plus no shortage of keepers to choose from. This one should be a win for France.
Match 51) Group E Winners (Brazil) vs Group F Runners Up (Mexico)
Like France, Brazil is also one of the favourites to win the World Cup. After a performance 4 years ago that can be described by no words nor explained by no tactical analysis from Gary Neville, they will have no shortage of motivation. Mexico should be easy for them, a team that has a few individually talented players but other than just some experienced and ageing others. A World Class Brazilian side with an experienced defence solidified and creative midfield and a deadly attack, Brazil shouldn’t be too worried about an early exit just yet.
Match 52) Group G Winners (Belgium) vs Group H Runners Up (Poland)
In Euro 2016, many people thought Belgium had a shot at winning the whole competition, no one could’ve predicted Wales of all countries to steal their spot in the semi-finals. The World Cup is their opportunity to bounce back and there is no doubt about the talent within their squad but looking ahead to 2022, this may be their last opportunity to have all the talent of Hazard, Lukaku, Mertens, Nainggolan and Kevin de Bruyne at the peak of their powers. They need to put Premier League rivalries aside and focus on the bigger picture. Poland will be up for it as well and Lewandowski will be concerned about this being probably his last World Cup at the top of his game. He will need to impress but I don’t think that his attacking ability will be enough to hold off De Bruyne, Hazard and Lukaku at the other end.
Match 53) Group A Runners Up (Egypt) vs Group B Winners (Spain)
Mo Salah is good, but beating Argentina 6-1, that’s also not too bad. Spain look a confident bunch and why shouldn’t they, they’ve got bucket loads of talent and some fantastic experience in all departments not to mention a clear style of play that they’ve all been working on for years. Egypt hardly stand a chance, Spain should comfortably move closer towards possible glory.
Match 54) Group C Runners Up (Denmark) vs Group D Winners (Argentina)
It’s ironic that I tip Argentina to go comfortably through here after pointing out their miserable 6-1 defeat to Spain last week but they shouldn’t be too concerned when they’ve got all their important players back on the pitch. They missed out on the World Cup but about 7 minutes last time out and Messi will want to get some international glory to match Ronaldo’s European triumph in 2016. I don’t see them being challenged here and Denmark are unlucky to be put in a group with France forcing them to play Argentina the next round.
Match 55) Group E Runners Up (Serbia) vs Group F Winners (Germany)
Another knockout game with a clear favourite, Germany will focus on the bigger picture here and with the squad depth, they have they could even bench one or two stars so that they’re fully fit for the next game but I wouldn’t expect that to happen. They do have outstanding talent right across the board here from Neuer or Ter Stegen in goal to Werner up front. Kroos and Ozil will cement the midfield and Hummels and Boateng will lead a rock solid defence. A few Croatian stars won’t enough to beat German efficiency.
Match 56) Group G Runners Up (England) vs Group H Winners (Colombia)
This was tough, Colombia is a good side and they showed that in 2014 but this England side has bags of talent. A few areas certainly good be improved but the same can be said about Colombia, it will come down to a matter of who performs better on the day but I predict England to win. They will be confident as always and even without experience that they had four years ago provided by Gerrard and Rooney, they’ve got new talent. Kane, Alli, Sterling to name a few. The problem will be them coming together as a team, if they put the Premier League rivalries aside and focus on performing for their country for once then we may just see a big win over big opposition to give them great confidence moving forward.
Match 57) Match 49 Winners (Uruguay) vs Match 50 Winners (France)
I’ve spoken before about the lethal duo of Cavani and Suarez but I think this will be the end of the road for them. My explanation for France’s victory will be the same as it was in the previous French fixture and probably won’t change. I see them as very strong contenders for the trophy (bearing in mind at this point I still haven’t decided who’s going to win) and against Uruguay, I think the key battle will be in the midfield. Uruguay has some good defenders and some fantastic attackers, as do France but the difference is in the middle. Uruguay’s best midfielder is probably Lucas Torreira but he’s no match for Ngolo Kante, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and if that doesn’t work they could always resort to Tolisso, N’Zonzi or Fekir.
Match 58) Match 51 Winners (Brazil) vs Match 52 Winners (Belgium)
This was a very tough pick and although Brazil bottled it 4 years ago against Germany I think they’re better prepared this time around. Belgium have some very good players but in many scenarios, they have too many people in the same position, take centre-forward or centre back for example, Vertonghen is often forced to play out of position at left-back and Lukaku, Mertens and Batshuayi can’t all start even if they are better than some of the midfielders. Brazil, on the other hand, has good players in all positions and then they have backups in each of those positions. The key battle for me will be Brazil’s ability to defend against de Bruyne and Hazard. I assume that Hazard and de Bruyne will play behind Lukaku and/or Mertens as opposed to out wide meaning that they will constantly be trying to unlock the Brazilian defence. If Brazil can hold out and get the ball to Coutinho, Neymar and Willian going forward then they should advance to the semi-finals.
Match 59) Match 53 Winners (Spain) vs Match 54 Winners (Argentina)
If you asked me a few weeks ago who I thought would win this game I would’ve confidently said Argentina but times have changed and fortunately for myself, this game has already been played recently so is much easier to predict. Whether Aguero and Messi were or weren’t playing, their job is to score goals, not to defend them. Argentina struggled in both aspects of scoring and defending in their recent 6-1 defeat so unless Messi and Aguero can make this game a 7-7 draw at the World Cup I see Spain going through. They look like they’ve been playing together at club level their whole lives while Argentinians struggle to fit all their attacking threat on the pitch at once. Higuain, Aguero, Dybala, Messi, Di Maria and Icardi will all be demanding to play and will be disappointed when they don’t get selected. Spain will be confident, enjoy playing with each other and the one department where they looked to be missing someone was up front as their main candidate Morata had been misfiring but the quick emergence of Diego Costa in recent weeks has fulfilled that need and goals from midfield also don’t seem too far out of reach.
Match 60) Match 55 Winners (Germany) vs Match 56 Winners (England)
If England manages to get past Colombia, it won’t get any easier, their next challenge will be Germany and a challenge I can’t see them overcoming. Germany are incredible; their squad depth, their style of play, their individual talent and their historical success. It all puts them head and shoulders above an inexperienced England side lacking a leader and a distinct style of play despite some fantastic individual talent. I’ve put Germany as clear favourites to win this game and I don’t see why not, their only worry will be up front, Werner is talented but it will be his first World Cup, Muller probably doesn’t have the legs to play up there anymore and Gotze isn’t in the form to fulfill that false nirolesole as he has done previously. Goals from out wide and in midfield will be needed but Sane has done that well at City and a fully fit Reus can also bag a goal or two when called upon.
Match 61) Match 57 Winners (France) vs Match 58 Winners (Brazil)
Semi finals are never easy to predict, no matter the competition or the teams, if they got all the way here then it’s almost impossible to say who’s going to win but I have to go with my gut instinct which says Brazil. France had the opportunity for the Euros in 2016, they bottled it to a fairly average Portuguese side, Brazil had the opportunity for the World Cup in 2014, they bottled it 7-1 in front of their home crowd. Who will win now? If you look at it from a position by position perspective and made a combined XI, I’d have more Brazilians than French players. The French would win the midfield, the attack would be pretty even but the Brazilians would dominate the defense. Neymar, Coutinho and Willian are three of Brazil’s most dangerous assets and they’ll be up against French fullbacks, and if there’s one position that France really need to improve it’s their fullbacks. Sidibe, Mendy, Digne won’t be able to contain Neymar, Coutinho and Willian so that’s where I think France will suffer and exit the competition as Brazil move into the final for the first time since 2002.
Match 62) Match 59 Winners (Spain) vs Match 60 Winners (Germany)
This is the hardest game I’ve had to pick so far which probably surprises people given the first semi finalists but this one will be huge. In a recent friendly between the two about a week ago it finished 1-1. Spain had the better of the chances but Germany were efficient and scored a goal out of nothing which shows the quality they have on offer. Both teams are blessed with a phenomenal keeper, the two best in the world assuming Neuer will be fit for the World Cup. If not, Ter Stegen is also incredible and wouldn’t disappoint. Ahead of them, both teams have fantastic defenses, Pique and Ramos against Hummels and Boateng, the likes of Kimmich and Alba at full backs. The difference is in the midfield, Spain will likely play with a midfield of one deep holding midfielder with two creative and skilfull men ahead of them, with offensive midfielders/wingers either side of a target man. Germany on the other hand will probably play with two holding midfielders to solidify the midfield, then some pace on the wings and creativity in the middle feeding it through to Werner. It’s tough to pick but I think the German midfield block will prohibit Spain’s creativity and that showed in the 1-1 draw. It will be low scoring but exciting nonetheless, and if Germany are able to be efficient as always they could punish an attacking minded midfield that if undisciplined could leave the holding midfielder stranded.
Brazil vs Germany
Winners: Brazil, Runners Up: Germany, 3rd: Spain, 4th: France
Brazil vs Germany, ring any bells? Who would’ve thought that four years on from one of the most one sided World Cup performances in history, these two would come head to head in the next World Cup final. Assuming my predictions work and that we do get to this, Germany will have the opportunity to be the first team to win two consecutive World Cups since, well, Brazil in 1958 and 1962. A World Cup final, there’s no way of knowing who will win, it comes down to who performs just that tiny bit better than the other team. For me, I don’t think Germany can do it twice in a row. Brazil have made this competition theirs historically and the reputation they have to live up to is huge, so many of their players are around the peak of their careers and they’ll be more than determined to avenge their 7-1 humiliation. Either team can win, but both can’t and I’m picking Brazil to win it, a 6th title.
Who do you think will win it? Will this even be the final? Let us know...