I have always loved the World Cup, corruption, scandal or just plain cock-up it has always been fun to watch. I think this love was always going to be strong on my first meeting with it in the shape of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Flickering TV pictures from an exotic land showing some stunning football from Brazil that was completely different from what the rest of the football world was doing.

Select the players they have by accident of birth, any weakness have to be corrected using tactics. There can be no dipping into the transfer market to strengthen the squad.

Here we are now after each team has played two games we can judge how this 2018 World Cup is shaping up. On the surface it would seem that the major powers are all struggling in the World Cup. Argentina, Germany and even Brazil have looked unconvincing at times. This I think is a bit misleading as there is certainly a flattening of ability between all the teams in the World Cup this year, a trend that was on show in 2006, but if you look who is going home early and remember that world cups are tournaments, surviving in the tournament is winning no matter how it achieved this is crucial.

The usual suspects so far are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Peru, Costa Rica, South Korea, Tunisia Panama and Poland. Apart from Mo Salah’s Egypt and Peru, on a whole these teams will not be missed. Interestingly enough apart from Peru and Poland, none of these teams are from UEFA (Europe) or CONMEBOL (South America) confirming that the football world is still a bipolar world much as it has been since 1930.

Looking at the individual groups after two games the framework of the Round of 16 is slowly taking shape. And more importantly and in which side of the draw do you want to be in. The one advantage England has (being in one of the later groups to be settled), is that they will have a clear view of each side of the Round of 16 and which side of the draw they would like to be in, and after their clear win over Panama a luxury not afforded other teams.

From the day of the draw England had one massive road block in their way to the later stages of the tournament and that was a probable Quarter-Final clash with either Brazil or Germany depending on England winning or being runner-up in our group. This road block now might not be there after all.  So let us look and speculate at what could be the likely composition of the Round of 16.

Group A

Group A has gone to form as expected. Egypt put up some resistance, but a not fully fit Salah did not help their cause. Saudi Arabia were useless and they fell badly against the hosts and never really recovered. Uruguay struggled more against the also rans, but Russia exceeded expectations and they look like the strong favourites to win this group.

Predicted Winner Russia
Predicted Runner up Uruguay

Group B

This group also looks like it will conform to the form book. Spain v Portugal was a stirring encounter from start to finish, and they two look like the most likely to qualify, with Spain as group winners. The only roadblock is Iran, who will be a tricky opponent to Portugal, but you would expect a Ronaldo inspired team to have too much for them

Predicted Winner Spain
Predicted Runner up Portugal

Group C

Again another group with an expected outcome. France will win the group it is just who will join them. Australia have every chance of getting to the Round of 16, but it all depends on how motivated Peru are and how relaxed France are against Denmark. A draw for the UEFA teams would serve both of them whilst shutting out Australia. Let us hope this does not happen, but it just might, which would be sad and Australia in the Round of 16 would be a nice change.

Predicted Winner France
Predicted Runner up Australia

Group D

The script has been thrown out of the window in this group. Argentina it seems were fatally flawed before the tournament started with the injury to Manuel Lanzini that stuck a spanner in all of their pre-tournament plans. Argentina is built around Lionel Messi and why not, he is one of the most gifted players in the world. Lanzini was to play a vital part in that plan, but with his injury they have no natural replacement. Against a physical Iceland, Messi was crowded out. Argentina then decided to switch from a three at the back with winger full-backs, to a more conventional back four in a bid to give Messi more room to flourish.

Against a savvy and technically gifted team like Croatia, Argentina’s unfamiliar ad hock Plan B was exposed. Croatia will win this group, but after Nigeria overpowered Iceland it is now a straight battle between these two for the runners-up spot. I expect Argentina will have too much for Nigeria, but Argentina do have their problems and Nigeria are a paid up member of the awkward squad.

Predicted Winner Croatia
Predicted runner up Argentina

Group E

Next to Argentina, Brazil have had a trouble free time in Group E, but appearances would be deceptive. Brazil were troubled by Switzerland and greatly troubled by Costa Rica. The stirring encounter between Switzerland and Serbia has left the Swiss in the box seat and they could well win the group. Brazil will find Serbia tricky opponents, in the same way Argentina did against Croatia. Only this time Brazil are not as obviously flawed as Argentina and Serbia are not as gifted as Croatia. So I would expect Brazil to top the group, but not without the real possibility of still going out altogether.

Predicted Winner Brazil
Predicted Runner up Switzerland

Group F

Germany have had a very troubled start to the tournament. Against Mexico they had no Plan B and no way of countering a very well organised and talented Mexico. Against Sweden, another member of the awkward squad, they struggled mightily. That vital last minute goal has left this troubled German side, with a chance of survival, but only if they overcome another awkward team in the shape of South Korea. South Korea have nothing to lose themselves and they might trip them up, but I doubt it.

Predicted Winner Mexico
Predicted Runner up Germany

Group G

Another of the groups that is going the way of the form book. At this stage Belgium are in great form and should win the group, whilst England will as expected get into the Round of 16 as runners-up. Usually the team that plays well at the beginning runs out of steam later on in the tournament and this might well happen with Belgium. This Belgian team is a golden generation and the best team they have ever had in a World Cup. They might yet go a long way. For England being runner-up might actually be the better option. In effect though Belgium v England is a no lose scenario. Defeat may well mean the easier side of the draw, whilst victory would give England momentum going into the Round of 16

Predicted Winner Belgium
Predicted Runner up England

Group H

Group H is the ‘Group of Death’ this time around. Poland and Colombia looked to be the favourites, but both were court out by Senegal and Japan respectively. Now Poland are out any of the other three would be taken care of by Belgium and England

Predicted Winner Japan
Predicted Runner up Colombia

Round of 16 Predictions

Top half
Russia v Portugal
France v Argentina
Brazil v Germany
Belgium v Colombia

Bottom half
Uruguay v Spain
Australia v Croatia
Switzerland v Mexico
England v Japan

The top half looks formidable compared with the other half of the draw. The outstanding fixture would be Brazil v Germany. This would brilliant to watch, an enflamed Brazil set on revenge for that 7-1 defeat, up against a troubled Germany.

A well organised Russia with home advantage would be expected to overpower Ronaldo’s Portugal in the end. The solid slow starting France should be too strong for a flawed Argentina and Belgium would push aside whatever emerges out of Group H.

As it stands now I would expect a Russia v France and Brazil v Belgium quarter final.

The bottom half of the Round of 16 on the other hand looks ideal for a well organised, hardworking and difficult to beat team like say… England?!

Spain would be expected to beat Uruguay. Likewise Croatia would be too skilful and tactical for Australia. Mexico should have too much flair for Switzerland whilst England should be able to do over Japan. Giving us bottom half quarter-final of Spain v Croatia and Mexico v England.

Predicted Quarter-finals

Russia v France
Brazil v Belgium
Spain v Croatia
Mexico v England

Jumping over the semi-finals on current form the 2018 World Cup Final will be between
Belgium v Spain with Spain the winners.

Anyway that is enough speculation because whatever happens what I have outlined here will surely not be it. If I could forecast that far into the future after two games played I would be writing this piece from a Caribbean beach on my own personal island, which I am not, sadly!


David Coalman 24th June 2018