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Predicting the World Cup group stage

Eden Hazard in Belgium colours. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)
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12th June, 2018
4

All the action is only days away, with the opening match of the 2018 World Cup kicking off at 1am AEST Friday morning. This is the time where every ‘casual’ and ‘expert’ football critic believes they can break down the football World Cup and provide their predictions.

Based on analyses of all teams and a wide following of world football I have broken down each group and provided predictions on who will progress to the last 16. Let me know in the comments who you think will progress and who will be this year’s winners.

Group A

Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay

Uruguay for me are the clear ones to win this group, but it is going to be who gets that second spot that is debatable.

Russia are hosting the World Cup for the first time but failed to progress at the most recent 2014 World Cup after losing to Belgium and being unable to beat South Korea and Algeria. The key fact here is they have never made it out of the group stage, and although this group is relatively easy, they will be on the edge again.

Saudi Arabia qualified second for the World Cup behind Japan and are the real wild cards of this group. Their counter-attacking football is delightful to watch when they are on song, but they also have the ability to fall apart under pressure.

Egypt are led by superstar Mo Salah, who has been in top form this year but comes in with a niggling shoulder injury.

This is the hardest group to call for second spot, but I think on the back of Salah Egypt just might prove too classy, especially with Saudi Arabia’s defence being shaky. Russia are the home nation but they lack the quality at the attacking end and will fail to go through again.

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Prediction
1. Uruguay
2. Egypt

Uruguay's Edison Cavani controls the ball.

(XIN LI/Getty Images)

Group B

Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Iran

The most predictable group with regard to who will progress, with Spain and Portugal the obvious two. Spain will be too classy for Portugal, who won Euro 2016. They are currently ranked third in the world and led by superstar Ronaldo, but I think they will be the team to underperform this World Cup.

Morocco were the winners in qualification Group C in Africa but do not have enough to trouble Spain or Portugal. The Group B winner will play the Group A runner-up, which should be an easier Round 16 opponent, so both Spain and Portugal will be all out to top the group.

Spain on pure depth and class will progress on top here.

Prediction
1. Spain
2. Portugal

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Spain's David Silva controls the ball.

(Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Group C

France, Denmark, Peru, Australia

Undoubtedly the France line-up is superior here. They have such squad depth as well and should be winning this group.

Denmark are most people’s selection for second, but I have a lot of time for Peru. They are led by a goal-scoring talent of Paolo Guerrero, who at 35 years old has overcome an injury and a doping allegation to be cleared for the World Cup, which is a huge boost for them. They have a style based on skilful wingers and immense speed in attack that can cause all sorts of troubles for a Denmark team that is based on strength and passing and an inexperienced and weak Australian side.

Okay so I have to give Australia a word. As an Australian fan I have watched all their games and, well, they have won their last two practice matches leading in but at best you will be counting their goals at the World Cup on one hand.

The star of the team Tim Cahill is in his twilight years, and although he’s a national hero, he is lazy up front and a fraction of what he was. The goal threat is minimal and the backline is shaky and will be exposed. I cannot see them offering a threat, especially due to them not being clinical up front.

Prediction
1. France
2. Peru

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France's Oliver Giroud heads the ball.

(Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Group D

Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria, Iceland

Argentina on paper should cruise to first in this group, but they struggled to qualify for the World Cup and do not look to have it all together. That being said, you’d have to have some guts to pick against them for topping this group.

All matches in this group are so unpredictable, however. Croatia are consistent but far from top quality. Nigeria play a high-paced style that can press teams at will and put on a show, while we all remember their quarter-final run in Euro 2016 beating England, and we have to admit that was great to watch, as is the Viking clap.

I will play this safe in the way it should go on paper, with Argentina on top and Croatia based on consistency going through. Most people have Iceland as favourites for last, but don’t be surprised if they are a pain to beat in this group.

Prediction
1. Argentina
2. Croatia

Argentina's Lionel Messi controls the ball during a friendly soccer match between Argentina and Haiti at the Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, May 29, 2018.

(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

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Group E

Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Costa Rica

Brazil are star-studded, and after hosting last World Cup and getting thrashed by Germany in the semi-final, they will look to go better here.

Switzerland are so underrated as a team but their draw couldn’t get worse here. They lost only one game in qualifying, which was to Portugal – do I need to say more? They meet Brazil in their group, and if they are to finish second, they are almost certainly going to meet Germany in the round of 16.

I do think they will be hard to beat in the group, and if Brazil aren’t on their game when they meet, a boilover is a real rough chance. This is the first match in the group, so don’t be shocked to see them trouble Brazil.

Serbia are given a real chance and Costa Rica can offer some resistance on their day but I’m sold on Brazil and Switzerland

Prediction
1. Brazil
2. Switzerland

Brazil's Neymar celebrates after scoring his side's second goal against Argentina during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Brazil's national soccer team is the first to qualify for next year's World Cup. Despite the success, the sporting scene at home is littered with bribes and corruption linked to the World Cup and last year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

(AP Photo/Leo Correa)

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Group F

Germany, Mexico, South Korea, Sweden

A walk in the park for Germany. The reigning World Cup winners are in a good position to go back to back. They meet little resistance in the group at all, and the only question is who finishes second.

I do not know who’s best placed here, but I think Mexico have a bit of a class edge and don’t have any big weaknesses in attack or defence. Sweden are without Zlatan Ibrahimovic due to a rue with the coach and management and I don’t think there’s enough in that team to produce enough to go through.

South Korea are led by Heung-Min Son and as a team are very strong and solid. I’m torn between Mexico and South Korea as I think it could be very close, but I think Mexico will pull out enough to go through.

Prediction
1. Germany
2. Mexico

Mezut Ozil Germany

(AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Group G

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Belgium, England, Panama, Tunisia

In Group G we have the smokey of the last 10 years in Belgium against chronic underperformers England. To be fair, I don’t think Panama or Tunisia can beat them even if they were having an off day.

Firstly congratulations to Panama on making the World Cup – it is an almighty achievement – but they are the weakest team in the entire tournament in my eyes. Tunisia qualifying for the World Cup is also a big achievement, but they are only a slightly better chance of progressing through than Panama, which is zero.

England have a team that is decent without being great. THey are significantly weaker than in the past two world cups and will fail to flatter after the group stage. England fans will be watching this time around with hope rather than expectation, and that says it all.

Belgium have one of the top footballers in their team: Eden Hazard. Hazard alone is a game-changer and is backed by quality counterparts. They have three experienced English Premier League-proven defenders in Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen with Thomas Vermaelen as a back-up.

Kevin De Bruyne is one of the world’s best, and with the presence of Romelu Lukaku up front and Dries Mertens as well they are deadly. Also, you have one of the world’s best keepers in Thibaut Courtois in goal.

I have bought into the hype before, but this time they have all had time to develop and they are all peaking at the right time. They’re definite World Cup contenders.

Prediction
1. Belgium
2. England

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Belgium's Eden Hazard controls the ball during the World Cup Group H qualifying soccer match between Bosnia and Belgium at the Grbavica stadium in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

(AP Photo/Amel Emric)

Group H

Poland are led by star man Robert Lewandowski, who is one of the elite strikers in world football. Their team were unlucky at Euro 2016, losing to eventual champions Portugal. I have them ranked on top, but not far behind is Senegal.

The Senegalese qualified comfortably from their group, winning four of their six matches and drawing the remaining two. They will really vie for top spot here in the group.

Colombia go alright but were like the Belgium of last World Cup – lots of talent but not showing. They could easily win this group, but they don’t work well as a team, and therefore when the pressure goes on, I don’t think they handle it. James Rodriguez may have something to say about this, though, as he was equal top goal scorer at the last World Cup.

Japan are always a well-oiled team but really lack the star power they used to have when they had the likes of Keisuke Honda. Can’t see them challenging.

Prediction
1. Poland
2. Senegal