Welcome to part two of our preview article for this summer’s World Cup Finals tournament taking place in Russia from June 14 to July 16th. 32 teams will compete for the right to call themselves the 2018 World Cup Winners, inheriting the title last won by Germany back in Brazil in 2014.
Last week we picked Uruguay, Spain, France and Argentina to win Groups A, B, C and D and we also selected Russia, Portugal, Denmark and Croatia to be the teams joining the four group winners in the second phase.
This week, we are going to take a closer look at Groups E to H and then we will give you our tip on which team we feel will win the 2018 World Cup outright.
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Let’s continue our preview of the groups with our focus now switching to Group E.
Group E Winner Odds – Brazil 2/7, Switzerland 6/1, Serbia 7/1, Costa Rica 18/1
- Group Winner – Brazil
- To Qualify – Switzerland
- Eliminated – Serbia, Costa Rica
I think it is pretty much nailed on expected for Brazil to qualify from this group without any problems whatsoever. Tite’s team made light work of their qualifying campaign, despite losing their opening match to Chile, and have been in very good form since, winning most of their games by a comfortable margin and even defeating Germany 1-0 on German soil a few months back.
The question then is who comes second in the group and I think you can rule Costa Rica out here. They did remarkably well to reach the quarterfinals in Brazil 2014, but the squad is four years older in the main and I think they will struggle to replicate those results in Russia.
That leaves a battle between Serbia and Switzerland and I think this could be a very close run thing and the team that does better in their clash will likely snatch second spot. I think Serbia have the better quality players, but I think Switzerland are a better unit and more difficult to beat and as such, I have just about given them the edge to finish second to Brazil.
Key Players in Group E
Brazil – Neymar (AMc), Thiago Silva (Dc), Philippe Coutinho (AMc), Willian (AMr)
Switzerland – Yann Sommer (G), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Dl), Xherdan Shaqiri (AMlc)
Costa Rica – Keylor Navas (G), Celso Borges (Mc), Bryan Ruiz (Ac), Christian Bolanos (AMr)
Serbia – Branislav Ivanovic (Drc), Aleksandr Mitrovic (Ac), Nemaja Matic (Mc), Sergei Milinkovic-Savic (AMlc)
Group F Winner Odds – Germany 1/3, Mexico 5/1, Sweden 15/2, South Korea 14/1
- Group Winner – Germany
- To Qualify – Mexico
- Eliminated – Sweden, South Korea
Rather like Group E, I think Group F will be dominated by one team, Germany and that the Germans will likely finish top of this group with maximum points and a healthy goal difference in their favour. I have no doubt that Manuel Neuer’s return from lengthy injury will strengthen the German back line which has been their issue in recent times.
South Korea look the weakest team in the group and despite having some good individual players, I don’t think this Korean unit is as strong as a team as some of their World Cup teams of the past and as such, I think they’ll likely finish bottom of the group and may struggle to pick up a point.
The battle for second then will likely be between Sweden and Mexico, with the Mexican’s having reached the last sixteen in every World Cup Finals tournament since 1994. History may be on their side here, but Sweden are very tough to beat and don’t concede many goals. For me though, Mexico pose the greater threat and I think will do just enough to make it into the second phase.
Key Players in Group F
Germany – Manuel Neuer (G), Mats Hummels (Dc), Toni Kroos (Mc), Thomas Muller (AMlc)
Mexico – Rafa Marquez (Dc), Miguel Layun (Mrc), Andres Guardado (Mc), Javi Hernandez (Ac)
Sweden – Victor Lindelof (Dc), Seb Larsson (Mrc), Emil Forsberg (Mc), Marcus Berg (Ac)
South Korea – Son Hyeong-min (Ac), Koo Ja-cheol (Mc), Ki Sung-yueng (AMc)
Group G Winner Odds – Belgium 5/6, England 6/5, Tunisia 16/1, Panama 25/1
- Group Winner – Belgium
- To Qualify – England
- Eliminated – Tunisia, Panama
For me, I think this could be a closer group than many expect. I think Panama are comfortably the weakest of the four teams in the group and I would expect the three other teams in the group to beat the central American team to ensure they finish bottom.
Tunisia are by no means as bad a side as they have been painted by the bookmakers. They are ranked 14th in the world by FIFA, one place below England, and while they don’t have any star names in their team, they are a very well drilled and organised side, capable of getting goals. They will make life tough for Belgium and especially England in that opening match for the Three Lions.
However, I do expect Belgium and England to beat Tunisia and go into the final game with six points, which means that both teams can (and likely will) rest key players. That makes the final game a tough one to call and I think a draw is likely here, which then means goal difference could be a key and I think in that respect, Belgium will have a slight advantage making them finish top of the group.
Key Players in Group G
Belgium – Laurent Courtois (G), Eden Hazard (AMc), Kevin de Bruyne (Mc), Romelu Lukaku (Ac)
England – Harry Kane (Ac), Dele Alli (AMc), Raheem Sterling (AMrc), Marcus Rashford (Ac)
Tunisia – Wahbi Khazri (AMc), Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Ac)
Panama – Gabriel Gomez (Mc), Blas Perez (Ac)
Group H Winner Odds – Colombia 5/4, Poland 9/5, Senegal 9/2, Japan 7/1
- Group Winner – Poland
- To Qualify – Colombia
- Eliminated – Senegal, Japan
This is a tricky group to predict for a number of reasons. All four sides can play very well indeed, or very poorly and their form is also somewhat up and down. For me Colombia have the most talented players, but Poland are better organised and have more depth in their squad, while Senegal have pace and talent but are yet to harness it into a unifying team.
For me, Japan though will finish bottom of the group as I feel this Japanese side is not a patch on some of the previous ones that have competed in the World Cup in the past. Senegal too have not got the form to convince me they have what it takes to make it out of the group.
As such, I think the Poland v Colombia clash will likely decide the winner of the group and I’ve backed the South American’s, just, to come out on top, although this one could well go down to goal difference to decide who comes out on top of the group.
Key Players in Group H
Poland – Arkadiusz Milik (Ac), Robert Lewandowski (Ac), Kamil Glik (Dc), Maciej Rybus (Mc)
Colombia – Cristian Zapata (Dc), Carlos Bacca (Ac), James Rodriguez (Mc), Radamel Falcao (Ac)
Senegal – Kaliodu Koulibaly (Dc), Chiekhou Kouyate (Mc), Keita Balde (Ac), Sadio Mane (AMrc)
Japan – Keisuke Honda (Mlc), Shinji Kagawa (AMlc), Shinji Okazaki (Ac)
Who Wins the World Cup Outright?
Having looked at the chances of the 32 teams, it’s time to now pick which one we think will perform well and win the World Cup this summer. European teams are on something of a roll having won the last three tournaments. Brazil could well put an end to that this summer though and the 9/2 favourites are a solid bet with many punters.
However, I feel Brazil do have an Achilles heel and that defensively, especially in wide areas, they are vulnerable. Spain at 13/2 could take full advantage of that, but for me the best value bet at the moment is Argentina who at 10/1 are very tempting, especially with Messi in fine form and it is about time the Argentinean legend proved once and for all that he is the best player of all time by inspiring his country to a World Cup win. I’m backing Messi 2018 to do a Maradona 1986 and inspire Argentina to a surprise World Cup win.