Russia 2018 World Cup Preview Part One – Groups A to D
On June 14, Russia will host Saudi Arabia in Group A in the opening match of the 2018 World Cup Finals. A total of 32 teams from across the globe will be competing at venues across Russia, initially in eight groups of four teams and then in a straight knockout tournament, to decide which country will hold aloft the trophy and succeed Germany as the holders of the World Cup.
Widely regarded as the most prestigious trophy in football, only a select group of eight teams have ever won the World Cup –
- Brazil – 5 Times – 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002
- Germany – 4 Times – 1954, 1974, 1990, 2014
- Italy – 4 Times – 1934, 1938, 1982, 2006
- Uruguay – 2 Times – 1930, 1950
- Argentina – 2 Times – 1978, 1986
- England – 1 Time – 1966
- France – 1 Time – 1998
- Spain – 1 Time – 2010
Alongside those winners, the following teams have also been runner’s up in the World Cup Final
- Germany – 4 Times – 1966, 1982, 1986, 2002
- Argentina – 3 Times – 1930, 1990, 2014
- Netherlands – 3 Times – 1974, 1978, 2010
- Italy – 2 Times – 1970, 1994
- Brazil – 2 Times – 1950, 1998
- Hungary – 2 Times – 1938, 1954
- Czechoslovakia – 2 Times – 1934, 1962
- Sweden – 1 Time – 1958
- France – 1 Time – 2006
Germany have appeared in the most finals (8 in total), with Brazil appearing in seven, Italy six and Argentina five. The Netherlands, who did not qualify for Russia 2018, are the only team to have appeared in at least three finals and not to have yet claimed a World Cup Win.
Of course, the World Cup Finals always attracts plenty of betting and you can enjoy the best betting on the World Cup this summer with Coral Sport. Sign up with Coral Sport today and you can take advantage of Coral’s Free Sports Bet offer of Bet £5 Get £20 in Free Bets.
Your first bet may well be on which teams will qualify from each of the eight group stages. In this article, we are going to preview the first four groups, A, B, C and D and give your our opinion on which teams will qualify and who to back to either win the group, or reach the second phase of the tournament.
Group A Winner Odds – Uruguay 4/5, Russia 8/5, Egypt 11/2, Saudi Arabia 33/1
- Group Winner – Uruguay
- To Qualify – Russia
- Eliminated – Egypt & Saudi Arabia
Russia may be the host nation but I don’t think that they will take top spot in Group A. The Russian squad is made up largely of home-based players, which should help for unity and teamwork, but the squad does lack the quality of previous Russian teams of the past. Home advantage should see them be too strong for Saudi Arabia in their opening game, but I feel they will lose to Uruguay and I’m not entirely confident they’ll eclipse Egypt if Mo Salah is fit. However a draw in that game may still be enough for them to get through.
Uruguay are one of my dark horses to do well at this tournament. They last reached the semi-finals of the World Cup back in 2010 and this team is a little older but still packs some mighty talent in defence and attack. The rest of the team however isn’t as strong, but is still very tough to beat and always has that traditional Uruguay grit and determination. I expect them to top the group here by winning their first two games and then resting their older players in the last group game.
Egypt’s hopes were dealt a blow when Mo Salah, their talismanic figure, was injured in the Champions League Final. Salah’s recuperation is going well and he is in the squad and will likely play some part, although how fit he will be for the opener against Uruguay remains to be seen. With a fully fit Salah, I’d have given Egypt an outside chance of qualifying from this group, but with him still recovering I think they’ll fall just short.
Of all the teams at the World Cup Finals this summer, I think Saudi Arabia may be the team people know least about. They only have a couple of players playing outside their home country and they are generally a well organised, defensive side, but they need to score goals to progress and I cannot see them doing that against any of their Group A opponents. I’d be surprised if they don’t finish bottom of the group with zero points.
Key Players in Group A
Uruguay – Diego Godin (Dc), Jose Giminez (Dc), Edinson Cavani (Ac), Luis Suarez (Ac)
Russia – Igor Akinfeev (Gk), Alan Dzagoev (AMrc), Fyodor Smolov (Ac), Aleksandr Golovin (Mc)
Egypt – Ahmed Hegazi (Dc), Mohamed Salah (Ac), Mohamed Elneny (Mc)
Saudi Arabia – Osama Hawsawi (Dc), Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (Ac), Taisir Al-Jassim (Mc)
Group B Winner Odds – Spain 1/2, Portugal 2/1, Morocco 14/1, Iran 25/1
- Group Winner – Spain
- To Qualify – Portugal
- Eliminated – Morocco & Iran
Portugal may be the current Champions of Europe, but for me Spain are by far the class act in Group B and I would be hugely surprised if they don’t come out of this group as the winners. The Spanish squad is very talented, although they do lack a regular goalscorer. However, their midfield is so strong and talented that playing without a focal point in attack is not a problem. Portugal will be tough in their opening game, but I think Spain will win that and collect full points from their games.
I also expect Portugal to follow them into the second round of the tournament. The main issue will be how they bounce back from a likely defeat to Spain in the opening game, but I think with Cristiano Ronaldo on board, the Portuguese will be confident of despatching their other two group opponents to claim second spot. Though they will have to be careful against a talented Morroco side.
Morocco have a history of upsetting Portugal, defeating them in the 1986 World Cup finals to reach the second round at their expense but this is a young Moroccan side, with a few experienced heads but while they have some talented youngsters, Ziyech in particular is worth watching, I feel they lack the quality in depth to challenge Spain or Portugal here.
Iran are the unknown quantity but they have a squad that does possess some talented players, most notably the striker Sardar Azmoun, who may well be attracting plenty of offers for his services after the World Cup. They are the weakest of the four teams in this group but if they play well they could take a point from their game with Morocco.
Key Players in Group B –
Spain – Andres Iniesta (Mc), David Silva (Mc), Sergio Ramos (Dc), David de Gea (G)
Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo (Ac), Bernardo Silva (AMl), William Carvalho (Mc), Andre Silva (Ac)
Morocco – Achraf Hakimi (Drc), Medhi Benatia (Dc), Hakim Ziyech (AMc), Ayoub El Kaabi (Ac)
Iran – Saeid Ezatolahi (Dc), Masoud Shojaei (Mc), Reze Ghoochannjhad (Ac), Sardar Azmoun (Ac)
Group C Winner Odds – France 3/10, Denmark 9/2, Peru 8/1, Australia 18/1
- Group Winner – France
- To Qualify – Denmark
- Eliminated – Peru & Australia
There’s a clear favourite in this group and that is France and it is easy to see why. Didier Deschamps squad has greater depth than perhaps any other in the tournament and even without the injured Laurent Koscielny, they still have incredible quality throughout the squad and a golden generation of young players coming through. If they hit top form here, then they should win this group at a canter.
I’d expect Denmark to be the team to follow France out of the group, but I don’t think it will be easy for the Danes. This isn’t as talented a group as past Danish teams have boasted and they really only have one World Class talent in Christian Eriksen and in truth, how he performs will have the biggest influence on how far the Danes can go.
Peru are an interesting one as they are one of the surprise qualifiers from South America, with many expecting Chile or Paraguay to get in ahead of them. They have some talented and experienced players, notably in attack, but Peruvian teams traditionally don’t travel well to Europe in World Cup tournaments and I can’t see them posing a threat in this group.
Australia however may be the underdogs with the bookmakers but I can see the Socceroos giving Denmark and Peru a few headaches. The Aussies tend to perform well at the World Cup and in Tim Cahill have a talisman who has been their hero several times in World Cups past. He may be pushing 38 now but even if he used sparingly from the bench, he could still make it very uncomfortable for their opponents. The Aussies may push Denmark hard and I’d back them to finish third in this group.
Key Players in Group C –
France – Raphael Varane (Dc), Paul Pogba (Mc), Antoine Griezmann (Ac), Ousmane Dembele (AMr)
Denmark – Kasper Schmeichel (G), Simon Kjaer (Dc), Christian Eriksen (Mc), Lasse Schon (Ac)
Peru – Paolo Guerrero (Ac), Jefferson Farfan (AMlrc), Renato Tapia (DMc), Alberto Rodriguez (Dr)
Australia – Matt Ryan (G), Tim Cahill (Mc), Tom Rogic (AMc), Mile Jedinak (DMc
Group D Winner Odds – Argentina 4/7, Croatia 12/5, Nigeria 9/1, Iceland 11/1
- Group Winner – Argentina
- To Qualify – Croatia
- Eliminated – Iceland & Nigeria
This is without doubt the toughest group in the World Cup Finals. Argentina have obvious attacking qualities but as they showed in their 6-1 friendly defeat to Spain recently, they do have some real concerns defensively. However, they have Lionel Messi who can win games singlehandedly against any opposition, so they must be the top pick here.
Croatia are a strong squad with some outstanding players but who perhaps lack that regular goalscorer to trouble the very top sides. They are blessed with some superb midfielders and defenders and I think will give Argentina a real test when the two teams clash in the group.
Iceland are the unknown quantity, who reached the Euro 2016 quarterfinals, defeating England on the way, before losing to France. The Icelandic side also topped their European qualification group ahead of Croatia but I think Croatia’s experience at the highest level, rather than the Icelandic team ethic will be the deciding factor here.
Nigeria are not as strong a team as they have been in previous World Cup’s but they have a very good record against Argentina in particular and on their day they can beat any of the teams in this group.
I’m backing Messi and his fellow attackers to fire Argentina through top of the group with Croatia and Iceland pushing them hard, but Croatia ultimately taking the runner’s up spot to progress into the next phase.
Key Players in Group D
Argentina – Lionel Messi (AMlrc), Angel Di Maria (AMlc), Sergio Aguero (Ac), Paulo Dybala (AMc)
Croatia – Ivan Rakitic (Mc), Luka Modric (Mc), Ivan Perisic (AMlc), Mario Mandzukic (Ac)
Nigeria – Wilfred Ndidi (Mc), Ahmed Musa (Ac), Victor Moses (DMAr), John Obi Mikel (DMc)
Iceland – Hannes Halldorsson (G), Sverrir Ingasson (Dc), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Mc)
Join me again next week as we go through Part Two of this article, looking at Groups E to H and we will then give you our selection for the team to win the World Cup 2018.