The draw for the 2018 World Cup has concluded, with surprises, favorites, and Groups of Life and Death. Italians look away.
Group A: A little help for the hosts
Hosts Russia came out first, as is traditional. Uruguay joined them from Pot 2, with Mo Salah’s Egypt from Pot 3. Saudi Arabia rounded up the first group,
Uruguay are the favorites in the easiest group of the eight. Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Salah and Egypt will contend with Russia for the second spot, and the Saudis appear to pose no threat.
Group B: The Iberian Supergroup
Portugal was the second team out of Pot 1, and are joined by Spain, Morocco, and Iran.
Portugal and Spain are two of the best teams in the tournament, and whoever wins the group will make a deep run in the knockout stage. Iran and Morocco stand little chance of advancing in place of the Iberian duo. That first matchup will be fun.
Group C: France’s to lose
France will bring their young squad up against fellow Europeans Denmark, while Peru and Australia will look to exploit the Danes’ over-reliance on Christian Eriksen.
France should run away with Group C á la 2014 Colombia. Denmark doesn’t seem to be equipped for a World Cup, as Christian Eriksen is the only notable attacking star. However, Mathias Jorgensen and the defense could be difficult to break down. Australia desperately needs answers in the coming year to inject life into the Socceroos’ aging squad. Don’t underestimate Peru, the fifth-placed South American side.
Group D: Stars, old and young
Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, and Nigeria form the most star-studded group so far. Lionel Messi and Argentina look the part of a favorite, while Luka Modric’s Croatia and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s Iceland will battle it out for the second spot. Nigeria doesn’t seem cut out to contend yet, but a promising generation of young talent headlined by Alex Iwobi will get a shot at the world’s finest.
Group E: A challenged favorite
CONMEBOL champs Brazil came out of Pot 1 to face Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Serbia. The two European nations are capable of causing trouble for anyone if given the opportunity, while Costa Rica is a challenge once again. Los Ticos went all the way to 2014’s quarterfinals before bowing out on penalties to the Netherlands.
Group F: A Confederations Cup rematch
The defending world champs face the harshest test of any seeded side. Germany will face CONCACAF champions Mexico, and then turn around to face Emil Forsberg and Sweden. Last year’s Bundesliga assist king leads a dangerous Sweden side. If Mexico and Sweden meet on the final day of the group stage, an electric atmosphere will take shape in Russia.
Group G: European domination
Belgium and England face few tests in Tunisia and Panama, and should advance. In what order, though? Belgium has the talent to beat anyone, but can’t seem to play well together. England. . . well, they’re England.
Disputed top-eight Poland face a tough task. A star-studded Senegal attack including Sadio Mane and Keita Balde Diao will present defensive concerns. Japan might challenge better than in recent years.
The real focus is Colombia. 2014 World Cup’s top scorer James Rodriguez has ignited into one of the world’s finest center attacking mids. Radamel Falcao and Freddy Guarin are very good once again. Jeison Murillo anchors the defense. Colombia is so good, it’s frightening. Los Cafeteros will wreak havoc in the latter knockout rounds in Russia.
The group winners will be. . .
Wait, where’s Italy?