SPORTS SPOTLIGHT: Who Will Win World Cup 2018?
The World Cup is upon us once again. For every 4 years, we see it once like February 29. The greatest football showpiece in the world. Every man and his dog stops to watch, dream about it and talk about it for a whole full moon and beyond.
Russia 2018 will be no exception. In fact, social media growth and the power of the internet mean this World Cup will be the most talked about and the most viewed football competition of all time.
32 teams will be cheered on by over 3 billion pair of eyes over the world. There is only one winner in the end, yet no team will go in to lose. What remains to be seen is which of these teams will come up top or will fall short of expectations.
Let’s take a look at the various Groups and their respective teams. And if you are a betting man, you will know where the smart money is.
World Cup 2018 Catch Up the Dates, Matches, Groups and more.
GROUP A – RUSSIA vs SAUDI ARABIA (MatchDay 1)
RUSSIA: 66 on the FIFA rankings, Russia as the host nation qualified automatically. Having qualified in 10 out of the 15 qualifying campaigns, their best performance came in 1966 with a fourth placed finish. Russia will hope their home advantage will count in this year’s competition. South Africa is the only host nation to have failed to qualify from the group stage in the previous 6 tournaments.
In Brazil 2014, Russia only managed 2pts from the group. If the 2017 Confederation Cup is anything to go by, then home advantage will count little for Russia. Russia will hope the experience of their six-time Russian title winner, Igor AkinFeev, who has over 100 caps for his country will help their course as they attempt to impress the home crowd. Forward Fedor Smolov will have the duty of banging in the goals for his country.
SAUDI ARABIA: Ranked 67 and just behind Host nation Russia. Saudi Arabia have competed in 4 world cups out of the 11 qualifying campaigns. USA 94 happens to be their best one yet having qualified to the Round of 16. Since the 2006 competition, Saudi Arabia have been absent in the previous two. Their Argentina-born coach, Juan Antonio Pizzi will be pivotal in how they can manoeuvre their way out of a seemingly difficult group. He won the 2016 Copa America with Chile. He was a prolific forward in his playing days as a Spanish International. Saudi Arabians will hope such a man will also guide their star man Mohammed Al-Sahlawi who himself bagged 16 goals in the qualifying campaign. He finished joint-top scorer alongside Poland’s Lewandowski and UAE’s Ahmed Khalil. Russia on the other hand will pray Al-Sahlawi forgets his goal scoring boots when they meet on June 14 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
UPDATE: The world stood still for about 2 hours. Every eye
paid attention to Russia; Football is finally home. Russia waited four years for a moment like this.
The opening ceremony came with pomp and pageantry. There were ostentatious display of Russian culture. The rest of the competing countries were represented in their national colours too. The 81,000 who were lucky to be at the stadium enjoyed every aspect of the ceremony. Robbie Williams gave the world a taste of English music.
Russian President Putin and FIFA president Infantino welcomed the world to Russia with speeches that many described as befitting the occasion.
One could hear the shouts from the crowd through the roof and when Referee Nestor Pitana blew his whistle for the commencement of proceedings, the excitement on the faces of everyone at the Luzhniki stadium was clear to see; it’s party time.
For Russia, it was imperative to overcome the nerves and the pressure as earlier as possible. And it did take only 12 minutes to do that. After the Saudi Arabians failed to clear the ball completely from a corner, midfielder Golovin put in a cross again which met the diving header of Gazinskiy. Russia became relaxed and played with much freedom. For their part, Saudi Arabia struggled to put passes together and hardly threatened the Russians. Al Sahlawi who had scored 16 goals in the qualifiers was hardly seen in the game. And when everyone thought the first half was ending in a 1-0, substitute Cheryshev who had replaced Djagoev through a hamstring injury doubled their lead in the 43rd minute.
The second half never got to 3rd gear. It was played in a relaxed atmosphere from the Russians. It was not until the 71st minute when substitute Dzyuba gave the home crowd another goal to cheer about. He had only been on the pitch less than 2 minutes when when he headed home from another Golovin cross to make the score line 3-0.
President Putin did not hide his excitement when Cameras caught him in the stands. The Saudi Prince in attendance equally showed his frustrations with FIFA president trying his bit to stay neutral.
When the fourth official showed 3 minutes of added time, and people already leaving the stadium, Cheryshev produced some magic from his left foot, curling the ball to the left top corner. Keeper had no chance saving that. A lot can happen even in just 90 seconds of football. And with the last kick of the game, Golovin who had put in a man of the match performance, made the score line more and more emphatic with a terrific free kick outside the 18yard box.
Referee blew his whistle soon after, ending the game Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia. He will be happy there were no contentious decisions for him to call
FOOTBALL DIGEST BY DF SCOLARI
Kicking a football is something every man did when he was a kid. From playing at the background to playing at school. And before I am accused of being sexist, women play football too.
Over the years, we became accustomed to household names like Jay Jay Okocha, Abedi Pele, George Oppong Weah, Mark Fish, Adjoa Bayor, Tony Yeboah, Sunday Oliseh, Didier Drogba, Ronaldinho, Bebeto, Ronaldo, Paul Gascoigne, Roberto Bagio, just to mention but a few.
On football digest, we will be taking you on a journey of suspense, passion, enthusiasm and a never ending breaking news around the globe. We will not stop this journey until you read that corruption in football was just a fallacy; big up the Ghana Football Association, we see you ! We will not stop this journey until the bones are rotten.
We will cover every inch of the grass from community football to the most popular leagues in the world. Every goal will be celebrated and every foul will be punished.
We will serve football, eat football and digest football.
Football Digest; The game, Our Food !!
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GROUP A – EGYPT | URUGUAY
EGYPT: The second team in Africa to qualify, beating previous competing country Ghana to the only spot in Group E. Ranked 46 in the world and having played in the finals of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, Egypt will be hoping to be the African country to go further in the competition.
For a football nation whose first participation in the World Cup came as early as 1934, one would have thought they would have been in many competitions thereafter. It took Egypt 56 years to be involved in another World Cup; Italia 90’. Judging by how long Egypt stayed in the wilderness, 2018 should be one to be savoured. They may have to wait another long time before their next one.
The whole of Egypt will hope Mohammed Salah can bring his form to the competition. But for his shoulder injury sustained in the UCL final defeat to Real Madrid, there would have been a genuine hope that Mo Salah will be the one to carry the over 95 million Egyptians on his shoulders. He’s undoubtedly their talisman, scoring 71% of their qualifying goals plus scoring in every one of their third-round victories.
URUGUAY: Two-time champions of the World Cup and the highest ranked in Group A at 14. They have played in 12 out of the 16 qualifying campaigns they have been involved in. Uruguay with their vast experience in world cups will hope that will count in their favour this year too. They are the favourites in Group A and with a striker like Suarez who’s their all-time leading goal scorer and also having starred at South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, they are most likely to advance further in the competition. And with a coach like Oscar Washington Tabarez, Uruguay have got nothing to fear. El Maestro as he’s affectionately called is an attack-minded coach with astute tactics and fatherly approach to his players.
Prediction: 1. Uruguay 2. Russia 3. Egypt 4. Saudi Arabia
GROUP B – PORTUGAL | SPAIN | MOROCCO | IR IRAN
PORTUGAL: 4th on the FIFA rankings, Portugal have only recently lived to their billing of being one of the power houses of world football. They are the current EURO champions after beating the favourites France in the 2016 finals. Fernando Santos, the coach and their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo who needs no introduction when it comes to goal scoring, will be the key protagonists for Portugal. Portugal have only been to 6 out of the 20 qualifying campaigns they have been involved in. A percentage of just 30% which merely reflects their status on the world stage. Their best achievement came in the 1966 World Cup where they finished third. They come into the competition having finished 3rd in last year’s confederation cup. Portugal will hope they can go all the way to the finals if their key man delivers the goals and the moments that matter.
SPAIN: Ranked 10th, Spain has an impressive showing at the World cup with 14 qualifications out of the 18 qualifying campaigns they have been involved in. They were champions as recently as 2010 in South Africa.
The experience and leadership of Sergio Ramos will be significant to how Spain conduct themselves. He will be leading from the back. Having won the UCL finals as a captain with Real Madrid, he will be more motivated to do same with the National side. Undoubtedly, the game between Spain and Portugal will be a group decider. The people of Sochi will be happy to witness such a match at the Fisht Olympic Stadium on June 15.
MOROCCO: it’s been 20 years since Morocco last showed up at the World Cup. Their best performance was in the 1986 competition. They qualified ahead of Côte d’Ivoire in a nail biting final game which they won 2-0 in November last year. Morocco will be relying on the experience of coach Herve Renard and Captain Medhi Benatia.
IR IRAN: The third team to book their place at the 2018 World Cup after Russia and Brazil. Iran have never got out of the group stage in all their previous 4 showings. A statistic which is more likely to remain in this year’s competition too. Iran will be relying heavily on coach Carlos Queiroz and star man Sardar Azmoun. They may be the surprise package in Group B.
Prediction: 1. Portugal. 2. Spain. 3. IR Iran. 4. Morocco
GROUP C – FRANCE | AUSTRALIA | PERU | DENMARK
FRANCE: Ranked 7th and a former champion at the 1998 World Cup 20 years ago, France will hope their current group of players can replicate the achievements of Zidane, Henry and their current coach Didier Deschamps. Having played in 14 out of the 17 qualifying campaigns, they come to Russia as an experienced country in world cups.
Star man Antoine Griezmann will be out to make his mark on another major competition, having been top scorer and player of the tournament at UEFA EURO 2016. He provided four goals and four assists for France in the Russia 2018 qualifiers.
AUSTRALIA: The least Ranked team in Group C at 36. Australia have only played in 4 previous competitions out of the 14 qualifying campaigns. They come to Russia with the experience of their coach Bert Van Marwijk who took the Netherlands to the 2010 finals. It will be a surprise if Australia are able to navigate their way out of Group C. The experience of Tim Cahill will be significant. He netted 11 goals on the road to Russia, including several trademark headers. Scorer of one of the most spectacular goals of
Brazil 2014, Cahill could become one of the few players to score at four World Cups. Only Uwe Seeler, Pele and Miroslav Klose have previously notched a goal in four different editions of the World Cup.
PERU: 11th on the FIFA rankings, Peru haven’t featured in the World Cup since 1982, more than a generation ago. Their best outings came in 1970 and 1978 where they reached the quarter finals. Star man Jefferson Farfan was not born when Peru last played in the World Cup. The 33year old proved himself to be as important as ever to the Peruvian cause during Russia 2018 qualifying.
DENMARK: 12th in the world. Denmark have also been to 4 world cups with their very recent appearance in South Africa 2010. Their best performance was in France 1998 where they reached the quarter finals. Having failed to qualify for the 2016 EUROs, Denmark replaced their longest serving coach Morten Olsen with Age Hareide. Denmark will be counting on their talisman Christian Eriksen. The Tottenham midfielder was pivotal in their qualification. Only Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo could better the midfielder’s remarkable goal haul of 11 in Europe’s Russia 2018 preliminaries.
Prediction: 1. France 2. Peru. 3. Denmark. 4. Australia
GROUP D – ARGENTINA | ICELAND | CROATIA | NIGERIA
ARGENTINA: 5th in the world and runners-up in Brazil 2014, Argentina will hope to go a step further and clinch the world cup for the third time in their history. The last time they won it was 32 years ago. And with that huge experience under their belt, they will hope Coach Jorge Sampaoli can lead them to glory. Argentina have arguably the best player of all time; Messi. He has won a record 5 times as FIFA’s best player of the year. And will be making his fourth World Cup appearance in Russia 2018.
ICELAND: They are making the World Cup for the very first time after 13 qualifying campaigns. It is safe to say they are minnows when it comes to the World Cup. They are currently ranked number 22 in the world. Iceland were giant killers in the 2016 EUROs beating England in the Round of 16. With a former dentist Hallgrimsson as their coach, Iceland will definitely get their teeth stuck into events at the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson, who’s been his country’s best player for the last five years will lead the smallest nation at the World Cup.
CROATIA: They come to Russia ranked 20 in the world and with their best performance coming in the 1998 World Cup where they finished third. The match between Croatia and Iceland could determine who finishes second in Group D with Argentina being the clear favourites. The Croatians have the better head to head having won 4 of the 6 times they have faced each other.
Croatia will be relying on star man Luka Modric; three-time UEFA Champions League winner to pull the strings at Russia 2018.
NIGERIA: The least ranked team in Group D at 48, Nigeria will be hoping that will count for nothing in their quest to qualify out of the group. They will rely on the experience of their coach Gernot Rohr and their midfielder and captain Mikel Obi to at least advance to the Round of 16. Something they have done in three out of their five World Cup appearances. Nigeria and Argentina have been paired in the group stage 4 times. The Super Eagles have failed to claim a point off The Argentines.
Predictions: 1. Argentina 2. Croatia 3. Iceland. 4. Nigeria
GROUP E – BRAZIL | SWITZERLAND | COSTA RICA | SERBIA
BRAZIL: Currently ranked number 2 in the world, Brazil are the most experienced country when it comes to the World Cup. They have won the competition for a record five times. They are the only country to have played in all of the previous World Cup competitions. They were remarkable in their qualifying campaign to Russia being the first team to qualify outside the Host nation. Brazil will be hoping to bury their 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Germany at the semi-finals in the last competition on home soil. Star man Neymar is A FIFA Confederations Cup winner and Olympic gold medallist, and he’s set to make his second appearance at a World Cup.
SWITZERLAND: They are the 6th best team according to FIFA Rankings. Played in 10 of their 19 qualifying campaigns, Switzerland will be hoping to go further than their quarter final achievements in the 1934, 1938 and 1954 world cups. Switzerland’s player of the year for 2017, Granit Xhaka will be a key man in Vladimir Petkovic’s side. The Arsenal midfielder was superb at Brazil 2014 and will be outto make an impact on another World Cup.
COSTA RICA: 23rd on the footballing ladder, Costa Rica will be hoping they can reach another quarter final and even beyond just as they did in Brazil 2014. Captain Bryan Ruiz will have a huge role to play in guiding Costa Rica out of the group which will prove difficult by all account.
SERBIA: They are the least ranked in Group E at 34. Serbia have nothing to lose and will be playing with no pressure; not much is expected of them in this World Cup. Serbians may disagree and will hope Captain Branislav Ivanovic and his troupe put up a show worthy of some recognition.
Prediction: 1. Brazil. 2. Switzerland. 3. Costa Rica. 4. Serbia.
GROUP F – GERMANY | MEXICO | SWEDEN | KOREA REPUBLIC
GERMANY: The defending champions and current world number one, Germany will be looking to win the competition again this year. They also won the 2017 confederation cup in Russia. They have made the finals a record 8 times in their history and won it 4 times. Every team in the competition will fear meeting Germany. With an already World Cup winning coach, Joachim Low knows all it takes to win at the biggest stage of world football. Toni Kroos who is no stranger to big games and big trophies will lead the Germans from the middle of the park and hope for another success like 4 years ago in Brazil.
MEXICO: Currently ranked number 15, Mexico have qualified for all the 15 qualifying campaigns they have been involved in with their best achievements coming in the 1970 and 1986 world cups as quarter finalists. Mexico’s all-time leading goal scorer, Javier Hernandez will be leading the front line once again in Russia 2018.
SWEDEN: They missed out in the previous two world cups after appearing in the 2006 World Cup. Currently ranked 24th, Sweden reached the finals in the 1958 World Cup. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s retirement means Marcus Berg will take centre stage for Sweden in Russia 2018. He scored eight times in the qualifiers.
KOREA REPUBLIC: They are the least ranked in Group F at 57. How Korea will be able to get out of this group remains to be seen. 2002 still remains their best outing ever in a World Cup after finishing fourth that year. Korea will rely on Swansea City’s Ki Sung-Yueng to make his experience count in this year’s competition.
Prediction: 1. Germany. 2. Mexico. 3. Sweden. 4. Korea Republic
GROUP G – BELGIUM | PANAMA | TUNISIA | ENGLAND
BELGIUM: 3rd on the FIFA rankings, Belgium are a team with some talented and gifted players who can do damage to any team on any given day. Favourites to top Group G and Eden Hazard with his speed and skills will be providing all the tools needed to unlock their opponents. Lukaku is the trusted man to bang in the goals.
PANAMA: They are in the World Cup for the very first time in their history. Ranked at 55, not much is known of Panama in terms of World Cup football. With over a century of appearances for Panama, the well-travelled Blas Perez offers valuable experience to Panama. The forward has appeared in four World Cup qualifying campaigns, scoring 11 goals over that period.
TUNISIA: Ranked 21st in the world, Tunisia have failed to qualify out of the group stage in all their Previous four involvements at the World Cup. Russia 2018 will be no different for Tunisia and not much is expected of them from their home fans.
ENGLAND: A former world champion and ranked 12th in the world, England have not made the finals since 1966. They have continuously been perennial underachievers. The youthful nature of the current crop of players will mean England could play with more freedom and less pressure in Russia 2018. Captain Harry Kane will be leading The Three Lions from the front.
Prediction: 1. Belgium 2. England. 3. Tunisia. 4 Panama
GROUP H – POLAND | SENEGAL | COLUMBIA | JAPAN
POLAND: They are currently ranked 8th. Poland have played in 7 world cups with their best performances coming in the 1974 and 1982 world cups where they finished 3rd on both occasions. They have one of the best strikers in the world. Robert Lewandowski is his country’s all-time leading scorer. He was the top scorer in Europe’s 2018 World Cup qualifiers with 16 goals.
SENEGAL: Ranked 27th, Senegal have only appeared in the World Cup once in 2002. They reached the quarter finals in that year at the first attempt. It’s been 16years and they will hope to do better or match their previous achievement. Sadio Mane is understandably their major asset. The people of Senegal will be hoping he can bring his club form unto the world stage.
COLUMBIA: 16th in the world. Columbia were impressive in Brazil 2014 by reaching the quarter finals. They will be counting on Falcao and golden boot winner at Brazil 2014 James Rodriquez to deliver the goods for them.
JAPAN: They are the least ranked team in Group H at 61. Maya Yoshida has been one of the cornerstones of Japan’s team over two FIFA World Cup campaigns. Captain of Japan’s 2012 Olympic Games team, the Southampton-based Yoshida is a handy asset at set-pieces, contributing his fair share of goals.
Prediction: 1. Poland. 2. Senegal. 3. Columbia. 4. Japan