Well! It’s started. The largest sporting circus on the planet .The 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup is upon us and all the games will be shown at The Local. Some of the best players in world football will grace the stage in Russia in one of the World’s premier sporting events. It’s always an enjoyable exercise in predicating who will do what and which team will triumph and who will go home early. The top challengers are usually understood and generally the winner comes from that elite group, but there are always a few outsiders and surprises in the running for every major tournament. With 32 teams taking part it can be difficult to predict a winner, but some teams are inevitably better equipped than others when it comes to personnel. However, at every major tournament there is always room for an outsider to upset the established order.
So who are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup? Let’s take a look at the contenders for the highest prize in football. Given the fact that they are the holders and recently won the Confederations Cup – with a second-string team, no less – Germany must be considered one of the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup. According to most pundits and indeed bookmakers, Joachim Low’s side are rated 9/2 to emerge triumphant in Moscow on July 15. They will have to overcome Mexico, Sweden and South Korea in Group F to reach the knock-out stage, but Low’s men have consistently shown over the years that they have the nous to go deep into major tournaments.
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However, it could be argued that Brazil have overtaken the Germans in pole position to win the tournament with odds of 4/1 attached to the South American giants, despite doubts lingering over the fitness of their talisman Neymar. Manager Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, commonly known as Tite, led his team to a comfortable finish at the top of the CONMEBOL qualification series, 10 points ahead of second-place Uruguay. It must be said that they have been handed a tough group to navigate through. The rest of Group E consists of Serbia, Switzerland and Costa Rica; all these teams have a reputation for being hard-working and capable, so Brazil will not be expected to breeze through to the knock-out stage. Any team that features players of the quality of Neymar, Firmino, Coutinho and Marcelo can be sure of reaching the semi-finals at the very least.
The 2010 world champions Spain are not the same Furia Roja that dominated international football from 2008 to 2012, but, with players such as Sergio Ramos, Isco and Andres Iniesta at their disposal, they remain one of the most fearsome teams in the world.
They may have crashed out at the group stage in 2014, but they are considered by many to be a good solid bet to win in 2018. The Spaniards are in a fascinating group that will see them come up against Iberian rivals, and current European champions, Portugal as well as Morocco and Iran, but they should have enough in the tank to finish in the top two. Spain should also reach the semis. European champions Portugal have not been given much of a chance by many experts, but it would be foolish to disregard the Cristiano Ronaldo factor. The Real Madrid man has finally rediscovered the kind of form that ensured a slew of accolades last season and he bagged a remarkable 15 goals in qualification. Fernando Santos’ team is peppered with talented youngsters such as Andre Silva and Joao Cancelo, but they boast one of the best players of all time in Ronaldo and that is significant.
As well as Brazil, Germany and Spain, France are among the favourites to win the competition 10 years after their first and only triumph. It is not surprising to see Les Bleus so highly rated considering that manager Didier Deschamps has an impressive pool of talent to draw from, which includes the likes of Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann. The French in Group C along with Australia, Peru and Denmark should finish high; however, if there is a surprise in the group stages it could occur in this one. Denmark needed a play-off to qualify for the World Cup, but they have a talented squad that includes Tottenham star Christian Eriksen and will hope to reach the knock-out stage at least. They are 80/1 to go all the way.
For years now pundits have observed that the only thing Lionel Messi needs to cement his status as the best player in football history is the World Cup. The Barcelona star was a beaten finalist in 2014 but the outlook does not look particularly good for 2018. Argentina’s qualification campaign almost ended in disaster and they needed a moment of Messi magic in the last game to secure their place at the tournament. They are reasonably priced at 9/1 to win the tournament, but they recently suffered a 6-1 hammering at the hands of Spain, which, while a friendly, simply does not bode well and they will have to emerge from a difficult group containing Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria in Group D. Croatia finished third at the World Cup in France 10 years ago but they have failed to replicate the same level of success since. Crashing out at the group stage in 2002, 2006 and 2014, their status as potential challengers is also undermined by the fact that they needed to qualify via the play-offs. However, with Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic in their ranks, they boast the kind of talent other nations envy. Despite that, they are certainly underdogs and are considered a 33/1 bet to win. Iceland had a great European Championship and many neutrals with no dog in the fight will hitch their wagon to the Icelandic cause and we all love a great chant. The Nigerians will not be easy to overcome and this could be the most evenly balanced group of the competition
Group G features two good solid outside bets for the 2018 World Cup. Belgium, whose “Golden Generation” – including players like Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku – has now reached a level of maturity that should see them mount a serious challenge. The Red Devils reached the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup and were knocked out at the same stage at Euro 2016, but they have enough talent in their ranks to warrant a better display in Russia. On paper, they have been given a relatively straightforward group, with England, Panama and Tunisia to top, and they will be eager to show that they’re more than also-rans.
Over the years England have had to contend with the pressure of expectation at successive World Cups, and it has to be said that that level of expectation comes from within English ranks and within the English media, but that simply does not exist in 2018. In terms of star quality, Gareth Southgate’s side is a far cry from the their “Golden Generation” of Gerard, Lampard, Rooney, et al, that fell short in the 2000s and will travel to Russia has genuine underdogs. As is customary, the Three Lions qualified for the tournament with ease and they have held their own in warm-up friendlies against Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands, Italy and Nigeria. With no weight of expectation to carry, England could well thrive. There is a quiet and growing confidence in the English squad and they may well surprise a few people.
Two-time world champions Uruguay are another team who can be considered underdogs at this year’s tournament, but they have shown that they can mount a challenge for honours. As well as winning early editions, the Celeste has finished fourth on three occasions. They finished second to Brazil in CONMEBOL qualifying – ahead of Argentina – and the fact that they possess some of the best strikers in world football in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani is a massive boost.
Every four years it seems that at least one team emerges from nowhere to qualify for the knock-out stages, inflicting upset along the way. Senegal helped knock out the holders France in 2002, reaching the quarter-finals, and of the African teams involved they are deemed the most likely to make their mark in Russia. Seven-time Africa Cup of Nations winners Egypt are the most successful African nation, but they have failed to make an impact on the world stage. However, in 2018 they will have the star quality of Mohamed Salah, whose ability can help spur them on.
Out of 20 editions thus far, the World Cup has been won by tournament hosts on six occasions, but the 2018 hosts Russia are very much long-shots. They struggled at the Confederations Cup last year, going out at the group stage, and have not won any of their last five friendly games. However, despite their dismal form, the weight of history dictates that the hosts always have an outside chance of making a mark and they will be inspired by the home support sufficiently to mount a challenge. The hosts need to qualify from a difficult Group A that includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay.
Whatever the result on July 15th we are in for a great tournament and great ‘craic” in The Local. Where else would you want to watch the FIFA World Cup? Come on down to The Local.