The day we’ve been waiting for has finally arrived.
With Friday’s World Cup draw in Moscow, we now have a clear look at what to expect in the opening rounds of next summer’s World Cup in Russia. Here is a look at the groups and which of the 32 teams in the tournament can be considered favorites to progress out of the Group Stage and into the next round.
Easy Draw for England?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the British sporting press seems pleased with England’s chances after the Three Lions were drawn in Group G. Although Belgium remains among the dark horse favorites, the group’s other two teams – Tunisia and Panama – look like easy pickings for an England team that’s been on a good run of form of late. While England will quite rightly fancy themselves to progress, if Belgium (finally) suddenly finds a way to start getting the most out of the players in their uber-talented squad, England may have to console itself with second place in the group.
Hosts Must Contend With Uruguay
It could also be argued that the draw was good for Russia. Although the hosts were drawn in Group A, which includes two-time winners Uruguay, the likes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are unlikely to be too much trouble for a dynamic Russian side that is expected to follow a Uruguay side led by Barcelona striker Luis Suarez out of the group and into the Round of 16.
The Group of Death
There’s one in every tournament.
In this World Cup it’s Group F, which includes defending world champions, Germany, CONCACAF powerhouse Mexico, Asian favorites South Korea, and a Sweden team that took out perennial favorites Italy and the Netherlands on their way to qualifying. While Germany will be clear favorites to win the group and progress, the question of who will follow them into the Round of 16 is anyone’s guess. Mexico, meanwhile, have long threatened to breakout in a major tournament and may fancy their chances to follow Germany into the Round of 16.
Iberian Showdown in Group B
In terms of enticing fixtures to look forward to, it really doesn’t get any better than Group B, which is headlined by current European champions Portugal and a revitalized Spain team that looks poised to reascend to the heights it reached when it dominated international football between 2008 and 2012. With Portugal led by Cristiano Ronaldo and Spain’s star-studded squad featuring the likes of Isco, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Juan Mata, it’s easy to forget about the other two teams in the group, Morocco and Iran. Morocco in particular should not be overlooked, having qualified without conceding a single goal.
No Cakewalk for Messi, Argentina
Any team featuring Lionel Messi is automatically a favorite to win any competition it competes in. However, this is an Argentina team that lost a major cup final three summers in a row, starting with the 2014 World Cup and continuing on with the 2015 and 2016 Copa America competitions. Having qualified for Russia by the skin of their teeth, Messi and co. now find themselves in a daunting group that also contains African powerhouse Nigeria, a tough and talented Croatia side and European upstarts Iceland. While Messi’s Argentina will be favorites to make the next round, they will need to be more convincing then they were in qualifying to safely progress from Group D.
Like rivals Argentina, Brazil also find themselves in a fairly balanced group. Although the five-time winners melted down spectacularly when they hosted the tournament in 2014, new manager Tite has revitalized the team which breezed through South American qualifying. But Neymar and his talented cohorts will have their work cut out for them in a daunting Group E that also includes rising CONCACAF power Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland. While Brazil will most likely win the group, second place is up for grabs. Also, watching the free-flowing attack of Brazil trying to unlock a Switzerland defense wound as tight as a Swiss watch could make for an entertaining spectacle.
Allons-y for France
Of all the pre-tournament favorites, none received so favorable a draw as 1998 World Cup winners France. Fresh off the back of contesting the final of last summer’s European Championships — which they hosted — Les Bleus find themselves in what looks like an easy group with Australia, Peru and Denmark. To put it plainly, this France side is stacked with world-class talent like Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe’ and Hugo Lloris. While France are favorites, second spot in Group C will likely be contested between a talented Danish team led by Tottenham playmaker Christian Eriksen and a Peru side that overcame a difficult playoff against New Zealand to land a spot in the tournament for the first time since 1982.
Superstars to Battle it Out in Group H
Composed of teams like Poland, Colombia, Senegal and Japan, Group H may not look like much at first. However, in Poland striker Robert Lewandowski and Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez, Group H boasts two of the most exciting players in the world’s game today. It’s tempting to predict the group playing out as a shootout between James and Lewandowski, but this Senegal team, littered with talented players like Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly are not to be overlooked. Japan meanwhile, have also displayed a dispensation for punching above their weight in big tournaments. If there’s a group that’s truly up for grabs, it could be this one.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia kicks off next June on FOX and FS1.