Opinion: World Cup – Group Stage Preview

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Jacob Adams

Group A:

  1. Uruguay

Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, with a combined 197 appearances and 92 goals, look to take this squad on a deep run. The Atletico Madrid-led backline of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez will be a solid pairing in defense. Some youth are going to have to step up in the midfield too, but I expect this team to be in the final 8.

  1. Russia

If this World Cup was played anywhere else, I’d say Russia does not escape the group stage. However, it is being played in their homeland and I would not be surprised to see some questionable officiating. The home crowd will also be a big boost when they play; especially considering Saudi Arabia and Egypt do not have much World Cup experience.

  1. Egypt

Led by Mohamed Salah, who might be first person not named Ronaldo or Messi to win the Ballon d’Or (one of soccer’s highest awards) since 2008. Salah is the real deal; he has secured a Champions League final for Liverpool, and scored 44 goals this year in all competitions. However, Egypt has never won a single game in the World Cup, and are going to lean heavily on Salah to change that.

  1. Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is back at the World Cup for the first time since 2006, and will feature a team almost exclusively of players from their own domestic league. They have not won a World Cup game since 1990, and I do not expect that to change. They will play the first match of this World Cup against Russia on June 14th.

 

Group B:

  1. Portugal

Not much has changed for the 2016 European champions. Ronaldo is going to have to be the man again for this veteran squad. While there is little concern for their attack and midfield, every central defender for Portugal will be at least thirty when the World Cup kicks off. Old faces like Pepe and Jose Fonte are going to be tested in this group, but I believe they are up for the challenge and Portugal will take group B.

  1. Spain

This team is stacked with talent from F.C. Barcelona and Real Madrid, who are easily top 3 teams in the world year in, year out. The defense is going to be hard to beat with the likes of David De Gea, Pique, and Sergio Ramos. They will also have some of the best passers in the midfield, as always. The big question is whether the strikers will show up. The lack of goal scorers is why they did not even get beyond the group stage in 2014. I believe this team will look to redeem themselves, and at least make it into the semi-finals.

  1. Morocco

Morocco qualified for the first time since 1998. They have some younger players that will look to tear it up for years to come, but now need to gain experience. While they will be tough competition, in a group with Spain and Portugal, it is almost impossible for any other team to escape.

  1. Iran

Iran has not won a World Cup game since 1998. As I said for Morocco, if you are in a group with Spain and Portugal, it is going to be almost impossible to get out. They have some exciting talent in Sardar Azmoun, who will look to score his first World Cup goal. Still, I expect Iran to finish at the bottom of this lethal group.

 

Group C:

  1. France

After narrowly losing the 2016 Euros Finals, Les Bleus will want to make it all the way in the World Cup. They are one of the young and exciting teams in the tournament, with Ousmane Dembele,, Samuel Umtiti, and Paul Pogba. Hugo Lloris will captain from in between the goal posts, and try to lead this young team to a World Cup Final.

  1. Denmark

Christian Eriksen single-handley won Denmark’s playoff against Ireland. He and Nicklas Bendtner are the main threats from this side. That duo and Yussuf Poulsen look to score in their first World Cup appearances. While the lackluster group will sure them up to the knockout stage, it is hard to see them advancing far in this tournament.

  1. Australia

38-year old living legend Tim Cahill is back at another World Cup. Australia will have a strong midfield with Aaron Mooy and Mile Jedinak (captain). This team is full of experience, and even some players from top leagues in Europe. If they sneak a win or draw against Denmark, you could see them in the Round of 16.

  1. Peru

Peru is back in the World Cup since 1982. They bring a younger squad to Russia, filled with players from mostly Central and North America. 33-year old lead scorer Jefferson Farfan will look to try to snag a win at the big event. However, outside of Farfan, this team comes with many unfamiliar names.

Group D:

  1. Argentina

One of the frontrunners to win the World Cup, Argentina have high expectations because of their crazy attack. Honestly, this team might have too many options in Messi, Higuain, Aguero, Icardi, and Dybala. Otamendi was one of the best defenders in the EPL, and will be paired with either Rojo or Mascherano in defense.

  1. Iceland

This team was the headline of the 2016 Euros, mostly because of their upset win over England. They have a similar squad from the Euros, so they will have plenty of experienced players on the pitch. Iceland are not “small fish, big pond” anymore, they are a team that opponents have to take seriously.

  1. Croatia

For all of the legitimate talent on this team, Croatia often underperform. Iceland did beat them in qualification, about a year ago, as well. They have players in every position representing some of the biggest clubs in the world; however, they never seem to be able to perform to that standard. Outside of actual play, expect at least one headline this summer about their supporters, who are known to throw flares (among other things).

  1. Nigeria

Nigeria have some up-and-coming talent in Alex Iwobi and Iheanacho, but they are in one the toughest groups. They elected to bring many young players to this World Cup, so I think this is more of a growing experience, than actual results.

 

Group E:

  1. Brazil

One of the most well rounded teams going into the tournament, led by Neymar. Brazil crashed out as hosts of the last World Cup, and are looking to redeem themselves from the 7-1 defeat to Germany. They have much better goalkeeping talent this time around, and a veteran backline. Coutinho in the midfield will be surrounded with weapons to distribute passes. Brazil should have no problems with this group, especially if Firmino and Gabriel Jesus can tally goals like they did in the EPL.

  1. Costa Rica

One of the best stories from the last World Cup, Costa Rica come in with high expectations. With all the talk about Mexico and U.S. in the CONCACAF, it is easy to forget about one of its best teams. Keylor Navas and Bryan Ruiz will look to lead this veteran squad to another quarterfinal appearance.

  1. Switzerland

It was a toss-up between the Swiss and Costa Rica for second place in the group, but their defense has some question marks. They have young but unproven talent in Manuel Akanji and Nico Elvedi. Team captain, Stephan Lichtsteiner, should be able to help mold new faces in the defense.

  1. Serbia

Serbia has some notable players across Europe, but have never been able to gel together as a team. The country breads excellent defensive-minded players, but have few attacking options. However, expect to see a breakout performances from Sergej Milinković-Savić, who is being targeted by some big clubs this summer’s transfer window.

Group F:

  1. Germany

The reigning World Cup champions are one of the favorites to repeat. They bring almost a complete copy of their 2014 championship team. Neuer in goal with Hummels and Boateng in defense will make it extremely hard for teams to score. Ozil and Toni Kroos will be pulling strings in the midfield. Hopefully, Marco Reus will be healthy and selected to play in his first World Cup.

  1. Mexico

Mexico will be looking to go further than just the Round of 16. It will ultimately depend on whom they play in that next round, but they should be confident with their excellent strikeforce. Established scorer Javier Hernandez will look to lead from the front. Finally, expect Hirving Lozano to make some news, as he is being eyed some big clubs for a transfer.

  1. South Korea

South Korea will be led by Tottenham Spurs’ forward Son Heung-min, but there are some other notable players in the midfield. Ki Sung-yueng (captain) and Lee Chung-yong both have played in the Premier League for some time. The problems with this team will be their defense, so they will have to make up for on the offensive end to have any chance.  

  1. Sweden

The World Cup will be without the great Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Sweden could use his scoring powers in Russia. Sweden brings a predominantly old team to the World Cup, but young Manchester United defender Victor Lindelof will look to carry the team on that end. However, in this strong group, I cannot see the Swedes making it out.

 

 

Group G:

  1. Belgium

Belgium come in with high expectations, many commentators will peg them as the “dark horse” to win the World Cup. While it is not impossible, it is unlikely. I think a semi-finals appearance could be looked at as a success for the young team. Stars like Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, and Eden Hazard will be the deciding factor in how far they make it. They will have a lockdown defense in Courtois, Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany, and Toby Alderweireld, who have been running the show for years.  

  1. England

England has been a huge flop in their last two major tournaments. They crashed out of the Euros against Iceland, and did not win a single game in the 2014 World Cup. They have improved since these games, but I am still skeptical of this team. The team’s success will depend on competent goalkeeper play, and if Harry Kane can find the back of the net.

  1. Panama

This was potentially the United States’ spot (I could not write this without referencing the massive failure in the U.S. missing the World Cup). Regardless, Panama is a tough and formidable opponent. They will not lie down for England and Belgium, and could steal a win versus Tunisia. An upset draw/victory is the only way they will have to escape Group G

  1. Tunisia

Tunisia has a decent amount of their squad playing in the French Ligue 1, but they have not played many opponents outside of Africa. They did win against Costa Rica in a friendly last month, which was a good test for how Tunisia will play. However, they will be happy to get a win in this tournament.

 

Group H:

  1. Colombia

Colombia had a good tournament four years ago, and James Rodriguez will play a big part in their run this year, once again. They bring a ton of experience to this World Cup, and their defense has improved greatly. I can see this team being in the quarterfinals or even making the semis in Russia.

  1. Poland

Poland is my “dark horse” team to make a deep run in this tournament. Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik will lead from the front, along with a veteran defense. The match versus Colombia will decide whether they win the group, and honestly, it is a toss-up between the two sides.  

  1. Senegal

Senegal can cause some problems in this group, especially with Sadio Mane. This team is stocked with EPL and French Ligue 1 talent. I place them finishing third, but they could possibly make it out the group. Group H will have some of the most interesting matches at this World Cup. Senegal’s speed and athleticism will be hard for teams to handle.

  1. Japan

Japan was already in a tough spot going into this tournament, but with this group draw, it will take a miracle for them to even earn a point. However, Shinji Kagawa’s technical ability and Okazaki’s finishing will be the way that this team causes problems. This old squad will face many obstacles in Russia.  

 Jacob Adams is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected]