It’s that time again. Every four years the world converges both in person and through our tv’s to tune into arguable the greatest competition on earth. What might that be? It’s the World cup. The one and only theatre of dreams one to make chumps of many and champions of a few. It is a thing of tears, battle cries, anxiety, joy, disappointment. It is all these things into one. I for one am happy for the return of this emotional rollercoaster. This week we take a look at all the most notable players to watch in each group and, even a few match-ups that may prove to be worth a watch.
Besides the opening ceremony where we get a career revival performance by Roby Williams (honestly thought he had perished), the Saudi Arabia versus Russia opener might leave a lot to be desired. Hot on its heels would be an epic opening clash between Egypt who haven’t been in the finals since 1990 in Italy and, Uruguay whom one the first ever world cup and again in 1950 but since them have failed to repeat their success. Egypt are eager to redeem themselves as an African powerhouse and they can do it now with their biggest ticket being the formidable Mohammed Salah who, some would say was robbed of his opportunity to shine in the Champions league final. Despite him missing the final, his regular season with Liverpool had him bagging a record 32 goals and putting him in line for the Ballon d’Or world player of the year award. Uruguay having two highly effective attackers in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez (Caution: he bites) the latter has managed to really settle in at Barcelona since leaving Liverpool its very evident as he managed to convert 25 times Domestically and Cavani nabbing 27 Domestically for PSG. These two will prove for an aging Uruguay squad. Those pieces in play one can only expect an electric game.
This is arguably one of the toughest groups of the tournament as you have two top flight European giants in Portugal and Spain. One would be ill advised to discount Morocco as they are ranked fourth in Africa and are the second highest African team represented in this world cup. Iran may show us all up as it may be looking to quell the talks that it’s just a filler team. It would be idiotic of anyone not to mention Portugal’s albeit saint-like captain Cristiano Ronaldo. He has been an ever-formidable leader and attacking midfielder for Real Madrid, having just recently lifting the Champions league trophy as an addition to Portugal’s Euro cup win two years prior. Cristiano has a developed a real appetite for silverware. Spain are abundant when it comes to talent. It is almost impossible to pinpoint any one standout. If forced to, one would have to pay respects to Andres Iniesta as he has contributed immensely to the beautiful game as a whole. This will be his last World cup appearance, which will leave a massive whole within the Spanish team in the years to come. Having lead his team to a 2010 world cup victory by scoring the only goal to pass the Netherlands for the 1st in the world. Iniesta possess a big game mentality that will definitely show up for this world cup.
A mighty group we have here. France themselves have been on a rebuild that has been evident since their loss in the 2016 Euro cup. This time things seem different. A more so reaffirmed squad chemistry with the very public friendship between a few of the players, notably Pogba and Griezmann. Not only are they bunk buddies they are a short example of the endless whole of top class talent. Mbappe, Giroud, Dembele. The list goes on. Their only formidable opponent for this group would have to be Denmark, who are unfortunately missing their Lord Bendtner. Nevertheless, Denmark enter with a respectable 4 qualifications to the finals with their last appearance being only 8 years prior in 2010. Despite them being the smaller European team they hope to do some sizeable damage with their weapon Christian Eriksen whom netted 10 goals at the end of his season with Tottenham Hotspurs. A versatile midfielder could prove a headache for the French midfield. Australia and Peru most probably will be duking it out for 3rd as this groups spoken for.
Well, if had to guess as to which group may fixed it’s this one. Argentina meet Nigeria for a record 5th time over all and this year being the 2nd consecutive appearance by both teams in the World cup group stage. Speculation aside, the two meet again to decide whether Nigeria has what it takes to put a dent in Argentina’s armour. Argentina having lost in the 2014 final will be looking to rectify their defeat with a push for the cup. Of course, their star being Messi is frankly a platitude at this point. However, it is important to note he seems to perform better for club than country. Nigeria are packed with many up and coming and even a few senior players. John Mikel shall lead their team and the midfield as a veteran for his country with over 90 caps. Expect a strong turn out and a very interesting rematch between the two. Croatia on the other hand is not to be forgotten this is definitely a three-headed hydra of a midfield with Luka Modric , Mateo Kovacic both of Real Madrid and Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona. I feel a personal sense of pity for the Icelandic squad as they will have a huge uphill battle with that game.
The Seleção have returned. A staple in this tournament Brazil have qualified for the world cup 20 times. It honestly isn’t a World cup if Brazil aren’t in it. Having lifted the trophy 5 times in the past you would have thought the 2014 World cup would have been a guaranteed first place and 6th title but due to an unspeakably dismal performance against Germany in the Quarter-final the yellow and green are out for redemption. Another fully-loaded squad with some the world’s best talents one is spoilt for choice as to who will be the person to watch. Out of necessity the world can agree we want to see what Neymar has in store this time round and hopefully he can last the whole tournament. Switzerland Costa Rica and Serbia are practically place holders at this point and who takes the second spot is anyone’s guess.
This group is looking to be another extremely tough group, Home to the current world cup champions. We see a strong German squad that is very similar to the one from 4 years ago as only a few changes had been made to add more speed and youth to the squad. Germany are favoured to at least reach the finals but not necessarily win it as teams like Brazil and Spain look to change the narrative. Their star-studded squad features some of the world’s greatest, Toni Kroos, Mezut Ozil, and veterans such as Sami Khedira available to command the defensive midfield and help to lock down any attacks. Mexico are no spring chicken themselves having qualified for the 15th time for the finals, their only real issue is getting past the group stage hump. Plagued with inconveniences and unlucky bouts Mexico look to change their luck and make it past the group stage. Their star Javier Hernandez who is ever the workhorse for club and country will help lead his squad to hopefully their first knockout-stage birth.
Belgium ranked 3rd in the world currently, have been the wet blanket of performances. They are on paper an incredible combination of both speed, strength, dynamic football play and aerial dominance. However, of their 12 total appearances in the World cup final they have only made it to the semi-finals once. Their Commander in Chief Eden Hazard is such an exciting player to watch, and is definitely looking to change the ships direction and steer Belgium to the final. The opposition may have even worse luck than that of Belgium. England have returned and are rejuvenated and totally different after a dismal 2014 performance that left many fans on the isle and around the world wondering if the three lions are more like kittens. They do however boast a world cup championship, but even then, there luck wasn’t all that good as the trophy went missing sometime during the tournament in 1968 and was found in a bush. Weird. I know. Despite that England have played around with their front office extensively as well as the squad to find a working combination. All evidence indicates a very much functioning English side. Their star striker Harry Kane has been a scoring machine for both club and country and has shown he can be lethal in front of goal in any form as well as create. This might be the England who go all the way.
Usually all four of these teams would be deemed a dark horse of any World cup. Having them all in one will make for some very interesting and exciting football. Poland being an extremely potent and mentally strong team are back again for their 7th finals. They previously have made it to 2 semi-finals meaning they know how to get to it, because they’ve done it before. Their talisman will be looking to cement himself as a legend and having the potential to win Golden boot, Robert Lewandowski is a force unto his own. Speed, strength and a great knowledge for the game, it will be an interesting month for this man. Colombia an incredible squad when it comes to the CONMEBOL but have been found to struggle against teams outside of South America. Things are looking like they will change this time around, just ask their current golden boot winner James Roderiguez. This phenom was able to take home something from the 2014 world cup but he wants more this time round. One can only expect the incredible. Japan and Senegal formidable in their regions however, I don’t see them progressing further as the calibre in this group is exceptional.
Just like that, here are the teams to watch and their notable stars. Now sit back and enjoy some great football and stay tuned for more.