Germany will hope to defend the trophy from numerous worthy rivals while several less prominent countries will likely make early exits following the group-stage matches. There are only three months to go until the tournament but who are the favourites and will there be a shock on the cards?
Brazil – 9/2
Group: Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Having won this tournament five times before, Brazil are the most successful team in international football history. With the home advantage at the last tournament, the weight of expectation was on their shoulders.
Perhaps that tension led to the embarrassing exit as they were mauled 7-1 by eventual winners Germany in the semi-finals, before going down 3-0 to the Netherlands in the third place play-off, meaning a serious reshuffle has occurred over the last four years, but that rethink appears to be paying off.
In the dugout, Tite appears to have brought some real morale back to this underperforming squad and a raft of talented youngsters have made the breakthrough of late including Manchester City duo Gabriel Jesus and Ederson. They will all be playing a supporting role next to star player and Brazilian footballs poster boy Neymar.
After some terrific performances in qualifying they were the first team to book their flight to Russia through the CONMEBOL section and they will be hoping to be dominant again in this group at least ahead of the knock-out stages.
There’s little value in backing Brazil to win the group and when you compare their squad to the other teams, it’s not difficult to see why. As such, it is also difficult to look past a Switzerland side that performed excellently in qualifying, winning their first nine matches before falling to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and having to face Northern Ireland in a tough play-off clash.
Despite the Green and White Army’s defensive solidity, Switzerland managed to find a way past them and that’s what we expect them to do against the well-drilled opposition of both Serbia and Costa Rica.
Germany – 9/2
Group: Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
A quick glance at Germany’s squad should be enough to tell you why they are among the favourites to lift the World Cup again in Russia this summer. Even if Manuel Neuer and Jerome Boateng fail to recover from injury, the likes of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Joshua Kimmich and Mats Hummels make up a very strong defensive base that will allow a host of quality attack-minded players to strut their stuff to full effect with an effective blend of experienced stars such as Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller helping along the likes of Leroy Sane and Timo Werner.
Some of Germany’s key players decided to retire from international football after lifting the trophy in South America four years ago, but as Joachim Low decided to take a relatively inexperienced squad to the Confederations Cup last year and still managed to emerge victorious, the strength in-depth of this squad was well demonstrated.
They won all 10 games in qualifying – would you back against them winning all three of their Group Stage games in Russia or even going all the way?
This is one of the toughest groups to call. Clearly Germany have both the quality and the experience to really dominate this group, but all three of the other sides will feel confident of having enough in the tank to progress, with all three possessing some quality players. In the end, there’s likely to be little between the other three.
France – 11/2
Group: Australia, Peru, Denmark
France have one of the best squads in international football containing attacking options that would be suitable for any team in the world. Despite their disappointing loss on home soil at Euro 2016, France will enter the tournaments as one of the favourites and shouldn’t struggle to win the group comfortably. France qualified for the World Cup ahead of Sweden and Holland but surprisingly, scored just 18 goals in the process.
Didier Deschamps prefers to start with Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud up top but due to his lack of playing time this season, he could struggle to make the squad let alone the starting line up.
Alexandre Lacazette’s place in the squad is also in jeopardy after struggling with Arsenal. France’s attacking options are brilliant with players such as Ousmane Dembele, Kinglsey Coman and Dimitri Payet all not certain of a place in France’s squad.
The French defence will be protected by the likes of N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba but Raphael Varane and Co. should not need too much help anyway. Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris could be seen as a liability and despite making plenty of fantastic saves, he is prone to making big errors.
France will surely top the group quite comfortably and they are expected to beat all of their opponents in Group C. The battle for second will surely be a close one and in fact, it will not be a shock if the other three teams in the group are only separated by their goal difference.
Spain – 6/1
Group: Portugal, Morocco, Iran
The 2010 Winners will be desperate to put on a show in Russia after their embarrassing group stage exit in 2014. Spain struggled in Brazil 4 years ago but qualified for Russia with ease, winning 9 out of their 10 matches, scoring 36 goals in the process.
This will be Spain’s 14th World Cup finals and they look well equipped to go far in the tournament. Spain’s main issue will be their attack with Alvaro Morata performing pretty poorly at Chelsea whilst Diego Costa has fallen out of favour with Spain’s manager Julen Lopetegui.
Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas are the only World Cup winners who are likely to feature for Spain in this year’s tournament.
Spain’s midfield oozes with quality and their defence may be the best around but with very few attacking options, they might struggle to break down defences in the latter stages.
Spain are also blessed with debatably the best goalkeeper in world football. David De Gea has been playing out of his skin for Manchester United and if he keeps up his form this summer, Spain could become World Champions yet again.
Morocco and Iran may choose to line up defensively and frustrate their opponents but it would be a major shock if Spain and Portugal didn’t qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament.
Juventus’ Medhi Benatia will face his former team-mate, Thiago, when Morocco take on Spain and Southampton fans will keep a close eye on Morocco’s matches, hoping that Sofiane Boufal can impress.
Argentina – 9/1
Group: Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria
Although they required a Lionel Messi hat-trick to avoid an embarrassing failure to qualify for the tournament, Argentina will still head to Russia as one of the favourites to get their hands on the trophy last year and it’s not difficult to see why.
La Albiceleste have always been one of the major players in international football, having twice won this tournament and they possess one of the strongest squads at the moment too with stars like Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Sergio Aguero to be involved for them this summer.
As has been the case for quite some time now, Argentina’s struggles lie defensively rather than going forward and they may even struggle to find the right balance between their quality attack and less impressive backline.
After reaching the final in the Brazil four years ago only to be beaten in extra-time at the hands of Germany, they will be as motivated as anyone to get their hands on the famous trophy in Russia.
There’s no doubt that Argentina are the strongest team in this group despite their very real struggles for consistency in the qualifying section. Even though the remaining three teams in the group certainly have the attacking players to trouble them, Argentina should have enough firepower to top this group by beating all three of their opponents when you look at that front three of Aguero, Dybala and Messi.
After Argentina this remains one of the more difficult groups to foresee. Nigeria’s lack of experience will hold them back and whilst Iceland’s incredible work ethic and team spirit has taken them this far, it won’t be able to match up to the superior quality of players like Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic.
Belgium – 12/1
Group: England, Panama, Tunisia
Romelu Lukaku (Top Left) will lead the line for Belgium this year and will be hoping to take his excellent club form with him. He will be well supported by the likes of De Bruyne (Bottom Left), Witsel (Top right) and Hazard (Bottom right). (credit: RTE/Zimbo/Sky Sports)
Belgium head to Russia as one of the favourites for the tournament due to their brilliant squad. The Belgium team is blessed with talent all over the pitch from their goalkeeper right up to their forwards. The Red Devils topped their qualification group in style, winning 9 out of their 10 matches, only dropping points in a 1-1 draw against Greece.
Belgium scored 43 goals in qualification, 11 of which were scored by Man United’s Romelu Lukaku. Even PSG right back, Thomas Meunier scored 5 goals in their qualifying games which shows just how good the Belgium side really is.
Belgium’s best result at the World Cup came in 1986 when they finished fourth. This summer’s tournament will be Belgium’s 13th World Cup. The Premier League is well represented in their side with players from Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham at the core of their team.
Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois starts in goal for Martinez’s side with Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet as his back up. Tottenham centre backs Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are an essential part of the Belgium line up whilst their midfield is something else. Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, arguably the Premier League’s two best players, play in the attacking half of the team and they are joined by United striker Romelu Lukaku.
Belgium should top this group due to their insane amount of quality and squad depth and could pull of some shocks in the latter stages.
England – 16/1
Group: Belguim, Panama, Tunisia
England will be playing at their sixth consecutive World Cup this summer and will be hoping to progress past the Last 16 for the first time since 2006. England fans have suffered from serious heartbreak over the past 50 years or so but definitely have a very talented side. The Premier League is known to be the best in the world and every single player in the England squad plays in English football’s top flight.
England’s greatest ever goal scorer, Wayne Rooney, retired from international football in 2017 which means that this summer, Harry Kane will lead the line for his country. Gareth Southgate has stuck by Joe Hart this season despite the West Ham goalkeeper having a poor season. Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Nick Pope are just three of numerous English goalkeepers who would be more than ready to take Hart’s place in the line up if Southgate chooses to drop him.
England’s midfield is dependant on injuries and current form. Southgate often likes to give young players a chance but he will surely not risk taking in-experienced players to Russia this summer?
Jack Wilshere may be a controversial player but when he puts on that England shirt, he is usually the best player on the pitch. His issue is staying fit and Southgate might leave him at home after falling foul to more injuries in the recent international break.
England’s defence could be seen as vulnerable and the midfield could be described as “not good enough” but there is one position where England can not be doubted: Up front. Harry Kane was the most prolific goal scorer in world football during 2017.
Supporting Kane, the likes of Lingard, Ali, Sterling, Vardy and Rashford will make England a dangerous prospect. Southgate has been using a 3-5-2 formation too allow these attacking players to have the freedom they crave.
However, they are lacking experience in the defence and do not have the midfielders from previous years. England will have to be at the top of their game to get into the latter stages but will struggle against the better teams.
Even the most pessimistic of England fans would not be able to say that they believe that The Three Lions will not progress past the group stage. Tunisia and Panama should be heading home and will struggle against England and Belgium.
Portugal – 20/1
Group: Spain, Morocco, Iran
Portugal head to Russia as European Champions after their triumph at Euro 2016 in France. They have never won the World Cup and their best ever finish is 3rd place, at the 1966 tournament in England.
In 2014, Portugal failed to progress past the group stage as they finished third in their group behind eventual World Champions, Germany and USA. Portugal won their qualification group ahead of Switzerland and Hungary and will fancy their chances of succeeding in Russia.
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored a single goal (and no more) in every World Cup since 2006. The Real Madrid legend needs seven goals to become Portugal’s all-time leading goal scorer at the World Cup finals. Eusebio currently holds that record with 9 goals, all of which came in one tournament, 1966.
Portugal should go through with Spain as Morocco and Iran provide the little threat to qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament.
Croatia – 25/1
Group: Argentina, Iceland, Nigeria
Given the quality that is in this Croatia squad, it’s perhaps surprising that they have consistently underperformed when it comes to international tournaments in recent years but Zlatko Dalic is hoping to be the man who can get the best out of this talented group of players following the dismissal of Ante Cacic.
The 51-year-old managed to negotiate a tricky play-off fixture against Greece to secure his side’s route into the finals and now he’ll be hoping to get the most out of them in the pressure cooker of tournament football this summer.
In the European Championships in France, Croatia found themselves dumped out of the competition in the second round by eventual winners Portugal from a Ricardo Quaresma goal in the final minute of extra-time. Many of their key players like Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Danijel Subasic may perhaps see this as their final chance to perform to the best of their abilities in a World Cup, so there is plenty riding on this tournament for the men in red and white.
After Argentina, this group remains one of the more difficult groups to foresee. Nigeria’s lack of experience will hold them back and whilst Iceland’s incredible work ethic and team spirit has taken them this far, it won’t be able to match up to the superior quality of players like Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic.
Featured image credit: DX World.