Steving Lin is entering his fourth year of study at UBC Okanagan. He moved here in recent years from Taiwan and is interning under the digital team in Kelowna.
By Steven Lin
The 2018 World Cup kicks off June 14 with the host nation, Russia, taking on Saudi Arabia.
The World Cup, a 32-team event, features the survivors of a competitive regional qualification schedule.
Many well-known football nations such as Chile, Netherlands, as well as Italy failed to qualify for this year’s tournament.
Two teams make out of each group of four, based on round-robin points. Team receives three points for a victory and one win for a draw.
Once out of the first round, the tournament switches back to single game elimination from the round of 16 onward.
Germany took out Brazil with a bizarre scoring difference, and later defeated Argentina in the final to win the 2014 event.
Could Germany bring out the same intensity from 2014 event for this year’s World Cup? Who’s going to be the darkhorse out of all contesting nations?
Group A: Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay
Winners: Uruguay and Saudi Arabia
Despite Russia having a home field advantage, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia will be the two teams making it out of group A division.
As one of the football elite nations which won the two World Cup championships in 1930 and 1950, Uruguay had the edge on other teams with stacked keys players, Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, and Diego Godin playing on well-known European clubs and the fruitful experience of being in World Cup stage the 12 times.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the two likely teams fighting for the second spot in first round.
Egypt has not been in the World Cup stage since 1990 in Italy. With its prominent midfielder, Mohammed Salah, who stepped up in 94 minutes and scored on a 12-yard kick against Congo in the qualifying match, Egypt has finally made its appearance in this year’s tournament after a 28-years absence.
Saudi Arabia also has a genuine top striker, Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, who netted 16 goals on the road to Russia, standing as one of the top scoring leaders in qualifying matches along with Poland’s Robert Lewandowski.
Saudi Arabia will triumph over Egypt in a close scoring match, June 25, to win the second spot in group A.
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, and Iran
Winners: Spain and Morocco
Spain and Portugal are the two likely teams to win the first round with star players and profound World Cup experiences. The rivals are scheduled to play against each other in the first match.
The first match is important to win, and whoever loses will have a burden playing against a potential darkhorse, Morocco.
Spain will triumph over Portugal in a close match and likely to get a spot in the first round.
Morroco did not lose any games in all its qualifying matches in Group C. They defeated Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Mali to win the qualification for the World Cup.
The team is not only stacked with key defenders, Mehdi Benatia, Mbark Boussoufa, and Younes Belhanda, but is also guided by a brilliant-minded world-renown coach, Herve Renard, who was the first coach to win the CAF Africa Cup of Nations with different countries.
Morocco will defeat Iran in the first match and be ready for the following contending matches with Spain and Portugal to fight for one more win and to secure a spot in the first round.
Group C: France, Peru, Australia, and Denmark
Winners: France and Denmark
As traditional football elites in World Cup, look for France and Denmark to win the first round in group C.
After losing the European Championship in their home court to Portugal in 2016, France’s young squad is two years older and looks more like a serious contender to play in the World Cup.
The team is stacked with key players like Antoine Griezmann, a Golden Boot winner in European championship tournament in 2016, Paul Pogba, a well-known central midfielder who plays for Premier League Club Manchester United, N’Golo Kante, a defensive midfielder who plays for Chelsea, and many other more top players.
France also eased through qualifying matches against many top elite football nations, Sweden, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Bulgaria, and Belarus losing only one match.
Denmark and Peru are likely to figh for the second spot in first round. They are scheduled to play in the first match in group C.
With plenty of all-around talents and World Cup experience, both Peru and Denmark meet in tight battle, but Denmark will prevail and advance to the knockout stage.
Group D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, and Nigeria
Winners: Argentina and Croatia
Argentina and Croatia are the likely two first round winners, but there are no guarantees.
As a traditional football elite nation, Argentina’s preliminary matches before the World Cup were somewhat unsteady. Out of 18 matches, Argentina advanced with seven wins, seven draws, and four losses.
Besides team’s instabilities during the qualifying matches, Argentina has never before played Iceland or Croatia.
Playing against new opponents does create challenges for this traditional football elite team to advance into second round.
Apart from the new opponents and team’s unsteadiness, Argentina has a clear advantage over Nigeria. Both teams have met in four World Cup group stages and Argentina has won all four matches.
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Serbia
Winners: Brazil and Switzerland
Has Brazil lost its edge as one of the best football elites in 2014 World Cup after the annihilation at the hands of Germany?
No, Brazil still has its edge and, perhaps, is even sharper.
During the World Cup qualification in South America (CONMEBOL), Brazil was the first team to earn qualification.
One notbale difference with Brazil is the addition of Tite, who replaced Dunga as the head coach during the qualifying matches.
Under Tite’s guidane, Brazil put together 10 wins and two draws to seal their spot for 2018 World Cup with four rounds to spare.
As the World Cup is getting closer, Brazil is getting stronger and more mature. After winning its last friendly match against Austria with 3-0, June 10, Brazil won all five of its friendly matches leading up to the World Cup.
At the moment, Brazil seems unstoppable.
Expect the Brazilians to advance into knockout stage with the most round robin points.
Group F: Germany, Sweden, Mexico, and Korea Republic
Winners: Germany and Sweden
The 2014 champions, Germany, is looking to retain its success in the 2018 World Cup with half of their original champion squads.
The masterminded head coach, Joachim Low, also known as Jogi, recently confirmed that professional footballers Mario Gotze and Leroy Sane have not been selected to the 23-man squad.
Mario Gotze was the World Cup hero who scored the winning goal in the 2014 final against Argentina.
Despite not having Gotze, Germany’s 23-man squad is potent and includes all-star players, Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer, who has been selected into the 23-man squad despite foot injuries, along with Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, and Mats Hummel.
With Germany’s presence, Sweden and Mexico will have to fight for the remaining spot in group F. Both teams excel on the attack, but are vulnerable on defence.
One thing to keep in mind is that Mexico has made into the knockout stage for the past six World Cups.
The odds are running against Sweden, but with the tremendous performances from Marcus Berg, who scored eight times during the qualifying matches, Sweden will prevail Mexico in a close match to advance to the next stage.
Group G: Belgium, Tunisia, Panama, and England
Winners: Belgium and England
Belgium arguably has one of the strongest squads that excels on both defence and offense.
In the qualifying matches in group H, the Belgians went undefeated with nine wins and one draw to win the qualification.
In 10 qualifying matches, they have scored 43 and surrendered six goals with for a goal differential of +37.
Belgium made into quarterfinals in the last World Cup. They are looking forward to advance further.
On the other hand, a fierce battle is about to ensue between Tunisia and England for the second spot. Belgium will most likely finish with the most robin-round points.
Tunisia finally made it back to the World Cup stage after a 12-year absence under the guidance of Nabil Maaloul, who won the 2011 Confederation of African Football League as a head coach of Es Tunis.
Tunisia also went undefeated in its qualifying matches with four wins and two draws.
The first World Cup match between England and Tunisia, June 18, will be the pivotal game to see which team has a greater advantage to advance into the next stage with Belgium.
Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, and Japan
Winners: Poland and Colombia
Will this year be Robert Lewandowski’s time for golden boot award?
It’s a difficult question with numerous other professional forwards and strikers in the World Cup stage, but he’s certainly one of the best among them.
As one of the all-time top scorers for Poland who scored 55 International goals, Robert netted 16 goals in 10 appearances to become the top scorer on the European qualifying scoring charts.
Poland has not been back to the World Cup stage since 2006. Although it’s Lewandowski’s first time participating in the World Cup, he is in the best physical shape to lead Poland into further stage.
He and rest of Poland squads will advance with the most robin-round points in group H.