National Sports

Guide: World Cup 2018

The FIFA World Cup 2018 begins on June 14th in Moscow, Russia, where the hosts will face Saudi Arabia.  While the U.S.A. failed to qualify for the World Cup there are still many reasons to watch the beautiful game on it’s biggest stage.  Here is your guide to the 2018 World Cup:

Groups:

Group A:              Group B:              Group C:              Group D:            Group E:              Group F:              Group G:              Group H:

Russia                    Portugal               France                  Argentina          Brazil                     Germany             Belgium                Poland

Saudi Arabia      Spain                      Australia             Iceland                Switzerland       Mexico                  Panama                Senegal

Egypt                     Morocco              Peru                       Croatia               Costa Rica           Sweden                Tunisia                  Colombia

Uruguay               Iran                         Denmark             Nigeria                Serbia                   South Korea      England                Japan

The format of the World Cup is pretty basic.  In group stages, each team is awarded 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, and 0 points for a loss.  The top two teams from each group will advance to the knock-out stages where it is single-elimination for the remainder of the tournament.  The first round of knock-out stages is the Round of 16, where the 1st place team from Group A will play the 2nd place team from Group B and the1st place team from Group B will play the 2nd place team from Group A, etc.

World Rankings:

As of June 7th, FIFA’s world rankings have the World Cup teams ranking from #1 Germany as far down as #70 Russia, with teams who didn’t qualify like Chile (#9), Italy (#19), and the U.S.A. (#25) in between.  There are nine top 10 teams in this year’s tournament with #2 Brazil, #3 Belgium, #4 Portugal, #5 Argentina, #6 Switzerland, #7 France, and #8 Poland, and #10 Spain.  But the World Cup, like any other tournament, has its upsets.  In a highly anticipated 2014 semi-final match, Germany beat hosts Brazil 7-1, giving Brazil their first home loss in 12 years.  Spain, who are the 2010 World Cup winners, Euro 2012 winners, and runners-up in the 2013 Confederations Cup, didn’t make it out of their 2014 group after losing 5-1 to Netherlands and 2-0 to Chile.  England and Italy also failed to make it out of their 2014 group, losing the top two spots to Costa Rica and Uruguay.  France, runners-up in 2006, and Italy, winners in 2006, took last in their respective 2010 groups after failing to win a single group stage match.

Players to Watch:

Group A:

Egypt: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

Dubbed the “Egyptian King” by fans around the world, Salah looks to add to his breakout 2017/2018 season in the World Cup.   With 5 goals in 6 matches in the final round of World Cup qualifying, including the penalty kick that put Egypt through, Salah is key to Egypt getting out of Group A.  The joy Salah plays with is refreshing and infectious and I implore you to find somebody who plays with more joy.  Egypt’s first match is against Uruguay on Friday, June 15th at 6 A.M. MST and it will definitely be the best this group has to offer.

Uruguay:  Edison Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain)

Don’t come at me over this, Luis Suarez is great, I know…but Edison Cavani had 10 goals in 18 matches for Uruguay during WC qualifying, more than anybody else in South American qualifying.  Cavani also led PSG to another Ligue 1 title in 2017/2018, with 28 goals.  Plus, Luis Suarez’s last World Cup appearance isn’t super inspiring…

Group B:

Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

I mean, do you really need me to give you a reason to watch Cristiano Ronaldo?  He’s one of the best in the world and he’s been great for Portugal, the reigning European champs, in qualifying with 15 goals.  He’s won just about everything else, can he take the World Cup trophy home this year?  Portugal’s first match is against Spain on Friday, June 15th at 12 P.M. and trust me, you won’t want to miss it.

Spain: Just Pick Somebody

I’m not kidding, the Spanish team has so much star and rising power that I can’t choose.  I’m just going to name a few and let you decide: David de Gea (GK, Manchester United), Gerard Pique (DF, Barcelona), Cesar Azpilicueta (DF, Chelsea), Dani Carvajal (DF, Real Madrid), Jordi Alba (DF, Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (DF, Real Madrid), Isco (MF, Real Madrid), Andres Iniesta (MF, Vissel Kobe – Japan), Thiago Alcantara (MF, Bayern Munich), Sergio Busquets (MF, Barcelona), David Silva (MF, Manchester City), Marco Asensio (FW, Real Madrid), Iago Aspas (FW, Celta Vigo), Diego Costa (FW, Atletico Madrid), and Lucas Vazquez (FW, Real Madrid).  This Spanish team is stacked and I really just hope they have a better run this go round.

Group C:

France: Antoine Greizman (Atletico Madrid)

Like Spain, there are so many stars on this France squad but there’s a reason Greizman is one of the hottest topics of this summer’s transfer window. Antoine Greizman is just fun to watch.  He’s quick, smart, and a clinical finisher.  France’s first match is against Australia on Saturday, June 16th at 4 A.M. MST.

Group D:

Argentina: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Again, do you need a reason to watch Lionel Messi?  The only thing missing from Messi’s trophy case is a trophy won with Argentina.  He’s come close over the years but it always seems to end in heartbreak.  Argentina’s losses to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final and Chile in the 2016 Copa America finals drove Messi into retirement from international play, but it that didn’t last long at all.  Will 2018 be the year Messi’s heartbreak ends?  Argentina’s first match is against Iceland on Saturday, June 16th at 7 P.M. MST.

Group E:

Brazil: Neymar Jr. (Paris Saint-Germain)

After an embarrassing exit from the 2014 World Cup, Brazil and their star will look for redemption in Russia.  Neymar’s season with PSG was cut short in February when he suffered a foot injury but after his performances against Croatia and Austria, it looks like Neymar is World Cup ready.  If you’re looking for somebody fun to watch, Neymar is a great choice.  Brazil’s first match is against Switzerland on Sunday, June 17th at 12 P.M. MST.

Group F:

Germany: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)

Germany is another team with so many great players that it is tough to pick, so I’ll go with their backbone. The 2014 World Cup Golden Glove winner, and “Sweeper Keeper”, played in Germany’s 2-1 loss to Austria on June 2nd, his first appearance since injuring his foot in October 2016.  Germany’s first match is against Mexico on Sunday, June 17th at 9 A.M. MST.

Mexico: Carlos Vela (Los Angeles Football Club)

Carlos Vela has had a turbulent relationship with the Mexico National Team since 2010, causing him to miss the 2014 World Cup, but his recent jump in form for LAFC, where he has 7 goals and 5 assists in 12 appearances, has brought him back to El Tri.

Group G:

Belgium: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

Kevin De Bruyne is a key piece for 2018 Premier League winners Manchester City and took second in the league’s Player of the Year voting.  De Bruyne and Belgium have underperformed in recent years despite their young, promising talent.  Will this be the year they live up to their potential?  Belgium’s first match is against Panama on Monday, June 18th at 9 A.M. MST.

England: Harry Kane (Tottenham)

With 30 Premier League goals for the Spurs in the 2017/2018 season and 13 goals in 24 appearances with England, Harry Kane has been a staple for the English team since making his senior debut in 2015.  Kane, who will be playing in his first World Cup, will captain the Three Lions in Russia.  England, much like Belgium, can’t ever seem to live up to the hype.   England’s first match is against Tunisia on Monday, June 18th at 12 P.M. MST.

Group H:

Senegal: Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

Sadio Mane is quick and played a major role with Liverpool this season.  With 4 goals in 9 appearances for Senegal in 2017 and 10 Premier League goals in 29 appearances with the Reds, Sadio Mane will be vital to Senegal’s success.  Senegal’s first match is against Poland on Tuesday, June 19th at 9 A.M. MST.

Colombia: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)

The 2014 World Cup launched James Rodriguez into stardom (and a contract with Real Madrid).  Will we see similarly stunning goals from him this summer?  Colombia’s first match is against Japan on Tuesday, June 19th at 6 A.M. MST.

Teams to Watch:

I’m not going to act like every single one of these matches will be amazing just because it’s the World Cup, so if you can’t watch every single one of the 48(!) group stage matches, here are the teams you should make an effort to watch:

Egypt:  You can’t really blame me for putting Egypt on this list.  With striker sensation, and 2017/2018 Premier League Player of the Year winner, Mohamed Salah expected to be fit for Egypt’s first match against Uruguay, this Egypt team could get out of Group A and make a decent run in the World Cup.

Portugal:  The Euro 2016 winners will look to add to their trophy case again.  Led by Pepe on the defense and global star Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal hopes to capitalize on their recent form.

Spain:  A staple in international soccer, Spain will look to redeem themselves after a disappointing 2014 World Cup.  The list of players who didn’t make their 23-man is pretty impressive, which makes their actual team for the World Cup something to fear.  With veterans Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique on the defense, Isco and the legendary Andres Iniesta pulling strings in the midfield, and Marco Asensio and Diego Costa up top, this Spain team will be fun to watch.

France:  Paul Pogba, Antoine Greizman, N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi, Olivier Giroud, Ousmane Dembele…need I continue?  This French team may be disappointed by their recent result against the U.S. but they have far too much talent, and too many goal celebrations, to not watch.

Argentina: Argentina has all the talent to win a major tournament but has yet to finish the job.  After taking second in the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Copa America, they have all the motivation they should need to win their first major trophy since 1993.

Iceland:  I know this seems like a weird pick but this Icelandic team stole the hearts of soccer fans everywhere after their incredible Euro 2016 run, hello Viking clap, where they made it to the quarter-finals.  There’s always an underdog, will it be Iceland again?

Nigeria: Will Nigeria make it far this World Cup?  Probably not.  Will they have some of the best looking kits in Russia?  YUP!  In fact, the Nike kit is so well-liked that it sold out just 3 hours after it was released.  And don’t get me started on their travel suits (🔥🔥).  Somebody make a WC Best Dressed award already!

Brazil:  Alongside Neymar, Brazil has Coutinho, Firmino, Marcelo, Jesus, and Paulinho (just to name a few).  They are flashy and looking to do right by their fans this World Cup.

Germany:  The reigning World Cup champions are almost mechanical in their play, which isn’t always fun to watch, but you can’t not watch this German side.  With players like Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, and Timo Werner, this team is a great mixture of young and old.  Germany left their 2014 hero, Mario Götze, at home this time but they still have plenty of talent to pick from.

Belgium:  There is a lot of pressure on this Belgium team after disappointing performances in the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016.  Eden and Thorgan Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Jan Vertonghen, Dries Mertens, and Romelu Lukaku will provide plenty of talent, but do they have the experience?

England: It’s hard to figure out England…every tournament is filled with cautious hope then so much disappointment.  They have the pieces but will they finally connect?  Watch England to see them meet expectations, or fail miserably.

Tournament Dates:

First Match:  Thursday, June 14th – Russia vs Saudi Arabia

Group Stage Round 1: Thursday, June 14th through Tuesday, June 19th

Group Stage Round 2: Tuesday, June 19th through Sunday, June 24th

Group Stage Round 3: Monday, June 25th through Thursday, June 28th

Round of 16: Saturday, June 30th through Tuesday, July 3rd

Quarter-Finals: Friday, July 6th through Saturday, July 7th

Semi-Finals: Tuesday, July 10th through Wednesday, July 11th

Third Place Match: Saturday, July 14th

Final: Sunday, July 15th

 

For more information on the 2018 World Cup, check out FIFA.com.

Let me know who you’re cheering for this World Cup on Twitter!


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