World Cup 2018 : A Set Of Predictions

The FIFA World Cup is starting in less than 24 hours on June 14, 2018. One of the powerhouses and favorites to win the trophy has just made a coaching change that has the potential to change the status of the team from favorites to perhaps less so.
Spain fired Julen Lopetegui with two days to go to Spain’s crucial first match vs Portugal. The coach agreed to take over the vacant Real Madrid head coaching position while in Russia preparing for the month long tournament.
It is still somewhat unlikely that Spain’s group stage position is under threat, here is one set predictions for the World Cup (teams in bold to progress)

Saudi Arabia

Costa Rica
South Korea


Uruguay – Portugal
Russia – Spain

France – Croatia
Argentina – Denmark

Brazil – Mexico
Germany – Switzerland

England – Poland
Belgium – Colombia


Portugal – France
Brazil – England

Spain – Argentina
Germany – Belgium


Spain – Germany
Brazil – France

Germany – Brazil

The Final is to be a repeat of the 2014 World Cup semi final where Germany humiliated the hosts 7-1!

Referees At World Cup 2018

FIFA has released the names of the referees and assistant referees who will take charge of games at World Cup 2018. The list currently contains 36 referees and 63 assistant referees. The VAR (Video Assistant Referees) will also be chosen from these 99.

FIFA chooses referees based on “skills and personality, as well as his level of understanding of football and ability to read both the game and the various tactics employed by teams” and the final list is chosen after three years of seminars that concentrate on fair game, consistency and protecting players.

There are more workshops and seminars to come after which the decisions will be made as to who will be the first ever VARs at a World Cup.

The list of referees does not include any from the United Kingdom, that is a first in 80 years. Mark Clattenburg who would be the leading UK candidate is now working in Saudi Arabia and was not picked.

The referee list includes five from Asia, five from Africa, five from north and central America, five from south America, two from Oceania and 10 from Europe. The assistant referee list includes three from Oceania, 10 each from Asia and Africa, eight from north and central America, 12 from south America and 20 from Europe.
It is hoped that the use VAR will improve the game and cut down on mistakes while not overly delaying games or disrupting the flow of play too long. Recent uses in some leagues have led to confusion and in a few cases offenses not being caught even after review!

France At World Cup 2018

France’s record at the World Cup has been very mixed. The French national team finished third at World Cup 1958 in Sweden. The team featuring Just Fontaine provided France with a golden era that was not repeated until decades later. Michel Platini was the star of the rising French team in the 80s that won the UEFA European Championship in 1984 and was semi finalists at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups in Spain and Mexico respectively. There was another shoter lull but Zinedine Zidane and others, including the current coach Didier Deschamps, made for another golden era that had its climax when winning the World Cup at home in 1998 and the European Championship in 2000. The up and down nature of the team, too often mired in squad controversy and divisions, meant a group stage exit in Wold Cup 2002, followed by a runner up spot in 2006 and another group stage exit in 2010.

The current version of the national team is certainly very talented but that hasn’t always proven to be enough. Below are some of the names that illustrate the depth and the quality of the current crop of French players.

Hugo Lloris Goalkeeper at Tottenham, can make occasional costly mistakes but the team captain is solid.
Alphonse Areola Goalkeeper at PSG, a home grown relative low cost player among the expensive stars assembled in Paris.
Laurent Koscielny Veteran defender at Arsenal, provides leadership.
Raphael Varane Young defender at Real Madrid, had a fast rise to stardom, now considered a solid player.
N’Golo Kante One of the best defensive midfielders of the recent past, virtual unknown until three years ago.
Paul Pogba Most expensive player and arguably most hyped player but having a hard time getting game time at Manchester United this season under Jose Mourinho.
Antoine Griezmann The world class goal scorer opted to stay at Atletico Madrid, more than a few teams willing to pay an enormous sum for him.
Kylian Mbappe Fast rise to stardom at Monaco, left to PSG for an initial loan to be made permanent after the World Cup for €145 million plus €35 million in bonuses and add ons. Still a teenager.

The list doesn’t include Karim Benzema, the sometimes prolific Real Madrid forward, due his ongoing exclusion because of the black mail case involving his national team mate Mathieu Valbuena.

March 2018 Friendly Matches

With less than three months to go World Cup 2018 in Russia teams around the world use the FIFA international dates to prepare for the games. The March international break will be busy with many teams playing two or even games. The next times teams play friendlies will be in May and days before the World Cup starts.

In other news:
Te use of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) was given the final seal of approval and it is deemed ready for Russia.
Neymar has undergone surgery for a broken metatarsal and will miss three months. He is due to be ready on the eve of the World Cup but not before.

Below are some of the bigger friendly matches scheduled for this period.

March 23, 2018
Russia – Brazil
Germany – Spain
Italy – Argentina
Netherlands – England
France – Colombia
Portugal – Egypt
Poland – Nigeria

March 26, 2018
Portugal – Netherlands

March 27, 2018
Nigeria – Serbia
Russia – France
Spain – Netherlands
Germany – Brazil
England – Italy
Spain – Argentina

England At World Cup 2018

England, the so called inventor and home of football, have struggled at the international stage. The record of the English national team at the World Cup and European Championship is at best disappointing. The UEFA European Championship has never been won and the World Cup was last won at home in 1966. The best result since has been the being the semi finalists at Italia 90. At Brazil 2014 England finished last in a group featuring Costa Rica, Uruguay and Italy.

The road to Russia 2018 has been smooth on the pitch but anything but off of it. England took 26 out of 30 point in qualifying but went through two coaches after Sam Allardyce left the team after one game as coach due to malpractice issues. Gareth Southgate, the then under 21 coach, replaced Allardyce.

The coach, no matter who he is, faces many questions in finding ready players. The English Premiership doesn’t always help in developing English players so choices and options will not offer the best possible. Goalkeeping has been one of the most difficult. The recent first choice, Joe Hart, has been struggling at West Ham following time in Italy and after being discarded at Manchester City. Jordan Pickford is a young goalkeeper at Everton and is still relatively inexperienced. Others considered are Stoke City’s Jack Butland, Southampton’s Fraser Forster and Burnley’s Tom Heaton. All are the right age perhaps but neither is really experienced at international level.

Other positions are also not filled with players that are sure to inspire confidence. In defence the likes of Gary Cahill and John Stones can be good on their day but are also mistake prone. In midfield there is a mix of every kind of player from an Eric Dier to a Jesse Lingard and from a Dele Alli to a Fabian Delph. Good but not world beaters. Harry Kane has been prolific at club level for Tottenham and will need to be healthy and continue scoring for English as well. Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling will all need to be at their best for England to have a chance to move forward in Russia.

Whether Southgate can find the player and achieve something more and whether the players can minimize mistakes are all big questions to be answered this June.

Germany At World Cup 2018

Germany is of course one of the favourites to win in Russia. Being a world power and World Cup holders are just one of the many reasons for being a top contender for World Cup 2018.

Germany’s national team boasts a large pool of talent who are almost all 30 years or younger. The reset and planning that the German football association (DFB) along with Bundesliga clubs worked on after disappointments between 1998 and 2004 is still producing results at most levels of football. Academies were opened and work on tactical and mental aspects of the game restarted. Money was spent on regional centers. Youth development – crucially agreed up on by the clubs – and training and coaching modernization has meant a steady supply of very capable players that generated successes and culminated with a World Cup win in 2014.

The team that will travel to Russia this June is very deep and very talented. The midfield of the team is filled with great players who have vast experience without being old. Here are some names with the number of international caps, goals and most if not all are regulars at big club level.

Sami Khedira Juventus 30 years old, 72 caps, 7 goals previously at Real Madrid and Stuttgart

Toni Kroos Real Madrid 28, 80, 12 previously at Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen

Mesut Ozil Arsenal 29, 88, 22 previously at Real Madrid, Werder Bremen and Schalke

Ilkay Gundogan Manchester City 27, 22, 4 previously at Borussia Dortmund

Julian Draxler PSG 24, 40, 6 previously at Wolfsburg and Schalke

Emre Can Liverpool 24, 20, 1 previously at Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich

Julian Weigl Borussia Dortmund 22, 5, 0 previously at 1860 Munich

Leon Goretzka Schalke 23, 12, 6 leaving to Bayern Munich in summer 2018

Sebastian Rudy Bayern Munich 28, 24, 1 previously at 1899 Hoffenheim

This depth of talent will be complemented by forwards such as Thomas Muller and Timo Werner and defenders such as Joshua Kimmich, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng along with Manuel Neuer and Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal to showcase the team to beat.

100 Days To World Cup 2018

The countdown to the World Cup is down to 100 days. On June 14th 2018 the World Cup starts in Russia. The 32 qualified teams will have a series of friendlies later in March and later in the Spring as preparations reach the final stage.

In Russia itself a new aspect of the game is set to dominate the discussions before and surely during and after games. The introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has been made official and it’s use in leagues around the world and last year’s Confederations Cup have been mixed at best. The issue of missing a goal where the ball has just crossed the goal line was handled or solved by goal line technology. Now VAR has added four more broad situations where separate referees sitting in a video room can consult with the on pitch referee to correct any possible mistakes.

The four are:

    • Goals, to check if there was any problems during the buildup to them
    • Penalty decisions, to check if one should be given
    • Red cards, if deserved or should be given
    • Mistaken identity in issuing red or yellow cards

So far there have been cases where hand balls in the penalty box or offsides have been missed even after consulting video or when the delay has disrupted the game. Offsides have long been a case where improvements have been required, whether VAR is the solution is somewhat arguable. Assistant referees can do a better job by themselves but video will help.

Controversy is a sure thing but this time it can look different.

Brazil At World Cup 2018

Tite and Brazil will seek some redemption in Russia

Overcoming the disappointment and humiliation of the semi final exit at home at World Cup 2014 will haunt Brazil forever. This, a country, which still lives with the 1950 final loss to Uruguay. The still unbelievable 7-1 loss to Germany four years ago is something few but locals understand and even after reading tales and books on it and on the 1950 World Cup and their aftermath one is told that it is impossible to feel how the people and country feel.

Fast forward to 2018 and a new much heralded coach is finally in charge. Tite, finally accepted and left his job at Corinthians to take charge of the Selecao in 2016. The team surged up the CONMEBOL (the South American Football Confederation) qualification group to reach Russia 2018 comfortably. He brought in players like Paulinho (now at Barcelona and playing in the Chinese league at that time) seen by most as a flop while at Tottenham in the English Premiership. He created a not so much new look team but one which played differently. His loyalty and personality that focuses on team moral seems to have played a major part in the change and probably just as much as any tactical changes (Brazil play a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-3-3).

One surprising aspect of that loyalty is that Tite has announced that he knows at least 15 of the 23 players going to Russia, some four months before the World Cup starts.

  • Alisson, Roma Goalkeeper
  • Dani Alves, PSG
  • Marquinhos, PSG
  • Thiago Silva, PSG
  • Miranda, Inter Milan
  • Marcelo, Real Madrid
  • Casemiro, Real Madrid
  • Fernandinho, Manchester City
  • Willian, Chelsea
  • Renato Augusto, Beijing Guoan
  • Paulinho, Barcelona
  • Coutinho, Barcelona
  • Neymar, PSG
  • Roberto Firmino, Liverpool
  • Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City

These 15 will be complemented by the likes of Ederson (Manchester City), Alex Sandro (Juventus), Jemerson (Monaco), Casemiro (Real Madrid) and Fred (Shakhtar Dontesk) to form a great team, on paper and on the pitch. A lot will still depend on the form and temperament of Neymar but Russia provides one early chance at overcoming the pains of 2014.

Best Non-European/South American Team

Can Mexico do better than round of 16 in Russia?

In soccer or football European and South American teams are the strongest of course. At the World Cup all winners and teams that dominate have come, with few exceptions, from these two continents. But outside of these regions which team can be considered the best or strongest?

Historically the most consistent answer has been Mexico, currently ranked 17th in the FIFA rankings. Being the strongest in the CONCACAF Central/North American zone has allowed the team to qualify for the World Cup regularly but the team’s record at the World Cup has not been much to brag about. The furthest the Mexicans have advanced is the quarter finals in the two times they hosted the World Cup, 1970 and 1986. In the last six World Cups the Mexican team has fallen in the first knock out round after the group stage. World Cup 2018 might not be any different. The team didn’t have the easiest of qualifications and even though that often means little the team’s group will be a tough one. Mexico drawn in Group F with Germany, Sweden and South Korea will likely have to settle for second at best and that could mean a meeting with Brazil in the first knock out round (Group E features Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia)

What about the other teams? The latest January 2018 FIFA rankings, such as they are, rank the other qualified teams as follows:

27-Costa Rica
59-South Korea
65-Saudi Arabia

It is hard to see any of these teams making it far in Russia. It is not impossible that only Mexico makes it out of the group stage. Senegal, in form, could create a minor shock and survive at the expense of one of Poland or Colombia in Group H. The other groups don’t leave much hope. Perhaps Egypt can create another shock and survive instead of the hosts or Uruguay in Group A? Not very likely.

World Cup 2018 might go according to conventional form and leave all non-European and South Americans behind.

Best Players Not At World Cup 2018

Alexis Sanchez and Chile missing from World Cup 2018

A number of high profile teams or those with history at the World Cup failed to qualify for World Cup 2018. Any World Cup includes a few such teams and this time is no different. Of course Italy is number one in this edition’s list but others like the USA, Holland, Chile, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana are surprising missing teams too.

Italy fell to Sweden in the UEFA playoffs. Holland finished only third in the qualifying group that included Sweden and France. USA missed out by finishing a shocking fifth, behind Honduras, in the CONCAFAF hexagonal. Chile finished 6th in CONMEBOL qualifying. Cameroon finished third in the CAF final stage behind Nigeria and Zambia, Ivory Coast fell at the same stage to Morocco and Ghana was third behind Egypt and Ghana.

The following are some of the best players that are missing out on possible glory in Russia.

Lorenzo Insigne. Not often used by various coaches but a creative force for the Azzurri nevertheless.
Ginaluigi Buffon. Missed out on a chance to leave the pitch at the highest level.

Christian Pulisic. One of the young stars of world football, the now 19 year old could have made a bigger name for himself.

Virgil van Dijk. Lost the chance to showcase why he is the world’s most expensive defender, having just joined Liverpool (from Celtic) for €85 million.

Alexis Sanchez. Only just joined Manchester United (from Arsenal). One of the best creative and goalscorers in his country’s history.

Clinton N’Jie. Marseille striker could be a bigger star.

Ivory Coast
Eric Bailly. Not always a starter at Manchester United but a solid defender with youth on his side.

Thomas Partey. A solid defensive midfielder at Atletico Madrid who can help any team defensively.