LONDON: With the 2018 FIFA World Cup due in June, fans across the globe – regardless of whether their country is a part of it or not, just can’t wait for their favourites to showcase their footballing skills in the field.
Either it be the shocking qualifiers that witnessed former champion Italy’s failure to secure a spot in the tournament for the first time in over half a century, or the series of online threats against the 2018 World Cup by the pro-ISIS Wafa Media Foundation, one thing that is not to be doubted is the eventfulness the tournament has already brought to the audiences globally.
While the tournament has been much anticipated for being the first world cup that is to be played in Europe since 2006, the security concerns following threatening posters released by the Islamic State (IS), have raised it to a new high. The disturbing posters were released on social media networks earlier this year in a bid to threaten football zealots planning to witness the biggest football show in Russia next year.
But while a little too much news is taking over the World Cup, failing to add more to the drama, the World Cup draws have been a rather big disappointment for many.
While teams such as the host and England have gotten draws that are expected to result in convenient wins, Argentina will be playing Croatia in Group D for a tougher match and Group B will witness a match between the neighbours – Spain and Portugal.
Following is a group-by-group perusal of what is expected from the early matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The first match of the World Cup will be played between Russia – the host, and Saudi Arabia. While according to FIFA rankings, it will be a showdown between two of the worst teams of the tournament, Uruguay after a tussle with Russia, and Egypt from group A, are expected to make it to the next round in the first place.
While this group is the nearest yet the farthest from being a ‘Group of Death’, an interesting demonstration of skills is expected in the field as the maestros from Spain including Andres Iniesta will play against the Best FIFA Men’s Player award winner Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. Although the neighbouring two are the favourites in this group, Morocco – which is not to be underrated, might affect the group’s table along with Iran.
According to experts, Group C is an ‘ideal’ one for France. While Denmark is not really expected to distress Raphael Varane’s team, Australia lacking its head coach and Peru with an average FIFA ranking of 54, are unlikely to pose a threat towards the French team that currently ranks at number 9 in the world.
Featuring Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria, this group is expected to showcase the most interesting series of matches. With Nigeria performing well lately, Croatia having a variety of individual talents including Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Iceland putting up a brilliant show of shared strength and Argentina struggling to qualify while having a pretty decent squad that includes Lionel Messi, the group will result in a set of balanced yet competitive face-offs.
While Neymar’s Brazil has turned out to be as lucky as Varane’s France – being the toughest in the group among Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland, the other three are expected to put up an enthralling show of games while battling for the round of 16.
Being as fortunate as Neymar Jr.’s Brazil and Raphael Varane’s France, Toni Kroos’s Germany has got nothing to worry about in Group F of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Although Sweden’s Ibrahimovic being replaced with its latest attacking inspiration Emil Forsberg is expected to reward the hard-working team, the remaining two – Mexico and South Korea do not seem to have the quality to challenge Germany, the defending champions.
While this group is expected to be a simple race to the top between England and Belgium with both having players like Harry Kane and Kevin De Bruyne respectively, Panama and Tunisia may not really affect the expected results of the group.
It will be justified if Group H is named as one of the subtlest groups of the tournament. With Colombia, Poland, Japan and Senegal in action, the group may not be as celebrated as other groups of the tournament. But one of the group’s charms will be the teams featuring Robert Lewandowski in Poland, James Rodriguez in Colombia, Shinji Kagawa of Japan and Sadio Mane in Senegal.