Football’s most famous tournament gets underway in Russia tomorrow and World Cup fever is already taking hold. How will England, the only home nations team in the finals, fare in the competition’s group stage? Which other countries are in contention and who are the favourites to win the distinctive football trophy?
Can England Make It Through to the Knockout Stage?
England’s first match is against Tunisia and takes place on Monday 18 June at 19.00 (UK time) at the Volgograd Arena. They then face Panama on Sunday 24 June before taking on Belgium on Thursday 28 June.
Gareth Southgate’s men will be hoping to rack up some points in their first two games as Belgium are likely to be their toughest Group G opponents. The Belgian “Golden Generation” squad includes a host of big names, including Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Kevin de Bruyne, and the team is currently third in FIFA’s world rankings, behind Germany and Brazil.
However, according to the Daily Mail, the Red Devils’ manager, Roberto Martinez, recently told the press that “Tunisia could be one of the surprises in the World Cup”. So, could the Eagles of Carthage create problems for England in their opening match?
Ranked 21st in the world by FIFA, Tunisia played in tournament finals in 1978, 1998, 2002 and 2006, but have never made it through to the round of sixteen. They proved to be tricky opponents when Spain defeated them last weekend, however, and they held Portugal to a draw in May. The absence of star midfielder Youssef Msakni won’t help their campaign, but Wahbi Khazri will be looking to score for them instead. They certainly, therefore, have the potential to cause problems for the Three Lions.
Southgate’s squad should, on paper, have an easier time of it against Panama, although nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to tournament football. Panama has the lowest FIFA world ranking of the teams in the group (55th) and this will be the nation’s first ever appearance in the competition finals. They won’t make it easy for their opponents and held Northern Ireland to a 0-0 draw last month. However, they have an ageing squad and their star player, Roman Torres, has recently been out of action with a hamstring injury.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup – Tournament Groups and Favourites
As far as the other groups go, there’ll be plenty of interesting ties to look forward to. Russia, the hosts, could struggle against Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay in Group A, while Portugal and Spain will be fighting for the top spot in Group B alongside Morocco and Iran.
Group C is comprised of France, Australia, Peru and Denmark, while Iceland are grouped with Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria in their first ever World Cup finals. Five-time tournament winners Brazil take on Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia in Group E, while Germany, the current title-holders, are in Group F with Mexico, Sweden and South Korea. Poland, Senegal, Columbia and Japan, meanwhile, battle it out in Group H.
According to the bookies, Brazil and Germany are the early favourites to claim the trophy, with France, Spain and Argentina also popular choices.
Which nation do you think will win the FIFA 2018 World Cup? How far do you think the Three Lions will get in the tournament? Add a comment or let us know on Facebook or Twitter.