The World Cup is finally here with nations descending on Russia to take part in the biggest football tournament of them all.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is the 21st to take place since the very first too place in Uruguay all the way back in 1930. The opening game takes place between the hosts and Saudi Arabia on Thursday which sets us on our way on a four week journey of football until we have two nations remaining to contest the final on 15th July.
It will be the first time the tournament has returned to Europe since it was held in Germany in 2006 which saw the Italians return home triumphant. This will be the first World Cup to be held in Eastern Europe, the eleventh time it has been held in Europe. Only once has a non-European nation won the tournament when it has been held in Europe.
32 nations. 64 matches. 12 venues. 11 cities. Those are the numbers that make up the World Cup Finals in Russia. The winners will qualify for the 2021 FIFA Confederations Cup which was due to be held in Qatar but will likely take place in another Asian Football Confederation.
Twenty take their place once again having featured in the last competition in Brazil. The Germans are defending champions, Iceland and Panama make their debuts while there is no sign of Italy or Holland. Denmark and Serbia return to the finals after missing out last time around.
Here is our preview of the groups along with those likely to go deep into the tournament.
GROUP A – RUSSIA, SAUDI ARABIA, EGYPT, URUGUAY
A notional group of nations set up to try and help the hosts get through to the knockout stage. Let’s face it, a tournament generally nose dives if the hosts exit early so it would be beneficial for all if the Russians make it through. However, this is not an easy group. The Saudi’s have just been narrowly beaten in a warm up game by reigning champions Germany while a Mo Salah inspired Egypt will be dangerous, should his shoulder hold up. Uruguay probably edge it in terms of the fancied nation to escape the group but it promises to be an intriguing quartet.
TEB PREDICTION – URUGUAY, RUSSIA
GROUP B – PORTUGAL, SPAIN, MOROCCO, IRAN
The 2010 winners, Spain, will be keen to repeat their 2010 success in South Africa but close rivals and reigning European Champions Portugal will be out to hamper their efforts. It is difficult to see if either Iran or Morocco but with the two fancied sides playing each other first up, the predicted whipping boys will be looking to put the pressure on with a win in their first game. This group has the potential to spring a surprise, particularly with Iran being impressive qualifiers.
TEB PREDICTIONS – SPAIN, PORTUGAL
GROUP C – FRANCE, AUSTRALIA, PERU, DENMARK
The French will have enough to take the group if there are in the mood and with many tipping them to go all the way they should have little trouble early on. Problem is, there is no such thing as an easy game at this level and the other three teams they will face are expected to up their game against them. The pressure is on for them to perform as well as many expect which could give them so early jitters. Who else joins them in the next round is exceptionally difficult to call but the Danes could just edge it.
TEB PREDICTIONS – FRANCE, DENMARK
GROUP D – ARGENTINA, ICELAND, CROATIA, NIGERIA
The Argies have all too often been slow starters and the group they find themselves in, they may not be able to afford the same again. There is talent in the opposition and like France, Argentina will feel the pressure after failing at the final hurdle in Brazil. With Lionel Messi desperate to perform on the international stage in what is likely to be his last World Cup, he will be looking to drag his nation kicking and screaming into the latter stages. It is hard to see Iceland showing the same form as the European Championships while Croatia could be the surprise package at this tournament and Nigeria are a bit of an unknown quantity.
TEB PREDICTIONS – ARGENTINA, CROATIA
GROUP E – BRAZIL, SWITZERLAND, COSTA RICA, SERBIA
Four years the Brazilians have stewed over the humiliation they suffered on home turf which could be bad news for the opposition this time around. They will walk the group with the only discussion being around who will join them. Costa Rica are not the same side that sprung a surprise at the last World Cup which leaves the two European sides to fight it out. Serbia to edge it but it will be tight.
TEB PREDICTIONS – BRAZIL, SERBIA
GROUP F – GERMANY, MEXICO, SWEDEN, KOREA REPUBLIC
The reigning champions will be a tough proposition once again but they find themselves in an interesting group. The Mexicans are often decent at tournaments while the hard working team ethic that the Swedes offer is hard to beat. The Koreans are another that it is hard to know what to expect but they are unlikely to be pushovers.
TEB PREDICTIONS – GERMANY, MEXICO
GROUP G – BELGIUM, PANAMA, TUNISIA, ENGLAND
A tough match up pitching England against Belgium but there is one thing to be thankful, the two nations do not face each other until the final game. By that point, it should just be a matter of who wins the group rather than qualify. Not much is expected from either Tunisia or Panama, but if there is to be a surprise in this group, the North African nation could be the ones to do it.
TEB PREDICTIONS – ENGLAND, BELGIUM
GROUP H – POLAND, SENEGAL, COLOMBIA, JAPAN
Perhaps the most compelling group and while there is not a particularly strong nation an obvious choice to proceed, it could up being the most tightly contested group. On paper, the Colombians should proceed but each nation has something about them to be competitive so it could be two from any of these four but the firepower will prove significant.
TEB PREDICTIONS – COLOMBIA, POLAND
BRAZIL – Tipped by many, they will be desperate to make up for the disappointing the home fans four years ago. Neymar will be out to prove the doubters wrong following his world record transfer. They travel to Russia with an expected talented squad that will be hard to beat.
GERMANY – The defending champions have a squad with a few new faces, perhaps the first time in a while that they have seen such change. It should not hinder them as there is no question about the talent pool but anything less than a win will do as they look to level Brazil’s five wins.
SPAIN – Hard to know what to expect from the Spaniards in what will be Andre Iniesta’s final World Cup so if that is not an incentive to match their desire, there is something wrong.
FRANCE – A multitude of talents at their disposal, they could have taken two squads of players to the tournament, and both would have stood a good chance of winning. A real air of Dutch squads of old that have been so talented but all too often failed to show how good they are at major competitions.
BELGIUM – Full of talent but yet to prove it and this is their opportunity to shine. Question marks over whether Roberto Martinez is the man to get best out of this group and another failure for the Red Devils will likely end his role with them.
ARGENTINA – Time is running out for Lionel Messi, a player that does not hold the same adoration of his nation’s fans like those at Barcelona. Yet to see glory internationally and he will be desperate to drag his country to the title for the first time since 1986.
ENGLAND – Gareth Southgate has impressed with his approach and seeing the Three Lions through the qualifiers. Lots to celebrate for the Young Lions recently and a shot at the big prize would really be something. This squad has something about it and while it lacks in experience is made up by organisation and speed.
PORTUGAL – The European Champions have already shown pedigree in tournament format which will stand them in good stead but a lot will depend on Cristiano Ronaldo and like Messi, it could be his last chance of World Cup glory.
The competition is likely to be as hotly contested as ever and the nation that triumphs will have no doubt have earned it but it will be a time to say goodbye to a number of stars who will not participate in another World Cup.
This is a time for players to make their name on the world stage which will forever make a mark on their careers. It is those that will be the moments that we are likely to enjoy the most, those unexpected heroes who achieve legendary status in their nation and beyond.
It is a warm welcome back to the World Cup Finals, a little over four weeks of what should be top class football that we can all emerse ourselves into.