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World Cup Russia 2018: Group Draw and Wild Speculation

The World Cup doesn’t start until June next year, but the group draw just happened so it’s time to wildly speculate about each group, how the teams could fare and who are the real contenders. Let’s begin:

Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay

Oh man, how “lucky” were the host team. It’s almost unbelievable, innit? In what is probably one of the weakest groups it appears to be tailor made for Russia to go to the round of 16, except that they might be second and face Spain afterwards… welp. And even that is not a given, Saudi Arabia will offer 0 resistance but I wouldn’t sleep on Egypt and their star striker
Let’s see each team

Russia: host nation, that’s basically their only strength. Most of the squad plays in the Russian league which is not one of the top ones by a long shot (seems like the Russian oligarchs like to spend their money elsewhere) so I really couldn’t tell you who their best players are. The only player I remember is their keeper Igor Akinfeev and only because of the shot he fumbled against South Korea on the last WC. They didn’t even had to play qualifiers as they were the host nation so I have no clue how they play and they no longer have Capello leading them like last WC. They might go to the round of 16 barely, but nothing afterwards

Saudi Arabia: after missing the last two world cups Saudi Arabia is back and as usual they’re probably gonna exit on the group stage. All their players are in the local league and yeah, that’s pretty much it. They’ll try to not concede many goals.

Egypt: the Pharaohs (contender for best nickname) are back since 1990 and boy is their nation hyped! And why wouldn’t they be? They have Mo Salah, the star striker from Liverpool and quite a few other folks from the Premier League and Championship. This is the team that can spoil Russia’s party, so let’s root for them. Round for 16 would be great for them

Uruguay: these guys are even luckier than Russia, they got the easiest group they could hope for. They finished second on Conmebol which is not an easy feat. Led in defense by Diego Godín and in offense by the Edison Cavani/Luis “Dracula” Suárez pair they’re a really though team and will surely finish first in this group. Those three are kinda old now (by football playing standards) but the young ones are coming, keep an eye in Valverde, Nández and Betancur in the near future. These guys could go all the way to at least semifinals, if they can get pass Portugal on the second round (which I believe they can)

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran

Oh boy, the Portugal v Spain game should be the best match in the group stages. Those two should finish first and second with that match deciding their position. Morocco should complicate things and Iran, well Iran has heart

Spain: after the massive disappointment that was the last World Cup for them they’re coming out for blood. They gave the boot to Del Bosque after the 2016 Euro and Lopetegui has really straighten the ship, qualifying them with almost no problem in UEFA. They’re really strong in midfield and have a pretty good defense (anchored by De Gea on goal) their only weakness could be their attack, Diego Costa hasn’t played in a while and Morata, I guess he’s fine. Another top 4 contender

Portugal: sure they had a really emotional Euro 2016 win but I just don’t see them as contenders. They’re still fielding Quaresma, ffs. Moutiño in midfield can help Ronaldo, but they’re getting old, this is their last chance to be relevant. Round of 8, but they’ll be really though to beat

Morocco: the “Atlas Lions” (another great nickname) are back since their last time in France ’98. I like them, they’re usually really fun to watch and are pretty offensive, which will make their games with Portugal and Spain really interesting, they should park the bus but they won’t and I’m really excited for that. Who to watch? I’d say Hakim Ziyech, the Ajax midfielder. They won’t get out of the group, but they’ll be one of the better teams to not advance

Iran: they’re back for their second WC in a row, which is kinda uncommon for them, they tend to go to one and miss the next. Anyway, not much to talk about them, they’ll be fodder in this group. Probably the most interesting thing about them is that their coach is Carlos Queiroz, who coached Portugal and Real Madrid. Besides that, they have a striker that plays in Rubin Kazan (Sardar Azmoun) and that’s pretty much it. They’ll be basically tourists

Group C: France, Australia, Perú, Denmark

France should be first but man the second place battle is gonna be a bloodbath. And Australia, well, we’ll get to that

France: boy are these guys fun, but boy do they choke. After losing the Euro final at home against a Portugal side without Ronaldo they really need to get their shit together. Led at goal by Lloris, Varane in defense, Pogba in the midfield and Griezmann up top, this team should do great things… or choke. Besides the ones I mention, look out for Martial and Dembele, who are the future of this team. Should be top four, will probably get stuck in the round of 8

Australia: I don’t remember a worse Australian team on the World Cup, these guys are old and slow and the only reason they’re here is because Honduras are even worse. Saudi Arabia qualified ahead of them. Look for the corpse of Tim Cahill that for some reason is still on the pitch. They don’t even have a coach, ffs. Contenders for last place

Perú: they did it, they freaking did it. For the first time since 1982, they qualified and they eliminated Chile, Ecuador and Paraguay to do it. I’m really familiar with this team because a lot of them play in the Mexican League, with the striker Ruidíaz being probably the only reason why Morelia are even in playoffs. Besides that, “la foquita” Farfán is still in the team and Guerrero’s drug ban was suspended so they’re ready to go. They’re a fun, attacking side that are punching way above their weight, their game against Denmark is decisive. Round of 16, but fingers crossed for Round of 8 knocking out Argentina

Denmark: the Danes are also back after missing the last one. And they seem to be really back, ok this is not the Laudrup led team of old, but the Spurs’ Eriksen is trying, their fate depends on him. Perú will be their biggest test, or maybe how many they can score against the Aussies. Group stage, but one of the best sides to be eliminated… oh, wait, they have “Lord Bendtner”, world champions then

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria

Should be easy for Argentina, but qualifying should also have been easy for them and we saw how that went. Second spot is hard to tell, looking at the squads Croatia should be the obvious choice, but they tend to underperfom on the national team, Nigeria has a lot of power on front and Iceland, well they have heart

Argentina: they finished third in Conmebol, but only barely. Before the last two games they were almost out of the World Cup, which would have been a disaster 10 times worse than the Malvinas. Obviously all eyes are on Messi, and while he was almost solely responsible for their team qualification, the country still expects more from him, with Maradona’s shadow looming large (metaphorically, not because Diego is really fat now). On defense, Mascherano is the anchor, in the midfield they’re an underperforming mess and up top there’s Messi and a lackadaisical Di María and Agüero. They’re playing Darío Benedetto up front, ffs. Round of 8 if they’re lucky

Iceland: the smallest country ever in a World Cup and known as giant killers, but come on they defeated England, they always choke. “Thunderclapping” can only take you so far. Look for Aron Gunnarsson…’s beard, it’s majestic. Group stage, and if you like lovable underdogs, this is your team to follow

Nigeria: the “Super Eagles” (amazing) crushed Cameroon in the qualifiers and looked pretty strong. They’re weak on defense and still depend on captain Jon Obi Mikel to contain on the midfield, but he now plays in China so… Up front is where they’re fun, with Iwobi, Iheanacho and Victor Moses. Their duel with Croatia is key, I do think they can get to the Round of 16

Croatia: after surprising the world with their third place finish in France ’98 (I still remember Davor Suker checking his pulse before the penalty), they’re always labelled as a “dark horse” and then they just keep getting eliminated in the group stages. But how can that be? They have Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic, it doesn’t matter, I have no clue why that is but they just choke. This group is one of their best chances yet. Group stage, because it’s Croatia

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

Should be a cake walk for Brazil, not so much for the second place. My heart says the ticos, but I’d bet on the Swiss. I don’t know what to make of Serbia

Brazil: well, now this was an easy qualification for them. While the rest of Conmebol were clawing each others eyes out, Brazil just cruised, will they cruise to a championship? Well, after the 7-1 they were able to pick up the pieces and it’d be a great redemption story. This is not Dunga’s team, they have the “jogo bonito” again. Weakness is, oddly, probably up top with not really great pairings for Neymar, but they should be good enough. All eyes on Neymar, of course, who should have a good case for best player if he can lead this team to victory. World Champions material, anything besides that would be a disappointment for them

Switzerland: eh, well they have Frei, Xhaka and Shaqiri on midfield and I like Mehmedi, but I dunno, I don’t find them exciting. This is their best team in years, they’re shooting for quarterfinals, it might happen.

Costa Rica: los ticos surprised last World Cup by reaching the quarterfinals (and boy, if Mexico had defeated the Netherlands they were gonna be their rivals, oh what could have been) and they have a world class keeper on the underappreciated by the merengues Keylor Navas, but even his heroics can’t make up for a really weak team and with their last two friendlies being a 5-0 loss to Spain and a 1-0 to Hungary, things don’t look that great. Other than Navas, keep an eye on Marco Ureña and Joel Campbell. Group stage, lady luck did not smile at them with this draw

Serbia: I’m not that familiar with this team, to be honest. I mean, I remember Ivanovic from his Chelsea years but other than that I have no clue. Oh and they fired their coach even when he succeeded. I dunno, group stage I guess

Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea

It’s gonna be a game of “don’t let Germany score too many goals against us” for the second place. The Germans are just way too good. Second place is obviously gonna be Mexico, right, right? Please? Tell me that it’s gonna be alright!

Germany: Die Mannschaf are just unstoppable, and unlike Mr Burns, we’re all afraid of this team. Reigning world champions, with world class talent in every line, this World Cup is theirs to lose. They qualified winning 10 out of 10 games and are undefeated in the year. They’re basically the villains in a sports movie. Who to follow? Everyone, I can’t stress this enough. Ok, maybe look for Ozil and see if he gives a shit. World Champions, anything else will be a disappointment

Mexico: el Tri are my team, and boy are they exasperating. At least this time they qualified with time to spare, led by coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who has this “great” idea of changing players every freaking game, even the keeper (what he calls “rotaciones”). He also likes to play players out of position because he favors tall players (Diego Reyes as CDM, are you kidding me?). Anyway, Mexico has one of their best teams, sure Chicharito has cooled down (god, this West Ham stint has been awful for everyone), but our newest star is Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, playing for PSV he’s the league’s lead scorer and looks unstoppable. Other than that we have Ochoa on goal who is a great shot stopper but not so good managing his area, in defense Hector Moreno is our anchor but the rest suck, in the midfield Andrés Guardado should keep things under control with the help of Hector Herrera and up top we also have the always fun to watch “Tecatito” Corona and maybe we’ll get the Carlos Vela that cares for once. The key match is gonna be against Sweden, that is if Germany didn’t score 7 against us and we’re just a mess by the time of that game. Hopefully Round of 16, sadly the cross there would most definitely be Brazil so no “quinto partido” again

Sweden: well, they have Zlatan… wait, they don’t? Parking the bus it is then, it worked against Italy. Ok, Zlatan might come back, I mean it’s a World Cup and his ego is truly world class. Other than that, they have MU’s Lindelof in defense and Lepzing’s Forsberg up front. Group stage, for the love of God at least give us this

South Korea: oh right, there’s another team in this group. The Reds (how odd is that the non-communist Korea’s team has that nickname?) are again in the World Cup, in Brazil they couldn’t get out of the group and it looks like it’s gonna be the same thing again. Look for the Spurs’ Son Heung-min, their play maker and that’s pretty much it. Group stage

Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England

England couldn’t hope for a better group, now let’s see how they can fuck it up. Belgium should finally prove why they’re ranked so high. Other than that, Panamá and Tunisia should take advantage of all the shopping capitalist Russia has to offer

Belgium: these guys are what Spain used to be before they finally started winning, bursting with talent but always underwhelming. With Courtois on goal, De Bruyne and Hazard on attacking midfield and freaking Lukaku up top their only weakness is on defense. If they can get their shit together for once in the main stage, they can finally shed their image of underachievers. Semifinals or at least quarterfinals, other than that would be a disaster

Panama: you guys made it, your first World Cup, enjoy the views, try to give a good fight and gain some experience. Look for, I dunno I guess the keeper Penedo is their best player, maybe forward Tejada. Blas Pérez still plays for them? Ok. Group stage

Tunisia: The Eagles of Carthage (if you haven’t noticed yet, African teams have the best nicknames) are back since 2006. They have never gone beyond the group stage and there’s not much hope for it to be any different. Look for… I have no clue, their world cup final is gonna be the game against Panama to decide who finishes last. Group stage

England: if they don’t get out of this group they should just retire from football. Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford should play together up front, and as long as there are no Hart howlers the group shouldn’t be that hard. Afterwards, well that’s another story. Look for Gareth Southgate, who inexplicably is their head coach… how did that happen? They should get to quaterfinals, but they’re England so Round of 16

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

Man this looks like a fun group. The fight for first place should be fierce between Poland and Colombia, but Senegal and Japan are no pushovers

Poland: they were impressive in qualification, besides their 4-0 defeat against Denmark and have a well balanced team, with maybe their weakness being defense, but they have a good keeper so there’s that. The man to see is of course Lewandoski, who is gonna be on top form and should lead them to victory. Round of 16 or quarterfinals, depending on whether they get England or not in the next round

Senegal: the Lions of Teranga (told you) are back since their great run in 2002. They qualified after their match against South Africa was replayed due to match fixing by the ref, which is that a thing that has happened before? Anyway, they have some Premiere League and Ligue 1 players but all eyes will be on Liverpool’s Mane. Probably won’t get out of the group but they’re gonna battle tooth and nail and might be the surprise

Colombia: they had way more problems to qualify than they should, but well everyone in Conmebol (except for Brazil) had. In Brazil they reached quarterfinals and almost reach the semifinals, which led to a lot of their players being sought out in the best leagues, and none more than James Rodriguez, but Real being Real they wasted him. Thankfully he’s at Bayern now and getting play time. Besides him you have Cuadrado at midfield and Falcao as striker. Their defense is kinda poor and keeper Ospina is prone to mistakes, but they should get out of the group. Probably quarterfinals, maybe better depending on the match ups

Japan: well they have Dortmund’s Kagawa, who is getting old and Keisuke Honda who is even older and now plays in Mexico of all places. I don’t see great things for this team, but they’ll try. Group stage

And that’s all of them… unless the US goes ahead with their own cup, with black jack and hookers