My Full World Cup Group Stage Picks

Posted: 06/13/2018 by levcohen in Soccer

I’ve picked Brazil to win the World Cup, but I also want to make full group stage predictions before the games kick off tomorrow. Luckily, there’s a pretty obvious place for me to start these…

Group A:

Uruguay     9
Russia     4
Egypt     2
Saudi Arabia     1

Uruguay is by far the strongest team in this group and really should collect the maximum nine points. The nucleus of the team — strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani along with centerback Diego Godin — is familiar, but new talents like midfielder Lucas Torrerira give Uruguay new strength. With a +12 goal differential in qualifying, Uruguay was the second best team in South America. I’m picking Russia to finish second because they’re a well organized team with enough talent to get past Saudi Arabia and tie Egypt. I’d consider picking Egypt second if I were convinced that Mo Salah was healthy, but even with a healthy Salah I’m concerned that the Egyptians don’t have enough oomph to get out of the group. And Saudi Arabia is probably the worst team in the group. They’ll be lucky to get the point I’m awarding them.

Group B:

Spain     7
Morocco     5
Portugal     4
Iran     0

It’ll be interesting to see whether the dramatic replacement of Julen Lopetegui, who was ousted after the news came out that he was set to end his Spain contract to join Real Madrid, has any impact. I don’t think it’ll keep Spain from finishing first in a pretty straightforward group. Portugal is probably the second strongest team in the group, and I know they won Euro 2016 and have Cristiano Ronaldo, but they’re an older team with old and mistake-prone centerbacks (cough cough Pepe cough cough). Morocco, meanwhile, is full of exciting young talent, with world class creator Hakim Ziyech of Ajax (although not for long, I figure), 20-year-old Amine Harit of Schalke, and Sofyan Amrabat. They also have excellent centerback Mehdi Benatia of Juventus, who’s their captain. Portugal’s better, but I have a hunch that Morocco will be one of two African teams to get through. Iran actually cruised through Asian qualifying (6-4-0 with only two goals allowed), but I expect them to struggle with the opposing talent in this group.

Group C:

France     7
Denmark     4
Peru     4
Australia     1

France should probably win all three games, but they aren’t the best at breaking down organized defenses and the rest of their group will certainly defend in numbers. I think Peru-Denmark is a toss-up, but I just can’t trust a team that’s as reliant on a single player as Denmark is on Christian Eriksen. I still think Denmark will get out of the group, but only on goal difference. Australia has outperformed expectations at some previous World Cups, but this isn’t one of their better teams and I’d be surprised if they win a game.

Group D:

Croatia     6
Argentina     4
Nigeria     4
Iceland     2

Along with Group H, this is the toughest to call from top to bottom. Iceland is a great story and a good team, one I might pick to get out of a different group. But they happen to be in the same group as two teams I’m high on — Croatia and Nigeria — along with Messi’s Argentina. As I’ve said before, I think there’s a real chance that Croatia and Nigeria or Iceland will qualify at the expense of Argentina, but I’ll stick with this prediction in what’s sure to be a tightly contested group. Croatia’s underperformed in the past, but they’re too technically strong to disappoint again, right?

Group E:

Brazil     9
Serbia     4
Costa Rica     3
Switzerland     1

I’m probably wrong to overlook Switzerland, but they’re just such a boring team that I can’t bring myself to pick them to move on. Costa Rica stunningly topped a group that included Italy, Uruguay, and England in 2014 before winning a knockout stage game and losing in the quarterfinals, and I think there’s a chance they can sneak through in second this time around before losing to Germany. Instead, I’m going to pick Serbia to finish second, because they’re very strong in the middle of the field. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is a star and is set to move to a top team after the World Cup. Nemanja Matic is a big, bruising force in the middle, and he’s not alone: Croatia is the biggest team in the World Cup.

Group F:

Germany     9
Mexico     4
Sweden     4
South Korea     0

I expect Germany to cruise, but who knows? Mexico and Sweden are both good teams who can cause anyone problems on their days. Sweden has excelled in the post-Zlatan Ibrahimovic era, playing with more discipline and cohesiveness and remaining strong and compact defensively. And Mexico always gets out of their groups and has an attack spruced up by Hirving Lozano, one of the top young players in the tournament, and crowd favorite Chicharito, who has 49 goals in 102 career games for Mexico. It’s an experienced team, and I trust them to advance. South Korea is one of the less inspiring teams in the field, although they do have Tottenham star Son Heung-min. They struggled in Asian qualifying, finishing second behind Iran in their group and going just 4-3-3 with a +1 goal differential against Iran, Syria, Uzbekistan, China, and Qatar.

Group G:

Belgium     7
England     7
Tunisia     3
Panama     0

This is the easiest group to predict. I’d be very surprised if either Belgium or England failed to advance, and I think Belgium’s stronger attack will be enough to push the Red Devils over England on goal difference. Panama and Tunisia are probably both among the five worst teams at the World Cup (Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Australia are the others).

Group H:

Poland     6
Senegal     6
Colombia     3
Japan     3

This is the group I’m most excited for. I think all four teams have a chance to not just advance but top the group. There are going to be a lot of goals in this group. Poland has Robert Lewandowski, probably the best pure striker in the world, and a pair of young Napoli attackers (Piotr Zielinski and Arkadiusz Milik) who add plenty of support. They scored the fifth most goals in European qualifying, behind four teams — Portugal, Spain, Belgium, and Germany — who dominated their groups. They also gave up the most goals of any European qualifier. And all three of their competitors have plenty of attacking talent. Japan’s probably the worst team in the group, but I think they’re getting overlooked a little bit. In Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, and Shinji Okazaki, Japan has three high-profile attacking players who have proven themselves at high levels of club competition. They’re also all in their primes, along with centerback mainstay Maya Yoshida and star Marseille fullback Hiroki Sakai. They do have some defensive issues, and those will probably be exploited at the World Cup. I wrote that Colombia, the group’s favorite, may miss the knockout stage, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is. They have a good team but little scoring punch outside of James and Falcao. As for Senegal, they’re a risky bet because they have just four players older than 28 and because I’m unsure how exactly they will line up. But they have star winger Sadio Mane of Liverpool on one side and Monaco’s Keita Balde on the other. Napoli centerback Kalidou Koulibaly and Everton midfielder Idrissa Gueye provide strength and structure in the middle of the field. They’re going to score goals. I’m sure they’ll also be exposed some defensively, but I want them to qualify and think they have the talent to do so, so second place it is for Senegal.


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