Russia World Cup 2018: A Group-by-group Analysis
By Lee Wellings
The 32 teams that qualified for the biggest event in the sporting world now know who they will be facing in this year’s tournament that takes place in Russia from June 14.
Egypt and Liverpool’s Mohammed Salah will make his World Cup debut. Neighbours Spain and Portugal find themselves in the same group.
Iceland will become the smallest nation to play in the World Cup.
In the last two World Cups, the reigning champions have been knocked out at the group stage.
Will Germany be able to cross that hurdle? Or retain the title?
Here, we break down the eight groups and see how the 32 teams stack up against their opponents.
GROUP A: Russia. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
Russia can’t afford to be knocked out early, and this group could be worse for them.
Egypt pose the main danger to the hosts and Uruguay. It may be their first World Cup since 1990, but star player Mo Salah was irresistible in qualifying.
Saudi Arabia have the honour of playing in the opening game against Russia, but Asian confederation teams are traditionally the weakest.
GROUP B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
An intriguing looking match between Portugal and Spain beckons because of the quirk of 2010 winners Spain, ranked 8 in the world, being nudged out of the top seeds by hosts Russia.
But despite Morocco’s ability, don’t be fooled into thinking this is the pick of the groups. In fact, Portugal and Spain should both expect to progress.
GROUP C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
France are the clear favourites to win the group comfortably, but Denmark’s late surge into form makes them a real threat. Australia should never be underestimated after another epic qualification campaign.
Peru, playing in their first World Cup for 36 years, would be much more of a threat if the tournament was played in Brazil.
GROUP D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
As if the Iceland fairy tale hadn’t brought enough joy, their first ever World Cup will be against Argentina in Moscow.
They will receive global support, but shouldn’t be expected to succeed. The smallest ever nation to qualify has already performed miracles.
With resurgent Nigeria – who have had to face Argentina in FIVE World Cups – and gifted Croatia completing the quartet, this is undoubtedly a strong group.
GROUP E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
After their 2014 humiliation, Brazil’s recovery has been impressive enough for many people to make them favourites for the tournament.
It could amount to a scrap between three underrated teams for a place in the knockout stages.
Serbia were the team to avoid of Pot 4. And don’t forget Costa Rica were quarter-finalists four years ago.
GROUP F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, Korea Republic
Germany hardly got a mention in the immediate post-draw analysis, but that’s just the way they like it. Low-key – and usually there at the finish.
The trophy holders should be expected to reach the knockout stages without too much trouble.
Mexico and Sweden can be talked up, neither are easy opponents, but it could be an opportunity for Korea to finally perform like they did in 2002 outside of their own country.
GROUP G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
June 18 in Sochi will be an historic and wonderful day for Panama – their first ever World Cup game, against a talented Belgium team.
The two European teams will be expected to qualify from this one.
But in 1978 Tunisia became the first African team to ever win a World Cup match, and can certainly win points in this group.
GROUP H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
The last and arguably the most open of all eight groups. Senegal’s exploits in 2002 are unforgettable, and their team is strong again.
Poland earned a top seeding with a ranking of six in the world, but despite their considerable talent Colombia often struggle away from South America.
It could be an entertaining, close group in what was an intriguing draw.