Kevin Chan / Daily Nexus

Russia 2018: FIFA World Cup, Group Draw Recap

It’s been more than three years since the last World Cup match was played, and we are now a little less than half a year away from the commencement of a new global journey. The 2018 FIFA World Cup, set to take place in Russia, has recently been all the talk around the world. After years of qualification matches and cheering on their international side, fans of the beautiful game are celebrating their nation’s ticket to the biggest stage in world football.
Fortunately, the wait until the summer of 2018 won’t be too uneventful thanks to the World Cup drawing event that recently took place at the start of December. Now, with the group stage set and tensions high, the country comparisons will start to occur as analysts will weigh each team’s chances at advancing past the group stage. This leads me to my unbiased predictions of the drawing’s results … especially since the United States didn’t qualify.

Group A: Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia

The Hosts Draw a Favorable Batch

For those not in the know concerning the World Cup’s group draw, each team, excluding the host nation, which is always granted the first slot, starts off placed in a competitive pot that is shared with other teams of nearly similar FIFA men’s rankings. So, for informational purposes, every group is ordered by skill level as listed.
The host nation of Russia is a part of the first four designated sides. Uruguay and Egypt are the Top 30 teams in Russia’s way, while Saudi Arabia is ranked just below them. Historically speaking, host nations tend to perform well at their World Cups, even if they are undervalued on paper, as in Russia’s case. Nevertheless, we see Uruguay and Russia going through unless Egypt has something to say about it.

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Iran, Morocco

Two Giants, Two Dreams

Both Portugal and Spain have been considered Top 10 in world football for years now. However, if you’re asking FIFA, they’re even better. Coming in at No. 3 and No. 6 respectively, Portugal and Spain appear to be clear-cut favorites to stand at the top of their groups when all is said and done. Unless a pair of upset losses occur within this group stage, the Top-35 side Iran and closely following Morocco won’t have much of a chance due to all the star power on the opposition. Nevertheless, the Portugal vs. Spain match should provide a must-watch competition for all fans alike.

Group C: France, Peru, Denmark, Australia

A Battle for Positioning

At a quick glance, one may make the mistake to simply jump to the conclusion that France has this one in the bag. Think again. Ranked at No. 9 overall, France barely holds a lead in the standings when considering Peru is placed at 11th next to 12th place Denmark. Peru is hungry for a good group stage finish after not qualifying for the World Cup for 36 years, and Denmark is a source for quality talent amongst Europe’s elite clubs. Sure, we’ll cheer on the Australian underdogs, but it seems like France will have its work cut out when having to deal with a group that is capable of top-tier play.

Group D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria

Messi is No Group Stage Guarantee

Yes, you read that right: “Messi is no group stage guarantee.” Why would we word the headline as such? Well, this Argentina team has played fairly average whenever Messi is absent from the roster. Is this a lack of performance from a side full of star power, or are they just simply missing the best player in world football? Regardless of the correct answer, this group is still very much competitive considering its circumstances. Croatia is home to some of the best football-playing athletes, and Iceland is truly living a Cinderella story of success. And, oh yeah, the 51st ranked Nigeria just came off a 4-2 thrashing over the No. 4 overall Argentina. We’ll still give it just barely to Argentina, followed by perhaps the most surprising of all the group stages’ victors: Nigeria.

A version of this story appeared on p. 8 of the Jan. 25, 2018, edition of the Daily Nexus.