After a long four year gap, the lovers of the beautiful game finally get to see 32 top teams compete for one of the most prestigious trophies in football. Flights carrying the different teams taking part in this year’s World Cup have already landed in Russia and it is just a matter of time for the festival to kick-off.
There are several teams that have been labeled as the favorites to take home the trophy, but it in the end only one will take home the cup. Throughout the tournament, there are going to be a lot of surprises, upsets and what not. In other words, the FIFA World Cup is unpredictable and to foretell what is going to happen is almost impossible.
But against all that, here are 5 bold predictions for the event in Russia:
#5 African team to reach the semi-finals
Africa has given some amazing players like Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, George Weah, Yaya Toure, etc. to football, but never have any team from the continent reached the semi-finals of the World Cup. However, this year in Russia we could witness the writing of a new story when an African team overcomes the odds and becomes one of the last four squads in the competition.
There are five nations representing Africa at the World Cup and they are – Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. These five teams are placed 48th, 27th, 45th, 41st, and 21st on the FIFA World ranking respectively.
As we know, Nigeria is the lowest ranked team out of the five and yet they have a strong enough squad to surprise the world. The Super Eagles have already attracted lots of people even before kicking the ball with their striking kits.
Egypt will be relieved after their star man Mohamed Salah, who got injured in the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid, returned to training just in time for the World Cup. The Pharaoh’s hopes lay on the Liverpool winger and will want him to hit the ground running in order to qualify for further rounds.
Morocco is a young and exciting team, but they face tough competition in the group stage from Iran, Spain, and Portugal. Qualifying from the group itself would be a great achievement for the Atlas Lions. Tunisia looks like the weakest team of the bunch and would find it difficult to get past the group stages.
Senegal is a really balanced team and has got quality throughout the squad. Sadio Mane will be their key man in the attack, but they also have the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye, Keita Balde, etc in the side. Placed in group H along with Poland, Colombia, and Japan, qualifications to further stages is a real possibility for the side.
#4 Argentina to be knocked out in the group stages
After Mario Gotze broke the hearts of the Argentinean fans in the finals of 2014 World Cup, La Albiceleste faced another two consecutive setbacks in the finals of the Copa America competitions that took place in 2015 and 2016.
Argentina was on the brink of losing a World Cup spot going into their last qualifier match against Ecuador. It was a must-win game and they event went 1-0 down before captain Lionel Messi stepped up with his magic. It was the 30-year-old’s heroics that took the side to the finals in the 2014 World Cup and it was the same man who gave them a 2018 World Cup squad.
Despite having a good squad, Argentina’s hope totally lay on the Barcelona player and if Messi isn’t able to deliver they are in trouble. Placed in a group with Iceland, Croatia, and Nigeria, the South American team is expected to easily qualify. However, things may not be as easy as it seems as all those three teams can put up a fight against Argentina that could see La Albiceleste just missing out on a qualification to the round-of-16.
#3 Messi to retire from International football
After Argentina faced their third consecutive final defeat in the 2016 Copa America, Lionel Messi surprisingly announced his retirement from International football. However, a ‘Don’t Go, Leo’ campaign from the fans saw him reversing the decision soon.
The 5 time Balon d’Or will be hoping to lead his team to glory this time around, but that dream could end in the group stages itself. And this might be the last nail in the coffin that forces Messi to finally quit.
30 is too early for a player of Messi’s stature to retire, four consecutive setbacks might be too much even for the GOAT to take. World Cup disappointment could also see the end of Jorge Sampaoli’s tenure at the club as manager.
#2 Harry Kane to win the Golden Boot
When Harry Kane scored 21 goals in the 2014/15 season, he was labeled as a one-season wonder and many said he would fade away in the following season. However, the player from Walthamstow proved everyone wrong by scoring 25, 29 and 30 goals each in the following three Premier League seasons.
This disappointment didn’t last long for Kane as he was received with two amazing news.
Kane will be England’s star man at Russia and the number nine will be finding the back of the net more than few times. An England player will win the Golden Boot for the first time since 1986 when Gary Lineker beat the likes of Diego Maradona, Careca and Emilio Butragueno for the award.
#1 Brazil to be crowned Champions
The 2014 World Cup held in Brazil saw a disappointing end to the hosts’ campaign when they faced an embarrassing 7-1 defeat against Germany in the semi-finals.
This time around the Canarinho are determined to make up for the failure by taking home the trophy from Russia. Brazil manager Tite has one of the strongest teams in his hands and has the capability to lead the team to glory.
A solid defence, a top midfield, and a terrific attack. Brazil has everything that is required to win the World Cup. Neymar will be the key man for the Selecao and the PSG man will be supported by the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Willian and Douglas Costa in attack.
The midfield trio of Casemiro, Fernandinho and Paulinho will tough to beat. While Thiago Silva, Marquinho, Marcelo and Danilo will form the defence. Roma’s Allison, who is wanted by Real Madrid and Liverpool, will be Brazil’s trusted custodian.
Canarinho has a solid 23-man squad that they can even name two separate strong starting elevens with it. The 2018 World Cup belongs to Brazil.