Someone must do the difficult job of predicting the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The national soccer teams of 32 nations have arrived in Russia where they’ll compete this month and next for global supremacy. Each hopes to achieve sporting immortality, but they’ll launch their bids knowing the road to glory is long and arduous.
The tournament will take place in two phases: the group stage and the knockout rounds. FIFA has drawn the teams into eight groups of four. The four teams will play three round-robin games, with three points for a win and one for a draw at stake.
Here’s how we predict the group stage will play out, with expected points in parentheses.
Group A: Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia
1. Uruguay (9 points)
2. Egypt (4)
3. Russia (4)
4. Saudi Arabia (0)
Uruguay should stroll to victory, given its firepower and experience. Egypt should be strong enough to finish runner-up, despite doubts over superstar Mohamed Salah’s fitness. Russia will come agonizingly close to reaching the round of 16 but miss out on goal difference. Saudi Arabia will return home with three defeats.
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Iran, Morocco
1. Portugal (7 points)
2. Spain (5)
3. Morocco (2)
4. Iran (1)
Portugal and Spain will draw in their highly anticipated opener, and Iran and Morocco will draw at the start. Portugal then will win its next two, but Spain will suffer a surprising setback in the finale against Morocco and settle for a draw.
Group C: France, Peru, Denmark, Australia
1. France (9 points)
2. Peru (6)
3. Denmark (3)
4. Australia (0)
France will overpower the group and win each game. Peru will outlast Denmark in the first game and advance with a win over Australia in the third game. Denmark will beat Australia but endure two hard-fought losses. Australia will leave Russia empty-handed.
Group D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria
1. Argentina (7 points)
2. Nigeria (5)
3. Croatia (4)
4. Iceland (0)
Argentina will emerge as winner thanks to wins over Iceland and Croatia. Nigeria will draw Croatia and Argentina and beat Iceland. Croatia will suffer heartbreak by drawing Nigeria, losing to Argentina and recovering with a win over Iceland, which would have fared better if it didn’t fall into the so-called “Group of Death.”
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
1. Brazil (9 points)
2. Serbia (4)
3. Switzerland (4)
4. Costa Rica (0)
Brazil easily will top the group with three wins. Serbia will beat Costa Rica and draw Switzerland before falling to Brazil. The Swiss will lose to Brazil, draw Serbia and beat Costa Rica but not by a large enough margin to progress. Costa Rica will regress four years after their inspiring quarterfinal finish in 2014.
Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
1. Germany (9 points)
2. Mexico (4)
3. Sweden (2)
4. South Korea (1)
Germany will beat Mexico in a surprisingly difficult opener before knocking back Sweden and trouncing South Korea. Mexico will rebound from the loss to Germany with a win over South Korea and draw before securing a round-of-16 place by drawing Sweden. Sweden will take solace from draws against South Korea and Mexico in the first and last games.
Group G: Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama
1. England (7 points)
2. Belgium (7)
3. Panama (1)
4. Tunisia (1)
Goal difference will determine the outcome of this group. England will trounce Tunisia and Panama on Harry Kane’s goal explosion. Belgium also will defeat the group weaklings but not by as much as England does. England vs. Belgium then will draw, with the Three Lions topping the Red Devils on goal difference. Tunisia and Panama will play a gentleman’s draw in the final game.
Group H: Poland, Colombia, Senegal, Japan
1. Colombia (7 points)
2. Senegal (6)
3. Poland (4)
4. Japan (0)
This group is the most open and competitive, as each side can beat any of the others on their day. Colombia will top Japan, edge Poland and draw with Senegal in an entertaining finale. Senegal will draw Poland, beat Japan and secure a place in the knockout rounds by drawing Colombia. Poland will cruelly exit, having drawn Senegal, lost to Colombia and beaten Japan.
Start filling in those brackets and stay tuned for our knockout-round predictions after the end of the group stage.