The draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup was finalized earlier this month and has provided football fans with some mouth watering first round encounters. Here’s our list of five first round matches at FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia to look out for.
In this group that also has Morocco and Iran, progressing isn’t a big worry for Spain or Portugal. This is easily the most looked-forward-to game of the group stages. Portugal, riding on the back of their stunning European victory, had been seeded first but ended up getting the toughest second seed in the draw with Spain. Seeding aside, Spain are the most fancied team to top this group but they will need to dispose of Portugal in the very first game to ensure smooth sailing. An ageing (if the term even applies) Ronaldo will want to extinguish the memories of his personally unremarkable past World Cups by scoring heavily and taking his team to the knock-outs – two things which Portugal failed to do in the last edition. Spain seem like they have rediscovered their mojo with the new crop and if David Silva continues his current sparkling form, Spain will fancy themselves for not just this game but the entire tournament.
On face value, this may not seem like much of a game but in the context of this group it should prove to be important. Uruguay is very likely to comfortably top this group and the other team is Saudi Arabia, the lowest ranked team in the tournament. Russia are the second lowest but them being hosts should provide an obvious boost to their performances. Egypt barely made it through with a late penalty by Mohammad Salah who has been in the best form of his life for Liverpool and is Egypt’s talisman. This is one of those games in which both sides would want a win but Russia should have the edge with home support. The hosts staying in the tournament would be good for the general decorum of the tournament considering the Russian fans’ reputation. If this ends in a draw then the group could well come down to goal difference.
Group H is the best one of them all with all four teams quite capable of going through. Senegal and Japan will try to emulate 2002 when they exceeded expectations with their performances. The game to look forward to though is the one with the weakest of the top seeded teams – Poland and a Colombian team capable of playing top quality football the way they did in Brazil. James Rodriguez has been faring well at Bayern and Falcao is once again the world-class striker he was before his stint in England. Poland will have their hopes pinned on one man firing for them, Robert Lewandowski. Jakub Błaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek are both past their prime and the Napoli man Arkadiusz Milik hasn’t exactly set Italian domestic football on fire. Colombia would likely top the group but a defeat for either team would give Senegal and Japan a sniff of qualifying further.
With Germany and South Korea being the other two teams in the group, this is a veritable fight for the second place. Mexico has progressed as far as the quarters both times they hosted the World Cup, which remains their best performance to date. Sweden have to hark back even further to the glory days of Gren-Nordahl-Liedholm in the 1950s with their best performance coming as hosts in the 1958 final which they lost to Brazil. Neither team is expected to go very far but the Swedes will be confident after they ousted Italy in the play-offs and there are whispers of Zlatan coming back for a last hurrah. Maybe it won’t have a bearing on the whole tournament, but the last game of Group F should prove interesting within the confines of qualifying further.
Yes we are counting England as one of the big teams in yet another World Cup. Even FIFA seems fed up with their underachievement and put them in the second seed pool. Belgium’s side looks incredible on paper, pretty much like it did in 2014. The big difference this time is that the team has matured a lot since the last edition and isn’t full of promising greenhorns but experienced professionals. It also has two of the best players in the Premier League, if not the world, in attack, with Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard. The English are no slouches on paper either with 2017’s top scorer Harry Kane sure to start up front with club-mate Dele Alli along with Raheem Sterling in support. If both teams perform to their potential, and if Southgate moves away from the English propensity for long-ball tactics, we should have an excellent decider for this group.