Given my admission in other posts that I’m a crap football pundit you might be wondering why I’m even considering sharing my thoughts on the up-coming World Cup in Russia.
You would have a point!
But the thing about football is that it is a game of opinions. By committing my thoughts to paper I am simply attempting to get the debate rolling, not claim any great insights.
So who will win the World Cup?
The favourites – Brazil and holders Germany – are (at the time of writing) being offered at around 4-1 in the UK where gambling is, of course, legal.
In Thailand it’s not, so to avoid trying to lead you into bad ways I suggest you consider wagers along the lines of “if I ‘back’ the winners, you buy the beers” or something similar.
The top five favourites read like a list of the usual suspects with France, Spain and Argentina joining the two nations I’ve already mentioned.
Next comes Belgium who have never won it before, but given the quality of their players, that may well change this time.
And after Belgium there’s England. Really?
My thoughts on this were neatly summed up by a mate of Facebook who wrote something along the lines of: Betting explained – if you put a tenner on England to win at 20-1 that means you have just lost a tenner!
Actually, England’s odds were around the 16-1 mark, but you get the point.
Rank outsiders (at 1,000-1) are Panama and Saudi Arabia. I don’t suggest you back those either.
Portugal are slightly longer odds than England which seems to make little sense though if you look beyond Ronaldo they don’t seem to have strength in depth. Name me another Portuguese player.
Talking of “name me another player” … I found myself looking at Poland’s line-up. They have the goal machine called Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich, but beyond him I knew just three – their goalkeepers – Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus and ex-Arsenal), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea and ex-Arsenal) and Artur Boruc (Bournemouth). And that was it. I’m sure they have other good players, I’m just not aware of them.
Strange how some nations seem to specialise in good goal-keepers, the USA being another example.
VAR (video assistant referees) will be used for the first time at this World Cup so England fans should at least be spared any “hand of God” moments. Also, any disallowed goals when the ball has clearly crossed the line. I remember watching the England V Germany 2010 game at Shenanigans in Jomtien (since re-named Hemingways) when Lampard “scored” which would have brought the scores level. Still shudder at the recollection of how the goal wasn’t awarded. England had been outplayed up to that point but, having gone two behind, bringing the score back to 2-2 might have put them in the ascendancy. Moot point!
Of the 12 venues used to stage the competition, Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium and the Saint Petersburg Stadium (the two largest in Russia) will be used most, with seven matches being played at each. Sochi, Kazan, Nizhny Novogrod and Samara will each host six matches including one quarter-final match apiece, and the Otkrytiye Stadium in Moscow and Rostov-on-Don will host five matches including one round of 16 match each. Volgograd, Kaliningrad, Yekaterinburg and Saransk will host four matches each and none of these cities will host any knockout stage games.
Thailand is four hours ahead of Russia so a match kicking off at, say, 6pm there will be on the TV at 10pm in Pattaya. Of course, not all games kick-off then. Many will require getting up in the early hours of the morning. Two of England’s group games, for example, will start at one in the morning Thai time.
So, let’s look at the tournament group-by-group…
Group A: comprises Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay
It’s difficult to look beyond Uruguay and Russia. But I’m not sure Russia have a team good enough to have qualified were they not the tournament hosts. The hosts usually do well, but I think a Mo Salah-inspired Egypt may cause an upset.
Prediction (group winners first): Uruguay and Egypt to progress to last 16
Group B: Iran, Morocco, Portugal and Spain
I will be surprised if the two teams from the Iberian peninsula don’t make progress. Not the toughest of calls.
Prediction: Spain and Portugal
Group C: Australia, Denmark, France and Peru
Peru finished fifth in South America and just missed out on the four automatic spots. They needed to beat New Zealand to get to Russia so it’s hard to imagine they will do well. It’s not impossible that Australia could make progress from this group. But, I’ll risk being accused of European bias and plump for …
Prediction: France and Denmark
Group D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria
I’d say Argentina have a real chance of winning the whole thing but, somehow, they seem to have found a way of screwing up in recent tournaments. Still, with Messi in the team you never know. Nigeria were the first African team to qualify for Russia with several English Premiership players in their ranks. Croatia needed a play-off win against Greece to get to the finals. Just because Iceland is capable of beating England I don’t expect them to shine.
Prediction: Argentina and Nigeria
Group E: Brazil, Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland
I expect Brazil to be a shoe-in for the last 16. Serbia edged out Ireland (the Southern kind) and Wales to top their qualifying group which, for me, makes them slight favourites over Costa Rica and Switzerland. But only slight.
Prediction: Brazil and Serbia
Group F: Germany, South Korea, Mexico and Sweden
Definitely a “who will be runners-up?” group. Germany apart, I don’t think there’s a lot to separate them.
Prediction: Germany and South Korea
Group G: Belgium, England, Panama and Tunisia
Let’s be honest, England could have landed a much tougher draw. I wouldn’t bet on the three lions to win the whole thing but I would expect them to qualify alongside Belgium. That’s done it! They will probably go out at the first hurdle given I think they will progress.
Prediction: Belgium and England
Group H: Colombia, Japan, Poland and Senegal
If Robert Lewandowski is fit, I expect Poland to go through. If he isn’t, it’s more of a lottery. Japan has been producing better players in recent years. Colombia are always a tough nut to crack.
Prediction: Poland and Japan
So that’s my thoughts. The tournament kicks-off on Thursday 14 June when hosts Russia face Saudi Arabia.
A note of caution – consider the wisdom of drinking down Walking Street when large numbers of tourists from rival teams are likely to be out on the town. I won’t name names but we all know that certain rivalries can quickly turn ugly.
Enjoy the tournament and may your team not make fools of themselves. England, are you listening?
By Dave Buckley