The 2018 World Cup is upon us finally. After a long 4 year wait since Germany hosted the Jules Rimet Trophy in Rio de Janeiro on July 13th, we are finally here, the start of the greatest show on earth, the 2018 World Cup from Russia.
Picking a World Cup Winner is akin to trying to pick something for your wife from the clothing store without directions or a hint of what she is looking for. It is just not that easy. Sure we have the heavyweights where laying down your hard earned cash won’t be a risk, and also some dark horse that can surprise the world and look to make a deep run into the semifinals (ala South Korea in 2002, Bulgaria 1994) but the beauty of this sport is that anything can happen on any given match day and shocks and upsets are bound to come our way.
Brazil (5.00) are favorites and, since skipper Tite took over the Selecao two years ago he has lifted the once near-dead spirit of the Brazilian nation and squad. It is more than understandable that Brazil hunt and try to win their first World since 2002 and they are first on European soil since 1958. But it isn’t only about winning the trophy and becoming the undeniable world best footballing nation, but also to wipe away that 7-1 thrashing from Germany in the semifinal of the 2014 World Cup on home soil. A result so demoralizing that in a poll taken after that match 67% of voters wanted to move from the country to not be associated with the national team. Brazil hangs their hopes on superstar bad boy and world’s highest paid player Neymar. Back from injury nearly, he is supported by a stellar midfield and hard working back four that combined together can lead this team to their record 6th win in the tournament.
Germany (6.00) a team so packed with talent that coach Joachim Löw could not even fit the English Premier League ‘’ PFA Young Player Of The Year’’ award winner Leroy Sané. 4 years ago they became the villains to most everybody in the world (but for sure in all of everybody in Brazil) after thrashing the hosts 7-1 in the semifinals, now they try to become the first nation to win back to back World Cups since Brazil did it in 1958 and 1962. They have the mentality of a winner (they have reached the final four of the last 4 World Cups and the last 3 European Championships), the experience and quality that Germany can easily even run away with the tournament this year. Germany will be a sight to behold with their clinical setup and breakdown of teams this year in Russia.
Spain (7.00) comes into this year’s World Cup with a healthy mix of superstar youngsters and superb veterans. Lead by the next coach of Real Madrid Julen Lopetegui, Spain is readying themselves for life without Andres Iniesta as this will be his home nation swan song. Just 8 years removed from their own World Cup win, with that scorching winner from Andres Iniesta against the Netherlands, now just 2 World Cup cycles later the whole generation of that win has nearly been erased and coach Lopetegui hopes the new influx of talent will be enough to carry the Spaniards all the way to a win in 2018.
France (8.00) is arguably the most talented team at this year’s World Cup. From Samuel Umtiti and fantastic goalkeeper Raphael Varane at the back to N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba manning the middle of the pitch, so maybe the best goal scoring tandem outside of Uruguay in Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann. They are so talented and deep in this generation of French football that even the 2nd squad of players that didn’t get the call-up from coach Didier Deschamps would easily make the quarterfinals. The issue is one of veteran leadership though and perhaps even Deschamps himself. After they came up short in France at the 2016 rendition of the European Championship he and the team themselves are under pressure to right the ship.
Argentina (11.00) is a heavyweight! I write that in a way that I shout, we don’t believe that Argentina shouldn’t be uttered in the same breath as the four mentioned nations we just talked about before, but this year’s squad is very top heavy (big starts leading the front and somewhat dubious in skill manning the back line), and it has been a very bumpy ride for them to even qualify for Russia. They will need Lionel Messi to carry them on his shoulders and make a run to the final and finally lift the World Cup trophy, silverware that has eluded him so far in his illustrious career.
Belgium (12.00) will be a sight to see in this year’s World Cup. This ‘’Golden Generation’’ is quite frankly the best the nation has ever produced. Their squad is oozing with talent, with names such as Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, Mousa Dembélé, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku they provide enough talent that can make a run for the first ever Belgian team making the final and lifting the trophy. They must act at this World Cup, as this generation is nearing its peak and they must take advantage and not squander it with not even a victory in a World Cup or European Championship to show for it.
England (18.00) is actually a favorite of ours here at 9jafootball. We like the squad that Gareth Southgate has chosen and think that if some results fall their way, entry into the final four is not out of the question. Scoring will not be an issue as Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy are more than capable strikers and together can be a lethal force. We take issue in that we are afraid that those two strikers might not have the chance to make the most of their talent. The England midfield lacks that creative flair that is missing since the days of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. We love Dele Alli and believe he is the future of English football, but only 22 and trying to lead the midfield to glory is something not many top class midfielders at his age has been able to pull off.
Portugal (24.00) comes into this World Cup with an aging roster in the back that seems to be its weak point this year. The defending European Champions defied expectations 2 years ago in France and came away with the trophy. You come to wonder just how many miracles Cristiano Ronaldo has left in his legs at 33, even though he has said he wants to play till he his 40. A likely round of 16 matches with Uruguay makes the trek to the finals very difficult and we see the reigning European Champions bowing out before the quarterfinals.
How far do you stretch the circle of potential winners? Uruguay (30.00) might have the most potent offensive tandem up front in Edinson Cavani and Sergio Aguero, coupled with a hardworking midfield and staunch defense, don’t be surprised to see them make the final 4. Croatia (35.00) has the midfield and strikers to pull off an upset against any team on any day but the work they will put to get through even the group stage will set them back to start the tournament. Colombia (40.00) has the talent but lack the consistency to make a hard push and go deep in a tournament like this, but hey you only need to find that spark for 7 games to pull off the shock surprises in the end.
We love Germany here at 9jafootball, they are our out and out favorite to win this year’s World Cup. Brazil relies too heavily on one player up front in Neymar, to pose an issue for many teams. France and its abundance of talent can go far in this tournament, and we are curious to see what they can actually pull off. But if you wanna take a somewhat small risk, Belgium is our pick. We think they have just enough talent to pull this off, and in the end why not bet on a smaller country, live and die by what they do and enjoy the spectacle that is the World Cup.