World Cup 2018 – Upset on the cards?

As the first round of group games come to a close, things are looking quite interesting. They kicked off with what was on paper a possible borefest especially with the Russian form going into the finals. Oh how wrong were we all when the hosts pummelled Saudi Arabia. The Middle East state had looked woeful in defence, but nothing could take away some well taken goals. It will be interesting to see if they can replicate the same performance against Uruguay and Egypt in the remaining games.

Uruguay and Egypt met in the other Group A game and the South American side were probably grateful that their North African opponents hadn’t brought on Mo Salah. They made three substitutions but none would include the Liverpool player. The Egyptian coach may have rued that decision as Uruguay stole the points with a 90th minute header.

Group B had seen Portugal and Spain drawn together. It was always going to be a cracking game, but I don’t think many would have foreseen exactly how the game would pan out, especially after the Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui was sacked a few days previous. A six goal thriller that included a questionable penalty, a Robert Green World Cup howler award nomination from De Gea and sublime free kick from the man that is Cristiano Ronaldo. The other Group B match saw Iran steal a very late winner in their tie against Morocco. For Iran though I think that will be as good as it gets, the best they could do is get a point against Spain and Portugal and even then that might be pushing it. The Spanish haven’t lost since Euro 2016, but had   drawn three of their last five games.  Morocco will need a miracle to get anything given that they have already lost.  They will though need to at least give themselves hope by improving their shooting.

Group C saw Australia concede the first VAR goal when Josh Ridon’s slide on Griezmann was penalised. The Aussies were level again a few minutes lates when Jedinak converted a penalty, following Umtiti handled Mooy’s free-kick. Australia played well and could consider themselves unlucky when Paul Pogba’s deflected goal narrowly crossed the line. The Australian team had deserved a draw and can take hope from their performance, unlike their cricketing national team. More positive football against Denmark and Peru, the Southern Hemisphere nation could sneak through into the last sixteen.

Group D saw the giants of South America pitted against the minnows of Europe, yes Argentina and Lionel Messi took on the Euro 2016 conquerors of England, Iceland. The Argentinians took the lead and all seemed well, but the lead lasted barely five minutes when Iceland levelled through Finnbogason. Half time came and went and then a foul by Iceland sees them give a penalty away. Who should step up? None other than Lionel Messi, it was surely going to be 2-1, well we would be wrong, Messi saw his penalty saved. To be honest it wasn’t the best penalty taken. Argentina would bombard Iceland with nearly 30 shots and nearly 80% possession. They would fail  take advantage and thus fail to win their opening World Cup game for the first time in a decade.

Croatia took on Nigeria in the other group game. There was great hope for the African nation who had released a popular home kit. Unfortunately their performance was less dazzling. Croatia on the other hand saw their midfield combo of Modric and Rakitic running the midfield. Unfortunately there was little elsewhere for Croatia to shout out about as they managed two shots on target, whilst their lacklustre opponents managed the same and they didn’t manage a shot on target until the 59th minute. The group looks like it could possibly see an upset, I guess it could all come down to goal difference if Nigeria end up losing their remaining games and the others finish on the same points. Could it really be a European double  coming through this group?

Group E saw Brazil going into this group being odds on favourites with everyone else playing for second. Now though Brazil face Costa Rica knowing that they need to win to avoid an even worse scenario than 2014. For all their shots and possession, the five time champions failed to convert those chances and it would prove costly with the Swiss equalising early in the second half. Brazil had 21 shots with 5 on target whilst the European nation 2 from 5. Given their opening game record, it would seem that the South American side would have landed all three points. Not this time though. They should still progress shouldn’t they? That may all come down to how they play against Serbia and Costa Rica.

Serbia in the other game grabbed the necessary three points against a disappointing Costa Rica. Was hard to believe that the Costa Rica had managed to progress ahead of Italy and England in Brazil, but here we were. A quality free kick from Kolarov was enough to separate the two. They will of course require a strong defence against Brazil and Switzerland, but of course one victory out of the remaining two should be enough for the Balkan nation.

Group F was going to be an interesting one, a group of death. Holders Germany were drawn with Mexico, Sweden and South Korea. Germany were of course the nation to beat, but come Sunday afternoon, well things turned out very different. That well known German efficiency seemed to disappear although in the run up to the World Cup, Joachim Low’s team had looked far from Germany like Mexico went at their opponents and made them look average. The CONCACAF nation should have left the Germans in their wake but could only manage the one goal that came in the 35th minute. Germany will need to tighten up at the back, but they face Sweden next and the Swedes will go in with the advantage of needing one win to qualify for the next stage.

The Scandinavian side also managed a single goal win against South Korea. It came via a VAR penalty following a foul on Claesson by Kim Min-Woo. The Swedes did enough although didn’t really have to do much against the disappointing South Korea. It doesn’t look good for the Asian side, whilst Sweden will have high hopes, especially with them minus Zlatan Ibrahimovic. If they can press the Germans on Saturday and cause trouble like the Mexican side did, it is quite possible that the defending champions will go out in the group stage. Given their form before the World Cup, no one would be surprised.

Mexico look odds on favourites to progress from the group. Their performance was something and the 1-0 didn’t reflect how much trouble they caused Germany. South Korea will certainly be no match for the Latin American side and will go into the final game against Sweden needing  a point at worst. Should Germany though bounce back and beat Sweden, then it will all be to play for come the final game and who knows what will happen.

Group G saw England kick off in their group. It had felt like a long time, but it was was finally here. Main rivals Belgium had kicked off the group with debutants Panama. It had looked like the Central American side would possibly keep Belgium at bay, especially when the score was 0-0 at half time. That though would change when Dries Merten struck home in the 47th minute. Man Utd striker Romelu Lukaku would later add 2 goals to make the score respectable.

Come the evening it was England kicking off. Could England go one better than Germany, Portugal and Brazil in their respective opening games or would it be business as usual. Well England started well and took the lead after 11 minutes through Harry Kane. The home nation though had plenty of chances to score in a half that saw the Tunisian goalkeeper go off with an injury.  Those missed chances looked like they would be punished as the North African side were level through a somewhat soft penalty. The game progressed and it looked like it would head for a draw despite the referee and the VAR failing to notice two of the most deliberately obvious fouls since Harald Schumacher introduced wrestling moves into World Cup football. Justice would be done as like a few other games, there would be a late winner. Harry Kane headed home from Maguire’s flick on.

The group looks like being decided on the final game as England face Belgium which could either see a winner outright or on goal difference.

So Group H, it seemed reasonable to expect Colombia to come out on top but maybe Poland edging Senegal….OH No, that wasn’t going to go to plan. Colombia went down to ten men early and giving them the second fastest red card in World Cup finals history following a handball in the penalty area. Shinji Kagawa stepped up and converted. The Japanese side failed to take their opportunities and saw their lead go when Quintero equalised from a free kick. It looked like honours even but Osako netted Japan’s second and ultimately the winner. They looked good and have every chance now of progressing having won their first win on European soil in World Cup finals.

Poland went into the tournament looking positive but the opening game seemed to go off kilter for them. Defender Kamil Glik had been injured pre game and his replacement may have wished that he hadn’t. Thiago Cionek had a game to forget as he deflected a shot from Everton’s Idrissa Gueye into his own net. Lewandowski, who had been in fine form for his club, seemed to have lost that form on the plane over. Controversy came in the second half when M’Baye Niang recovered quickly from injury to rush on to the pitch and and slot home after beating Szczesny and Bednarek. Their complaints fell on deaf ears but a Senegal win would have been the correct result regardless. Krychowiak headed home in the last ten minutes to give them hope. Senegal’s win broke the African nations run of defeats and look the best hope from Africa to progress through to the knockout stage.

The second round of games, will put eliminate some nations and still answer questions for others.

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Football Fixture Release day Review Part One

“So here we are once again, another June another football fixture release day. The final season before the Winter Break comes in also sees Arsenal entering a new beginning post Arsene Wenger. Tottenham will finally see their new ground whilst Liverpool will look to move forward and head to glory, especially if they add to their current transfer activity. Man Utd will look to close the points gap on Man City and even maybe play some old Man Utd entertaining football.

The newly promoted teams will hope like they did last season, all survive. Wolves, Fulham and Cardiff all return to the Premier League and hope that they are several points away from the bottom.

So how did the fixtures computer treat everyone on this World Cup opening day? Will you be cursing or will you be breathing a sigh of relief. Let’s take a look at what  will unfold.

Arsenal fans, I imagine you might well have been shaking your head and cursing the computer. Their first league game under the stewardship of Unai Emery, open with a home game against reigning champions Manchester City, but it doesn’t get easier either as they travel to Stamford Bridge the following weekend before hosting West Ham at the end of August.

December is far from joyful for the Gunners. They kick off the month with the north London derby at the Emirates on the 1st, and then take a trip to Old Trafford a few days later. A few easier fixtures see visits to Southampton and a visit from Huddersfield, but the year ends with a trip to Anfield. Emery’s men will hope to get a better result than previous.

Should Arsenal be chasing Champions League or even the title, then April and May should give them something to look forward to. April sees visits to Everton, Watford and Leicester City with May seeing a visit from the south coast Brighton and a trip to Burnley, which could be the trickiest game.

Man City defend their crown with the already mentioned Arsenal as well as Huddersfield Town, and newly promoted Wolves. Last season Huddersfield took a point from the Champions as the season wound down and they would hope the same again, but the fixture being early in the season, the current Champions will be looking to maintain a strong defence of the title. The last time these two sides met, was in the 2011/12 season when Man City won both fixtures and of course won the title. Could history repeat once more or will Wolves have something to say.

Christmas for Man City sees a lot of travelling for the City fans. Out of the seven fixtures , four of them see visits to Chelsea, Watford, Leicester and end 2018 with a trip to the coast and Southampton. Games at the Etihad see Bournemouth and then back to back games against Everton and Crystal Palace. Should City still be chasing for back to back titles, then come April, Guardiola’s team can look forward to an easier run. April sees Cardiff, Palace, Burnley and a slightly more trickier visit from Tottenham. Leicester provide Man City’s final home game whilst the season finale involves a visit to Brighton

Man Utd start their challenge for the Premier League title starts quite reasonably  with a home game against Leicester and a trip to Brighton (although hoping to forget last seasons trip south) before their third game hosting title chasing rivals Tottenham. In fact the month of September should give Man Utd a reasonable points return with visits to Watford and a home game against Wolves in amongst the trickier trips to Burnley and West Ham.

The first Manchester derby sees the Reds travel to the Etihad on 10th November. The Old Trafford club has a busy December that includes Arsenal, Fulham and home games to Huddersfield on Boxing Day and Bournemouth in the final game of the season.

Man Utd hope to make more of a challenge for the title this season and in the final run in, if the title is still open, the Reds have what should be a fair run in. April doesn’t appear to be too bad. Trips to Wolves and Everton are mixed with home games against the Hammers and a possible tricky game against Chelsea. Groans of unfair fixtures from Old Trafford will seem more quiet.

Liverpool go into the season with some positivity once more. The Champions League might have been a defeat, but the with all the build up, it would appear that Klopp’s team had identified another player and swiping Fabinho from under the noses of Manchester United and will no doubt add more.

The fixtures machine was relatively good to Liverpool with two out of the three August fixtures at Anfield. With no Champions League qualifiers to play, it’s a longer break between pre season and the Premier League opening fixtures. Making early visits to the north west are West Ham and Brighton. The Reds enjoyed home games against West Ham and Brighton. Liverpool travel to Crystal Palace in the second game of the season. It’s a reverse fixture of the second game from last season.

September provides two top six match ups as at the start of September, Liverpool play the first league game against Tottenham at their new ground, whilst finishing September with another London visit in the shape of Chelsea.

December brings a busy month for Liverpool as they play 7 games throughout the month. Anfield sees visits from Everton, Man Utd, Arsenal and Newcastle Utd who reconvene the inbetween Christmas and New Years fixture. Liverpool’s trips away see visits to Burnley and Bournemouth. Last season December brought 15 points out of 21 and 20 goals scored and five goals conceded. Those December games saw Liverpool in a thrilling 3-3 draw at the Emirates and 4-0 at Bournemouth.

Come April Liverpool hope to be higher than fourth and challenging for their nineteenth title, their road to to glory in April sees a somewhat easier run with Chelsea only being the tougher club. May sees a trip to Newcastle Utd and a home game against Wolves. Klopp’s team will certainly avoid a defeat against the Midlands club and will more than likely will avoid season finale loss.

Tottenham bring part one to an end and in turn they bring their Wembley spell to an  end with their first ‘home’ game of the season.  Their game at the new White Hart Lane is against Liverpool which comes after their  trip to Man Utd. They don’t return to White Hart Lane until October when they host Cardiff and Man City. Their other tie is a short trip to the Olympic Stadium

Tottenham go into the final run in with literally home advantage. Four of the six remaining games are at home which should give them a decent hope if they are still within a chance of glory. Brighton, Huddersfield and West Ham visit in April with Everton rounding off the season at the Lane. Spurs do though have a trip to the Etihad in April which could be a possible decider.

Tottenham’s quest for glory will also depend on summer signings, although in the football cliche, tying down their manager and leading striker could be the best two signings. We shall though just have to wait and see.

 

World Cup Preview – Group H Poles in position with a South American follower

The final group appears to be one that is looking tough to predict. Completing the finals line up are Colombia, Japan, Poland and Senegal all of which have finals nations have finals experience and experience of reaching the knockout stages.

Poland appearing in finals number seven, have great World Cup history. The 1970’s and 80’s had great promise which saw two third place finishes and a quarter final exit to Brazil in 1986. More recently though fortune has been difficult to find. The finals in Russia are Poland’s first since 2006 where they were eliminated in the group stage.

This time round the Poles will be looking to Robert Lewandowski for inspiration. In the pre World Cup games he has delivered with four goals in six games and if his club form is anything to go by, he should bag some goals. The nations top scorer could, also with progress from the group stage collect his 100th cap for his country but that would need a Quarter final visit. More likely though is midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski is one game from reaching a ton. One observation is the fact that two of Poland’s goalkeepers ply their trade in England.Fabianski playing for Swansea and Bartosz Bialkowski of Ipswich. The other keeper is of course Wojciech Szczesny formerly of Arsenal and former team mate of Fabianski.

The Poles are in a strong position will face either England or Belgium.

Colombia qualified for the finals by taking the fourth and final automatic spot. Had Ospina not conceded an own goal,they could have even finished third above Argentina. Safe to say though they have looked generally strong and should not be underestimate. Pre tournament friendlies saw the South American nation beat France in Paris.

Wearing the armband for Colombia will be Colombia’s all time leading scorer Radamel Falcao. Since returning to Monaco following his disappointing loan spells at Man Utd and Chelsea, he has been firing on all cylinders and whilst playing for his national side, he has bagged four goals in seven games.

The midfield will look strong as well with James Rodriguez lining up with Juan Cuadrado there will be the good chance of goals although they failed to hit the net in their last two games against fellow finalists Egypt and Australia. They will be buoyed by the fact that they face Japan once again. They met in Brazil where they breezed to a 4-1 win. It was also their best tournament performance as they reached the quarter finals. If they can keep their defence tight then they have a good chance of progressing and even causing an upset.

Senegal go into only their second tournament. This time round managed by former Portsmouth and Birmingham City player Aliou Cisse. Like other nations, they have a fair contingent of English club based players including Mane of Liverpool, Idrissa Gueyes of Everton, Mame Diouf of Stoke and Cheikhou Kouyate of West Ham whom all have 150 caps between them. That itself is good experience.

Their form is not too bad, they might not be scoring much but at the same time they have been keeping a fair number of clean sheets, which will be crucial if goal difference is the decisive means of ensuring qualification.

Whilst the clean sheets might be good, the lack of goals might hinder them.

Japan completes the line up in Group H. The most successful Asian nation are at their sixth consecutive World Cup finals. Their build up though was hampered when the Japanese FA sacked Vahid Halilhodzic in April and replaced him with Akita Nishino,who it seems hadn’t been in a managerial position since 2015. It seems a strange choice but whether this is a temporary option who knows.

Premier League fans will recognise Maya Yoshida, Shinji Kagawa formerly of Man Utd and now back with Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki. These players along with the German based players should give them a reasonable hope. Will it though be enough to see them progress? Possibly not.

Group Prediction

1) Poland 2 ) Colombia 3) Senegal 4) Japan

World Cup – Group F Three Lions Slay The Red Devils

It’s England’s group and many people have written England off already, some even who don’t follow football as is the national pastime. There has been little fuss over the last few months since qualifying but even still there is much to be optimistic about. Whilst not being everyone’s first choice, the FA appointed Gareth Southgate after a four game trial. England qualified relatively easy and under the former England defender the Three Lions have suffered only two defeats, both in Friendlies. Only Germany and France have beaten England whilst Italy grabbed a late and controversial VAR aided penalty to deny England another victory.

Unlike previous tournaments, Harry Kane will lead the team out and certainly won’t be taking corners anytime soon. Southgate picks a squad mixed with youth and experience. Pickford leads the way in goal taking the number one jersey whilst back ups include Stoke City’s Jack Butland (shirt number 13- not an omen I hope) and Nick Pope. Defence sees the likes of Stones, Jones and Cahill with fullbacks including Walker, Rose and Alexander Arnold.

The form of Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford see them take a place in the squad and I wouldn’t be surprised to see young Rashford bag some goals.

Vardy and Kane will no doubt lead the attack, but can look forward to support from the likes of Lingard, Sterling and Delli Alli.

England should win the group, there is hunger and youth and with the U-21’s winning the Toulon tournament, doesn’t England’s future look really positive. A group win for England would see them face either Poland, Colombia or Senegal. Surely it’s time?

Belgium are looking to hit the big time again but they like England, now have a Golden Generation which though has struggled to show their worth. Having nailed World Cup qualification from 1982 all the way to 2002 where they either exited in the group stage or losing in the 1986 semi finals, 2014 saw their first World Cup finals after 12 years. Down in Brazil they had high hopes only to be knocked out in the quarter finals by Argentina.

Qualification this time round came very easily where only a draw against Greece with a last minute Lukaku equaliser denied Roberto Martinez’s team a 100% record. With Greece being the strongest rival, the remaining group saw Bosnia, Estonia, Cyprus and Gibraltar. Any nation though should get through that group without a hitch.

The Belgians have another good run of form having not lost since their post Euro 2016 friendly. The key games post qualifiers seen six friendlies with four clean sheets out of 6. The squad of course will have a familiar look as 12 of the finals squad ply their trade with Premier League clubs. Familiar faces will include Eden Hazard, Kompany, Lukaku, Vertonghen Courtois are some of the names we will see.

Martinez though will be sweating over the injury of Kompany who picked up an injury against Portugal. Not such a concern will be Eden Hazard who picked up a dead leg. Not that two players out of 23 will have a direct affect in Belgium’s squad.

Belgium will progress, but can they improve on previous competitions who knows but then of course that is when things can get tricky. The squad though will see some players playing their last World Cup whilst others pushing to further to Qatar 2022. The likes of Vermaelen, Kompany and Vertonghen will be 34/35 at the next tournament, too late for one more? But will though still have the likes of Hazard, Januzaj, Tielemans helping to steer the national team forward to the next Euro’s and World Cup.

Tunisia are back in their fifth finals tournament and their first since Germany 2006 when they finished third. They have faced England and Belgium at the finals and if there is a glimmer of hope for the North African nation then it comes in the form of their meeting against Belgium ending in a draw. Sadly their last game against England ended in defeat. Panama brings new opportunity for three points. They have lost one in their last 6 games which came against Spain with an 84th minute goal conceded. The side can expect to finish third once more as experience proves crucial.

Panama complete the group and it doesn’t look great for the Central American nation who make their debut. Having been drawn in the same group as England and Belgium, they have managed one win against Trinidad & Tobagoin their last five and have managed a solitary goal which came in that win against Trinidad whilst conceding eight goals although 6 which came against Denmark.

They will go in against Belgium hoping to put in a reasonable performance where they can hope to at least score a goal and to keep their defence as tight as possible. When you have the likes of Hazard, Lukaku, Vardy and Kane coming at your defence in the first two games, many would probably cross their fingers and close their eyes. I think that Panama’s World Cup debut will be one that they wont want to remember in a hurry.

Group Prediction

England take top spot, Belgium second as Tunisia gain first win. Its bottom for Panama

World Cup Preview – Group F Beware of an upset?

So when a group contains Germany, you can be expected to see it win the group with no worries, as the past 6 World Cup final tournaments have seen Germany top their group. Not for a while though have Germany gone into a tournament finals with a solitary win in their last 6 games. Three draws, one of which was a last minute equaliser against France, together with defeats to Brazil and Austria have left the current holders in an unusual position.  Defeats against Austria don’t come often and in fact prior to 2018, the previous result was when Germany was separated and the then West Germany lost 4-1.

The build up has seen Leroy Sane dropped, Gundogan jeered but on the upside goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is back in the squad and the team captain despite being injured and not in training till May but in the grand scheme of things, stability at the back is only a good thing.

Their opponents though may smell blood as the Germans open up against Mexico who have the better form albeit two defeats in their six friendlies since qualifying. Sweden minus the national legend Ibrahimovic and South Korea have form that barely anything to shout out about.

Germany should turn on the style at the big stage shouldn’t they? The’ve never gone out in the group stage, well apart from the second group stage in Argentina 1978.

Mexico qualify for their 16th Finals competition where they hope to get past the last 16. Their best performance is the quarter finals which they achieved in 1970 and 1986 ( both hosted in Mexico. Since 1994, because they were banned from Italia 90,  they have come unstuck in the last 16 losing to Argentina (2)Netherlands Germany USA and Bulgaria.

The El Tricolor will look to Javier Hernandez to help propel the nation to glory and reach his half century of goals. He is already the nations top scorer and it will be likely he has it for a few years yet. His nearest rivals will still be far behind him by the time Hernandez retired.

Will they have enough to get through? I think they just might take second spot. Who knows, if they can deny Germany a win then they just might win the group. We shall know on 17th June.

Sweden qualified for their twelfth finals by finishing second and denying the Dutch a playoff spot. Their reward was a two leg tie against Italy. The managed a 1-0 win and denied the Azzuri a World Cup finals for the first time since 1958. Since then it’s been a struggle. One goal in the last four games and three games in a row without scoring is not a good sign. Whilst moving on is a necessary thing in football, the decision though not to call up Zlatan Ibrahimovic may not be the best thing especially with a lack of goals and their attacking line up doesn’t look brilliant. Marcus Berg has 18 in 57 whilst Ola Toivenen 13 in 57 over an 11 year period. Ibrahimovic suffered a possible career ending injury, but bounced back to bag goals in the US. Yes Major League Soccer might not be the same standard but when you aren’t scoring, beggars can’t be choosers.

I can’t see Sweden progressing unless they can bag the goals. Third will be their best hope if they struggle.

Finally South Korea and boy what a mixed bag of results they have had. Two back to to back defeats post qualifiers saw an eight game unbeaten run only to undo that with one win in their last six . Two of those defeats saw them concede late or last minute winners. Conceding late goals is something that will cost the South Koreans dearly in the finals,especially when Germany and Mexico are your opponents.

They will be able to call on Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min, but will need him to replicate his club form rather than his international form otherwise it will be an early exit. This will be their ninth appearance and it will take a lot to repeat the dizzy heights of fourth in 2002.

 

Group Prediction

Mexico win the group (Goal Difference) 2nd Germany, 3rd Sweden 4th South Korea

World Cup Preview Group E- Brazil fly as the rest fight for second

Another World Cup and another group that Brazil should win. They have only failed to get out of the group stage on two occasions which were 1930, when the competition held in Uruguay was invitational and in then in 1966. In that the 1966 tournament, they finished third in the group behind group winners Portugal and Hungary.

Brazil have rarely finished either second so it could be inevitable that they end up group winners, especially in a group consisting of Switzerland, Serbia and Costa Rica.

Switzerland make their tenth appearance at the World Cup finals and will hope that they can reach at least the last 16 like they did in Brazil. Argentina broke their hearts with an extra time winner with two minutes to go. They will hope not to go through that again. They had to come through a play off win after blowing their qualification group lead, but their defeat against Portugual was their only defeat since the penalty shoot out defeat at Euro 2016. Their pre World Cup friendlies have seen a 6-0 thrashing of England’s opponents Panama, a draw with Spain and a win against Japan.

The Swiss will be captained by new Arsenal signing Stephane Lichtsteiner, who will be hoping to not only move level  with Swiss legend Stephane Chapuisat on 103 caps but even move ahead. He has helped to keep the Swiss team tight at the back and hard to break down. They have conceded just eight goals in the last 17 games. He will be joined by fellow England based winger Xherdan Shaqiri, currently of Stoke City.

Switzerland kick off with Brazil, I guess it’s always better to get the big one out the way first, because know nation wants to go into their final game knowing that possible qualification hinges on beating Brazil. Last time out though Switzerland beat the Boys from South America thanks to an own goal from Dani Alves. A repeat of that win will go down well.  They follow up with Serbia where the two nations meet for the first time so it will be interesting to see how they fair against each other. They finish the group with a tie against Costa Rica. The Central American side won’t be pushovers though so things could be close.

Costa Rica in their fifth World Cup finals will be strong contenders to get out their group, but they will need to put their recent form behind them. Since finishing the qualifying period the CONCACAF nation have lost four out of six friendlies and have one final friendly to play against Belgium. Saying that though Costa Rica’s pre World Cup 2014 form was nothing to shout about and they got to the Quarter Finals. A positive result against Serbia in the opening game will give them good stead to progress

Costa Rica will hope that Celso Borges finds his shooting boots again having not scored since 2016 although he will move up to joint third if he plays all three group games. Goals from the strikers have been thin on the ground but if the others can pla their part then that should help them. Marco Urena has bagged four in their last nine, although his international career is fairing better than his recent club career.

Finally it is Serbia,who qualify for their second tournament as Serbia,they had previously played in 2006 as Serbia & Montenegro. Their route to the finals saw them top a group including Wales and the Republic of Ireland. They dominated the group only losing once and drawing three out of the ten games. Aleksandar Mitrovic finished top scorer with ten of his nations goals. He’s been in top form for Serbia bagging 14 goals in his last 19 games. This form helped was enough to also see him bag 12 in 17 games on loan with Fulham.

The Balkan nation go into the finals with two defeats in the last six games although two of those in the last four against Morocco and Chile. Nothing can be really taken from those friendlies especially with wins and defeats against nations from the same continent.

Should one of Costa Rica, Serbia or Switzerland deny Brazil all three points in one game, anything could happen, but I expect Brazil to come through the group.

 

Group Prediction

Brazil win the group, Switzerland sneak second as Costa Rica and Serbia narrowing miss out.

World Cup Preview – Group D Messi drives Argentina but who will follow

It’s Group D and one of the first trickiest ones to decide, well tricky in deciding who goes through with Argentina. The South American nation will naturally be favourites but in a group that consists of World Cup debutants Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria, it may well be very close to call.

Argentina make their 16th finals competition and lost to Germany in Brazil 2014 final. Their final appearance had previously come against West Germany shortly before the German unification. They go into the finals on the backs of mixed friendly performances. They found themselves beating Russia and Italy, but lost against group opponents Nigeria 4-2 and were on the receiving end of a 6-1 drubbing by Spain. That might be enough to make an Argentinian football supporter feel a bit nervous, but the World Cup will be a different kettle of fish they would hope? Of course it would, but there is one not so good omen that lingers for Argentina in the World Cup. Back in 2002 Argentina were drawn in the same group as Nigeria where the South American nation lost in the opening game. This time they meet at the end of the group stage.

Nigeria, looked strong in the World Cup qualifiers winning the group five points clear of Zambia but apart from the African national championship (Not to be confused with the African Cup of Nations)where they got t the final, the post World Cup Qualifying games have not brought much joy. Since March 23rd, they have managed only one win and a draw and four defeats, most recently against the Czech Republic and England.

The Super Eagles appear in their sixth finals and would hope to achieve reaching the  last 16 as they had in 2014 when they were eliminated by France. The Last 16 is the nations best achievement which was their progress in the USA 94 and France 98 tournaments. In the knockout stages they saw  defeat by Italy in 94 and a heavy defeat by Denmark in 98. Should Denmark win their group and Nigeria finish second in theirs, they could once again meet in the last 16. If the African nation are to make it into the knock out stages, then they will certainly have to up their game.

Croatia came second in their qualifying group where they came second to Iceland who are also in Group D. They missed out on winning the group after a penultimate draw at home to Finland and had to play Greece, who they easily brushed aside. They will look to do much better than their 2014 group stage exit, where their only win was against Cameroon. In fact their best performance are in France 98 when they finished second behind none other than Argentina. Could this be a positive omen? Who knows but they will need to be on good form. The post qualification friendlies have like for other nations, brought mixed results. Two defeats against South American opposition in the form of Peru and Brazil, whilst beating Mexico. Their final friendly fixture sees them take on Senegal, who will be a good test as African opponents. They kick off their tournament campaign against Senegal.

Croatia take a strong squad that features 7 Italian based players and four Spanish based player, some of which won trophies this past season. Will this though convert to international glory, who will know. What we do know is that Croatia will meet Nigeria for the first time in their history.

Finally in the group, it is World Cup debutants Iceland. The small island nation came close in 2014 when they reached the playoffs before being eliminated in the playoffs by fellow group nation Croatia. The Icelanders then went on to Euro 2016 where they reached the quarter finals.

It is astonishing that Iceland prior to the World Cup 2014 qualifiers had not won more than 4 games (2002). They will though be hoping that their form going into the finals improves. Prior to their 2-2 draw against Ghana, which the European nation had blown away a 2-0 lead, had lost three straight games and four in eight overall. Defeats against Norway, Peru and Mexico all saw defeats that conceded three goals. Not form or a defence that you want when you are likely to be facing Messi in one game and Mandzukic of Croatia in another.

 

Group Prediction

Argentina take the group, Croatia take second Nigeria 3rd and Iceland 4th in a tight race.