The draw for next summer’s World Cup is over with all the eight groups being decided. The 2018 FIFA World Cup has some pretty exciting groups this time despite Italy, Netherlands and Chile missing out. 2014 finalists Germany and Argentina both have some tough teams in their group, reigning champions Germany have Sweden and Mexico in their group. Argentina have dark horses Croatia, newcomers Iceland and ever-unpredictable Nigeria in their group.
The grouping has been done in such a way that several exciting match-ups will arise during the first round including a few match-ups which you’d generally expect to occur during the knockout stages. Here are five highly anticipated group games during next year’s World Cup
#5. Uruguay vs Egypt
Uruguay and Egypt have been pooled in Group A of the tournament and both sides will be playing each other in what will be both of their opening games in Yekaterinburg on the 15th of June. Both teams contain two extremely lethal forwards in Luis Suarez and Mohamed Salah.
Mohamed Salah was instrumental in Egypt qualifying for their first World Cup in 28 years as he scored five goals during the qualifiers including the winner in their final match against Congo. The athletic Liverpool forward has been in sensational form this season with 17 goals from 21 matches across all competitions.
Uruguay’s all-time top scorer Luis Suarez has been one of the best strikers in the world for quite some time and this season is no different as he has scored six La Liga goals so far. The Barca striker scored 5 goals during the World Cup qualifiers including a brace in their final game against Bolivia.
Uruguay have the prolific Edinson Cavani partnering Suarez up front. The PSG striker has netted 23 goals from just 20 matches this season so far. Besides Suarez and Cavani, Uruguay have several experienced world-class players at their disposal that include the likes of skipper Diego Godin, Alvaro Pereira, Martin Caceres, Fernando Muslera and Cristian Rodriguez.
Egypt also have some pretty wonderful players in their side like Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny, Kouka, Ahmed Elmohamady, and Ahmed Fathy. They also have 44-year old goalie Essam El-Hadary who if selected, could break Colombian Faryd Mondragon’s record for the oldest player in the FIFA World Cup.
Egypt and Uruguay have played only once against each other and that was in 2006 at Alexandria. Uruguay won the match 2-0. Only three players from that match are still playing today – scorer Diego Godin, Sherif Ekramy and Ahmed Fathy. Both Uruguay and Egypt have been tipped to reach the knockout stages and their encounter will definitely be a thrilling one.
#4. Sweden vs Mexico
Group F consists of Germany, Sweden, Mexico and South Korea. Germany are the clear favourites to win the group. This means Mexico and Sweden will most likely battle it out for second spot and the Sweden-Mexico match will take place at Yekaterinburg which will also be the final game of Group F.
Sweden might be playing their first World Cup in twelve years but they are a team with some pedigree who may surprise some people whereas Mexico frequently enter the World Cup as dark horses and make it to the round of 16.
Sweden took everyone by surprise by first reaching the play-offs ahead of the Netherlands and then beating four-time World Cup Winners Italy in the play-offs. What’s more amazing is that they did it without the might of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Sweden were the fifth highest goal-scoring team during the UEFA qualifiers with 26 goals. The Swedes may not have Zlatan Ibrahimovic but they have some very experienced and talented players in their squad, these include Andreas Granqvist, Mikael Lustig, Emil Forsberg and strikers Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen.
Mexico were brilliant throughout the qualifiers and were brilliant in both offence and defence. The Mexican side have some sensational players in their defence and midfield like Rafael Marquez, Hector Moreno, skipper Andres Guardado, Hector Moreno and Giovanni Dos Santos. They have two reliable goalkeepers in Guillermo Ochoa and Jesus Corona, also in Javier Hernandez and Oribe Peralta, Mexico have two excellent, lethal forwards.
#3. Argentina vs Croatia
Argentina have been drawn in a group alongside dark horses Croatia, dangerous newcomers Iceland and always-unpredictable Nigeria. This group is considered by many to be this World Cup’s ‘Group of Death’ and all matches will be watching. However, the most anticipated match-up of the group will undoubtedly be Argentina vs Croatia. This match will take place on 21st June at Nizhny Nodgorov.
Both teams have a bucket-load of world-class players in their squad. Argentina have arguably the greatest footballer in the world in Lionel Messi who was their saviour during the qualifiers as he took Argentina to Russia by scoring a hat-trick in their final qualifier against Ecuador in Quito. The 30-year old has been outstanding this season with 17 goals in 21 matches across all competitions so far.
Besides Messi, Argentina have a fearsome set of attackers including Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala who are complemented by top-quality players like Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Romero who overall make Argentina a very strong team.
Croatia may have taken the long route to reach the World Cup but they sure have no dearth when it comes to talented players. Mario Mandzukic and Nikola Kalinic haven’t been prolific lately but they could be a menace to any opposition. However, Croatia’s strength lies in their midfield which has Luka Modric and the two Ivans, Rakitic and Perisic who have been brilliant this season so far.
In Domagoj Vida, Vedran Corluka and Dejan Lovren, Croatia have an experienced and reliable defense and they also have a terrific custodian in Danijel Subasic.
Argentina and Croatia have clashed four times so far with Argentina winning twice while Croatia have won once in 2006. Nevertheless, this encounter will be a thrilling one to watch.
#2. England vs Belgium
Belgium and England will be expected to blow away Tunisia and FIFA World Cup debutants Panama, meaning that the two European teams will be fighting it out for top spot. The match between England and Belgium will be one of the two final games of the group, taking place in Kaliningrad on the 28th of June. This will be 28 years and a day after both teams last met at the World Cup in 1990 at the last 16 with David Platt’s last-gasp wonder-volley taking England to the quarter-finals.
While England have drawn their last two international fixtures Belgium have won one and drawn one, however, England’s opponents were Germany and Brazil whilst Belgium faced Japan and Mexico.
England will be playing their first major tournament in fourteen years without Wayne Rooney, however, England have some brilliant players in their squad that include the likes of Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Gary Cahill, Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge.
Belgium probably have one of the strongest teams in the world right now as they have Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois and Jan Vertonghen. However, Belgium’s ace in the pack is Romelu Lukaku who has been brilliant for both club and country this season.
Their World Cup clash will be the 22nd encounter between England and Belgium, although England lead the head to head with 15 wins compared to Belgium’s four. They haven’t faced Belgium since 2012 and this was before most of the current generation of Belgium footballers made their international debut.
While Belgium will be considered the favourite, England can never be written off. Either way, this clash will be one of the most anticipated match-ups at the 2018 World Cup.
#1. Spain vs Portugal
Group B is the most straight-forward group in the tournament as Spain and Portugal are favoured to stroll to the knockout stages ahead of Iran and Morocco. The Iberian neighbours play the second match of Group B at Sochi on 15th June, 4 years and 2 days after Spain were thrashed 5-1 by Netherlands at the previous World Cup. It will also be nearly four years since Portugal lost 4-0 to Germany at the previous World Cup.
Spain have a powerful team with the likes of David de Gea, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Alvaro Morata, all of whom have been brilliant this season so far. With an abundance of talent, experience and maturity, it is safe to say that Spain will fare a lot better in Russia than they did in Brazil where they had the talent and experience but lacked the maturity.
Portugal of course have Cristiano Ronaldo who has played a lot with and against most of the Spanish players. Besides Ronaldo, Portugal have a sea of talent in Nani, Andre Silva, Andre Gomes, Rui Patricio and Joao Mario. They also have Eder who could spring up a surprise goal out of nowhere like he did in the Euro final last year.
Spain and Portugal haven’t met since their Euro 2012 semi-final clash in Donetsk which the former won on penalties. Even though a number of players from that match will be playing in Russia, it is really hard to say who will come on top. Nevertheless, both sides will be hoping to start their World Cup campaign strongly and this will be the most anticipated match-up in the 2018 World Cup group stage.
Credit ; Sportskeeda.com