From June 14 to July 15, 2018, all eyes will be on Russia as the largest country in the world ( in terms of area ) will host the holy grail of football, the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
With the event barely two months away, let’s take a look at the possible winners and possible events that could make this year’s edition of the World Cup one to remember for the ages.
Who Are The Favorites?
We checked out the latest odds and picked the Top 5 teams according to the bookies. Then we also added a wildcard in our list:
Germany is Germany. They may not be loaded with the same talent as their 2014 World Cup title team, Germany still has what it takes to win it all. Who knows? This could be striker Kimo Warner’s coming out party. The Germans have made it to the quarterfinals each time since 1982. During that period they placed third twice, second once and won it once. How could they not be the top favorites?
The Brazilians were the best team in the qualifiers and they dominated the most difficult region. With Neymar Jr., Gabriel Jesus and the rest of their veterans returning, Brazil looks to be at its strongest in a while. However, Neymar’s recent injury could be a big factor in how far this South American powerhouse will go in the tournament.
The 1998 team will always be the most special but France’s 2018 team is right up there with the best in the planet. With the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Alexandre Lacazette, scoring won’t be a problem. If they can be consistent on defense, watch out for the French.
The Spaniards are out to avenge the debacle in Brazil four years ago. Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata and Valencia’s Rodrigo have emerged for their clubs and have starred for their mother nation. Likewise, Isco’s recent performance at Real Madrid is good news for the Spanish side. But do they have enough up top to win it all? The odds say yes.
There are a couple of things to figure out before this team can be true contenders. There are concerns at midfield and problems at the back. Nigeria exposed their three defender system. If Jorge Sampaoli can figure those out, then don’t be shocked if this team makes it to the finals. After all, they have Lionel Messi leading the way.
Portugal probably doesn’t have enough to win it. Pepe is getting up there and their central defense has plenty of holes. However, anytime you have Cristiano Ronaldo, you always have a chance. At worst, they could be out in the group stages but with Ronaldo playing some of his best football recently, who knows how far his magic will take them.
When Neymar suffered a hairline fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in February, Brazil suddenly had memories of their 2014 World Cup resurface. Brazil lost 1-7 to Germany in the semifinals, at home and with Neymar unable to play due to injury
Since suffering the injury two months ago, Neymar has missed four fixtures for PSG and two friendlies for Brazil. The timetable for his recovery is three months and is just in time for the World Cup in Russia. The injury isn’t considered serious but just like in any recovery period, there are unknowns. And those are what worry Brazilians between now and the start of the tournament.
If somehow Neyman ends up being unable to play, that would be a big blow for Brazil. It would also shake up the odds and favorites for the tournament.
Home Court Advantage For Russia?
The FIFA World Cup 2018 will be the 21st installment of Football’s biggest tournament. In the previous 20 World Cups in the history of association football, 8 different countries have hosted the event. These are Brazil ( 6 times ), Italy (4 times ), Germany ( 3 times ), Argentina ( 2 times ), Uruguay ( 2 times ), England, France and Spain.
In the previous 20 World Cups, six times have the host nation won the championship. These were Uruguay ( 1930 ), Italy ( 1934 ), England ( 1966 ), West Germany ( 1974 ), Argentina ( 1978 ) and France ( 1998 ).
Six out of twenty isn’t the kind of indicator that tells us that home-field advantage does matter. But that statistic doesn’t paint the entire picture of home-field advantage.
In 1950, Brazil hosted the World Cup and the Brazilians finished second. Four years later, home team Switzerland pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history by eliminating Italy 4-1 in the group stages playoff. The Swiss team also beat the Italians 2-1 in their group stages match.
Brazil won the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Guess who they beat in the Finals? Of course, the home team Sweden. The Swedes defeated the Soviet Union and West Germany on their way to the finals. Sure, they lost 2-5 to Brazil in the title game but Sweden’s never been in a World Cup Finals since then.
Host Chile placed third in 1962 while England won the World Cup in 1966, in the only time they hosted the tournament. In 1986, Mexico – who was a late replacement host after original host Columbia backed out, reached the quarterfinals stage. Four years later, host Italy made it all the way to the semifinals. Korea reached the semifinals and Japan the Round of 16 in 2002 when both countries co-hosted the World Cup.2006 saw host Germany finish in the Top 4. Brazil was the 4th placer when they hosted the most recent World Cup.
Now where does that put Russia?
Realistically, Russia is more likely to be eliminated in the group stages rather than in the semifinals. After all, they do not have the talent to be a Top 4 team in the tournament. But given that they are the hosts, and we know the history of hosts in the World Cup, they could make a Cinderella run all the way to the semifinals. But that’s probably the best case scenario for them.
So if Russia isn’t going to provide the drama, what’s going to produce a magic moment in the 2018 FIFA World Cup? There are about seven to eight teams who are really capable of winning the World Cup. And if any two of those favorites are going to play in the finals, it’s not going to be a surprise. But if by any stroke of luck this next match-up happens, it’s going to be the greatest football match ever.
The Greatest Match Ever
The rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is as even as it gets. Both have won the Ballon d’Or five times. They have also broken the 50 goal barrier in one season several times. They both have scored more than 600 goals in their careers for country and club. Both are the only players to score 7 hat tricks in the UEFA Champions League. And so on.
It’s been compared to Ali-Frazier of boxing, McEnroe-Borg of tennis and Senna-Prost of F1 racing. Messi and Ronaldo are the two best players of their era and among the best of all-time. So if Argentina and Portugal make it to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Finals, it will be one of the greatest football matches of all-time.
Argentina is among the Top 5 favorites so watching Lionel Messi in the finale isn’t a far-fetched idea. However, Portugal had to go through the proverbial eye of the needle to qualify for the World Cup and it would be a shock to see them play in the championship game. But when you have one of the two greatest players of this generation on your side, you got to think that anything can happen. Given Ronaldo’s form as of late, you can’t just say Portugal has no shot at all.
Messi and Ronaldo have always battled each other for the best football player in the world. Both have the right to claim but given their successes in the professional scene, it’s always been hard to pick a decisive winner between the two. But if Argentina and Portugal meet in a dream world Cup Finals, that would be the decider. Both have never won the World Cup before and because the chance of this dream match happening is maybe once in a lifetime, whoever wins the World Cup will end up as the Greatest Footballer of all-time.
But then again, this is probably more of wishful thinking than anything else. The favorites are called as such because they are expected to be the teams who will dispute the title. But yeah, don’t count out the hosts and Cristiano Ronaldo. Provided that Neymar returns 100%, then we could see Germany or Brazil as the last team standing at the end of the tournament.