Wednesday, June 13, 2018

World Cup 2018


The world cup starts tomorrow, a tournament wrapped in a fair amount of controversy, though not as much as the next one will be. Russia may have bought the thing, and may be a pariah in the world, but they are - usually - a fairly legitimate soccer country (though the current team is awful.) The US, along with Canada and Mexico, got the 2026 tournament today, so some sanity might return, but that's 8 years away. But for all that - when the games start - the odds are good you will see something thrilling.

I don't know how much I am in a position to opine on this tourney - but that can't stop me. (Plain laziness has stopped me up to this point but maybe I can overcome it.) So? What the hell - let's predict the groups. Not that I feel all that confident about it - but I'm going to do it anyway.

Group A: it wouldn't be FIFA or Russia without the hint of cheating, and Russia getting Saudi Arabia in the first game, and Egypt as the third team makes you wonder if someone was pulling strings on that draw... It would take a fairly monumental upset for Uruguay not to win the group (let alone not advance) - after that? Truth is, if Mo Salah is on his game, they might be a better bet than the Russians - but I suspect that the combination of home fields and Putin's wrath will inspire the Russians into the second round.

Group B: Spain and Portugal start it off, and have only Morocco and Iran to challenge them - the prescription for 0-0 if I ever saw it. I would have picked Spain to win, Portugal second, but Spain's coach just got fired (for taking the Real Madrid job right before the tournament), so who know what is going to happen there. I think, though, of the two Iberian teams, Portugal is the more likely to go deep into the tournament - they have a good team and they have Ronaldo. But I would have said that 4 years ago, so what do I know?

Group C: France gets a very easy road in. I think Denmark can take second, though the Aussies are one of those teams that can surprise people. I know nothing about Peru, but wouldn't rule them out. It gives it the potential for an interesting battle for second place, though this if France continues its on/off pattern in the world cup, maybe they flame out again.

Group D: Argentina looks to have a very easy road to the second round; the rest of this group is very interesting. Croatia is usually a solid side; Nigeria has a reasonable good world cup track record; Iceland were the darlings of the last Euros, and why not? It could be a very hard fought group. I would have to pick Croatia if I had to pick, but neither of the other two would surprise me.

Group E: Brazil also has a fairly easy time of it. Behind them, Serbia and Switzerland have good players - they can get through. Costa Rica was the surprise of 2014, but I don't think they are likely to be better this time - but you can't just dismiss them. In the end - I pick Switzerland.

Group F: Germany marches on. Mexico is the likely second place team,but Sweden is certainly capable of n upset. I don't know about South Korea - they seem more marginal than they have been - but they sometimes surprise.

Group G: Belgium has been marching to glory, except in the finals of these tournaments - they've been all right, but have not been the dominating force they are in qualifying. But they have a ton of talent - De Bruyne and Hazard and Lukaku and Courtois - they should be one of the teams capable of winning it. Behind them, Panama snuck in thanks to a US choke; Tunisia I know nothing about, probably for good reasons. England? You could get anything, I suppose. They have turned over the roster from the last couple world cups - Kane and Deli Alli and company show promise - Raheem Sterling has come into his own - we shall see.I expect them to take second here.

Group H: Um - Poland has Lewandowski; I don't know much about the rest of th team, though it's usually supposed to do all right. Columbia was a joy to watch last time, but I don't know if they have progressed all that much. Japan seems to be an afterthought these days. Senegal? Sadio Mane is the kind of individual talent that might push a decent team into the second round - I don't know. I think, personally, they will advance - I think either Poland or Columbia will disappear, the other will win the group. But I have no idea which.

There - see? That was fun. Now? When push comes to shove, these teams hve a chance to win it all:


... more or less in that order, I think. I could imagine a scenario for Uruguay, and I might be underrating Columbia and a couple other teams. That's about it though. Of that bunch? I lean toward Argentina and Portugal, to be honest, even if they aren't necessarily the best teams in the tournament. And not just because of Messi and Ronaldo - maybe because Messi and Ronaldo have come to the point where they seem to inspire their teammates as much as carry the teams. Less chance fo the rest of the side standing around waiting for them to win it. Maybe.

As for rooting? No US and no Holland (my usual second pick), so what am I to do? Belgium, as the token low country? Argentina, since I actually like Leo Messi? Truth is, there aren't even teams to root against - no Italy! There is France, I can root against them in a pinch. I've almost stopped hating Christiano Ronaldo, and anyway, I lived long enough in Cambridge/Somerville that I can never not feel a soft spot for Portugal (and Brazil.) Lots of smaller sides, I suppose - Egypt, Senegal, Iceland and Nigeria (a bit of a problem there.) Mostly, though, this is one to just watch and enjoy on it merits.

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