FIFA World Cup 2018: The tournament favourites and their odds
The 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup is fast approaching, as we are just 30 days away before the fever begins. With all the club football shenanigans winding down this week, it’s also time to look into our crystal balls and make a few predictions, or rather, assess the odds of the teams that are heavily favoured to go all the way in Russia.
First and foremost, any talk of ‘favourites’ invariably ends up with Brazil somewhere at the top. The Canaries last won the World Cup in 2002 and even if their performance since have declined, they remain a favourite in any major tournament. This year’s FIFA World Cup is no different.
In fact, they are ranked as No.1 favourites going into the tournament as the majority of the bookies have bet their bottom dollar on the Seleccao. And why not, with such a stellar squad spearheaded by the most expensive player of all-time in Neymar, Brazil are a genuine threat.
Drawn alongside Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia, Tite’s men appear to be well placed to go through the group with minimum hassle and also finish as leaders. The real challenge, however, awaits in the knockout rounds with a potential collision with Mexico, Belgium, France or Uruguay in the latter stages. But Brazil are a vastly improved side under Tite and on paper at least, appear to win each of those games.
Only two teams in the history have retained the World Cup and the last such occurrence was in 1962 when Brazil successfully defended their crown in Chile. Almost six decades later, the jinx might finally be broken, for defending champions Germany are well poised to go all the way again.
Die Mannschaft have already laid down the gauntlet by winning the FIFA Confederations Cup last year in Russia, and would be hoping to repeat the feat in the tournament proper. Manager Joachim Low returns with another band of a swashbuckling side that are more than capable of pulling off the historic feat. Having groomed in several young players while many of the 2014 World Cup-winning members still active, Germany’s current squad is a unique blend of youth and experience.
Mexico, Sweden and South Korea don’t seem to big enough challenges from keeping Low’s side from topping the group. It should all be fine until the semi-finals where they potentially meet Argentina, another favourite. But their superior record suggests Germany might get it done this time too.
2010 champions Spain have regained their best form, and will be aiming to exorcise the ghosts of the previous World Cup. Manager Julen Lopetegui has groomed in fresh legs that has injected a renewed verve and vigour in the team. La Roja finally look ready to launch another assault at the Jules Rimet prize.
Portugal can be a problem in an otherwise facile group, as not much is expected from minnows Morocco and Iran. The Iberian neighbours haven’t clashed since 2012 and a lot has changed ever since, particularly the former’s Euro 2016 title. But Spain still have enough in the armoury to get past a Cristiano Ronaldo-centric team.
It’ll be almost two years since the Paris heartbreak of Euro 2016 by the time France kickstart their campaign in Russia, but the pain is still vividly felt. Les Blues have one of the strongest squads going into the tournament and are expected to put up a tough competition after the successful Euro cup.
With an embarrassment of attacking riches in the squad, Didier Deschamps’ men would be tough to defend against. Throw in the seemingly puny backlines of Australia, Peru and Denmark, and their task for the group games is made easier. But the rubber meets the road as early as the round of 16, where they potentially face a talented Croatia and then a Latin-American biggie in Uruguay in the quarter-finals.
That will be the true test of France’s mettle. Should they pass, there will no reason not to believe they won’t make it all the way.
Having lost three consecutive finals between 2014 and 2016, Argentina barely made it to Russia; riding on an incredible Lionel Messi-hattrick on final matchday against Ecuador to secure a direct qualification. But this might be the last chance for this generation of players to stake a claim at the World Cup.
The likes of Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Romero have all entered their 30s and would be in the twilight of their careers by the time the Qatar showpiece comes around. So this is realistically the last shot for this promising group of players to end a 28-year drought for a silverware.
Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria appear intimidating prospects in the first round. But Les Albiceleste should it progress hassle-free. An easy round of 16 would be followed by a potential clash against Spain in the last 8. And even if they nick it, their title hopes would be put the paces in the semis again against no one else but Germany!