The SQ Team prepares you for the World Cup along with their bold predictions.
After years of waiting, the World Cup is almost here! June 14th kicks off a one month tournament featuring the world’s best on the biggest stage. In 2014, Germany beat Argentina in a tense 1-0 final. This World Cup features considerable youth talent, many nations looking to improve upon 2014 performances, a few new faces, and a few missing regulars. It promises to be another great tournament, assuming you’re willing to wake up early and watch!
The writers at SQ have given their World Cup predictions along with a few thoughts. The group stage offers a few intriguing matchups. Groups D and F appear to be the “Groups of Death” while we see other interesting Groups like H which does not have a clear front runner.
Below are the writers’ predictions for the group stage:
(Graphic generated on FIFA.com)
As the bracket unfolds, the top half is tight with multiple favorites, while Germany could have a rather straightforward path to the semifinals. Here were our predictions for the knockout stage:
(Graphic generated on FIFA.com)
We have the defending World Cup champs, losing to the Euro 2016 finalists. France are a young team with a bevy of world-class talent mixed in with youth. They are deep and have options at the attacking and defensive end. Germany will be a formidable opponent but Les Blues will be crowned as World Champions in July.
Why France Will Win It All, John Ray
Griezmann, Kante, Pogba, Mbappe, Varane, Fekir, Tolisso, Lemar, Dembele, Sidibe, Mendy, Matuidi, Umtiti, Kimpembe, Giroud, Nzonzi, Thauvin, Lloris, Rami, Pavard, Lucas, Mandanda, Areola. In that order.
Ignore the past. Ignore the gossip. Ignore the fact that Didier Deschamps is a bad manager. Ignore the fact that they’re leaving more talent at home than most teams are taking to the World Cup. Ignore Lloris going full Joe Hart when he plays for France (not a good thing).
Look at the players they are taking. The team with the best players wins the majority of the matches. In terms of overall team talent in the tournament, my rankings are 1) France 2) Brazil 3) Germany 4) Belgium 5) Spain. The knockout stage is a crapshoot, but the odds are on France being there in the end.
Why France Will Not Win, Jay Bundren
As France finish their final preparations before heading to Russia, they have ample reason to feel confident about their opportunity to bring home a second World Cup title. Les Bleus have made the championship game in each of the past two World Cups in Europe, winning in France in 1998 and finishing runner-up to Italy in 2006 final in Germany that now lives in infamy.
While there are players in this squad that have both enormous quality and good form, especially their frontman Antoine Griezmann, there are some omissions/absences from this roster that I think may hamstring the squad. Paul Pogba and N’golo Kante should provide an excellent backbone for the midfield, as Kante’s discipline and box-to-box motor will allow Pogba to roam around the midfield as he is known to do.
The lack of Rabiot in this team, however, is a cause for concern for multiple reasons. Rabiot would provide more quality and experience in important matches coming off the bench than the likes of N’zonzi in a central defensive role. What is even more disappointing was Rabiot’s decision to remove himself from the possible reserves for France. While you can understand the former starting midfielder’s frustration in not being named in the squad, this lack of support for a unified cause is something that has plagued French teams in years past and could be indicative of problems to come for the side in Russia.
The fact that there is so much youth in the squad gives them energy and depth, but mentality is often equally important as talent in winning these major tournaments. Karim Benzema is not in this side because of an ongoing feud between the player and manager, but a player with his big-game experience would have been vital in this exuberant roster. In a big game like the potential Brazil-France semifinal that may loom, should both of these powerhouses take care of business, I think the lack of leadership for France, especially in the middle of the park after a down season for Pogba, will be their shortcoming.
Key Group Stage Matchup: Iceland vs. Croatia, Jackson Matheny
Argentina should be the clear winners of Group D leaving Iceland, Croatia, and Nigeria vying for the second place spot. Nigeria, for me, doesn’t pass the eye test. So, the battle for second place is left up to Iceland and Croatia who will meet on the last day of play for their group. While the Icelanders will likely have the edge in physicality and team cohesion this Croatian team is nothing to scoff at. Boasting the likes of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, and Ivan Perisic, I believe the individual skill and top flight experience of Croatia’s best players will lead them past Iceland into the Round of 16.
Argentina Will Fail to Get Out of the Group-,Mark Philipson
Now you may be thinking: “Mark, how do the former World Cup finalists, who have arguably the best player in the world, not finish in the top half of their group?” This version of La Albiceleste could tremendously underperform.
Going into the final match day of qualification, Argentina was out of the World Cup. In a tightly contested CONMEBOL, Argentina, led by a Messi hat-trick, performed outstandingly, earning qualification in Ecuador winning 3-1. However, for the rest of their qualification, they looked dreadful. Argentina scored 19 goals in 18 games, a shockingly low number given the amount of attacking options at their disposal including Sergio Aguero, Paolo Dybala, and Gonzalo Higuain. Additionally, Argentina’s first choice keeper, Sergio Romero, was recently ruled out of the World Cup, requiring surgery on his right knee. Chelsea’s Willy Caballero will be his likely replacement—another red flag.
Argentina also has a tough group, although my co-authors may disagree. Croatia will be a serious challenge for Argentina. They are organized and will win the midfield matchup. Nigeria has coasted through qualification, and have a strong collection of talented youth including Alex Iwobi, Wilfred Ndidi, and Kelechi Iheanacho. They will be a tough out along with Iceland, who pulled off incredible upsets in Euro 2016. They will have a raucous group of fans and a never-say-die mentality. Argentina are susceptible, especially if Messi cannot carry the burden.
Germany Will Finish Second in Group F, Lucas Morel
Despite being both the defending World Cup champions, and assuredly the most talented team in Group F, Germany will have to put together three excellent performances against solid opposition to advance as group leaders, a feat more unlikely than one might think. Yes, FIFA national team rankings are often suspect, but it’s worth noting that Germany’s Group F foes include Mexico (ranked 15th in the world), and Sweden (ranked 23rd). Mexico possess a dangerous blend of experience and talent capable of competing with anyone, and Sweden outlasted a perennial powerhouse team in the Netherlands to qualify, beating France in the process. On top of all this, South Korea has one of the most fun players to watch in the entire tournament, forward Son Heung-min of Tottenham.
Either Mexico or Sweden will shock Germany and hand them a loss, and the other will certainly play the reigning champs close enough to steal points. If (and when) this happens, Son can help South Korea keep Germany’s goal-difference advantage narrow, meaning Joachim Löw’s team could (and will) find themselves squeaking through into the knockout stages as Group F runners-up.
Eden Hazard Will Win the Golden Boot, Lucas Morel
Belgium cruised through World Cup qualifying, winning nine matches and drawing one on their way to an undefeated first-place finish in their group. Though Romelu Lukaku led them in scoring with 11 goals in qualifying, his teammate and fellow Premier League star Eden Hazard will likely have the privilege of lifting the Golden Boot at tournament’s end.
Belgium should have little difficulty with either Panama or Tunisia in Group G, allowing for their whole attacking unit to put up big numbers. Also, the fact that Hazard is Belgium’s designated penalty kick taker puts him at an advantage over Lukaku in terms of scoring probability in such a high-intensity format as the World Cup. Though Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may be considered by many to be favorites for the Golden Boot, their teams have more difficult group stage matchups, and their sides’ lackluster defenses make them more susceptible to early knockout round exits. Look for Hazard to seize the opportunity and lead the World Cup in scoring.
Players to Watch
Sardar Azmoun, Jackson Matheny
One of the most exciting parts of the World Cup is the chance to watch young stars in the making test their skills against some of the best players in the world. This summer I’ll be keeping my eye on the 23-year-old Iranian striker Sardar Azmoun who currently plies his trade for Rubin Kazan. The young striker’s pace coupled with his strength and height make him incredibly difficult to deal with on the ball.
Having scored 23 times in 31 starts for his home country it’s clear that he has an eye for goals. His willingness to take defenders on should prove fun to watch in Group B as he’ll have to face off against Sergio Ramos for Spain, Pepe for Portugal, and Mehdi Benatia for Morocco. Having previously been linked with a move to Liverpool, we could see Azmoun command a hefty fee if he fares well in the tournament.
Hirving Lozano, Jackson Matheny
After Hirving Lozano’s £7.2m move from Pachuca to PSV at the end of the 2016/17 season the diminutive Mexican winger set the Eredivisie alight. Scoring 17 goals and assisting 11 in PSV’s title-winning season, Lozano is certainly Mexico’s most exciting player. The biggest challenge for Lozano will come against Champion favorites Germany during the group stages. This will give him a chance to show what he can do against arguably the best team in the world. I would expect Mexico to finish second in their group and advance to the Round of 16. If they wish to go further, then they’ll have to rely upon Lozano’s incredible finishing ability to carry them to the quarterfinals.
World Cup Dark Horse: Senegal, John Ray
Senegal are the team that should advance the furthest versus expectation. Their physical midfield and defense provide a stylistic advantage in international play, where only a few teams—like Spain and Germany—have played slick possession football with consistency and continuity through the roster and youth levels. This lends itself to physically stout, counter-attacking teams being able to pick apart squads that naturally assume possession (as seen with Portugal in Euro 2016, Costa Rica in the 2014 World Cup, and Ghana in 2012).
They also have a relatively easy group: Colombia, Japan, and Poland will not be pushovers, but they’re not well-balanced teams and all have clear holes in their starting 11. Most importantly though, the Senegal side is full of talented players in their athletic primes. Sadio Mané and Keita Baldé Diao will lead raiding parties on the break, while Cheikhou Kouyaté, Idrissa Gueye, and Badou Ndiaye clean up messes in the midfield. At the back, Kalidou Koulibaly and Kara Mbodji constitute a formidable partnership (they are 6’5, and 6’4, respectively). Koulibaly may be the most undervalued player in the tournament; he’s an absolute rock at the back. Goalkeeping is a question, with likely starter Abdoulaye Diallo only featuring as a reserve keeper for Rennes this season. Talent wise, this should probably be a pool one or two team, and you can expect them to perform like it in June and July.
The Former Yugoslavian Midfield Powerhouses, Kevin Luo
Everyone knows that World Cup favorites like France, Belgium, and Germany have world-class talent all over the pitch but could the excellent midfields of Croatia and Serbia help them compete with the big boys?
While each of these two midfields will allow their teams to hold their own in the middle of the park, they’ll do it in very different ways. Croatia are led by the three El Clasico participants in Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic, and a regular in the World XI, Luka Modric. Their passing and movement with and without the ball will allow Croatia to control the tempo against most teams in this competition. Add in the flair of Ivan Perisic and this midfield is incredibly dynamic.
What Croatia have in quickness and passing quality, Serbia has in size and power. Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic anchored their team’s respective midfields in the Premier League this season and allowed for their attacking midfield teammates to really flourish. Their defensive stability should open up opportunities going forward for Dusan Tadic and one of World Soccer’s most talked about players, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who was a monster in Serie A this season for Lazio.
The World Cup Could Use One of Soccer’s Kings, Kevin Luo
The Swedes don’t have particularly high expectations going into this World Cup. Being in the same group as Germany and Mexico, it’s unlikely they’ll make it to the Round of 16. However, their chances would probably be greater (and they’d be more fun) if they had the one and only Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Ibrahimović retired from the Swedish National team following the 2016 Euros but he’s definitely still playing at a high level as Americans have seen during his short stint in L.A. but he also had an excellent season last year for Manchester United, scoring 17 goals in 28 Premier League appearances.
In previous major international tournaments, King Zlatan was looked at as a little bit of a one-man band for the Swedes. However, in this World Cup, he would’ve made for quite the dynamic duo with RB Leipzig playmaker Emil Forsberg. Forsberg providing service to Zlatan would be something the entire soccer world would love to see in Russia this summer but unfortunately, we’ll have to enjoy the World Cup without it.
So what do you think about the SQ staff’s predictions? Who will you be rooting for this summer without the USA in the tournament? Comment below with your hot takes for the World Cup and who you think will bring home the trophy!
Written by John Ray, Jay Bundren, Jackson Matheny, Mark Philipson, Lucas Morel, and Kevin Luo.
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