The US may not have qualified this time around, but the 2018 World Cup is still going to be the tournament to watch next summer. American soccer fans need to dry their eyes, put their disappointment behind them, and tune in to the game’s greatest spectacle regardless- or even consider travelling to Russia to watch the matches in person.
Between June 14 and July 15, over a billion people worldwide are expected to watch the World Cup unfold in Russia, before one team claims the trophy at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. Many of those viewers will be from nations competing in the tournament, but many will be from countries that failed to qualify. Those soccer fans will be watching religiously anyway, because the World Cup is a chance to see the greatest players of a generation playing at the top of their form, with everything to win or lose.
Players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are capable of breathtaking displays of skill that will transfix anyone watching, regardless of whether they support their team or not. For Messi, there’s an added incentive to excel, as the player considered by many to be the game’s greatest has never held a World Cup trophy aloft. Furthermore, at age 30 (he’ll turn 31 during the tournament) this will likely be his last chance for glory with the Argentinian national team, and he’ll certainly want to go out on a high.
The teams most likely to
So, which team is likely to win? You can keep up to date on the latest odds at Stakers online, but at the time of writing existing champions Germany are still the favorites. It’s far from being a done deal though. Brazil have made a remarkable comeback since their humiliating defeat in the 2014 World Cup. Back then they lost 7-1 to Germany on their home turf, so you can bet they’ve got a lot to prove, and the reigning champions will be in their sights. Their star player Neymar is surely one to watch.
France are another team to keep an eye on, but not entirely for all the right reasons. They’re certainly among the favorites, with an incredible array of young and established talent at their disposal- players like Antoine Griezmann, N’golo Kante, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Paul Pogba and Thomas Lemar. But they also have a controversial unpredictable coach in the form of Didier Deschamps who could blow it all with ill-judged strategies or just internal dissension.
Perhaps 2018 will belong to Belgium. The European underdog is set to break out of Group G alongside England, who will doubtless start well before falling apart mid-tournament as usual. But with star striker Eden Hazard (ironically a midfielder for top English club Chelsea away from the international tournaments), Belgium could conceivably go all the way.
The other favorites are Spain, who are always reliably great. But this year they’re fielding a whole new generation of players with a lot to live up to. That they’ll do well is a given- with proven talent like Andres Iniesta and David Silva still on board they’re sure to come out of Group B smiling- but beyond that they remain to some degree an unknown quantity that will sink or swim as the tournament progresses.
For those really wanting to root for the romantic underdog, Iceland’s qualification is a joy. That this tiny country should be fielding a team in the World Cup at all is a fairy-tale story. But a combination of determination, talent, and the noisy and ever-entertaining support of the loyal army of passionate fans- you’ll know them by the Viking helmets- mean that Iceland could stick around through the quarter-finals and prove as much of a giant-killer as the heroes of their national myths and sagas.
What about host nations Russia? They’ll likely clear Group A, though they’ll face a stiff challenge from Uruguay, but beyond that they’re hardly favorites to win. Nevertheless, they’re playing on home ground and the country could do with a sporting triumph after its poor showing at the 2014 Winter Olympics, so who knows?
Also in Group A, Egypt are playing in the World Cup for the first time since 1990, and their star player Mo Salah could make them quarter-final contenders at least. Other countries qualifying for the first time in a while includes Peru (1982) and Panama (first time ever). Those teams are always worth watching for the variety they bring, both in terms of footballing style and the enthusiasm of their fans.
Whichever way you look at it, the 2018 World Cup promises drama, emotion, excitement and skill. For a soccer fan, it’s unmissable, and if you’ve never watched the game before this is the perfect place to start.