While FOLLOWING FOOTBALL is dedicated to, frankly, the brands I prefer to watch – Aussie Rules, American gridiron, especially college; even Canadian, with the CFL in pre-season mode as we speak! – there are other kinds of football in the world…and one kind in particular that we would be ill-advised to ignore.
The soccer (i.e., REAL football; aka “futbol”) world is focusing its attention on Russia, as the World Cup begins its four week run on June 14th. The US did not qualify this time, in a perfect storm of results during the Americas qualifying in 2017. But if it makes us feel better, neither did former champion Italy, or The Netherlands, a final four contender the last two cycles. They’ll be even more unlikely non-participants than us Yankee-come-lately types, so we’re not so bad off.
Who IS involved? Let’s take a look…
Group A: Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay.
Possibly the weakest group in World Cup history – and that’s not an exaggeration. Whoever comes out of here besides Uruguay will be run over painfully in the next round by any other contender. Let’s see if Egypt has Salah playing; if they do, they’re our number 2 from pool A.
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, and Iran (I ran so far a-wayayyyy… Sorry. Old song, bad joke.)
Two teams advance to the knockout round from each group. If those two teams aren’t Spain and Portugal from Group B, check for bribery or broken kneecaps, because only criminal involvement will prevent their advancement.
Group C: France, Australia, Peru, and Denmark.
This will be France advancing, along with…. um, well, the Soccerroos, maybe, or the Danes… Peru could pull an upset or two and… We’ll have to wait and see, I guess. Being an Aussiephile, I’m calling it for Australia.
Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, and Nigeria.
Assume Argentina survives. Assume Iceland doesn’t. The key is probably the first game the other two teams play, on the first Saturday, June 16th, against each other. The winner of that game – if there is one – will have a leg up on the second berth in the Round of 16. <coin flips backstage> We’ll take Croatia.
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Serbia.
We expect these four teams to finish in alphabetical order. Brazil should win easily; Costa Rica is probably the second strongest team in this group, and Serbia should have the goods on the Swiss.
Group F: Germany. Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea.
If you mixed this group into an eight-team pool with group A? These four teams would be on top, and all four group A teams would place fifth through eighth. Two decent teams will get left out here; my money would be on Sweden and perennial bridesmaid Mexico to fail to advance, but no result here would surprise me (although Germany losing more than once might be a shock.)
Group G: Belgium, Panama, England, and Tunisia.
You should expect the two European nations to advance – assuming we can still call England “European”.
Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, and Japan.
It seems most likely that Colombia and Poland will fall one-two and advance over a Japanese squad in chaos and a one-trick pony in Senegal.
Moving on to the knock-out round of 16… Assuming we are exactly right in our pool picks (and we guarantee they won’t be or your money back!), here’s what the bracket would look like:
Uruguay/Spain – Spain in a runaway
France/Croatia – France should survive
Egypt/Portugal – Portugal big-time
Argentina/Australia – Argentina with ease
Germany/Costa Rica – Germany
Belgium/Poland – Poland might be able to pull the upset here
Brazil/South Korea – Brazil in a beautiful game
Columbia/England – Columbia could win this.
In the next round, we would see Spain over France, Argentina over Portugal, Germany routing Poland, and Brazil beating Columbia.
The semi-finals would pit Spain and Germany in the “European” semi, and we suspect Germany will win that match; and then Argentina and Brazil, where we like Brazil’s chances of advancing in the “South American” semi.
Amazingly, that would create a rematch of the debacle from the 2014 semi, when Germany completely embarrassed the Brazilians 7-1 in a game that was over twenty minutes in, as the Deustch scored five goals before the midpoint of the first half. As much as I would like to say that the green and gold gain their revenge this time around, I suspect that the 2018 World Cup champion will once again be Germany, although hopefully not by a six-goal margin this time.
We watch the international stuff fairly regularly, but there’s too many top leagues around the world to keep track of – English Premier, Germany’s Bundesliga, the US’s Major League Soccer, La Liga in Italy, the Mexican and Spanish and French and Russian leagues….Even the Champions League is hard for me to track amidst all the other matches those teams are playing, sometimes, although the Real Madrid victory over Liverpool was remarkable for all three of the Madrid goals (the second one in particular, of course – Gareth Bale was Superman that day!).
The World Cup, however, is a different story. It shuts down the grid for me. When it’s on (even in qualifying) I want to know what’s going on (oooh, what’s goin’ on…. Sorry. Another old song…).