It’s January 14th, 2018, and we are months away from the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It’ll be here before you know it, and before it arrives, you need to know what and who to be watching for. No, the United States did not somehow bend the rules and make a spot for themselves in Russia; they really won’t be there. But honestly, that’s okay, because the world’s best will still be there and you have a responsibility to watch it. And if you aren’t careful, you could find yourself watching the worst games Russia has to offer. So we’re going to take a quick look at each group and see the favorites, players to watch for, and the must-see match of the group.
Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
Must-See Match: Egypt and Uruguay is going to be the best match in this group by a longshot. Egypt is on an emotional high after a historic qualification led by the new star of the Premier League Mohamed Salah. Uruguay is home to some of the world’s best forwards in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. Expect plenty of goals to come from this matchup.
Players to watch: Mohamed Salah is on fire at the moment. He’s bagged 18 goals and dished out 6 assists in just 22 appearances this season in the Premier League for Liverpool. Everyone in the world is tuning in to watch the Egyptian magician. He’s quick, creative, and can finish from almost anywhere on the pitch. Do not miss this player.
Favorite: Uruguay has several top players with plenty of experience in top-flight football. Home team Russia will have the crowds and certainly put up a fight to advance, but I don’t see it being enough. Uruguay and Egypt to advance.
Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
Must-See Match: Potential to be the best match of the group stage, European superpowers Portugal and Spain will square off. But don’t think Spain will win this one handily. This is a Spanish team we aren’t used to seeing with plenty of youth to be making World Cup debuts against an experienced Portuguese side.
Players to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo, period. The best player on the pitch who can change the game at any given moment. Even if he is past his best years, he continues to create magic when the ball touches his feet. From the Spanish side, look out for 21 year-old Marco Asensio trying to make the jump from young talent to established superstar.
Favorite: Spain has the most talent in this group and Portugal has plenty of experience. Morocco and Iran honestly do not stand a chance. Expect for Spain and Portugal to move on.
France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Must-See Match: Frankly, watch every match France plays. France has a plethora of talent, arguably the most in the world. If you’ve never watched football before or are an occasional watcher, you’ll become hooked to it if you give the French a chance. Youth, speed, flair, and creativity are all alive and well in Les Bleus. Watch every minute you can.
Players to watch: When you are watching every minute of France (which you really need to) keep an eye out for Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe. Honestly, there are several players you could watch, but Pogba and Mbappe are both serious talents. Pogba will contend for player of the tournament with his ability to control games from the midfield. Mbappe is a 19-year-old forward with tons of pace and loads of goals in his incredibly short career. His World Cup debut should be incredible.
Favorite: France will win this group and it won’t be close. However, the other three in the group are all relatively even in quality. It will be close between the three, but Denmark will hold a slight edge.
Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Must-See Match: Argentina-Croatia will be the one to watch in this group. Croatia holds talented midfielders on their side, including arguably the best central midfielder in the world in Luka Modric. Argentina, however, has Lionel Messi and a slew of incredible attackers that all pose a threat. Modric and company will be under a lot of pressure in this match.
Players to watch: Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer of our time, and possibly of all time. If you miss him play you’ve done yourself more harm than good. Luka Modric of Croatia and Paulo Dybala of Argentina are creative midfielders that can make something out of nothing. Creativity galore in this group.
Favorite: Argentina can make easy business of the group if they wish to, and they will. The Iceland team are giant-killers that can make some serious noise and Nigeria has the ability to surprise as well. Croatia should also advance but it won’t be easy.
Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Must-See Match: Brazilian football is an absolute joy to watch. Almost every time you watch them, you will leave with a smile on your face. Switzerland can make a game of this, or they can fold and Brazil can score loads against them. Either way, Brazil-Switzerland will be incredibly entertaining.
Players to watch: The most expensive player in the world, Neymar, is absolutely essential to the Brazilian side. The stylish, creative, and incredibly quick play is what you’ll get from the forward. At any moment, a world-class highlight could happen when he is in possession.
Favorite: Brazil will coast through this group fairly easily. Serbia plays a very stubborn and defensive style of football that could frustrate the other teams into elimination. Switzerland, on their day, could make even the biggest of giants fall. But that day doesn’t come around often enough. Look for the Swiss and the Serbians to duke it out for the final spot.
Germany, Mexico, Sweden, and Korea Republic
Must-See Match: Germany and Mexico will be one of the best matches the group stages have to offer. Germany is a world superpower that has no intention of slowing down, with plenty of veterans and young talent coming through the ranks. Mexico isn’t as talented as they’ve been before, but with the right approach to a strong German side, they could catch them out on the break with loads of pace.
Players to watch: If fit, Germany’s Marco Reus is a speedy winger with loads of talent, but fitness is a big if. Hirving “Chucky” Lozano is a young Mexican forward who is poised to become a world-class winger, and the World Cup is the perfect place to make the jump.
Favorite: Germany should make easy work of this group. Sweden did well to qualify without their greatest player ever, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but this is a whole new battle. Mexico should put all their talent together to join Germany in the next round.
Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
Must-See Match: Ah, the English. England naturally draws a lot of eyes, and it’s time for the dark horse pick that is the Belgians to make the jump to favorite. Belgium has young talent that has matured into some of the world’s best since the last World Cup. Going up against England should be an incredibly entertaining game, maybe the best we have on our hands.
Players to watch: England forward Harry Kane is making his bid to be the best striker in the world, and the World Cup will be another hurdle to jump for that title. No matter what happens, he always finds a way to put the ball in the back of the net. Belgian midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard are true superstars and provide plenty of entertainment through their play.
Favorite: Belgium will win this group handily. England is notorious for making things hard for themselves, and Panama can help with that cause. But if England can keep their composure, they will be fine.
Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
Must-See Match: The Poles against Colombia will be the best match this group has to offer. Colombia still possesses the breakout star of the last World Cup, James Rodriguez, amongst more attacking talent. However, the best striker in the world, Robert Lewandowski, is Polish. Goals are going to be flying in during this matchup.
Players to Watch: Robert Lewandowski can score from anywhere at anytime. Give him space and it’s probably going to hit the back of the net. He’ll be eyeing the Golden Boot award this time around, and he very well could obtain it. Set the DVR just in case you miss a golazo.
Favorite: Poland has the most talent in the group, but not by much. If Lewandoski goes cold, they could go home early. Senegal and Japan aren’t out of the question by any means either. But we should expect Colombia to be joined by Poland in the next round.