World Cup Preview

A group by group breakdown

GROUP A

Russia      

Nickname: Sbornaya

Best Player: Alan Dzagoev (Moscow). He might not be a household name but he is the player to watch when Russia takes the pitch.

Why root for them: They are the host country!

Best World Cup finish: Russia has never made it out of the group stage, however, they finished fourth in 1966 as the Soviet Union.

What to expect: Russia will definitely show up and want to display to their home country what they have in store. I expect them to put up a fight however they will most likely be joining South Africa (2010) as the only other host nation that does not make it out of the group stage.

Saudi Arabia

Nickname: The Green Falcons

Best Player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassar), the captain has 28 goals in 40 games for his country.

Why root for them: They reached the World Cup in dramatic fashion, perhaps that magic can keep going and inspire a country that needs it.

Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 in 1994

What to expect: Qualifying for the World Cup after a 16-year absence was hard enough. Group A is just too powerful for them to overcome.

 

Egypt

Nickname: The Nubian Pharaohs

Best Player: Mohamed Salah of Liverpool! He is the hottest player in the world right now. He won the Premier League Golden Boot by scoring 32 goals in 36 matches for Liverpool. Expect some “Mo Magic” this World Cup. I put Salah as the fourth best player in this tournament.

Why root for them: This squad might be dangerous when they click but it can not rely on one man. Mohamed Salah is a fantastic player and a role model to so many people around the world, maybe you should look up to him too.

Best World Cup finish: Group Stage in 1990

What to expect: Salah will single-handedly carry this team out of the group stage. After that, he will need some luck and the other Egyptians to step up.

 

Uruguay

Nickname: La Celeste (The Blue Sky)

Best Player: Luis Suarez (Barcelona). If you don’t know his history in this tournament you should look it up because it is truly unbelievable.

Why root for them: This team doesn’t have many fans outside of their country. They aren’t necessarily the villains, they are more like the bad boys. So if you like things that the majority of the population does not, this is your team.

Best World Cup finish: Champions in 1930 and 1950

What to expect: Luis Suarez will do something memorable. His infamous red card in 2010 then in 2014 he bit an Italian player, expect the unexpected with this man. Other players such as Diego Godin and Edinson Cavani will play a role in the success of Uruguay. I believe this team will win Group A. Uruguay wants to win desperately so expect a fight until the end. I see a round of 8 exit for this squad but I would not be shocked to see them in the semi-finals.

 

GROUP B

Spain    

Nickname: La Furia Roja (The Red Fury)

Best Player: The back line duo of Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) and Gerard Pique (Barcelona). The experienced veterans will carry the weight of the country after failing to get out of the group stage last time.

Why root for them: Teamwork, controlled pace, and attention to details are their best strengths. Whenever this team is on, get near a television and watch the beauty that is Spanish soccer.

Best World Cup finish: Champions in 2010

What to expect: Redemption. Spain might have the best back line in this tournament but the need for a true striker could haunt them in the long run. Can defense really win championships? We will sure find out! Spain gets out of the group stage as the number one seed. A potential matchup with Argentina will ultimately put this team to the test.

 

Portugal

Nickname: The Navigators

Best Player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), of course!

Why root for them: Ronaldo. Why else would you root for them? I will tell you why. This team won the Euros in 2016 but this federation is trying to do something unheard of.  Portugal was the last team to win the Euros, the FIFA Beach World Cup, and the FIFA Futsal World Cup (Indoor). No team has ever gone for the sweep and if Ronaldo raises the trophy in July, we all just witnessed history.

Best World Cup finish: Third place in 1966

What to expect: This will be interesting. This team won’t win any style points or make it look pretty yet they will be effective and get the job done. You can easily expect this team to survive the group stage. The round of 16 will be most likely be against Uruguay if that is the case Ronaldo will need some help from his back line.

 

Iran

Nickname: Team Melli

Best Player: Sardar Azmoun (FC Rubin Kazan). Iranian Messi is his nickname and he has scored 23 goals in 33 games for Iran.

Why root for them: Intelligent and discipline play might be enough to win your heart.

Best World Cup finish: Group Stage in 2006, 2014

What to expect: Azmoun will get on the scoreboard but it might not be enough to carry the team. A win is not off the table but it would be a surprise to the rest of the group.

 

Morocco

Nickname: Atlas Lions

Best Player:  Medhi Benatia. The center back defense for Juventus is the glue to this team.

Why root for them: Morocco did not concede a goal in their qualifying group. This team is confident and that could be dangerous for the rest of the Group B.

Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 in 1986

What to expect: A dogfight until the end. A good amount of people are picking them to upset the group and go to the round of 16 ahead of Portugal. This team wants to show the world what they can do and this federation is excited about it because they are trying to get the 2026 bid to host.

GROUP C

France     

Nickname: Les Bleus

Best Player: Paul Pogba (Manchester United) most likely will be at the center of attention.

Why root for them: Potentially champions. This team is full of star power and guys who are simply incredible. This team has what it takes and most people around the world are picking them to go the distance. You might want to hop on the bandwagon before the first game.

Best World Cup finish: Champions in 1998

What to expect: On paper, this team should win it all. This is a safe bet but the history of France in this tournament might come back to give this squad nightmares. The maturity and leadership will be shown all tournament long and get ready for some fireworks. This team will be fun to watch.

 

Australia

Nickname: Socceroos

Best Player: Aaron Mooy of Huddersfield Town

Why root for them: Talent is sparse so they really have to rely on coaching and their new appointment of Bert van Marwijk could be a great thing for the future of the Socceroos. Australia is always a fun team to watch and you will find yourself rooting for them to upset people in the group.

Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 in 2006

What to expect: Moments of brilliant play but not enough to carry them out of the group.

 

Peru

Nickname: The Incas

Best Player: Paolo Guerrero of Flamengo, He’s back from suspension for failing a drug test. His return will prove this country is ready to take the next step forward.

Why root for them: It has been 36 years since Peru was in the World Cup and you can bet your bottom dollar this country will take to the streets to celebrate a win, lose, or draw. Pride is surrounding this national team and they will want to put on a good showing for their fellow countrymen and women.

Best World Cup finish: Round of 8 in 1970

What to expect: Peru had a surprising run at the Copa America in 2016 and the buzz around South America is that they will do it again. This group is tough but Peru has all the pieces to pull the upset.

 

Denmark

Nickname: Danish Dynamite

Best Player: Christian Eriksen of Tottenham

Why root for them: Why not? This team is young and have already proven they can hang with the best.

Best World Cup finish: Round of 8 in 1998

What to expect: Eriksen will be the leader no doubt. He is the biggest star in Denmark but will the expectations halt the Danish? I think Denmark will make it out of the group as the second seed but the road does not get easier after that. A round of 16 match up with Argentina is on the table, this could make or break the future for Denmark soccer and development.

 

GROUP D

Argentina    

Nickname: La Albiceleste

Best Player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) I hope you knew that.

Why root for them: MESSI! His presence brings an energy unlike any other. This could be his last World Cup and most soccer fans want to see Messi on top. He has a long list of accomplishments but he is missing one thing, the World Cup. Paulo Dybala will also be a guy to keep your eye on.

Best World Cup finish: Champions in 1978 and 1986

What to expect: Goals upon goals. The offense will be the reason you keep up with this team. These guys are a bold contender as they were runners-up last time around. However, the defense is shaky at times and the back line could cost Argentina.

 

Nigeria

Nickname: Super Eagles

Best Player: John Obi Mikel (former Chelsea player) is the captain yet Victor Moses (Chelsea) could be the wow factor.

Why root for them: An experienced team that is coming back to a tournament in which they have had brilliant moments. They went to the round of 16 last time around and they are looking to do the same. This team plays with class and should be a good group to watch.

Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 in 1994, 1998, 2014

What to expect: Before the groups were picked, advancing to the round of 8 was the reaching goal. Now they will just try to survive the group. They beat Argentina in a friendly back in November but the stakes are higher now. Can the pressure to succeed get to Nigeria?

 

Croatia

Nickname: Vatreni (The Blazers)

Best Player: Luka Modric of Real Madrid

Why root for them: Credit is due for this team. They are talented and experienced to make a deep run. The bench is not deep however. Staying healthy is the number one concern for this squad.

Best World Cup finish: Third place in 1998

What to expect: Group play will be rough but they should make it out. If they do get out they will be a problem for most teams in the knockout stage. The players are ready to turn some heads.

 

Iceland

Nickname: Our Boys

Best Player: Gylfi Sigurdsson of Everton

Why root for them: After their performance in the 2016 Euros, if you like a true underdog story with a high chance to succeed, Iceland is your team. A truly amazing run back in 2016 could spark another one this year. Their supporters’ chant after a game has taken the sports world by storm and many teams are imitating the Viking like cry.

Best World Cup finish: This is Iceland’s first World Cup

What to expect: Heart. They have been in a major tournament before where they played spoiler. They have all the elements in order to do so again. They do not rely on one player, they play as a collective unit. The Thunderclap is back and the world will be watching to see if Cinderella can make some noise before the clock strikes midnight.

 

GROUP E

Brazil    

Nickname: Selecao (The Squad)

Best Player: Neymar of Paris Saint-Germain

Why root for them: The Dynasty is back. After an embarrassing semi-final v Germany they are ready to get back on top. Marcelo will lead the defense and his style is either hated or loved. Neymar, Willian, Coutinho, and Firmino will lead the charge on offense. Fireworks will come into play when this squad steps onto the field. If you want full entertainment, look no further than the Brazilians.

Best World Cup finish: Champions in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002

What to expect: Living up to their high expectations is the only thing they can think about right now. Neymar is back from injury and should put on quite the performance. This team is well rounded and winning the group should come with easy. Brazil is a legitimate contender to win their sixth title.

 

Switzerland

Nickname: Die Nati

Best Player: Ricardo Rodriguez of AC Milan

Why root for them: This team always looks promising in a tournament but simple mistakes always end up being their downfall. They are a good group to watch but the mentality of this team could already be in play. If you like to root for people who are down on their luck, the Swiss are your team.

Best World Cup finish: Round of 8 in 1934, 1938 and 1954

What to expect: Making it out of the group would be acceptable, but going further than that is highly unlikely.

 

Costa Rica

Nickname: Los Ticos

Best Player: Keylor Navas, world-class goalkeeper for Real Madrid.

Why root for them: After what they did in 2014, why not root for these guys? That run sparked confidence and put a good amount of their players on European teams. Navas is the keeper for Real Madrid, so if you are a fan of Real you should root for Los Ticos.

Best World Cup finish: Round of 8 in 2014

What to expect: Making it out of the group is doable. This team eyes a return to the round of 8 but it could be a difficult time. Then again, they have already proven they can handle the European giants.

 

Serbia

Nickname: The Eagles

Best Player: Nemanja Matic of Manchester United

Why root for them: Their defense shows grit and they will try to bully opponents off the ball. This team has a good amount of fight in them and they really do not care who they face. If that is the type of attitude you possess, Serbia is your team.

Best World Cup finish: Group stage in 2010, fourth place in 1930 and 1962 as Yugoslavia

What to expect: The knockout stage is not far-fetched but making it out of this group will be tough. They will need luck and some help to get out.

 

GROUP F

Germany    

Nickname: Die Mannschaft (The Team)

Best Player: Germany is a machine and they work together as a unit. If you had to pick one player it would have to be Toni Kroos of Real Madrid.

Why root for them: The powerhouse returns to the world stage. The defending champions will look to repeat. If you like teams that dominate from start to finish and show little weakness, the Germans are right up your alley. They play soccer the right way and are must-watch television.

Best World Cup finish: Champions in 1954, 1974, 1990, and 2014

What to expect: Anything short of reaching the final would be a failure in the eyes of the Germans. In 2017 this team went unbeaten, a dynasty could be in the making. This team is looking to repeat for this first time since 1962 when Brazil did it.

 

Sweden

Nickname: The Blue-Yellow

Best Player: Emil Forsberg of Red Bull Leipzig

Why root for them: There is no Zlatan. If he was here it would be a no-brainer to root for these guys. Nevertheless, the defensive group could be enough to get you rooting on the Swedes.

Best World Cup finish: Second place in 1958

What to expect: They have the players in order to compete but their formation is a 4-4-2 which is easily predictable and does not match up with others in this group. They will be fighting Mexico for that second spot.

 

South Korea

Nickname: Taegeuk Warriors

Best Player: Son Heung-min, a star player for Tottenham.

Why root for them: This team is on the rise and will prove they are better than they were in 2014. It is hard to say anything bad about the Koreans and how they treat the game. Their fans might have a different outlook. They pelt the team busses with toffee whenever they lose a game. If that sounds like a fan base you want to be a part of, South Korea is the team for you.

Best World Cup finish: Fourth place in 2002

What to expect: The defense is average at best, however, the offense is quite lovely. Making it out of the group would be a dream come true but don’t expect it to happen with Germany in the way.

 

Mexico

Nickname: El Tri

Best Player: Andres Guardado of Real Betis

Why root for them: America’s other team maybe? The United States biggest rival is Mexico but perhaps it won’t be so bad to root for a North American country. The household name, Javier Hernandez, is on a decline but he could spark one last magically performance for El Tri.

Best World Cup finish: Round of 8 in 1970 and 1986

What to expect: The dreaded fifth game has haunted El Tri for the past several World Cups, 24 years as a matter of fact. They always make it out of the group stage and play in the round of 16 but then they lose the fifth game. Can they simply break the hex? Let’s worry about the group stage first. Mexico has looked strong at times and could advance to the knockout stage.

 

GROUP G

England    

Nickname: The Three Lions

Best Player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) is irreplaceable for this squad. His success will determine this team’s fate.

Why root for them: Mystery. You never know what you will get with England. Sit back and relax because the greatest (or worst) show is about to start.

Best World Cup finish: Champions in 1966

What to expect: England is notorious for falling short in the World Cup. So much pressure is on the shoulders of the English men. The quarterfinals should be this team’s goal but that might be tough. They will survive the group stage and go on to knockout play easily.

 

Belgium

Nickname: The Red Devils

Best Player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) has been emerging as one of the best players in Europe. However, this team is playing their best when Eden Hazard (Chelsea) is clicking.

Why root for them: Talented midfielders and astonishing strikers. The resources are there to make a deep run and potentially win it all.

Best World Cup finish: Fourth place in 1986

What to expect: Last World Cup was a success for them as they lost in the Round of 8, but this year it would just be a disappointment if they repeated 2014’s results. The amount of pure talent on this roster is insane and expect them to be a dark horse contender.

 

Panama

Nickname: Los Canaleros (The Canal Men)

Best Player: Roman Torres, a defender for the Seattle Sounders.

Why root for them: This is the first time they have made the tournament so national pride will be ringing around the arenas they play in. A fairy tale of making it to the World Cup is finally turned into a reality.

Best World Cup finish: This is Panama’s First World Cup

What to expect: A few brief moments of good play but the pressure of importance that is the World Cup will be too hard to overcome.

 

Tunisia

Nickname: The Eagles of Carthage

Best Player: Aymen Abdennour of Marseille

Why root for them: The majority of the players do not play for a top-tier European league. They finished the African qualifications without losing. They have face eliminations from time and time again and that has made these men confident.

Best World Cup finish: Group Stage in 1978, 1998, 2002 and 2006

What to expect: Respectable effort but their tournament ends after the third game.

 

GROUP H

Poland   

Nickname: The White and Reds

Best Player: Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich

Why root for them: I am going to be honest; if you can pronounce all of these guys’ names, this is your team (no seriously pronounce Blaszczykowski). No argument needed. Do not underestimate this team, they seem like the weakest top seed but do not let that fool you. Lewandowski and crew will be ready to prove you wrong.

Best World Cup finish: Third place in 1974 and 1982

What to expect: Round of 8 or bust. The FIFA rankings have been praising Poland but if they do not live up to them, it will be hard on this national team.

 

Japan

Nickname: Samurai Blue

Best Player: Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund

Why root for them: Hard fault results in many of their last World Cup games. If you have a heart you really feel for this team and hope they can overcome a troubled past. They have been so close for so long. Could 2018 be the year the chips start to fall?

Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 in 2002 and 2010

What to expect: Living on a prayer to get out of the group stage; nothing more, nothing less.

 

Colombia

Nickname: Los Cafeteros (The Coffee Growers)

Best Player: James Rodriguez, of Bayern Munich, is still the star for this team but can he duplicate his 2014 tournament results?

Why root for them: Join the passionate fans. Sure every country has crazy fans, but Colombia takes it to a new level. They have proven they can play with the best, but will their skill sets carry them onward?

Best World Cup finish: Round of 8 in 2014

What to expect: Honestly expect something unexpectable. Colombia did well in 2014 but injuries and the decline skills of James Rodriguez has a good amount of people confused on what this team will do. I would say they make it out with Poland but Senegal might be too fast for Colombia.

 

Senegal

Nickname: The Lions of Teranga

Best Player: Sadio Mane, the spectacular player for Liverpool.

Why root for them: Fast paced play mixed with one of the best goal scorers in the Premier League should be enough for you to root for these guys.

Best World Cup finish: Round of 8 in 2002

What to expect: If Senegal can control the pace of the game, the round of 16 is very doable. This group might not be the most popular but it is a head scratcher for sure. Mane will be the main man and he will be the star for the Lions.

 

BONUS!

Although the United States will not be playing this summer, the future is bright. This team and federation need our support now more than ever.

 

United States 

Nickname: The Stars and Stripes

Best Player: Christian Pulisic is the new face of US soccer but there are more rising stars that you need to get familiar with. Zack Steffen is the goalie of the future. He will be the one in between the pipes for years to come. Josh Sargent, 18 year old forward, is a name you need to start remembering now.

Why root for them: America! USA USA USA!!!

Best World Cup finish: Third place in 1930

What to expect: In 2022 the United States WILL make the World Cup and I predict they will get out of the group stage. In four years we will all look back and realize the best thing that happened to this program was to miss out on the 2018 World Cup. We needed to change things up and it just was heartbreaking that the wake-up call had to come in the form of being eliminated from the most important sporting event in the world