Road to Russia - Contenders, Dark Horses and Failures

The World Cup is almost here! and with the biggest sporting tournament in the world drawing the attention of global fans, there is going to be speculation and prophesizing about what is going to happen during the competition and the fallout after all the drama is complete. WFC has compiled a brief analysis of who we believe will be the Contenders, Dark Horses and failures in Russia should each nation have a full and healthy compliment of players at their disposal. Of course this is all speculation until we witness what occurs between the June 14 kick-off opening match when hosts Russia play Saudi Arabia, and the final whistle of the final on July 15 at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. 

So here we go,

The Contenders:


Perennial contenders in the last decade, Spain head into Russia as one of the main favourites. A perfect qualifying campaign that only saw them drop 2 points with a draw against Italy (1-1) in Turin shows the calibre that the Spanish national side has revitalised in the squad since they were unceremoniously knocked out of the 2014 World Cup after a string of embarrassing results. The ushering in of a new guard of scintillating playing talent has given La Furia Roja their mojo back. Drawn in group B with Portugal, Morocco and Iran it is very hard to see how Spain won’t finish top of the group and cruise into the knockout stage with a fairly easy round of 16 game awaiting them from group A – any one of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Uruguay who they should push aside and advance to the final 8. With the added advantage of tremendous squad depth, Spain can rotate out top tier players to be given rest while bringing in another player any national team would envy. Across the midfield, Spain possibly has the best options of all national teams – Thiago, Andreas Iniesta, David Silva and Sergio Busquets are all expected to be starters, however the likes of Marco Asensio, Saul, Isco and Koke as a backup four would totally dominate most opposition midfields themselves.

WFC Predicted Best Line-up: 


Shaking off the ghosts of the 2014 World Cup on home soil will always be a struggle, however Brazil have become a new form of a powerhouse in the 2018 qualifying campaign. A more solid defensive structure and consistency of movement, rather than a get-rich-or-die-trying mentality has propelled Brazil to the pinnacle of the World Cup title odds. Breezing through the CONMEBOL qualifying – capturing a ticket to Russia in record timing and finishing 10 points ahead of second placed Uruguay gave Brazil time to experiment and work on combination play that could be seen once Russia 2018 begins. The emergence of new talent and the resurrection of past heroes believed to be finished has provided Brazil with a greater depth of talent to rely on. This was vastly lacking in 2014, where the whole nation was riding a wave of emotion on the abilities of Neymar. This time around, coach Titè has injected players like Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino and Coutinho, while others like Fernandinho, Paulinho and Willian have found a new lease on life after being bit-part players in the past. The spread of the scorning workload away from Neymar, with Gabriel Jesus playing the striker role to perfection allows the aforementioned Neymar a higher ability to do what he does best, and terrorise defences with trickery and mazy runs down the wing. With this attacking flair and a defence that boasts talent and experience, Brazil very well could win it all.

WFC Predicted Best Line-up:


The talent in the French squad is awe inspiring, however lacking a cutting edge that other teams have in the elite bracket of nations. Nevertheless, France have to be considered a true contender for the World Cup title in 2018 as the explosive young talent possessed in the squad could take-off and light up the tournament en-route to the trophy. Strong across the backline, ridiculously skilful in the midfield and dynamic up top, France have the weapons to beat most teams in the world, but coach Didier Deschamps has himself questioned the metal capacity that has plagued Les Bleus time and time again. The pressure of expectation will be the key factor in this World Cup campaign, with the qualifying stage showing the cracks, as dropping points against Belarus, Sweden and Luxembourg almost came back to bite. However, topping the qualifying group gave France automatic qualification and a much needed sigh of relief. The elevation of young talent in the qualifying campaign could be a massive positive for the national team going forward. The likes of Kylian Mbappè, Thomas Lemar and Ousmane Dembèlè have all starred for their respective club teams but hadn’t provided significant contributions to the national side as of yet. The confidence they all gained in qualifying with the trust placed on them will allow a dynamic addition to assist current nailed on starters such as Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and N’Golo Kantè  

WFC Predicted Best Line-up:


The expert and tactical machine of the German side has the potential to keep rolling on through Russia 2018 and claim another title – being the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to go back-to-back. Embarrassing the Confederations Cup in 2017, by sending a B squad, with little national team experience and completely dominating the tournament and claiming the title, will strike fear into every nation as to what the Germans can produce in Russia. Drawn in a relatively easy group F with Mexico, Sweden and South Korea, it is hard to see anything else but a German whitewash in the group stage, much like their qualifying campaign was. In qualifying Germany went 10 wins from 10 while taking until the 5th match to concede a goal. This defensive prowess has been built on club partnerships being brought to the national side. With Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich) locking up the centre of defence and Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich) as a back-up or slotting into a right back position, team chemistry immediately comes to the squad. This added advantage doesn’t exist in most national sides – with the only possible exception being Spain. The German midfield and forwards are so technical and powerful that they are impossible to handle at times. Any team that can drop Marco Reus, Leroy Sanè and Sami Khedira with no drop off in dominance is something special. This depth of talent is what has propelled them to glory in the past and what could very well propel them again in June and July this year.

WFC Predicted Best Line-up:

The Dark Horse Bolters:


Having a strong qualifying campaign is always a good sign of things to come, and Poland were just that, having won 8 of 10 games. Star forward Robert Lewandowski scored 16 times in the 10 games to lead all UEFA scorers across European qualifying. Despite this, Poland aren’t just reliant on Lewandowski scoring a bag of goals every game. During the 10 games the Poles had 9 different goal scorers in total. For a team not considered as a top tier nation, Poland sit 10th in the FIFA rankings and possess a host of players playing at top European clubs. Historically, Poland has been very good in World Cup campaigns, having finished in 3rd place on 2 occasions, in 1974 and 1982 from 6 appearances. Not having tasted World Cup participation since 2006, this could be the year that Poland re-announce themselves. Being seeded into a group that plays into their favour (group H – Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan), where they should come in 1st place, makes for a likely round of 16 meeting with England, which they should also win. This places them in the last 8 of the tournament, where if things play out to expectation a face-off against rivals Germany will occur. This would be a tough ask for Poland, but anything could happen at that stage of the World Cup and for all we know, a much unconsidered Polish side could be in the semi-finals.

WFC Predicted Best Line-up:


Dominating Africa and AFCON hasn’t transferred over into World Cup success in the past. With Egypt only narrowly booking a ticket to Russia on the back of a Mo Salah penalty, they have been given a breath of life when the group stage draw was announced. Drawn in group A with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay, Egypt will be salivating at getting into the round of 16 and even possibly topping their group. A lot is riding on the opening fixture against Uruguay on June 15th. A win here could be instrumental. In qualifying, many critics slammed coach Hector Cuper for playing with a very defensive orientated set-up, but at the World Cup stage this could play into the Egyptians favour as other nations struggle to breakdown the defence and they can hit on the counter attack. Having Mo Salah hitting peak form heading into the tournament that is rivalling the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s production is a major boost to the aspirations that Egypt have, but any drop-off may be fatal. Should Egypt top their group, a likely meeting with Portugal in the round of 16 will be on the cards. The two teams recently met in a friendly and it took a Ronaldo brace after the 90th minute (91st and 94th) to get Portugal over the line (2-1). In this game Portugal played horribly and Egypt could win the next meeting which will be more desirable as a final 8 spot will be the reward. 

WFC Predicted Best Line-up:

The Failures:


The Ronaldo factor is always a headache when attempting to predict what Portugal will be capable of in a major tournament. Undeniably sensational in qualifying, Portugal won 9 out of their 10 matches at a scoring average of 3 goals per game. All this has come off the back of a devastating Euro 2016 run which saw them crowned as champions – beating hosts France in the final. This has thrust Portugal into becoming heavy favourites to win the World Cup, with a final 4 spot the very least expected. Being drawn in group B it should be a simple task to get out of and advance past the group stage. Yet, group A has possibly the easiest pickings of the tournament with 2 teams clearly head and shoulders in front to advance, in which Portugal will face one of in the Round of 16. Although Portugal have high levels of talent, it is their squad depth that will be tested in Russia. With rivals Spain also in group B it is hard to see Portugal finishing first. Settling for a second placed spot gives the Selecao das Quinas a much harder run to the later stages of the tournament, with a second round meeting against either Egypt or Uruguay. This will be a tough test, which could see Ronaldo, his teammates and Portugal crash out early.

WFC Predicted Best Line-up:


Getting to the quarter-finals in Brazil in 2014 was a large improvement for Colombia from past World Cup campaigns that saw them miss qualification in 2002, 2006 and 2010. However, the Russia 2018 qualification was seemingly doomed to fail, with the side putting in countless inconsistent performances and dropping points in unlikely situations, none more evident than their 2-1 loss at home to Paraguay on the penultimate day of qualification after being up 1-0 in the 89th minute. However, results played into Colombia's favour in CONMEBOL qualifying and they booked a ticket to the big dance of 2018. This inconsistency though lead to 45 players being utilised in the qualifying campaign by coach Josè Pekerman who struggled to find a decent formula for attack and defence, with Colombia only managing to score 21 total goals, even with the likes of Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez, Carlos Bacca, Juan Cuadrado and Luis Muriel at his disposal. All this trouble in qualifying could lead-on into the group stage of the World Cup proper, where Colombia has been drawn in an immensely tricky group H along with Poland, Japan and Senegal. With Polands dominance in attack and defensive prowess they should finish top of the group, only leaving a second placed spot up for grabs. Colombia’s inability to score consistently could prove a thorn in their side against notoriously resolute defenders Japan and a powerful and athletic Senegal. There is a high probability that the Columbians could be packing their bags for a flight home before the Round of 16 begins. Let’s hope that this doesn’t occur as the World Cup majorly benefits from the South American countries flair and skill, but the signs are there that a group stage exit could become a reality.  

WFC Predicted Best Line-up:

There you have it! Our analysis and speculation as to who will be the main contenders, the dark horse bolters and the failures of Russia 2018, but surprises are what makes football so enjoyable


What will the World Cup throw at us this time round?

As we all anticipate for Russia 2018 to begin on June 14th stayed tuned into WFC over our social media accounts for more previews, predictions and team news to get everyone prepared for the memories and history that awaits us.