Once every four years, the whole world comes together to celebrate the FIFA World Cup. 32 countries compete for the most prized trophy in football. This year, on 14th June 2018, the world cup will begin in Russia and what a tournament it looks set to be.
In 2010, the Russian delegates beat out bids from Spain/Portugal, Netherlands/Belgium and England in order to host the world cup in 2018. This will be the first time the Russians have hosted the tournament, although they made an unsuccessful bid in 1990. After the host selection process, there were allegations of bribery and corruption within FIFA. Some even called for a boycott of the world cup. Although an investigation absolved Russia of any blame, no one could say that it was the best start to their hosting of the world cup. All of this seems to be behind them now, however, as excitement for the tournament builds.
As is traditional, Russia, as the host country, will play the first game, against Saudi Arabia. This will kick off what is sure to be an exciting world cup. Historically, the host country always performs well during the tournament. In fact, South Africa was the first host not to proceed into the final 16. It will be interesting to see how Russia, currently seventieth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, will perform in their own world cup. They will be the lowest ranked team to be playing in this year’s cup. To see them progress through the group stages would be remarkable to say the least.
Less remarkable, of course, would be to see Germany get into the final 16. At present the best national team in the world, the current cup holders are the favourites to win this year’s tournament. However, critics are doubting their chances of success. German manager Joachim Low’s made the choice to leave Manchester City winger Leroy Sané out of the German squad. With an incredible performance at the English club this season, the decision not to take Sané to Russia is confusing, although some sources claim Low has doubts about Sané’s attitude. Will it harm Germany’s chances? The formidable team is not made of one player alone and it is unlikely that Sané will affect Germany too much, with other excellent strikers such as Stuttgart’s Mario Gomez and Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller going in his place.
Also in the top favourites for the cup are five-time-champions Brazil and 2010 cup winners Spain. After Spain were so surprisingly defeated during the group stages in Brazil 2014, could this be the year that they reclaim their title from the Germans? Widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world, Manchester United’s David de Gea is making his world cup debut, after being third-choice goalkeeper for Spain during their short appearance in 2014. Seasoned players who saw the cup lifted in 2010, such as Andrés Iniesta (the Spanish midfielder who scored the cup-winning goal in 2010) and left-footed David Silva, make up part of the squad, perhaps in an attempt to return the winning spirit that Spain enjoyed when they won three consecutive trophies (UEFA 2008, World Cup 2010, UEFA 2012). Has the team got what it takes to bring the cup back home to Spain? Well, the bookies have put Spain’s odds as less than those of previous world cup host Brazil’s.
Some odds put Brazil as equal to Germany in their chances to take the cup home. Brazilian wonderboy, Neymar, has had some issues after a foot injury during a game in February for Paris Saint-Germain. However, any doubts that Neymar would return for the world cup disappeared when he appeared in an international friendly on 3rd June, where he scored a goal in Brazil’s 2-0 defeat of Croatia. Other famous faces, such as Willian, Coutinho and Fernandinho, make up the Brazilian squad which is sure to wow when they arrive in Russia. One of the favourites to win in 2014, when they hosted it, the Brazilians reached fourth place. Perhaps the Brazilian team have something to prove at this tournament. Spain and Brazil are certainly teams to watch.
Interestingly, England’s chances don’t look so bleak. Every year, England hopes and hopes to one day reclaim their success in 1966. In 2014, under Roy Hodgson, the team didn’t make it out of the group stages. In fact, England have only twice progressed past the quarter finals. Other than our one victory in 1996, we reached fourth place in Italy in 1990. Will this year be different? What are the chances that the England players won’t return home in disgrace yet again? Well, it is very unlikely that we’ll win. According to sports data company Gracenote, we have a 71% chance of getting through to the final 16. After our last disaster, the final 16 wouldn’t be a terrible place to finish. With 41% likelihood of reaching the quarter finals, we do have a chance of progressing further, however. Overall, we have less chance of winning the world cup than Peru or Colombia at 4%. Does that make this whole thing less exciting? Knowing this nation of football fanatics, probably not.
With so many potential winners, this year’s world cup looks set to be rather interesting. Politics aside, the squads put out are phenomenal and the players alone will cause fireworks on the pitches across Russia. Although it is likely that Germany, Spain or Brazil will take the cup home, the chance of seeing first-time world cup qualifiers Iceland and Panama City succeed will bring some more intrigue to the games. In a few months, it will all be over and we’ll have to wait another four years for more world cup excitement, so let’s enjoy it while it’s here.