For the true casual fan....Quick-twitch bits and opinions on the 32 teams, if you accidentally stumble upon soccer while watching TV this month! GROUP A edition--->
It's finally here!! World Cup 2018 in Russia kicks off today, and the answer is YES: it is preposterous that team USA will not be participating! But that's not what this is about.
The following will offer some quick-twitch nuggets and opinions on the teams and tourney, and I will cap it off by making my two-team prediction on who will win World Cup 2018! ***There are some soccer "hardcores" out there that talk about how great the Beautiful Game is and how it brings everyone together, while self-righteously scoffing at anyone that doesn't remember Maradona's "Hand of God" in 86, Baggio's missed penalty kick in the 94 Final...or basically anyone that didn't pass out when Landon Donovan aced one against Algeria in 2010. Screw them! Watch and enjoy, as little or as much as you care to.
To begin, the previous 20 World Cups have been won by 8 countries. Brazil has cashed in 5x(1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 in USA, 2002), defending champion Germany 4x(1954, 1974, 1990, 2014), Italy 4x(1934, 1938, 1982, 2006), Argentina 2x(1978, 1986), Uruguay 2x (1930, 1950), England in 1966, France in 1998 and Spain hoisted the trophy in 2010.
I note this for a couple reasons...first, for those of you that put some ridiculous futures bet on Australia or Poland, you donated your money. The juggernauts of international soccer have typically always won out in the end. And secondly, if you're hoping for parity and fresh blood in the winner's circle (like I am), then you should be rooting against a few of the nations above.
Group Stage play starts today with Russia and Saudi Arabia in Group A...There are 8 groups of 4 squads. In each group, every team plays each other once. Top two teams in points from every cluster will advance to the Knockout stage, or Round of 16. From there, a race to the trophy! (The US had qualified for 7 straight WC tournies until their 2018 campaign flop, making it to the knockout stage 4 times, including 2002 when they advanced to the Quarterfinal before a narrow loss to Germany)
Each day, I'll put together a short bit on each group and squad with a couple nuggets on them...some will be shorter or longer than others, as I'm not going to pretend that I've spent 4 years obsessing over these squads and pairings...if anything, you'll get some people to name-drop in conversation with other rubes!!!!!:
RUSSIA: Their squad is the lowest ranked in the tournament, but they're the host country in a fairly unremarkable group. Putin is watching!!!! Their goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev, is a name to know. Visions of potential star power rose with him as a youngster, but he hasn't been fresh since Euro 2008. Now he's 32. Has a tendency to bleep up in big spots. Defensively, the Russians sustained serious injury to a couple central defenders, so they'll be leaning heavily on the refs in this tournament to help keep the scoring down (joking, mostly...). Name dropping --- Former Premier League/Chelsea player Yuri Zhirkov might be an answer on the back end. Russia's top league scoring champ Fyodor Smolov will be a heavy option up front, along with brothers Alexei & Anton Miranchuk. I think they advance out of the group.
SAUDI ARABIA: This is the 2nd lowest ranked team in the tournament. What a way to kick off World Cup 2018 with these guys and Russia getting after it!!! This team isn't winning the tourney, and they aren't getting out of the group. But maybe their top scorer Mohammad Al-Sahlawi(28 goals in 40 Nat'l team appearances) can do something special to make them worth watching.
EGYPT: Not that Egypt are going on any sort of a deep run, but I am excited to see Liverpool's Mohamed Salah play for his nation after an incredible year in the Premier League. Mo led PL in scoring(first player ever to score 32 goals in a 38-game Premier League season!!!!!), an absolute nightmare for opposing defenders and a pleasure to watch....but then he was injured(shoulder) in the Champions League Final with Real Madrid. Sounds like he'll be good to go for their Friday match with Uruguay. Hope he finds his form, because he will entertain you.
URUGUAY: These guys have a bit of star power with Atletico Madrid's Diego Godin defending, and the potentially electric partnership of Paris Saint-Germaine's Edinson Cavani & Barcelona's Luis Suarez working in the attack. Cavani is inconsistent for the national team, and Suarez is "the guy that bites people" after being ousted in WC 2014 for chomping on Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder in a group stage match. In 2010, Uruguay finished 4th in the tournament, and in 2014 they were beaten 2-0 in the Round of 16 by Colombia. Many blame their lack of attack in that game on Suarez not being in the lineup (chomp. chomp).
***Group A is Uruguay's to lose, Russia finishes 2nd***
LATER TODAY: I'll post on Group B (Iran, Morocco, Portugal, Spain) who kick off on Friday, and will name the two squads I think will be meeting in the World Cup Final! Cheers!