The summer of football has begun in Russia. 4 weeks of World Cup, wall to wall games to quench the thirst before the 2018/19 kicks off another nine months of domestic action.
As always, the host nation got everything underway on Thursday afternoon with a thumping win over Saudi Arabia in what promises to be an open competition. With some of the major nations such as Italy and Holland missing from the tournament, there might be a surprise to be sprung.
Unsurprisingly, Brazil and Germany rank among the top favourites to add to their collection of nine wins between them with the Germans defending their crown after their 1-0 win over Argentina in 2014. Whilst they didn’t look spectacular all through that tournament, they do have a knack of getting things together and flying through to the final.
Both sides look set to move through their groups with relative ease as do France and Argentina whilst the last of the 5 who lead the betting odds, Spain, must do battle with near neighbours Portugal to finish top and into a less pressured second round match. How Spain will fair after sacking new Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui just a few days ago no one yet knows.
But while these 5 are in the minds of the bookies, there are a couple that might rise from the pack below them. Firstly, Denmark inspired by Spurs star Christen Eriksen coming off the back of an impressive personal season in North London could land a few killer blows as the tournament progresses.
Belgium undoubtedly have a squad packed full of talented players from back to front and if Roberto Martinez can get the best out of them as a team instead of individuals they will certainly be talked out. Also trying to make it into the second round from the same group are England. Slipping a little under the radar as not expected to hit the heights might well suit Southgate’s young side, but with no fear showing after the two friendly games recently, could they be the nation which surprises the rest?
The most open group would appear to be H where there is very little to pick between Japan, Colombia, Senegal and Poland. Having finished 3rd in qualifying Columbia are the less fancied of the South American teams and contain less superstars than their counterparts but will still fancy their chances of making it to round two.
So, who’s going to win it? Momentum from an opening game win can take unfancied teams further than expected as has been seen in the past and being that there are no added complications of excessive heat or altitude issues, it’s almost all are on a level playing field.
The Brazilians qualified well and boast an experienced squad, you can never rule out the Germans, France and Spain don’t have quite enough this time around. If as stated Belgium play as a team, very much in with a shout.
England? Well, plenty to be positive about unless you read the papers! Qualification through the group should be achieved and playing either first or second in ‘open’ Group H in round two can be that momentum, whether there is enough within the squad to go all the way remains to be seen, but for now 32 nations have a dream……