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Roker Report’s 2018 World Cup Predictions: Who’s getting out the groups?

With the 2018 World Cup right around the corner, Alex McCain has decided to sideline his love-hate-love relationship with Sunderland to give you his two pennies’ worth of who he thinks will get past the group stages at this summer’s tournament in Russia.

The Verge

Don’t forget to tune in next Tuesday as the Roker Reporters present their predictions in the first of a series of 2018 World Cup podcasts!


Group A

The hosts Russia kick off the 2018 FIFA World Cup and find themselves in a relatively easy group. That being said, it’s highly likely that they’ll join South Africa in being the only two host nations unable to surface from the group stages.

After victory against an underwhelming Saudi Arabia on the opening day, the tournament natives will curse their bad luck as they become the first team to face Egypt’s Mo Salah on his return from injury, with third and final opponents Uruguay having enough to beat them fairly comfortably.

The aforementioned Uruguay don’t necessarily have a side overflowing with quality (Seb Coates regularly gets game time), but the offensive outlets of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez should find a way through the defenses of the other three teams. Egypt will be hot on their heels thanks to Mo’s Salah and Elneny, whose additional quality should set them apart from Russia and Saudi Arabia, securing second place for the North Africans.

Prediction:

1 - Uruguay

2 - Egypt

3 - Russia

4 - Saudi Arabia

Colombia v Uruguay: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Group B

Quite an easy group to call, all things considered. Neighbours Spain and Portugal are both quality teams with something to prove - the Spanish will be looking to redeem themselves following their horror show at the 2014 World Cup, and Portugal will be hoping to capitalise on the feel-good factor that will undoubtedly still remain from their triumph at Euro 2016.

It would seem that Iran and Morocco were both unfortunate enough to be drawn into a characteristic ‘group of death’, but while the former shouldn’t expect too much more than the pride of international representation, the latter shouldn’t be overlooked.

Morocco are by no means pushovers - with many of their players hailing from the likes of Galatasary, Fenerbahce and Juventus - and a moment of complacency from either Spain or Portugal could see either of the European outfits slumping to third place. I’m not putting my money on any upsets happening here, though.

Prediction:

1 - Spain

2 - Portugal

3 - Morocco

4 - Iran

Italy U21 v Morocco U21 - International Friendly Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Group C

That France team is immense. It’s absolutely teeming with talent. They’re my favourites to win the World Cup, and from their perspective they’ve got a very weak group to ease themselves into it.

With a seamless blend of seasoned, experienced representatives and young, hungry prospects eager to prove themselves, France should undoubtedly be leaving this group with nine points and a plethora of goals scored. The second place vacancy, on the other hand, is far from definitive.

The squads of Australia, Peru and Denmark hardly possess players capable of setting the world alight, and as a result Group C may turn into something of a Mexican standoff between the three sides. I fancy Denmark to just about clinch it (without the aid of prolific Sunderland marksman Nicklas Bendtner), Peru to come in at third and Australia to finish bottom.

Hopefully with a camera panning to a forlorn Tim Cahill at some point.

Prediction:

1 - France

2 - Denmark

3 - Peru

4 - Australia

Blackburn Rovers v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Group D

Argentina’s front line should be relentless as they fire their way to top spot. The likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero might encounter some resistance from the Croatian defense but should easily deal with the Nigerian and Icelandic equivalent.

Iceland, for all their plucky ideation, will find themselves bottom of this group. No, I’m not still bitter about the Butterfly effect of them beating England, Hodgson losing his job to then-Sunderland manager Allardyce and the subsequent appointment of Moyes and blah blah blah... I just don’t see them having the strength-in-depth to keep up with Nigeria and Croatia as the two go toe-to-toe for the remaining spot.

While the Super Eagles will offer plenty of firepower through the likes of Victor Moses and Kelechi Ihenacho, Croatia too have plenty of their own in Mario Mandzukic and renowned Gail Platt lookalike Luka Modric. The resilience of the Croatian defense will be the difference between the two sides, ultimately ensuring the Balkan outfit join Argentina in the round of sixteen.

Prediction:

1 - Argentina

2 - Croatia

3 - Nigeria

4 - Iceland

Argentina v Haiti - International Friendly Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

Group E

Righto. Elephant in the room. Brazil go through. Now let’s ponder the far more interesting question of who joins them.

Bryan Oviedo moaned to the Costa Rican media not too long ago about the hardships of playing in the Championship. He spoke at length about how the physical aspect of the division vastly inhibited his playing style and generally made life quite difficult for him on the pitch. I sure hope his teammates don’t echo his sentiments because, if so, they’re in for one hell of a time when they face Serbia.

The Serbians are a big, resilient, physically oriented team that will trample any team lacking that same attributes. The likes of Branislav Ivanovic, Aleksandar Kolarov and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic aren’t going to take any prisoners and are part of a side that also possesses a good amount of quality - and while Brazil should be able to samba their way through, I’m not sure if Costa Rica and Switzerland can stand up to them.

Prediction:

1 - Brazil

2 - Serbia

3 - Switzerland

4 - Costa Rica

Nigeria v Serbia - International Friendly Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Group F

The current holders Germany should be able to effectively deal with everyone in their group, but while South Korea look like somewhat of a one-man team with Son Heung-Min - and Sweden suddenly look like a no-man team following the loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Mexico won’t make it easy for them.

It’s quite easy to overlook the potency of a side when most of it’s players play outside Europe, and I believe we commit this fallacy when we underrate Mexico. A solid, consistent side sprinkled with a fair amount of talent; I can see the North American outfit making their way past their Scandinavian and East Asian competitors.

I’m not expecting South Korea to replicate their charge to the semi-finals just as they did back in 2002, nor am I expecting Seb Larsson to remember how to take a free-kick.

Prediction:

1 - Germany

2 - Mexico

3 - Korea Republic

4 - Sweden

Mexico v Scotland - International Friendly Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

Group G

Going to go for a bit of a controversial one here, for a couple of reasons, but just bear with me.

First of all, I reckon England are topping this group. Yeah, I know, Gareth Southgate isn’t the most inspiring leader in the world and it feels like the entire team only has about ten caps between them, but I just reckon we’re actually going to make a substantive contribution to this tournament - I dare say we might even make the Quarter Finals - and it all starts here, in the group that we’ll win.

Southgate has a young team eager to prove their worth and tends to play his players in a system that accommodates the styles of football they’ve honed at their respective clubs - the improvements he’s made are subtle, but the fruits of his strategies will prevail once we’re kicking a ball around on Russian soil.

I’m also not expecting Belgium to make it out the groups at all. Crazy, right? Well, maybe not. Roberto Martinez isn’t having a good time of it at the helm as it is - under the Spaniard, Belgium have failed to defeat any international side in the top 40 of FIFA’s World Rankings - and the omission of the experienced Radja Nainggolan was certainly met with some stark controversy. There’s always at least one big team that under-performs at this tournament, and this year I reckon it’s Belgium’s turn.

In their place will be Wahbi Khazri’s Tunisia, with the remaining team Panama predictably anchored to the bottom but happy regardless as their presence in this prestigious tournament marks a crucial period in Panamanian history.

Prediction:

1 - England

2 - Tunisia

3 - Belgium

4 - Panama

Netherlands v England - International Friendly Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Group H

The final group of the tournament is probably my favourite one. It’s by far the most cosmopolitan and is precisely why the World Cup is so intriguing. Four nations from four different continents, with four cultures that are so very fundamentally different... it’s just cool.

But anyway, let’s talk football. Colombia have a clear spine of talent in their starting eleven which should see them stave off the competition as they nab top spot, with Poland just missing out and having to settle for second. Senegal have plenty of attacking options but will be undone defensively and knocked down to third - Japan will finish bottom, finding themselves more or less second best to each side they face.

Prediction:

1 - Colombia

2 - Poland

3 - Senegal

4 - Japan

Colombia Open Training Session Photo by Gabriel Aponte/Getty Images

Don’t forget to tune in next Tuesday as the Roker Reporters present their predictions in the first of a series of 2018 World Cup podcasts!