FINALLY. It’s here. The World Cup’s upon us. We’ve been waiting for it to start like a bunch of Panini sticker book-grasping nine year-olds for what seems like years now. It’s the World Cup and it’s brilliant and no one can tell us any different. We don’t care about the politics of where it’s being held or any of that daftness. IT’S THE WORLD CUP.
With apologies to any of our Welsh, Scottish, Irish or Northern Irish readers, we’ve got to say it feels great going into proceedings with a chance of winning the thing. Alright, so the actual chance of England winning the 2018 World Cup is slimmer than Peter Crouch on the Atkins Diet, but you’ve got to dream. And then wake up screaming when you’re beaten 1-0 by Panama in the groups.
England aside (mostly), let’s take a proper look at Russia 2018, shall we? Here’s our guide to the World Cup, featuring (almost) everything you could ever want to know about the thing…
As ever, the seedings did a pretty good job of making most of the groups fair. We’re sure it’s just coincidence that, even as top seeds (as hosts), Russia ended up with an easy-ish group. The group stages’ stand-out tie comes in the Iberian shape of Spain vs. Portugal. England got off pretty lightly as second seeds, drawing a talented by beatable Belgium side. France have it fairly straightforward and will fancy at least seven points from Group C. Group D should see Argentina through, but their three opponents are all capable of showing up, in both senses of the term. Group H is hugely unpredictable, F slightly less so and Group E is basically Brazil + 1.
We’ll see twelve stadiums across Russia showcased during the 2018 World Cup. Okay, so maybe not entirely ‘across’ Russia, but most of the western bit, anyway. Action will take place in Moscow, Rostov, Volgograd, Sochi, Saransk, Samara, Kazan, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg and – as you can see above – in a flying saucer that’s landed in St. Petersburg.
The World Cup will absolutely dominate television over the next month or so. And quite right too. For live action, terrestrial TV has you covered. BBC One and ITV1 are showing all the games between them, with the broadcasting duo carving the fixtures up equally. Both will show the final.
As for pundits, both sides have gone all out. Gary Lineker, Gabby Logan and Dan Walker will anchor the BBC’s coverage and coax dodgy opinions out of Alan Shearer, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Phil Neville, Jermaine Jenas, Alex Scott, Jurgen Klinsmann, Didier Drogba and Pablo Zabaleta. While Mark Pougatch and Jacqui Oatley lead the ITV team, with Gary Neville, Roy Keane, Martin O’Neill, Patrice Evra, Slaven Bilic, Eni Aluko, Ryan Giggs, Ian Wright, Lee Dixon, Henrik Larsson and Mark Clattenburg rounding out the punditry squad.
As for co-commentators, well, it’s not good news. But then it never is. Some of us quite enjoy the nihilism of Lawro on the Beeb. While none of us enjoy the cluelessness of Martin Keown on ITV. As for Hoddle and Danny Murphy? Oof. Viewers at home may seriously want to consider turning the sound down and turning on Radio Five Live or TalkSport.
Players to watch out for
We’re not going to tell you to keep an eye on Neymar or tip a little lad up front for Argentina by the name of Lionel Messi. It goes without saying that those two might just be worth watching over the next few weeks. The same goes for Cristiano Ronaldo, Antoine Griezmann, David Silva, Kylian Mbappe, Harry Kane, Mo Salah and all the other big boys. We needn’t even really tip you off to the likes of Timo Werner, Son Heung-min, Gabriel Jesus or Marco Asensio. Most football fans are pretty tuned into the world game nowadays.
But this World Cup, like most, won’t just be all about the names you already now. Especially when you’re watching Morocco vs. Iran or Tunisia vs. Panama. They’ll be players you’ve never heard of impressing you left, right and centre (we hope). Here are four to watch out for. Remember this info, repeat it down the pub and look like a football GENIUS:
Paolo Guerrero – Peru. The captain and main goal threat of Peru nearly didn’t make it to the World Cup because of a doping violation. The ban was for a substance he claimed he drank by accident in a cup of tea and the footballing world took pity on Paddington Bear’s homeland’s all-time leading goalscorer. The captains of the countries in Peru’s group all wrote to FIFA asking for leniancy. And FIFA relented. Those captains could well regret that when he bags a goal against them. Only he and his Peruvian teammates are no slouches.
Hirving Lozano – Mexico. Linked with a summer move to Everton, this PSV winger tore up the Eredivisie last year. We all know that doesn’t always mean much, but this 22 year-old kid is highly regarded across the world and thought by many to be The Real Deal. The lad netted nine goals in his first eight league games this season. Not bad, eh?
Aleksandr Golovin – Russia. A funny nation, the Russians are undoubtably able to produce raw talent, but their players rarely break out into superstardom. Or even the level below that. Every tournament sees a young kid expected to carry the creaking older members of the Russia sqaud. This time out it’s CSKA Moscow’s Aleksandr Golovin. The 22 year-old midfielder is said to be wanted by Jose Mourinho, so United fans will no doubt be keen to check him out in the tournament’s opener against Saudi Arabia.
Hwang Hee-chan – South Korea. This Red Bull Salzburg striker, also 22, is being looked at by Spurs, by all accounts. Mostly due to lighting up the Europa League this year. 28 goals in 83 appearances so far for RBS (that’s Red Bull Salzburg, not the Royal Bank of Scotland’s after work 5-a-side team) doesn’t exactly make him prolific, by he’s got serious skills nonetheless.
Dates for the diary
There will be near-constant football for a month. But some games stick out. Here are the ones that are worth scribbling down in that diary of yours that you probably don’t own:
Thursday June 14th – Opening ceremony & first game – Russia vs. Saudi Arabia
Friday June 15th – Spain vs. Portugal
Saturday June 16th – Argentina vs. Iceland
Sunday June 17th – Brazil vs. Switzerland
Monday June 18th – England vs. Tunisia
Thursday June 21st – France vs. Peru
Sunday June 24th – England vs. Panama
Wednesday June 27th – Germany vs. South Korea
Thursday June 28th – England vs. Belgium
Monday July 2nd – Possible England Round of 16 game
Tuesday 3rd July – Possible England Round of 16 game
Friday 6th July – Quarter Finals
Saturday 7th July – Quarter Finals
Tuesday 10th July – First Semi Final
Wednesday 11th July – Second Semi Final
Saturday July 14th – Third Place Play-Off
Sunday July 15th – World Cup 2018 Final
The World Cup is very rarely ever won by a big outsider. In fact, it never is. So, while you can argue that – technically – Senegal are generously priced at 200/1 (and they are), it’s kind of pointless. They ain’t gonna win it. Costa Rica are far better than the 750/1 you can get on them. But, again – they’re not going to win. You’ve got to look at the top sides and see if you can sniff out value…
Brazil are tournament favourites at 4/1. Germany run them a close second at 9/2. You can get 6s on Spain and France, with Argentina at 9/1. Belgium are available at 11/1, England 16s. Portugal and Uruguay offer excellent each-way odds, with both at 25/1 (that’s basically better than 12/1 for one of them to reach the final). For long shots with a faint sniff, you’re looking at 33/1 Croatia, 40/1 Colombia and 50/1 the world goes mad as Putin’s Russia triumph on home soil.
Golden Boot-wise, Messi tops the betting at 10/1, with Neymar and Griezmann not far behind. You can get Spurs man Kane at 16s, along with Ronaldo at the same price.
Picking a winner is tough. It’s hard to look past the top four, isn’t it? Brazil appeal hugely, as do Germany. But we’d favour France or Spain. Especailly at slightly longer odds. France are strong in virtually every position and will go close. But we’re going to go for La Roja. If you can get 13/2 on Spain – get stuck in.
If you’re looking for a second team to follow or you want to back some ‘lesser’ countries to qualify, top their group or just pull off a surprise win a game or two in the groups, we rate the likes of Senegal, Croatia and Egypt. But it’s the unfancied Latin America countries that we’ll be following for shock results. Check the odds of Peru, Costa Rica and Mexico with each match – they’re all more than capable of surprising people.
As for top scorer, there’s no value in Messi or Neymar. So look further down the list. It obviously makes sense to pick someone who plays as a starter and will go deep into the competition. Mo Salah’s red hot at the moment, sure. But even if he were fit for the first game, it’s unlikely he’d play in all seven games. You need to pick a forward (or at least an extremely attacking midfielder) likely to at least reach the semi finals. Our tips with value? Thomas Muller and Mbappe are both 33/1 to outscore the rest and that’s a big price to ignore. Mbappe didn’t have a rip-roaring season at PSG but we think he can relax in Didier Deschamps starting XI and fill his boots until they’re golden.
The World Cup’s going to be great. Our advice? Start prepping a HUGE sickie from work for the month. Sure, it’ll be obvious and you may get sacked. But c’mon. 64 international football matches… You can just get another job!
We’ll be showing every second of every match. So get yourself down your nearest Rileys for some proper atmosphere, top grub and all the latest drinks deals. Plus you play a few frames a pool in between games. идеально!
Worried it might be busy? No problem. Just book pitchside tickets with us in advance…