Welcome to the Sportgo Guide to the 2018 World Cup!
The eyes of the soccer (er…football) world will turn to Russia beginning June 14th as the World Cup kicks off. If you are not a big-time soccer fan, this guide will give you the information you need to avoid potential embarrassment while watching with friends or out at the pub.
Before we break down each team in the 2018 World Cup, here’s a quick rundown of the competition itself.
Number of Teams: 32
Number of Groups: 8 groups of 4 teams. Each team plays a round robin with the top 2 teams from each group advancing.
Country Hosting: Russia
Duration: June 14th – July 15th
Defending Champions: Germany
Group A: The host Russians will be pleased with their draw as they have a fighting chance to advance out of the Group Stage, especially with the recent injury to Egypt’s wonder-scorer Mo Salah. The Uruguayans will be the favourite but this group is up for grabs.
What you need to know: As the host country, the Russians qualified automatically. Their infamously rowdy supporters should be cautiously optimistic about their chances of advancing out of the Group Stage thanks to a relatively balanced Group A.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 66
Best World Cup Finish: 4th (1966 as USSR)
Player to Watch: Igor Akinfeev (Goalkeeper) – The Russian’s captain is a legend in his homeland and can build on his legacy if he can handle the pressure of carrying the host nation’s hopes on his shoulders.
Random Story: A laser-pointer was shone in Igor Akinfeev’s face distracting the Russian keeper in their 2014 World Cup match versus Algeria, contributing to Algeria’s lone goal in the 1-1 draw. This allowed Algeria to advance, knocking out the Russians.
Odds of Winning: 40/1
What you need to know: The Saudis are one of the biggest underdogs of the 2018 World Cup, but given their draw into Group A, they are still potentials spoilers. Qualifying by squeaking by the Australians, the Saudi’s have played some tight friendlies in the lead up to Russia. Their nickname, the Green Falcons, is also pretty cool, so they have that going for them, which is nice.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 67
Best World Cup Finish: Round of 16 (1994)
Player to Watch: Mohamed Al-Sahlawi (Striker) – Al-Sahlawi’s 16 goals in qualifying tied him for the lead of all players worldwide. He will need to continue finding the back of the net for the Saudi’s to have any chance.
Random Story: There is not a lot of job security as the manager of the Saudi squad. Their current manager, Juan Antonio Pizzi, is their 3rd manager in less than a year. The Green Falcons have blown through an impressive 10 bosses since 2011.
Odds of Winning: 750/1
What you need to know: No one took Liverpool’s Champions League Final defeat harder than the Egyptians (outside of Liverpudlians). The Egyptian’s best player and goalscoring superstar, Mo Salah, was forced to leave the Final with a shoulder injury which puts his World Cup future, and the Egyptians as well, in doubt. If he is able to play at 100% he’s worth the price of admission alone.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 46
Best World Cup Finish: 13th (1934)
Player to Watch: Mo Salah (Striker) – Salah shot to superstardom with a record-setting goal scoring campaign for Liverpool, taking home the PFA Player of the Year award. If Salah can return to the Egyptian side, his presence alone will make the Egyptians a difficult out in Group A.
Random Story: The Pharaohs are the most successful African team of all-time, winning the African Cup a record 7 times, but for all their success they’ve had serious trouble when it comes to the World Cup. This marks only their 3rd qualification and their first since 1990. They’ve only scored 3 times in their World Cup history.
Odds of Winning: 150/1
What you need to know: What Uruguay lacks in size (about the size of North Carolina) and population (3.5 million citizens), it makes up for in skill and experience. The tiny South American nation is a powerhouse in the footballing world with multiple World Cup championships and this year’s squad is no different. They will be heavily favoured to advance from a relatively weak Group A.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 17
Best World Cup Finish: Champions (1930 & 1950)
Player to Watch: Edinson Cavani & Luis Suarez (Forwards) – There may be no more dangerous duo of forwards in this year’s tournament than Cavani and Suarez. Both are clinical finishers with a history of success at the World Cup. This will be their 3rd, and most likely their last, appearance for Uruguay in the World Cup – so you can assume they will be hungry (more on hungry players upcoming).
Random Story: Few players have caused more controversies than Luis Suarez. In 2010 he infamously handballed a goal vs. Ghana in the quarterfinals, allowing the Uruguayans to advance. Then in 2014, Suarez one-upped himself, biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. He was then suspended for the remainder of World Cup. If he can keep lips shut, it will be all the better for the South Americans.
Odds of Winning: 33/1