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 B: Headlined by the two Iberian powerhouses, Portugal and Spain, Group B has no shortage of skill and will prove to be very difficult for the Moroccans and Iranians to advance so long as the two European nations don’t beat each other up too badly.
What you need to know: This is Christiano Ronaldo’s team. You’ve probably heard of him even if you haven’t watched any soccer in years. Without a doubt, one of the players you will want to watch this World Cup and will be a heavy favourite for the Golden Boot this go-around. But the Portuguese are much more than just Ronaldo. They are coming off a 2016 Euro Championship and are as sound a defensive squad as exists in this World Cup.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 4
Best World Cup Finish: 3rd (1966)
Player to Watch: Christiano Ronaldo (Forward) – A World Cup trophy is the only thing missing for the Portuguese superstar’s trophy case and at 33 he has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down. He most recently took home the Champions League title with Real Madrid while earning the title of Champions League top scorer for the 7th time.
Random Story: Portugal arrive in Russia with the title of best team in Europe following their 2016 Euro championship. It was a curious victory for the Portuguese who won just a single game in regulation en route to their victory. So it’s safe to say, they are comfortable in tightly contested matches, which in a competitive Group B, there should be.
Odds of Winning: 20/1
What you need to know: The Spaniards are not the heavy favourites they once were in the past two World Cups, but it would be foolish to overlook the La Furia Roja. Manager Julen Lopetegui will have many difficult personnel decisions to make in his first major international tournament as some are wondering what balance of youth to experience the former U-21 manager will be employing. (Edit: Julen Lopetegui was fired just 2 days before the World Cup began and will be replaced by Fernando Hierro, sporting director for Spain.)
Current FIFA World Ranking: 8
Best World Cup Finish: Champions (2010)
Player to Watch: Sergio Ramos (Defender) – With 151 caps, Ramos has been a mainstay on the backline for the Spaniards throughout their decade of incredible success and they will need him again as captain of the side. Keeping his Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo in check will be his first of many important assignments should the Spanish make a long run.
Random Story: During the height of the Spanish dominance of world football, their rapid-passing style of play was so influential watchers coined it ‘tiki-taka’. The possession-based system requires extremely high levels of skill, which the Spanish have plenty of. While the rest of the world has caught on, few teams move the ball faster and with more precision.
Odds of Winning: 6/1
What you need to know: The Moroccans are back in the World Cup after a 20-year hiatus thanks to a powerful defensive display in qualifying where they didn’t concede a single goal in the final group stage. They will need to continue this streak of clean-sheets should they hope to advance from Group B with heavily-favourited Portuguese and Spanish gunning for them.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 42
Best World Cup Finish: Round of 16 (1986)
Player to Watch: Hakim Ziyech (Midfield) – A highly-skilled playmaker, the 25 year-old will be depended upon to create offence to balance the Moroccan’s stout defence. On the strength of off a breakout season with his club team, Ajax, Ziyech was named Dutch Footballer of the Year. He has impressed with the Atlas Lions finding the back of the net 8 times in just 15 appearances.
Random Story: Morocco remains in the running for the 2026 World Cup and would serve as only the 2nd African country to host the prestigious tournament. They are expected to have over 11,000 fans in Russia for their Group stage matches so keep an eye out for Morocco.
Odds of Winning: 250/1
What you need to know: The Iranians reached back to back World Cups for the first time (and 5th time overall). They have not achieved a lot of success in the past, having recorded just a single win, and their difficult draw into Group B doesn’t give reason to have a lot of optimism, so a win in their first match vs. Morocco will be critical to any chance of advancing.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 36
Best World Cup Finish: 14th (1976)
Player to Watch: Sardar Azmoun (Striker) – There’s no denying Azmoun’s comfort in the National side’s lineup, having scored 23 times in 31 appearances. If he is able to find the net against a stingy Moroccan side in their first match, the Iranians may prove to be upsetters.
Random Story: While success has been hard to come by in the World Cup for the Iranians, you may remember they very nearly overthrew Argentina in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Playing to 0-0 draw through 90 minutes, it took a Lionel Messi wonder-strike to keep the Iranians from completing a historic upset.
Odds of Winning: 500/1