Welcome to the Dummies 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 D: Group D may not be officially named the Group of Death, but there’s really no cake-walks here either. Argentina will serve as the favourites but any of the other three teams could advance, or ruin Argentina’s hopes.
What you need to know: The 2018 World Cup is really a now or never tournament for this generation of Argentines, led by all-galaxy superstar Lionel Messi. Aging mainstays like Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero are likely in their final World Cup but are nonetheless a very dangerous side entering Russia.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 5
Best World Cup Finish: Champions (1978 & 1986)
Player to Watch: Lionel Messi (Forward) – There really is nothing left for Messi to do in his illustrious career than win a World Cup, which he came agonizingly close in 2014 when the Albiceleste lost in extra-time. No player in the world can single-handedly take over a match the way Messi can and for that reason alone Argentina is a side to be reckoned with.
Random Story: With Messi, Higuain and Aguero joined by youngster Paulo Dybala finding goals doesn’t appear to be an issue, but they were difficult to come by in qualifying. Argentina’s 19 goals we the second fewest in all of the CONMEBOL qualifying.
Odds of Winning: 9/1
What you need to know: Iceland leapt onto the world football stage with their upset of England in the 2016 Euro. While they are a small nation, they are not to be underestimated having qualified first in their group, ahead of powerful football nations like Croatia and Turkey. Buoyed by their exuberant and ‘Viking Clapping’ fans the Icelandic squad will be an exciting team to watch and an underdog not to be underestimated.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 22
Best World Cup Finish: First appearance
Player to Watch: Albert Guðmundsson (Midfield) – The youngest member of the Icelandic team, at 20, it’s not likely he will start each match, but watch for him to potentially be impactful at some point. When he registered a hat-trick against Indonesia earlier in 2018, Guðmundsson became the 4th generation of his family to score for the national team.
Random Story: With a population of 350,000 people they are the smallest nation by population qualify in the history of the World Cup. During the 2016 Euro, 10% of the country travelled to France, so watch for the Icelandic team to travel well again in Russia.
Odds of Winning: 200/1
What you need to know: The always dangerous Croatians are dark-horses once again in this version of the World Cup. While qualification was a little more dramatic than they might have liked, requiring a victory against the Greeks to qualify, the Croatians enter Russia with an experienced side that, like the Argentines, are looking at their last kick at the World Cup can for this generation of players.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 18
Best World Cup Finish: 3rd (1998)
Player to Watch: Luka Modric (Midfield) – A world-class distributor of the ball, Modric has improved with age it seems. Coming off a 3rd consecutive Champions League title with Real Madrid, Modric’s confidence should be high.
Random Story: Their manager, Zlatko Dalić, has been at the helm of the Croatian side for a grand total of 6 matches (and really only one that mattered). Dalić was brought in with the Croatian’s World Cup hopes on the line against Greece, which they secured on a 4-1 aggregate victory.
Odds of Winning: 33/1
What you need to know: Entering their 6th World Cup, the Nigerians have gained a faithful following for the high-speed and entertaining style of play. The Super Eagles are always a difficult opponent and can match-up against any side and hold their own. That being said, they are probably sick and tired of facing Argentina – this is the third consecutive World Cup they’ve been placed in the same group.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 47
Best World Cup Finish: Round of 16 (1994, 1998 & 2014)
Player to Watch: Kelechi Iheanacho (Forward) – A tall and speedy striker, Iheanacho has found comfort up front for the Super Eagles scoring 8 times in just 17 appearances. Stretching the field with feeds from Alex Iwobi and Victor Moses, the Nigerians will be difficult to contain for opposing back lines.
Random Story: The Nigerian kit looks as fast as the team and sold out, worldwide, just as quickly. All 3 million jerseys were spoken for and sold within minutes of them becoming available.
Odds of Winning: 150/1