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 E: Any group with Brazil in it is going to have a clear favourite, but with the depth of Group E there is really no clear advantage for the second remaining spot. The size and strength of the Serbs could be an advantage but the speedy Swiss and Costa Ricans could ultimately see them through.
What you need to know: The last time we saw the Brazilians in the World Cup was during, quite literally, the worst loss in the history of the most decorated national team of all time (and in Brazil to boot). The 7-1 drubbing the Germans handed Brazil was historic and something unlikely to be seen for a long time. But Seleção have returned with a vengeance and are once again favourites in nearly every matchup imaginable.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 2
Best World Cup Finish: Champions (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
Player to Watch: Neymar (Forward) – The biggest star on the most famous team in world football, Neymar has never failed to rise to the occasion. His 77 career goals for Brazil put him on pace to match or pass the legendary Pele. He’s a classic Brazilian striker with endless creativity, speed to match and a clinical finishing touch.
Pintando a rua para a copa de 2014 🇧🇷⚽️🙏🤙🏽 pic.twitter.com/U5tjOATgNY
— Gabriel Jesus (@gabrieljesus33) May 30, 2017
Random Story: The youngest player on the squad, Gabriel Jesus, was involved in the 2014 World Cup in Sao Paulo, but not in the way you might imagine. He was not on the field, but rather out painting the streets in preparation of the legendary Brazilian street parties. Now he will be lining up with Neymar where he’s scored 9 times in just 16 appearances.
Odds of Winning: 7/2
What you need to know: For a nation known more for its banking and security prowess, there is nothing boring about this Swiss squad. The Swiss have been steadily rising the ranks of world football for years and after a strong showing at the 2016 Euro they have their eyes on advancing even further in Russia.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 6
Best World Cup Finish: Quarterfinals (1934, 1938 & 1954)
Player to Watch: Xherdan Shaqiri (Forward) – The 5’6″ has some of the best nicknames in the game (Alpine, Cube of Power or the Magic Dwarf) and has the game to back it up. His small stature allows him to zip around the field like a water bug, leaving taller and less agile defenders in his wake. The Swiss striker has not found the back of the net often on the grandest stages so his team may go as far as he can carry them.
Random Story: The Swiss were within just a single goal of missing their spot in the World Cup, narrowly beating Northern Ireland in the second round of the UEFA qualifying. Defender Roberto Rodriguez’s penalty was the difference for the 6th ranked team in the world.
Odds of Winning: 80/1
What you need to know: The Costa Ricans will hope to catch lightning in a bottle for the second time after their impressive (and improbable) run to the quarterfinals in Brazil four years ago. They will most likely be battling with the Swiss for the second spot out of Group E with a victory against the Brazilians difficult to forsee. But Los Ticos will not be intimidated, out matching traditional powers, Uruguay, England and Italy in 2014.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 23
Best World Cup Finish: Quarterfinals (2014)
Player to Watch: Keylor Navas (Goalkeeper) – The Costa Rican’s biggest star and their best player will need to be all-world in his second World Cup, which he is more than capable of. Most recently backstopping Real Madrid to their third consecutive Champions League victory, Navas will sure to be up to the task.
Random Story: Los Ticos manager Óscar Ramírez took the helm of the national team just a week after Costa Rican legend Paulo Wanchope was given the job. Wanchope got into a fist fight with a fan during a match in Panama and stepped down. Ramírez took the job and ran with it all the way to Russia.
Odds of Winning: 400/1
What you need to know: The Serbians have a talented and powerful defensive group, but there are some questioning if they are past their best-before date. Facing speedy attacks from Brazil and Switzerland could be cause for concern for an experienced back line including Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksander Kolarov.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 34
Best World Cup Finish: 4th (1930)
Player to Watch: Nemanja Matic (Midfield) – A huge presence in the middle of the field, Matic has been a powerful distributor for many seasons in the Premier League split between Chelsea and most recently Manchester United. Matic possesses a cannon for a left foot, but is more nimble than you might imagine for a man at 6’4″. He will be difficult for opposing teams to contain in Russia.
Random Story: Branislav Ivanovic will become the most capped player in Serbia’s team history, assuming he plays in two games this World Cup. The legendary defender is the lone remaining member of the Luis Suarez bite club, having been chomped by the Uruguayan forward in 2013.
Odds of Winning: 150/1