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 F: Germany arrives in Russia looking to be the first back-to-back champion since 1962. And while history is not on their side, the Germans remain the #1 ranked team heading in. Joining them in Group F is a consistent Mexican side and sneaky good Sweden and South Korea.
What you need to know: As the defending champs and current No. 1 ranked team in the world, it’s fair to say expectations for the Germans are high. The depth of their lineup is incredible; they could feasibly field two elite-level teams. With much of their 2014 championship squad returning there is no reason to doubt a back-to-back victory is in their future.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 1
Best World Cup Finish: Champions (1954, 1974, 1990 and 2014)
Player to Watch: Thomas Müller (Forward) – It seems there is always a German forward who can’t help but find the back of the net in every World Cup. Müller has taken the mantle from Miroslav Klose (the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer) as Germany’s go-to goal scorer and he’s not far behind Klose either, having already scored 10 in two World Cups. He might leave you scratching your head as to how exactly he found the back of the net, but the proof is in the numbers; Müller simply knows how to score.
Random Story: The Germans are coming off a Confederations Cup victory in Russia in 2017. And keep in mind, the team which Germany sent was only about half their regular starting squad.
Odds of Winning: 4/1
What you need to know: They say there’s no sure things in life, but you can pretty much take Mexico advancing out of the Group Stage to the bank – they’ve moved on to the Final 16 in six consecutive World Cups. This version of El Tri will have their hands full with a powerful German team and difficult match-ups with Sweden and South Korea.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 15
Best World Cup Finish: Quarterfinals (1970 & 1986)
Player to Watch: Javier Hernandez (Forward) – Hernandez has been a consistent finisher for the Mexicans, scoring 49 times in 101 appearances but that hasn’t spared him from criticism at home. Despite being nicknamed Chicarito or ‘little pea’, Hernandez is known for his ability to score in tight spaces, as well as with his head in the air.
Random Story: Hernandez’ partner in the attack is a youngster, Hirving Lozano, nicknamed ‘Chucky’ due to his penchant for terrorizing his teammates by scaring them from jumping out from under their beds.
Odds of Winning: 80/1
What you need to know: The first thing you might want to know is the biggest name in Swedish football, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, will not be in Russia. This is leading many to wonder where the goals will come from, but the Swedes have always been a difficult match for any team. After all, they already knocked out the Italians and the tournament hasn’t even started!
Current FIFA World Ranking: 24
Best World Cup Finish: Runners-up (1958)
Player to Watch: Emil Forsberg (Midfield) – The Swedes will likely go as far as their creative leader takes them. The most talented of the highly structured Tre Kronor players, Forsberg is known for the cool, calm personality both on an off the field. Likely something that runs in the family; he is the third generation Forsberg to play for the national side.
Random Story: Sweden, as we mentioned earlier, are already the leaders in the clubhouse when it comes to unseating world football powers. Their second place finish in their Qualification grouping eliminated the Netherlands, leading to head-to-head playoff against Italy. Sweden took their home match 1-0 before playing to 0-0 draw in Italy, eliminating the Azzuri.
Odds of Winning: 100/1
What you need to know: The South Koreans arrive in Russia prepared for their ninth consecutive World Cup but looking to buck their pattern of underwhelming performances since their 2004 semi-final appearance.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 57
Best World Cup Finish: 4th (2002)
Player to Watch: Son Heung-min (Forward) – A goal-scoring fiend everywhere he’s played, he most recently became the highest scoring player of Asian descent in the Premier League. Equally skilled with both feet and capable of filling in at any attacking position, Son’s greatest skill is his adaptability.
Random Story: The South Korean’s rabid fan base, known as the Red Devils, is boisterous and known for their slamming of thundersticks throughout their matches.
Odds of Winning: 500/1