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. For example, if you are looking forward to Italy vs. USA, you’re going to need the patience of a saint – neither country qualified this go-around.
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
Now let’s dive into each team so you can confidently yell at your television without fear of embarrassment.
Group G: Belgium (UEFA), Panama (CONCACAF), Tunisia (CAF), and England (UEFA)
What you need to know: This is probably the most talented Belgium team assembled in history. The Red Devils have all the proper ingredients of youthful offense and veteran defenders to make a deep run into the tournament. Anything less than the semifinals will be a disappointment.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 3
Best World Cup Finish: Fourth place (1986)
Player to Watch: Kevin De Bruyne (Midfielder) – the highest paid player in Manchester City history is expected to play a key role for Belgium if they hope to live up to their expectations. His complete game on both sides of the ball has him ranked as the 4th best footballer in the world by The Guardian in 2017.
Random Story: There have been recent player-manager tension within the Belgium squad after their 3-3 draw against Mexico in November. Expect this to manifest if they get off to a slow start in the tournament.
Odds of Winning: 10/1
What you need to know: With an approximate population of 4 million, the small country of Panama gets its first opportunity on the global stage at this year’s World Cup. With two powerhouse European countries in their group, the odds of them advancing are slim to none but it would be exciting to see them muster up a draw or win.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 55
Best World Cup Finish: First World Cup appearance (2018)
Player to Watch: Roman Torres (Defender) – the strong, confident, and fearless Seattle Sounders defender scored the goal to clinch their World Cup birth all while playing stellar defence.
Random Story: There is a serious will to win on the Panama team, sometimes at the expense of the rules. They demonstrated this in a scrappy friendly against Denmark in March.
Odds of Winning: 750/1
What you need to know: Like Panama, Tunisia’s schedule does not play in their favour. They dive in head first against the heavy favourites England then Belgium, and if they are still without points before their final group stage match against Panama, you can consider their tournament done.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 14
Best World Cup Finish: Group stage
Player to Watch: Wahbi Khazri (Midfield) – with 9 goals in 17 matches this season for Rennes (on loan from Sunderland), he’ll need to capitalize on his chances if he wishes to propel Tunisia over either England or Belgium.
Random Story: Tunisia’s most creative player, Youssef Msakni, will not be participating due to injury, therefore, another player will need to step up in his absence.
Odds of Winning: 500/1
What you need to know: England enters this year’s World Cup with the usual expectations from their supporters and they appear to have a top-calibre in their front 2/3 but how will their back 1/3 hold up? Thankfully their group is not packed with high-end teams, besides Belgium, therefore advancing to the knockout stage seems likely.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 13
Best World Cup Finish: Champions (1966)
Player to Watch: Harry Kane (Striker) – recently named the captain for England, Kane’s dominant performance in the Premier League for Tottenham has him over the century mark for goals and lands him in the top five players of 2017 by The Guardian. England and the commonwealth are expecting great things from Kane this tournament.
Random Story: England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, was put in an interim management role in 2016 after Sam Allardyce resigned. During this time, Southgate went on to draw 0-0 with Slovenia, beat Scotland 3-0, and draw with Spain 2-2, and two weeks later was offered a 4-year term.
Odds of Winning: 16/1