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 H: Poland (UEFA), Senegal (CAF), Colombia (CONMEBOL), and Japan (AFC).
What you need to know: Poland holds the top FIFA World Ranking in Group H and is expected to advance out of the group stage along with Colombia. Their strength is their offence, which is powered by one of the world’s best finishers, Robert Lewandowski. The strength of their backend and goalkeeping has yet to be determined and the Colombians will surely give us a good indicator what they’re made of.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 10
Best World Cup Finish: Third place (2x; 1974 and 1982)
Player to Watch: Robert Lewandowski (Striker) – recognized as one of the game’s top finishers over the last half-decade, Lewandowski is, without a doubt, the focal point offensive player for Poland. If Lewandowski gets hot, Poland could find themselves advancing deep into the knockout stage.
Random Story: Poland won 8 of 10 qualifying matches and scored an average of 2.8 goals/game. On the contrary, they had the worst defence of all European group winners in qualifying. Hopefully, this isn’t their Achilles heel.
Odds of Winning: 50/1
What you need to know: Senegal’s only previous trip to the World Cup was in 2002 and they kickoff that campaign with authority by defeating the reigning champion, France. Since then, Senegal has established talent in several top European leagues and should be taken seriously by their group members so they aren’t caught off guard.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 28
Best World Cup Finish: Quarterfinals (2002)
Player to Watch: Sadio Mane (Winger) – Lightning fast with strong soccer sense, Mane is coming off a 20-goal season for Liverpool. In fact, earlier this year, Mane became the highest scoring Senegalese player in Premier League history with a total of 44 tallies surpassing Demba Ba’s previous record of 43.
Random Story: Senegal’s manager, Aliou Cisse, has been heavily criticized for his negative approach which appears not to resonate well with the attacking players after friendly draws with Uzbekistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Odds of Winning: 150/1
What you need to know: Despite having a lower FIFA World Ranking than Poland, the general consensus is that the Colombians will be the class of group H. With tons of talent (Rodriguez and Barrios), experience (Pekerman), and confidence, this nation is well built to make a deeper run into the tournament than they did in 2014.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 16
Best World Cup Finish: Quarterfinals (2014)
Player to Watch: James Rodriguez (Midfield) – it was this time four years ago that Rodriguez showcased his talent on the global stage by leading his Colombian squad to the quarterfinals and a modest top 8 finish. Expect the Colombian faithful to live and die off his free kicks because he’ll be the man on the spot.
Random Story: Colombia’s starting goalkeeper, David Ospina, appears to be rusty from sitting on the bench behind Petr Cech in Arsenal. Colombia does not need any more high-profile mistakes from the back third.
Odds of Winning: 33/1
What you need to know: An ageing Japanese squad will look to make the most of a potential final appearance at the world stage for many of its longtime top players. After only scoring two goals in 270 minutes of group stage competition at the last World Cup, their only hope of advancing is to knock off Senegal and find some points against Poland or Colombia.
Current FIFA World Ranking: 60
Best World Cup Finish: Round of 16 (3x)
Player to Watch: Shinji Kagawa (Midfielder) – Modestly holding the record for most appearances and goals by a Japanese player in UEFA club competition, Kagawa will need to be spectacular in the group stage matches for Japan to out-edge the stronger Colombian and Polish sides.
Random Story: Japan made the surprise decision to sack their active manager, Vahid Halilhodzic, and replace him with the veteran Akira Nishino less than 2 months before the World Cup. It’ll be interesting to see if Nishino is able to spark a fire with limited time.
Odds of Winning: 250/1