As Friday’s draw concluded and the World Cup began to take shape, fans were left pondering a mouthwatering clash between Spain and Portugal, renewed optimism in the Three Lions and a slightly surreal tournament opener.
Gareth Southgate’s England were handed a favourable start to the tournament, taking on Tunisia and World Cup debutants Panama in the opening two games. Southgate will be hoping that his side have already booked a place in the last 16, when the Three Lions face a Belgium side littered with Premier League stars in an intriguing final group game.
England are currently 7/5 to top Group G and are as short as 1/4 to qualify from the group. The expectation doesn’t stop there, as since the draw was made, England’s odds of winning have been slightly trimmed from 18/1 to just 16/1.
Alex Apati of Ladbrokes said: “World Cup fever is beginning to build after this afternoon’s draw, and the odds are suggesting Southgate’s boys have a great chance of going far. The footballing Gods have also set up a potentially huge quarter-final with Germany, where England will be looking to exact revenge for 2010.”
Arguably the most tantalising game of the group stages comes from Group B, where 2008 World Champions Spain take on current European champions Portugal, in a clash that Portuguese defender Jose Fonte described as “a big rivalry.”
A sub-plot from Group B is the appearance of Iran manager, Carlos Queiroz who boasts a managerial pedigree better than most at the tournament, Queiroz not only had two stints in charge of Portugal, but also spent time as Real Madrid manager and as Alex Ferguson’s assistant at Manchester United. His organised Iran side and an underestimated Morocco could cause Portugal and Spain problems in this group.
Meanwhile the ambitions of hosts Russia will have been heightened by being placed in a group with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay. Subsequently meaning the game that will open the tournament, will be a rather underwhelming one between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Furthermore, given the attacking prowess of Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez, Mohamed Salah’s Russia may well perceive the tournament opener to be a must-win game if they have any aspirations of getting through the group.
Group F is the arguable group of death, made up of reigning World Champions Germany, Mexico, South Korea and Italy’s conquerors, Sweden. Whilst it’s widely expected that Joachim Low’s Germany won’t have too many problems winning this group, ties and against Mexico and Sweden will certainly provide a good test of just how feared the side ranked number one in the World should be.
Guiding Brasil towards World Cup glory would be incredibly beneficial to the World’s most expensive player Neymar, who appears to be on a mission to steal the Ballond’Or from the clutches of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Those burdened with the unenviable task of being in the same group as the tournament favourites are, Costa Rica, Switzerland and Serbia, all of which are likely to be fighting it out for second spot in Group E.
Brasil’s arch rivals Argentina looked anything but convincing in qualification, only sealing a place at the tournament because of a magical performance from Messi in the final group game against Ecuador. Jorge Sampaoli’s team will have to improve in order to come through a tricky group with an Iceland side that continue to defy the odds, Nigeria and the always dangerous Croatia.
Being in a group with a much fancied France side desperate to go a step further in this tournament then they did at Euro 2016, means Peru, Denmark and Australia are all destined to be desperately vying to claim second place in Group C.
Group H possible throws up the most evenly matched group, with a Columbia side that’ll benefit immensely from James Rodriguez playing regularly at Bayern Munich. His club-mate, Robert Lewandowski will be hoping to fire Poland into the knockout stages, even if it looks unlikely he restricts their success in the Bundesliga, Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa will be hoping he can help Japan find success in this group, whilst Senegal will be heavily reliant on Liverpool’s Sadio Mane if they’re to have any success in Group H.
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