With the 2018 World Cup in Russia kicking off in less than a month, SoccerNews.com is commencing its own series of group predictions where you will be able to find previews of all the teams taking part in this summer’s showpiece tournament, latest team news and best betting odds and suggestions.
There’s a level of excitement in the air which comes along whenever a big international tournament is on the horizon, and this year, while some big nations haven’t made it, that disappointment been counteracted by the sheer volume of goalscoring threats that will be present in Russia. If nothing else, we can expect a World Cup featuring some of the most talented strikers on the face of the planet.
Unsurprisingly to some, Lionel Messi is considered to be the hot favourite to take home the Golden Boot in Russia. Four years ago in Brazil, the Argentine wizard danced circles around most of his opponents en-route to the final of the competition. Now, in what is considered to be one of the worst Argentina squads of all time, Lionel will have to pull off a minor miracle if he wants to hold the World Cup trophy above his head for the first time – which would well and truly cement him as the best ever.
He’s off to a pretty good start in terms of preparation, after having yet another world-class season with Barcelona. The 30-year-old likely recognises that he only has one or two more opportunities left to become a world champion on the grandest stage, but given the quality in Argentina’s group, they’ll do well to even reach the knockout stages. Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria will all prove to be tough opposition, meaning that Messi will need to lead from the front to ensure that they make the most of their tournament.
Back in 2014, Neymar was pinpointed as the star of the show – and for the most part, he delivered on those expectations. He helped to guide the home nation all the way to the quarter-finals, only for a back injury to cut the youngster’s tournament short. It was a devastating turn of events which proved to be somewhat costly, as Brazil went on to be demolished 7-1 by Germany in their semi-final. That likely wasn’t all down to Neymar, but we can’t help but think that it was a factor.
While he may not exactly be playing in the most competitive league in the world with PSG, nobody can deny that Neymar has still had a pretty successful season. He’s been able to pick up some trophies as a big confidence booster, and while Edinson Cavani is still considered to be the main man at the club by some, Neymar’s star power is still recognised by all. It’s no coincidence that Brazil are the favourites to win the trophy this year, either, and the 26-year-old is expected to play a big role in their journey.
If Antoine Griezmann has proven anything this season, it’s that he’s one of the coolest customers around in European football. The Frenchman has been on fire for Atletico Madrid and he seems to be going from strength to strength, which is a dangerous possibility for the remainder of the teams in Group C. He’s coming to Russia with all the momentum in the world after netting a brace in the 2018 UEFA Europa League Final, which helped Atletico to win the trophy for the third time in nine years.
We’ve already seen what this young man can do on the international stage, with Euro 2016 serving as something of a coming out party for him in front of millions around the world. Griezmann is calm and calculated, and in an environment like the World Cup, you need someone with those attributes to help you progress throughout the knockout stages. France find themselves in a favourable group with Australia, Denmark and Peru, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him put on a showcase.
While it’s not exactly hard to see Cristiano Ronaldo having a solid tournament this year, the World Cup is a trophy which has always seemed to elude him in the same manner as Lionel Messi. The former Manchester United star has once again had a thrilling campaign with Real Madrid, and you have to question how much more he needs to do in order to be considered the best player in the world. He’s strong, he’s quick, he’s a great finisher, and he seems to be getting even better.
Plus, he doesn’t really have quite as much pressure now when it comes to winning an international tournament. Sure, everyone back home in Portugal will want to see their nation win the World Cup, but following their surprise Euro 2016 victory, Ronaldo can afford to relax a bit and let his football do the talking. They’ve got a decent group with Iran & Morocco as well as the showcase game against Spain, so perhaps they can cause a few shocks for the second time in the last few years.
Timo Werner is a youngster who has burst onto the scene with RB Leipzig in the last few years, and at the age of 22, many fans and pundits are already tipping him to be the next Miroslav Klose. While that may seem like an overoptimistic comparison, if you watch him play for even just a few minutes you’ll soon notice the potential that he possesses. He made a huge statement in the Confederations Cup last year by winning the Golden Boot, and now, he’s ready to announce himself to the world.
He’s already got a solid goalscoring record with Germany, and when you look at their group for the tournament, this could be an exhibition of sorts for him. They’ve proven themselves to be a lethal side from both an attacking and defensive point of view, and a group of Mexico, Sweden and South Korea really shouldn’t give them too many problems whatsoever. It seems like everything is set up perfectly for Werner, and now, we have to see if he can handle the pressure.
Due to the rise of Mo Salah over the course of the Premier League season, people seem to be forgetting about just how good Harry Kane is. The Spurs forward has continually improved upon his scoring tally with each and every season, and this year, he even managed to prove himself in the Champions League too. If Gareth Southgate can use him in an effective and instrumental way this summer, then the sky truly is the limit for a 24-year-old who hasn’t even reached his prime yet.
Obviously many fans will point towards his showing at Euro 2016, but you could argue that wasn’t his fault. Harry was being handed set piece after set piece to take, and it was clear to see that it just didn’t suit his style of play. It clearly made an impact on his confidence throughout all of England’s games in France, and now, given the setup in place with the team this time around, we should be looking at a much more well-rounded version of him.
Lionel Messi – 9/1
Neymar – 10/1
Antoine Griezmann – 12/1
Cristiano Ronaldo – 14/1
Timo Werner – 16/1
Harry Kane – 16/1
Edinson Cavani – 25/1
Mohamed Salah – 40/1
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