FIFA World Cup 2018 : A Curtain Raiser

Thirty-two teams will be playing in this edition. While European and South American teams are expected to dominate the tournament, an African or an Asian team will hopefully emerge as the dark horse

Photo courtesy: Twitter/@fifa2018cups
Photo courtesy: Twitter/@fifa2018cups
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Rohit Bhandiye

The 21st edition of the greatest sporting spectacle on planet – The Soccer World Cup – will begin in Russia on June 14. For the next one month till July 15, all eyes of soccer crazy fans across the globe will be on this European nation where the biggest sporting extravaganza on earth will take place. Surely, football fever will sweep across the world like never before.

THE HOT FAVOURITES

Defending champions Germany are the over-whelming favourites to win their fifth World Cup title this time around. They have a good squad of top players and a super-coach in Joachim Low who lead them to victory in Brazil 2014. The German squad is in tremendous form after having won last year’s Confederations Cup in Russia with a virtual reserve team.

The only worry could be the complacency and overconfidence which might be their biggest enemies. Among other title favourites are the South American giants and five-time world cup winner Brazil. If Neymar gets going in Russia, no one will be able to stop Brazil of repeating what they did in 1958 - win a World Cup on European soil. Led by Sergio Ramos, the Spanish side still have massive experience and technical excellence and world-class players like David Silva, Ramos, Andres Iniesta in their rank who can win for them their second World Cup title. The French team is a decent side with some high-class players like Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe in their squad. But the biggest worry for France is that they flop when it matters the most like the final of Euro 2016 or final of World Cup 2006. Among other serious title contenders will be another South American giant and twotime champions Argentina. But all will depend on Messi if he can deliver the World Cup for Argentina as Diego Maradona did in 1986. DARK HORSE Belgium, Portugal and Uruguay will be the dark horses of the tournament. The most talked about dark horse at the World Cup is certainly Belgium. Their crop of world-class youngsters, such as Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens has caught the eye of the football community, and many are excited to see how they will perform in Russia. Another dark horse is Portugal. Portugal is 2016 European champions. If Cristiano Ronaldo gets going in Russia, Portugal will be the side that will be a real threat to the best sides in the tournament. If 2011 Copa America winners and 2010 World Cup semi-finalists, Uruguay lives up to its true potential then they can cause an upset or two.

ASIAN AND AFRICAN CHALLENGE

As usual European and South American teams are expected to dominate the Soccer World Cup. But, expect some serious competition from the African sides. Even an Asian team like Japan, South Korea, Iran or Saudi Arabia could spring a surprise or two but is unlikely to go all the way in the tournament. At the most, they could reach the second round.

Even a possible quarter-final finish looks quite unlikely. Teams from the African continent have some world-class and experienced players in their ranks and will be led by 2018 African Nations champions Morocco. Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia and Egypt are the other countries representing Africa at the World Cup in Russia. With African nations like Ghana (2010), Senegal (2002) and Cameroon (1990) having made it to the quarter-finals of the World Cup, they will be hoping to better this record this time around and shed the tag of ‘under-performers’ though it won’t be easy. An African nation lifting the trophy is totally ruled out.

PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

From Neymar to Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo to Sergio Ramos to Kevin De Bruyne this edition of World Cup is expected to be dominated by the magical appeal and charm of star players. While Brazil’s sensation Neymar will be expected to carry the huge expectations of his countrymen, Argentine fans will be hoping that their star striker Lionel Messi displays a dazzling form in the month-long tournament in their quest for World Cup glory. 2017 FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo would also like to take the World Cup by storm with his ability to win matches single-handedly for his team Portugal. The Spanish challenge will be led by Sergio Ramos and Andrés Iniesta in order to win their second World Cup. Defending champions Germany will depend on Toni Kroos to win them their fifth World Cup title. Young Egyptian sensation Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne from Belgium will also be among the players to watch out for in Russia 2018.

THE BIG SHOCKS

Several fancied teams, including four-time champions Italy, has failed to qualify thereby depriving the tournament of some glamour. It will be for the first time since 1958 that Italy will not be playing in a World Cup. Also missing in action will be the highly rated Netherlands. Renowned African nations like Cameroon, Ghana and Ivory Coast will be not there in Russia 2018 and so will not be Chile, a top South American football playing nation. Despite the these absences, the World Cup is going to be a carnival for football fans across the globe. The last five editions of World Cup have thrown five different champions – Germany, Spain, Italy, Brazil and France. Can Russia 2018 spring a new winner? Whoever wins, one thing is sure though. There will be action-packed entertainment as the biggest sporting extravaganza on earth kicks off.

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