The 2018 FIFA World Cup is underway. Block out the calendars, set the out-of-office reply, and take the phone off the hook. In the second half of BetBright’s overview of the group stages, we focus on Groups E-H.
• Brazil comfortably topped a tough CONMEBOL qualifying, finishing 10 points clear of second place Uruguay, losing only once throughout.
• Brazil will be hoping that Neymar and Gabriel Jesus can find the goals to win Brazil their first World Cup since 2002. Both players finished second and third respectively in the CONMEBOL top scoring.
• Switzerland, despite only losing once, had to qualify via a controversial play-off against Northern Ireland.
• This is Switzerland’s fourth consecutive World Cup, reaching the round of 16 in Brazil 2014, where they would lose in extra time 1-0 to Argentina.
• Costa Rica were the surprise team of the 2014 World Cup, reaching the quarter final stage where they would lose on penalties to the Netherlands.
• Costa Rica qualified second from a tricky CONCACAF group in a qualifying campaign that saw them thump USA 4-0.
• This is Serbia’s first World Cup appearance since 2010, where they failed to make it out of the group stage. A stronger squad this time round should see Serbia make their first ever round of 16 at a World Cup.
• Aleksander Mitrovic and Dusan Tadic were in red hot form throughout qualifying, combining for 11 goals, over half of Serbia’s 20 goal total.
Prediction: Brazil & Serbia to qualify.
• Reigning World champions Germany go into the tournament as one of the favourites. Since 2002, Germany have reached two finals, and two semi-finals, and thrashed Brazil 7-1 in the 2014 World Cup which they would go on to win.
• Germany qualified for Russia 2018 with a perfect qualification campaign, winning all 10 games. Thomas Muller and Sandro Wagner each scored 5 goals throughout qualification.
• Germany averaged a whopping 4.3 goals per game throughout qualification.
• Mexico qualified as winners of CONCACAF, with star player Hirving Lozano finishing as the team’s top scorer with 3 goals.
• Mexico have qualified for the last 16 at their last 6 World Cup appearances and have only been eliminated at the group stage once since 1970. Although they failed to qualify for the tournaments in 1974 & 1982. They were banned from the 1990 tournament due to the Cachirules scandal.
• Sweden were expected to struggle without their talismanic superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, yet 8 goals in qualification from Marcus Berg gave the Swedish public hope they could make a splash at this year’s World Cup.
• However, they would need a play off to qualify after narrowly edging out the Netherlands on goal difference in the group stages. They would eliminate Italy 1-0 in the play off.
• Sweden, finalists in 1958 and third place in USA 94, have struggled in recent times, failing to qualify for the last two World Cups in South Africa and Brazil respectively.
• South Korea will be looking to match their heroic 2002 World Cup campaign which saw them reach the semi-finals, however they stumbled to qualification finishing 7 points behind group winners Iran, and only just edging out Syria and Uzbekistan.
Prediction: Germany & Mexico to qualify.
• Group G should see the European sides, Belgium and England, progress. Roberto Martinez’s men qualified at a canter, dropping points only once in a 1-1 draw with Greece.
• Belgium averaged 4.3 goals a game throughout qualifying with Romelu Lukaku bagging just under a quarter of Belgium’s 43 goals. The Manchester United strikers scored 11 times throughout qualification.
• Belgium’s recent World Cup record has been poor, with one quarter-final appearance since 2002. Their golden generation are expected to make another step forward in Russia.
• Panama heroically qualified after beating Costa Rica 2-1 with a last gasp goal from Roman Torres. The result meant Panama would qualify automatically for their first ever World Cup and send Honduras into the play off, which they would lose to Australia.
• Panama were the only team to qualify automatically with a negative goal difference, finishing on -1.
• Tunisia qualified for only their 5th World Cup, and first since 2006.
• They will be hoping to qualify from the group stage for the first time in their history.
• England qualified in second gear, going unbeaten in the ten qualifying matches.
• They qualified with a relatively low goal average of 1.8 goals per game but conceded only 3 goals throughout the whole qualification process, two of those goals in the away game vs Scotland.
Prediction: Belgium & England to qualify
• Robert Lewandowski was joint top scorer throughout the whole FIFA World Cup qualification, bagging 16 goals. He shared this honour with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Al-Sahlawi and UAE’s Ahmed Khali.
• Poland lost only once in qualification, a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Denmark, and find themselves at only their third World Cup in 28 years.
• Senegal qualified comfortably for the World Cup, topping their group by 5 points.
• They shocked the world in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup in Japan/South Korea by beating then reigning champions France, they would go on to reach the quarter finals in what has been their only World Cup appearance to date.
• Colombia’s participation at the World Cup will always bring back the memory of Andres Escobar, tragically gunned down following their elimination in 1994.
• James Rodriguez scored 6 of Colombia’s 21 goals as they finished fourth in CONMEBOL qualification.
• Japan topped a tough qualification group, narrowly edging out Saudi Arabia and Australia by a single point.
• In recent times, Japan have become a regular at the World Cup, qualifying for every tournament since 1998, having previously never qualified. However, they have failed to ever make it past the round of 16.
Prediction: Colombia & Poland to qualify
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.