Finally, finally, finally… the 2018 World Cup is here. England fans will have a few more days to wait before Gareth Southgate’s team get going against Tunisia, but here’s the first half of BetBright’s overview of the Group Stage.
Saudi Arabia start us off on Thursday night, presumably after the normal opening ceremony silliness, and then it’s three games a day (at least) until the 28th June.
• Uruguay finished second in CONMEBOL qualifying
• Uruguay have qualified from their group in the last two World Cups, reaching the semi-finals in 2010 and the last-sixteen in 2014.
• Russia qualified as hosts, but have endured an awful run of form in friendly games. Beaten heavily by France (1-3) and Brazil (0-3) in March, they were also defeated by Austria at the end of May and draw 1-1 with Turkey last week.
• This will be just Egypt’s third appearance at a World Cup (1934 & 1990).
• Egypt have never actually won a game in World Cup qualification, being eliminated by Hungary in 1934 and failing to qualify from England, Ireland and Holland’s group at Italia’90.
• Mohamed Salah was their top-scorer in qualifying (5), but remains questionable with the injury sustained in the Champions League final.
• Having been ever-present between 1994 and 2006, this is Saudi Arabia’s first World Cup appearance in twelve years – and a chance to record a first win since 1994.
• They qualified in second in AFC Group B, behind Japan but ahead of Australia (6W, 1D, 3L).
Prediction: Uruguay and Russia to qualify.
• Portugal are the reigning European Champions from 2016.
• They finished top of their qualification group, level on points with Switzerland but progressing on goal-difference, and lost just once (to the Swiss)
• Their form since has been indifferent. They’ve been defeat once, in a shocking 0-3 home loss to Holland, but struggled to draws in recent friendlies with Belgium and Tunisia.
• Morocco are nine games unbeaten coming into the tournament, having not lost since a 1-0 defeat to Cameroon in AFCON qualifying in June 2017.
• This is the first tournament they’ve qualified for since France ’98 and they’ve progress beyond the group stage just once (1986)
• Spain are unbeaten in almost two years, having not lost since the Round of Sixteen defeat to Italy at Euro 2016.
• Spain averaged 3.6 goals per in qualifying, winning 9 of their 10 games.
• Iran were the first team from the AFC to confirm their qualification for 2018, finishing above regional powerhouse South Korea, winning six games and drawing four.
• This will be Iran’s fifth appearance at a World Cup (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014).
Prediction: Spain and Iran to qualify.
• – This will be Peru’s first appearance at a World Cup since 1982, although they haven’t won a World Cup game since 1978.
• – Edison Flores and Paolo Guerrero top-scored in qualifying with five goals.
• – Denmark qualified via the UEFA playoffs, defeating the Republic of Ireland.
• – Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen scored in six consecutive games between 6th June and 8th October in 2017, in addition to a hat-trick against the Republic of Ireland in the November playoff. He is without an international goal since.
• – France lost just once in qualifying (to Sweden), beating Holland home and away.
• – Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann top-scored with four goals each.
• – Australia qualified after overcoming Honduras in a two-legged playoff to appear in their fourth tournament in succession.
• – Only two players included in Bert van Marwijk’s final 23 – Mile Jedinak and Tim Cahill – have scored more than ten international goals.
Prediction: France and Denmark to qualify.
• This will be Argentina’s twelfth successive World Cup tournament.
• Prior to be losing finalists in 2014, Argentina had not been beyond the quarter-finals of the tournament since 1990.
• They finished third in South American qualifying behind Brazil and Uruguay and were only guaranteed a place by a Leo Messi hat-trick against Ecuador on the final matchday.
• Nigeria have had a 2018 of two halves: they reached the final of the African Nations Championship, losing to Morocco, but have been in poor form since: they’ve won just one of their four preparatory friendlies, beating Poland, but have lost to England, Serbia and the Czech Republic in the other three.
• They were the first African team to qualify for this summer’s tournament.
• Croatia enter the competition in vague turmoil, with Dejan Lovren and captain Luka Modric both embroiled in the corruption case which recently sent Zdravko Mamic to jail.
• Mario Mandzukic was their top-scorer in qualifying, but they only progressed via the playoffs, having finished behind Iceland and then beaten Greece in a playoff.
• Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson top-scored for Iceland in that same group (4), with Augsburg forward Alfred Finnbogason also proving a useful source of goals (3).
• This will be the country’s second successive international tournament and the first World Cup in their history – their 2018 form has been dreadful, though, losing their last three preparatory friendlies (against Mexico, Peru, and Norway) and winning their only two games against Indonesia.
Prediction: Argentina and Croatia to qualify.
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.