The 2018 FIFA World Cup might not include India, but it’s sure to capture audiences from all around the globe. Widely acknowledged as the most popular sporting event in the world, the World Cup will, as always, gives us a chance to watch the best football players on the planet competing on behalf of their countries. There’s always intrigue, and 2018 will be no different. So, as we head into the New Year and begin the countdown to the World Cup, here are six of our observations following the draw.
1 – Russia Has An Easy Road
You may have seen some discussion by now surrounding the idea that Russia, the host nation, wound up with an unusually easy road in the World Cup. The Russians were put into Group A along with Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Those teams are ranked 21st, 63rd, and 31st, respectively, in a tournament with 32 of the world’s top teams in it. More telling, however, is their collective ELO rating (a popular metric for measuring the ability of a team). According to one analysis, the Group A average ELO rating of 1,720 is a gaping 98 points worse than the average World Cup team – good for the biggest gap in history. For reference, the next biggest gap ever was 92, followed by 66. So it’s not just talk – Russia got an extremely generous draw.
2 – We Have One Of The Best Opening Matches In Recent History
We don’t yet know the exact schedule for the World Cup, but we do know that we’ve got one of the most intriguing opening round matchups in recent history. That would be a Group B showdown between Spain and Portugal. Spain will be looking to reclaim its territory as the best national team on the planet (which it undoubtedly was up until 2014); Portugal will be looking to seize the group, and doing so behind the play of the reigning player of the year in world football, Cristiano Ronaldo. It doesn’t get any better than that in the first round of matches.
3 – Group H May Have The Best Balance
One of the most common takeaways from the World Cup draw has been that there is no Group of Death, as there traditionally is. What that basically means is that no three contenders got thrown together in the same group. That said, Group H should at least be particularly competitive thanks to its balance. As one of the first reactions to the draw put it, in this case looking at teams’ odds to advance, there could be some unpredictable matches in this group thanks to its well-matched sides. Poland, Columbia, Senegal and Japan are all capable teams, and it’s hard to pick a favorite among them – let alone two. The smart money will probably end up being on Poland and Columbia, but these teams could finish in any order without surprising football fans.
4 – Mexico Can’t Like Its Chances
Mexico often seems to be cursed with bad World Cup luck despite becoming a strong second tier national side of late. In this draw they received competition that should allow them to advance to the knockout stages. Group F also includes Germany, a heavy favorite, and Sweden and South Korea, both of whom Mexico can handle. It’s what happens next that could be problematic however. The runner-up of Group F plays the winner of Group E. Right now it looks like there’s a very good chance that match will pit the Mexicans against mighty Brazil.
5 – Asia’s Presence Is Virtually Non-Existent
Asia isn’t necessarily renowned for its football, but now that we have the draw laid out in front of us it looks like a particularly poor showing. Only a couple of teams from the world’s largest continent made it to begin with, and the one with the best shot at advancing would seem to be South Korea – which will probably have to upset Mexico to do it (and would then earn that date with Brazil mentioned above).
6 – Potential Finals Are Fascinating
It is of course very early to look ahead to potential finals, but another write-up of takeaways from the draw pointed out that there are some outstanding potential finals. The matchups we could see include Portugal vs. Argentina (which would see Cristiano Ronaldo duel with Lionel Messi for a World Cup title), Brazil vs. Germany (in which Brazil would be looking to avenge a humiliating 2014 loss), Germany vs. England, France vs. Belgium, and even Brazil vs. Spain, which could feature the two best teams of the 21st century (though Germany probably has the edge on Brazil). Simply put, we seem to be headed for a very compelling final one way or the other.