The 2018 World Cup projects to be one of the most hotly contested in years. Although Germany and Brazil are favorites, neither offers odds of less than +400 to win the 2018 World Cup. Each group appears deep enough for dogs to have a say in the outcome.
That is, each group is deep enough for dogs to have a say expect for Group G where Belgium and England appear to be destined to move on to the Round of 16. The key for Group G is to predict whether Belgium finally gets it done in a World Cup.
As far as England is concerned, their destruction at the hands of Iceland in the 2016 UEFA Euro is still fresh. Can England skip past history and get back to being a soccer powerhouse?
Keep reading for my 2018 World Cup Group G Preview.
2018 World Cup: Group G Preview
Right now, FIFA ranks Belgium as the third best international team in the world. The way that Belgium qualified was extraordinarily easy. Belgium’s lone misstep was a draw at home to Greece. In that match, Greece out shot Belgium 17 to 2. There wasn’t anything truly terrible about the draw. The Belgians just didn’t play as well as they should have. Overall, Belgium scored 43 goals during qualifying.
Belgium is a solid +1000 to win the entire World Cup. The reason is simple: this is the greatest Belgium team ever assembled. There’s quality in every line. It starts with the great Kevin de Bruyne. In 36 appearances for Premier League powerhouse Manchester City, de Bruyne scored 8 goals. He had 16 assists. His pass success percentage was an awesome 83.4%. There’s no doubt that de Bruyne is one of the very best attacking and passing midfielders in the world.
If de Bruyne gets his passing going at the 2018 World Cup, more than likely he’ll send balls to the fantastic Romelu Lukaku. A player for Manchester United, Lukaku scored 16 goals in 33 appearances this past season. He had 5 goals in 8 appearances during the recent UEFA Champions League. Lukaku is a serious contender for this year’s Golden Boot.
Everton’s former team manager, Roberto Martinez, should be a step up from Belgium’s former team manager, Marc Wilmots. Martinez knows what he’s doing.
The key for England is that they finally get to play on the international stage without having to create a strategy around Wayne Rooney. Most agree that Rooney is one of the very best English soccer players to ever hit the pitch. But, Rooney had grown long in the tooth as the saying goes, which means England has a chance to start fresh.
Starting fresh means leaning on the 24-year-old Harry Kane. The Tottenham Hot Spurs striker recorded 30 goals in 35 appearances during the English Premier League season. Kane is easily one of the very best strikers on the planet. Kane isn’t the only devastating offensive player for England.
Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling scored 18 goals in 29 appearances. He was also good for 11 assists. Sterling and Kane are projected to play at the top with 22-year-ol Dele Alli. England plays with 2 guys in the middle and a back 4 in front of their goalie.
The English look well suited to score goals in the 2018 World Cup.
Tunisia’s squad made it to the World Cup after winning arguably the easiest African Group. Tunisia faced Congo, Lybia, and Guinea. None of those teams were close to being as talented as Tunisia. The reason Tunisia dominated is because of their midfield. It’s solid enough to keep possession versus good World Cup teams.
It’s Panama’s first trip to the World Cup. The Panamanian’s secured third place in CONCACAF’s Hexagonal round. They’re entry into the World Cup was not without controversy. Panama received this ghost goal to stamp their ticket.
Is This Belgium’s Year to Win the World Cup?
The Belgians were supposed to challenge for the 2014 World Cup title in Brazil. For a moment, that appeared to be the case. Belgium dominated their Group, beating Algeria 2-1, Russia 1-0, and South Korea 1-0. Belgium moved past the Round of 16 with a 2 to 1 win over the U.S. Then, things stopped. The reason? Belgium came up against a talented Argentinian squad in the quarterfinals. Argentina beat Belgium 1 to 0.
Beating teams like Argentina in the quarterfinals is what Belgium must do to win a World Cup. Can the Belgians do that this year?
Based on the bracket, Belgium will battle Colombia, Poland, Senegal, or Japan in the Round of 16. The Belgians have no business losing to any of those teams. Should they beat one of those teams, things get significantly more difficult. But, that’s to be expected, right?
The way the quarterfinals set up, Belgium is likely to face another excellent South American squad, Brazil. This will be the true litmus test of how well Belgium has become. Brazil is loaded in this World Cup. They also have a manager in Tite who is more about winning than playing beautiful soccer. If the Belgians can get past Brazil, they’re likely to battle France in the semifinals.
Beating both France and Brazil back-to-back is incredibly difficult to accomplish. The good news is that if Belgium accomplishes it, any team they face in the final, Spain, Argentina, or Germany will likely be the team, is beatable.
The Belgians must earn it to win this year’s World Cup. Although a part of me will be rooting for them, just because I believe they’ve got a fantastic, fun to watch squad, it’s hard to see Belgium pulling it off.
Will England Put History in Their Rear View Mirror?
Some, like ESPN write Liam Twomey, believe that this English team has too many faults to get past the Round of 16. Twomey cites England’s past history on the international stage, in particular the loss to Iceland at the 2016 UEFA Euro, as the main reason to dislike England in the 2018 World Cup.
From my perspective, history means nothing. This English squad is so young that past history is useless when deciding how well the team will do in the World Cup. Sure, not controlling the middle, which appears to be England’s strategy, could backfire.
I prefer to think about England’s strategy this way, though. Sterling, Kane, and Alli will provide so much pressure on opposing midfields that 27-year-old Jordan Henderson and 24-year-old Eric Dier will have only two things to consider. The first thing will be to provide an excellent pass to Sterling, Kane, or Alli so that they can break free for an easy goal. The second will be to drop back a few feet above the penalty box to help the back line set up Kane, Sterlinig, and Alli for big runs to the opposing goal.
I sort of like England’s strategy. I like it so much that I believe England has a huge shot of getting to semifinals if they can beat Belgium in Group G. If they don’t beat Belgium in Group D, they’re young and talented enough to take down Germany in the Round of 16. Yep. I just wrote that.
Which Underdog Has the Edge? Tunisia or Panama?
Panama doesn’t have the experience on the main stage. The Panamanians have never made it to the World Cup. Not only that, but Panama needed the ghost goal over Costa Rica to just get into the World Cup.
With that being written, Tunisia is not without their issues. The Tunisians will play without their top goal scorer, Youssef Msakni. Without Msakni, Tunisia should find it difficult to do more than just play for a draw versus Panama. That makes Panama the better underdog to win Group G.
World Cup Group G Predictions
I’m more bullish on England than most people are. Still, the English are likely to play at least one bad game in Group G. The bad game figures to be against Belgium or Tunisia. The reason is because Belgium is better than England, at least on paper, while Tunisia has the type of midfield that could give England trouble in the first half.
With that being written, England should score so many goals against Panama, and I do believe they beat Tunisia by at least a goal, that even if they lose straight up to Belgium they’ll make it to the Round of 16.
I’m going chalky with Belgium winning Group G and the English finishing second.
Second Place: England