Just under a week to go until the World’s biggest sporting event kicks off in Putin country and it’s time to nail my predictions to the mast. I can’t wait to look back on these in July and see how wrong I was.
Let’s get this probable tragedy underway:
How far will England get?
I think that England have every chance of making the Quarter Finals thanks to the favourable draw FIFA provided. Though Tunisia and Panama are unknown quantities, the standard of football in their confederations isn’t nearly that of UEFA and Panama only scraped through thanks to a goal that shouldn’t have stood. Contrary to popular opinion, I have England topping the group for reasons I’ll explain soon. They have every chance of beating any member of Group H in the Round of 16 (Poland to finish runners-up in my eyes) but then they’ll face the daunting Brazil and get beaten 2-1 a la 2002. Fifty years of hurt to continue.
My England Starting XI
3-4-3: Pickford; Walker, Cahill, Maguire; Trippier, Loftus-Cheek, Henderson, Rose; Sterling, Kane, Rashford
This was surprising harder to decide than I thought but I’ve gone for commanding spine with 3 captains in Cahill, Henderson and Kane to ensure leadership in each position. Loftus-Cheek over Alli may be controversial but his better defensive work gets him in to provide more freedom for my front 3 to hopefully provide plenty of opportunities to turn defences and shoot. Lastly, I chose Maguire over Stones as Stones positioning is still suspect to me so Maguire was a more reliable choice in my opinion.
England’s Top Scorer
In my team, I’d say Marcus Rashford but since I don’t see him playing that much in Southgate’s lineup, I’ll go for Harry Kane as a safe choice. Knowing us though, it will likely be Danny Welbeck with just 2 goals.
I’ve been going back and forth between 2 teams for the past month but ultimately I’ve settled on France. I don’t see Germany being repeat winners purely due to history and France’s extremely talented and versatile squad will be determined to make amends for Euro 2016. Very tough call though.
France will beat the last World Cup winners Germany in Moscow and England will be split in half over which of the lesser of 2 evils historically to cheer on.
I wanted to put a surprise but I realistically couldn’t see a Croatia or South Korea repeating their feats or another team of that ilk to cause an upset this year. Fingers crossed though as everyone loves an underdog.
Senegal. I have them topping their group and if my predictions didn’t have them coming up against the imperious Germany, I’d have been tempted to put them in the Semi finals. I’m serious. Keep a look out for them as I think they could do well.
As much talent and as much quality as this Golden Generation of Belgium has there’s one factor that keeps me from rating them higher. Roberto Martinez being the manager. Leaving their best midfielder in Nainggolan at home is a decision I can’t wrap my head around and he doesn’t seem like the man to harness the undeniable quality this country has. Reminds me of having Sven as manager when we had Rooney, Gerrard, Scholes, Ferdinand etc. They’ll fall in the Round of 16.
Golden Ball Winner
N’Golo Kante. Probably a surprise but his imperious work ethic and tough tackling will not go unnoticed as France make their way to the finals. Let’s be honest though, it will probably go to an attacking player but I’ll be ballsy this time.
Best Young Player
Kylian Mbappe seems to be a popular choice but I don’t think he’ll play as much as people think in this tournament. Gabriel Jesus is my first choice though I have picked him for something else so I’ll give you another recommendation. Keep an eye on Kasper Dolberg. The Ajax forward is a player on the rise and I think he’ll put in a strong performance this summer, becoming a player in demand for the next transfer window or 2.
Golden Boot Winner
Gabriel Jesus will benefit from an incredibly strong Brazilian attack with Neymar and Firmino to play alongside. Neymar may be the talisman of the team and he could easily take it home himself but Jesus will benefit from Firmino’s strong hold-up play to take the Boot home. He’s an incredible player.
It will go to one of our 2 finalists but considering I’m unsure which keeper will start for Germany after Neuer has been injured for most of the season, I’ll go for Hugo Lloris of France.
This may be slightly biased due to the Bolton association but I think Rodrigo will have a great tournament for Spain. With talent such as Silva, Koke, Isco, Costa and Iniesta to set him up, he’ll have plenty of chance to set up or score a couple of goals.
I want to say Cristiano Ronaldo but he won’t flop. His team may but he won’t. I’ll go for Paulo Guerrero since Peru worked so hard to get him to the tournament and I think it would be funny in a harsh sort of way if all that hard work went to waste by him being absolutely tragic.
Your own Bonus Prediction(s)
The Russian Ultras will attack the hotels of their Group opponents and one will probably be extremely Islamophobic and throw bacon or something at one of the Egyptian or Saudi Arabian players. As you can see, I don’t think highly of the (fixed) decision to hold the tournament in Russia.
To end on a lighter note, I think Raheem Sterling will celebrate a goal by pretending to eat breakfast in front of a camera. Take that The Sun.