The long-awaited World Cup is finally here and as with any major sports tournament we at ScandiBet are buzzing and we hope you are too! It’s been 4 years since Germany claimed a well-deserved victory in Brazil after tearing apart the hosts in an unforgettable 7-1 game in the semis, before beating Lionel Messi’s Argentina after extra time in the final. This year things look to be more even than last time, as all the top sides are looking sharp before the tournament, while at the same time there is room for surprises from smaller teams.
Let us take a closer look at how this tournament will take place over the upcoming weeks:
The 2018 World Cup will start and end in Moscow at the beautiful Luzhniki Stadium, with the opening game between the hosts, Russia, and Saudi Arabia set to take place here on the 14th of June. From then and until the 28th of June all the group stage matches will be played in various locations around the vast country, with several very interesting matchups on display, but we will get back to those a bit later.
As soon as the group stage is done and dusted the tournament will progress into the knockout phase. The first of the knockout rounds, the round of 16, will be played from the 30th of June until the 3rd of July.
The quarter-finals will then be played on the 6th and 7th of July, before the two semi-finals will take place on the 10th and 11th of July.
Penultimately the 14th of July will see the battle for 3rd place, before we at last get to the huge final on the 15th of July where it all began, at the Luzhniki Stadium.
So which teams can we expect to see going up against each other for the highly valuable spots in the knockout rounds? Let’s take a look at the 8 groups that were drawn back in December last year:
Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
As we can see the groups are nicely lined up with the big favourites spread out, giving room for some fascinating encounters in the knockout rounds.
As mentioned we are guaranteed to see the biggest matchups after the group stage has been played, but already this early in the competition we see many eye catching duels that will be worth paying attention to:
Portugal vs Spain: 15th of June at 20:00 (CET)
Argentina vs Iceland: 16th of June at 15:00 (CET)
Croatia vs Nigeria: 16th of June at 21:00 (CET)
Germany vs Mexico: 17th of June at 17:00 (CET)
France vs Peru: 21st of June at 17:00 (CET)
Poland vs Columbia: 24th of June at 20:00 (CET)
Serbia vs Brazil: 27th of June at 20:00 (CET)
England vs Belgium: 28th of June at 20:00 (CET)
Although the matches listed above might be the most interesting in terms of teams, players and existing rivalries, we rarely see a boring World Cup match and this gives plenty of reason to catch as many games as possible. The occasion of the greatest competition in world football, the prizes at stake and simply the honour of representing their country is enough to make any player give their everything in every single minute of every match, and as a result we never really know what to expect from a World Cup game as we have seen small underdogs bite the heads off the great favourites on more than one occasion. But whether you watch while hoping for a big surprise to cash in on, or simply to enjoy the magnificent football that is on display when the big stars get the ball at their feet, there won’t be a boring moment this summer!
The big stars
The World Cup in Russia will feature a huge list of very big names of the footballing world, most of which will be absolutely vital for their countries when they try to win the most sought-after trophy in football. Let’s take a look at 9 players who will have huge expectations hanging over them from the first kick of the ball, and who are more or less guaranteed to produce some magical moments over the next few weeks:
At the age of 26 and with an unquestionable world class talent, Isco has just put another season behind him where he has been struggling to get to play first team football at Real Madrid. Playing for the club where the battle for playing time, especially at the midfield, is the toughest in the world has not affected his performances for Spain’s national team however, where he on many occasions has been the brightest star of them all over the past few years. A point perfectly underlined by the man himself during Spain’s 3-0 thrashing of their bitter rival, Italy back in September 2017, a performance after which Isco was hailed by both friends and rivals. Wonder if he can deliver a few more of those performances in the World Cup? If so, Spain will be more than a handful for most teams.
The maestro himself, Toni Kroos has just won his 3rd consecutive Champions League with Real Madrid, and has once again been one of the main driving forces behind the Spanish club’s success. Now the summer is here and once again it’s time to pull on the Das Mannschaft-shirt for the 28-year-old, a combination that has proven to be one of success in the past. He was by many seen as the best player of them all in the last World Cup back in 2014. In the 7 games he featured in in Brazil the superstar racked up 2 goals, 4 assists and an impressive pass accuracy of 91%. Oh, and then he won the entire tournament too. Enough reason to keep an eye on Germany’s number 8 this summer?
Eden Hazard (27), Chelsea and Belgium’s undisputed star player has just put a rather disappointing campaign behind him at club level. Chelsea finished the Premier League season in 5th place, meaning that they’ll be missing from the fine company of the Champions League next season. This of course fuels the persisting talks about Hazard joining Real Madrid, but for now he will be 100% focused on delivering a good tournament with the rest of the Belgium side. At the moment they are ranked as the 3rd best national team in the world and if he hits top form at the right moment and gets some help from the rest of Belgium’s impressive star collection, Belgium could go far in this tournament.
Antoine Griezmann (27) is one of the hottest names in world football at the moment and will most likely keep being so during the World Cup too. His 30 goals and 13 assists in all competitions helped his Atletico Madrid a long way towards winning the Europa League and finishing second in La Liga this season. Like Hazard, Griezmann is constantly surrounded by transfer rumours connecting him to various big clubs but now he will have to put all that aside for a few weeks and focus on his national team. Griezmann is set to lead the attack for France, and the pressure is immense as they are one of the big favourites to claim the golden trophy in about a month’s time.
While the English national team might have seen better days and been bigger favourites ahead of a big tournament than they are now, there is no denying that they are in possession of one of the biggest stars of the upcoming tournament in Harry Kane. The 24-year-old from East London has arguably just put his best ever season behind him, finally reaching the magical 30 goal mark in the Premier League, helping his Tottenham Hotspur to a solid 3rd place while also providing 7 goals in 7 Champions League games. By the looks of it he will now carry the captain’s armband for England in their quest for glory this summer, and so far he has scored in every game for his country where he has had this role. Every Englishman will be hoping to see this impressive stat continue far into the World Cup in order to reignite some good ol’ English glory.
Anything Kane can do Salah can do better. At least this is true if we take a look at the goal stats for the last season; 32 goals in the Premier League and 10 in the Champions League for the latter puts him high up on anyone’s list over potential big goalscorers in the upcoming World Cup. The undisputed star of Liverpool led his new club to 4th place in the domestic league as well as a Champions League final in which he was forced off early due to an injury. His Egypt may not boast of many big stars in their national squad but “the Egyptian king” has been on everyone’s lips this entire season, and if his shoulder recovers on time the North African side could spoil many parties in Russia this summer.
Another player plagued with injuries is PSG’s Neymar who had his last World Cup in his home country of Brazil cut short by a serious blow to his back in the quarterfinals, and many feared that also this edition of the tournament would be ruined for the 26 year old ace when he fractured a metatarsal bone in his foot back in February. Luckily for him and his country he is back on time and seems to be firing on all cylinders ahead of the trip to Russia. Brazil are by many tipped to be the winner this year, as they have been so many times before, and Neymar will be vital in the mission of bringing the trophy back to the football-mad nation where many believe it belongs. With a price tag of €222 million he will have quite a bit of pressure on him to deliver, but yet perhaps less now than 4 years ago in his own country.
Two years ago, Ronaldo had to watch his team win the European Championship trophy from the sidelines after being injured and carried off in tears earlier in the final, but it was nevertheless an international trophy for his collection, one that he has been chasing ever since losing it at home to Greece back in 2004. The Portuguese striker has won pretty much everything you can win as a football player, the only thing missing is the greatest achievement of them all; winning the World Cup. He just finished one of his most disappointing seasons ever for Real Madrid, disappointing in this case meaning 45 goals, 8 assists and a Champions League trophy. In the World Cup qualifiers, he has managed 15 goals and 3 assists in 9 games, being absolutely deciding in Portugal’s path towards the World Cup. The 33-year-old is a man for the big occasion and there are no bigger occasions than this, can he deliver and complete his trophy cabinet?
In terms of club football there is no one with a right mind arguing that Lionel Messi isn’t one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of all time. However, when we turn our attention to international football he hasn’t quite reached the levels expected of him. The moments that come to mind first when thinking of the little magician in the Argentina shirt are the loss to Germany in the World Cup final of 2014 and his brief retirement after losing to Chile in the Copa America two years later. But as most of us are aware of and relieved about he has since returned to the international stage, and when playing for a country that mostly measures a footballer’s value in international titles, not La Ligas and Champions Leagues, and more importantly; how you compare to Diego Maradona, the pressure is extremely high. Many claim that in order to be remembered as the greatest of all time you must win a major international trophy, preferably the World Cup, and this could very well be his last real chance of doing so. We have seen the 30-year-old pull of miracles in the past and nobody would be very surprised if he presented another in Russia this summer.
All of the abovementioned stars are tremendous footballers who have already achieved great things in their careers, however all reputation and past glories will soon be forgotten as we head into the World Cup where everyone starts from scratch and only one of them can remain victorious.
The bookmakers’ favourites
You could argue that football has never been greater than it is today without having too many people disagree with you, therefore it will not come as a shock that the 2018 World Cup will be extremely competitive. Several of the big stars have already been presented along with their teams, but let’s take a quick look at who you should be betting on as winners right now if you like to play it safe according to our bookmakers:
If you prefer somewhat higher winnings you could of course go all in on Saudi Arabia which would give you 1001 times your initial stake if they were to win, although we can’t really say we recommend it.
No matter how you wish to play during this World Cup you will find yourself covered at ScandiBet, so just lean back and enjoy the tournament!