FIFA World Cup draw: Easiest for France, tricky for Argentina

Sunil Chhetri dissects the groups based on a host of criteria – form during the qualifying campaign being the key measure.

Managers, including Didier Deschamps of France and Joakim Loew of Germany stand on the stage during the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia at the State Kremlin Palace on Friday.   -  Getty Images

Lionel Messi’s Argentina just about caught the bus to Russia and will not be the title favourite in 2018.

Clubbed in a tough Group D with Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria, Jorge Sampoli’s boys will need to go through a tricky group phase to qualify for the knock-outs.

It’s only been a few hours since all the chits from the crystal balls have been pulled out to determine the nations that will go to battle at Russia 2018. And I’m not sure if it’s just to me or whether all groups, spare one, seem pretty straightforward. Then again, football has taught us not to scribble winners on paper! However, I’ll take the liberty of dissecting the groups and my calls are based on a host of criteria – form during the qualifying campaign being the key measure.

READ: FIFA World Cup Draw - As it happened

Group A: RUSSIA, URUGUAY, EGYPT and SAUDI ARABIA

This group has the host, but doesn’t have much of an oomph. Uruguay finished second, behind Brazil, in the South American qualification and has enough and more quality to ease to the next stage in pole position. Russia is the lowest ranked team among the 32 nations that have made it to the World Cup, but could give Egypt — which is making its first appearance since 1990 — a tough fight for the second place. Saudi Arabia has fired two coaches after qualifying and its preparation looks far from ideal.

Iran, which became the first Asian nation to qualify, has its task cut out.   -  AP

 

Group B: PORTUGAL, SPAIN, IRAN and MOROCCO

Group B pits two heavyweights against each other and the battle is going be between Spain and Portugal to determine the top place. I would really like Iran, which became the first Asian nation to qualify, to do well, but it has its task cut out. Time is running out for Ronaldo and it’s going to be interesting to see how far he can pull this Portugal side, which has shown its capability to win a major tournament.

Read: Portugal coach wary of Morocco and Iran

 

Group C: FRANCE, PERU, DENMARK and AUSTRALIA

Didier Deschamps couldn’t really have asked for an easier group. France has the talent, flair and experience to make this tournament its own and the first step to it seems pretty simple. The real battle here would be for the second place and I really want to give Australia a shot here.

Diego Maradona reacts after Nikita Simonyan draws Argentina.   -  Getty Images

 

Group D: ARGENTINA, ICELAND, CROATIA and NIGERIA

Lionel Messi’s Argentina just about caught the bus to Russia and will not be the title favourite in 2018. Iceland, whose marauding run to the quarters of EURO 2016 caught everyone’s imagination, has kept building on that success and always rely on team effort to pull through. Croatia, on the other hand, may not stand out as a unit but has got a fair number of players with individual skill to keep it in the reckoning. Nigeria, meanwhile, is the toughest fourth seed. This group is definitely going down to the wire.

Analysis: Group A-D

Group E: BRAZIL, SWITZERLAND, COSTA RICA and SERBIA

Under new coach Tite, Brazil is a transformed side. The last memory everyone has of Brazil in a World Cup is its 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Germany. But a lot has changed since then. It was the first country to book a berth for Russia 2018 and the way it went about doing it was impressive. Also, Neymar has now grown and has a small side-battle with Messi and Ronaldo to deal with. The battle for second in this group will be an intense one.

Video: Opta's Top 5 World Cup picks

Group F: GERMANY, MEXICO, SWEDEN and SOUTH KOREA

Germany has far too much quality to be hassled by any of the three teams in this group. The reigning champion has a simple run to the knock-out stages. Sweden, Mexico and South Korea can do only so much against Germany, which won 10 out 10 of its qualifying games. I’m going to be a little brave and partial when I back South Korea to spring a surprise.

Can South Korea spring a surprise in the group featuring Sweden and Germany?   -  Getty Images

 

Group G: BELGIUM, ENGLAND, TUNISIA and PANAMA

Much like Group B, this group will see a nice two-way battle for pole position when Belgium faces England. It’s time Belgium — a side dripping with talent —rises up to the occasion and delivers. It will definitely be taking the pitch with an additional bit of pressure to perform. England, meanwhile, has been often ridiculed for consistently turning up with blanks at big tournaments and has much to prove.

 

Group H: POLAND, COLOMBIA, SENEGAL and JAPAN

This is a very interesting group. Colombia will look to edge the rest of the three to the top, but it won’t be an easy ride. You never know the kind of surprise African teams can spring at a World Cup and Senegal will look to do just that. Japan will rely on the collective to push for a space in the Round-of-16. Track this group closely!

Analysis:  Group E-H

Those who missed the bus:

 It felt rather odd to write this piece without mentioning Italy. Maybe it still hasn’t sunk in that the Azzurri won’t be making a World Cup for the first time since 1958. One cannot but feel for a legend like Gigi Buffon, who should not have had to call time on his international career with tears of despair.

Another team I will miss at the Cup is The Netherlands. But the truth is that these teams didn’t do enough to warrant a place in the World Cup and it’s as simple as that.

Football can be cruel most times but it also has its moments of fairness.

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