Sports writer Kristan Heneage on the only World Cup predictions you need to care about this year
Do you know what that feeling is? Creeping up your spine? Pushing through your pores and clouding your better judgement? That’s World Cup Fever, friend.
Breath it in and let it consume you with our World Cup 2018 predictions.
Player most likely to trouble England
Kevin de Bruyne
If you don’t think we’re being serious here rewatch Kevin De Bruyne shrieking at David Silva during the Champions League. De Bruyne is the star man for Belgium and his move to central midfielder has created a player that is just as able to score goals as create them.
Shutting him down in the game against Belgium is key, with the hope being that most of our defenders can use past experience to aid their performance.
Team you’re most likely to fall in love with
The last time Peru qualified for a World Cup not one of their current squad was even alive and their coach, Ricardo Gareca, was still plying his trade as a forward with Boca Juniors.
Add in the return of striker Paolo Guerrero to the squad after an arduous legal process involving a teapot and we’ve found our heroes. Guerrero will line up alongside childhood friend Jefferson Farfan in attack, while Cristian Cueva is another one of Peru’s attackers to watch out for.
Best of all, Nolberto Solano, formerly of Newcastle United, among others, is on the coaching staff, so don’t be surprised to see him bust out the trumpet (that’s not a euphemism) if they go far.
Team to get the most bookings
The inclusion of Panama at this tournament is a beautiful thing. Their captain Roman Torres has already committed to a giant tattoo on his calf to commemorate proceedings, but I sense the build up may be the highlight for him and his teammates.
Panama are not Costa Rica from four years ago. They’re quite an old bunch and I expect them to pick up defeats and bookings in the group stages much like Honduras did four years ago.
The outsiders that’ll survive the group stage
When the draw for Group B was made it seemed fairly certain that Spain and Portugal would qualify.
Then all hell broke loose. First, Spain fired their head coach the day before the tournament and now the Portuguese players attached to Sporting are trying to work out their club future. All that could allow Morocco to steal in with their band of young, exciting attackers such as Hakim Ziyech and Amine Hart.
Also, look at their coach, Herve Renard. He’s way too handsome to drop out at the group stages.
Like many football fans I had Spain as my World Cup winners up until Wednesday.
Now, I’m indulging my emotions and going for a redemption story with Brazil. They were humiliated four years ago on home soil, but manager Tite has done a solid job of rehabilitating them.
In a bid to reduce pressure on Neymar the captaincy has been swapped before each game, and while they have some defensive frailties I think their stellar attack and strong goalkeeping options will see them through.
Shock group exit
La Albiceleste are blessed to have Lionel Messi in their ranks but I fear his teammates will rely on his talent rather than elevate it.
Coach Jorge Sampaoli is very stuck in his ways and leans heavily on counter-attacking as a means to success. I question if their opposition will afford them those opportunities in a group where they are favourites, and for that alone I could see a nasty exit in Argentina’s future.
It usually takes about six goals to secure this prize. A cursory glance of Brazil’s group opponents and their potential route to the final makes one of their attackers a good bet. I could pick Gabriel Jesus here, but I struggle to look past Neymar.
You’d think the Golden Ball would go to a player attached to the tournament winners, but the last five have all gone to teams that didn’t lift the trophy, and that’s why I think it goes to France and Mr Griezmann.
He’s one of Europe’s most coveted attackers, and he spawned this great moment involving Google Translate and a committed Spanish journalist:
Croatia may not be at the heights of 2007 when they stopped England going to the European Championships, but this team still has talent.
Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are a world class pair in the middle of the park, and while a knockout round meeting with France seems likely, I would not be shocked to see them overcome a Les Bleus side that have been unimpressive of late.
Breakout young player
Milinkovic-Savic is already being talked about as a £100 million player and he hasn’t kicked a ball at the World Cup yet. He’s big, he’s physical, but he’s also technically brilliant, as he showed with Lazio this season.
He does need to gain a degree of consistency, but with Nemanja Matic serving as the team’s leader and defensive shield I could see Milinkovic-Savic thriving in Russia.
I may have listened to ‘Three Lions’ before I wrote this, but hear me out. England have young, talented players that are playing in a system that they are familiar with and that suits them.
Gareth Southgate has diluted the pressure with his media open day, and for the first time in a while we’re talking about having fun at a tournament.
The fact we all unanimously got behind Raheem Sterling shows me this country is unified, and with that togetherness, who knows, we may even go two steps better than I predict.