How will England fare? Who will top-score? Which player will set the tournament alight? All these questions, answered
Going into the World Cup as a fan of any of the qualified teams can be enough to fill you with optimism.
Even if you’ve been stung in the past, there’s always a nagging sense that this time might be different. And yes, even the pain and embarrassment of past failures won’t be enough to stop you believing.
Still, while optimism’s great and all, sometimes you just want to temper expectations ahead of time.
What if we told you, then, that there was a way of finding out ahead of time how it all might go down.
Okay, the word ‘might’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting there, but bear with us.
The folks at Football Manager might not get everything right, but based on the number of managerial appointments greeted by ‘This is straight out of Football Manager!’ (Joey Barton at Fleetwood! Harry Kewell at Crawley! Thierry Henry as assistant to Roberto Martínez for Belgium!) you’ve got to feel they’re onto something.
After England were drawn in group G alongside Belgium, Panama and Tunisia last December, the Mirror turned to the folks at FM for a guide to how Gareth Southgate’s team might fare in Russia, playing out a simulation of the tournament.
We’re not saying you should pin everything on England following these predictions to the letter, but it’s least given us cause for mild optimism ahead of the first game against Tunisia.
The good news, first of all, is that the simulation has England winning their group with nine points from nine available – not too shabby at all.
If you thought the cries of “Football’s Coming Home” were loud now, you just wait until the 3-2 victory over Belgium that leads Harry Kane and co into a knockout meeting with Poland.
England haven’t been great at scoring in World Cup or European Championships knockout games – most of their handful of goals this century have come from set pieces – but that won’t stop them nullifying the threat of Robert Lewandowski to see of Poland by a single goal.
Their run will end in the quarter-finals, however, where they will be no match for a Neymar-inspired Brazil.
It won’t be all glory for the Seleçao, though. After finishing fourth in the 2014 World Cup, they will fall at the semi-final stage once again.
France will put an end to the hopes of Tite’s squad, handing them their first defeat since June 2017, with Argentina and Lionel Messi awaiting them in the final in Moscow on July 14.
The Albiceleste drew a blank in the 2014 final, going down 1-0 to Germany after extra-time, and indeed they only scored twice in the entire knockout stages. True to form, Football Manager thinks they will fail to score once more, with France running out 2-0 winners and, presumably, the collected British media taking back everything they said about Paul Pogba over the course of the last 12 months. No? Look, I said we could be hopeful.
If you’re looking for betting tips from these predictions, we’d recommend you look harder and probably base things on more than just a simulation. Still, we know you’re keen to find out who, in this reality, will end the 2018 World Cup as top scorer and player of the tournament.
Player of the tournament will go to Lionel Messi for a second time in a row, though he’d probably happily trade either one of the personal gongs for victory in the final.
France’s Antoine Griezmann notched four en route to lifting the trophy, but he was pipped to the golden boot by Neymar, who finished with five.
The 2014 Golden Ball winner, James Rodríguez, went on to join Real Madrid that same summer – could history repeat itself?