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14th Jun 2018

JOE’s writers predict how the 2018 World Cup will play out

We look forward to eating our words


If it’s hot takes that you’re after…

The World Cup is upon us and the giddiness is real.

It’s rather tricky to predict what’s going to happen in the greatest competition in world football because we can expect at least a handful of upsets in the coming four weeks. It’s what makes the World Cup so exciting!

With France’s preparation far from ideal, Spain losing a manager just days before their opening group game and high hopes for the likes of Brazil and Germany, who knows what to expect?

Let our sports writers give it an awful go…

Darragh Murphy

Winners – France came so close to home triumph at Euro 2016 and the incredible squad they had two years ago has matured and will have learned from their shortcomings. They arguably have the best squad in the tournament and should coast past the group stages without exerting themselves too much.
Top scorer – Romelu Lukaku will spearhead the Belgium side that should progress deep into the competition and in a group that includes Panama and Tunisia, the Manchester United centre-forward should get off the mark early.
Flop of the tournament – Spain will surely be somewhat affected by the recent chaos in their camp and have their progress hindered by a new manager with very little experience.
How will England do – They will be knocked out in quarter-finals, obviously.
Player of the tournament – Antoine Griezmann can seize the opportunity to prove on a global scale why he’s one of the most sought-after attackers in world football and, considering the fact that I’m picking France to go the whole way, their star forward will have to be rewarded.
Dark horses – Denmark should realistically finish second in their group and while they’re not going to make it to the final by any means, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Christian Eriksen guide the Danes to the quarter-finals and, at that point, all it takes is one stroke of luck to make it to the final four.

Si Lloyd

Winners – France is the logical choice for me. A few world class players, strength in depth and judging by social media, a good team spirit.
Top scorer – Romelu Lukaku has been back amongst the goals in the warm-up games and could be set to fill his boots in the group games against Tunisia and Panama. Belgium should go far and with some of their creative players, you’d expect him to get plenty of service.
Flop of the tournament – Argentina have good players. Lots of good players. But they scraped through qualification and one bad result in the groups could see the wheels fall off.
Player of the tournament – NeymarBrazil should reach the later rounds, and Neymar will be their star man. The stage is set for him to finally pose a serious threat to Messi and Ronaldo in the Ballon d’Or stakes.
England – Quarter-finalsThey’ll make it out of the groups and possibly through the first knockout stage. It’s probably a stretch to see such a young side getting much further, but this would be a decent showing.
Dark horses – Poland have averaged 2.8 goals a game in qualifying and you’d fancy them to get out of their group. Keep Lewandowski fit, Poland could surprise a few this summer.

Jack O’Toole

Winners – Germany. The defending champions have the experience and the quality to go all the way and they have a very balanced squad. Great spine through Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, Kroos and Muller and they were the only team in the UEFA qualifiers to yield the maximum return of 30 points. Expect them to go all the way in Russia.
Top scorer – Neymar. The PSG forward moved to third on Brazil’s all-time leading goalscorers list after scoring against Austria and he finished joint third with Lionel Messi and Robin van Persie at the last tournament. He has 55 goals in 85 games for Brazil and if they march to the final he’ll have a significant part to play.
Flop of the tournament –  It’d be easy to say Belgium following back-to-back disappointments at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 but Argentina are very dicey for a team that’s the sixth favourite. Lionel Messi single-handedly dragged them through the qualifiers and their defence is unbelievably patchy. Sooner or later Messi’s brilliance won’t be enough.
Player of the tournament – Messi won this award in a losing team in the last finals and I expect Neymar to do something similar this summer. At 26 he’s in the prime of his career and he showed against Austria that his foot injury shouldn’t be an issue.
How will England do – Same as always. Out on penalties after a Dele Alli red card in the knockout stages. Can’t see them making it past the quarter-finals. More likeable team compared to previous iterations but not as talented.
Dark Horses – Portugal. The Euro 2016 winners are a brutal watch but they’re tough, resilient and they have Cristiano Ronaldo. That should be enough to at least make them a threat.

Robert Redmond

Winners – I have tipped Spain to win every tournament since Euro 2008, but this one looks set up for Brazil to do well. They have a straightforward route to the semi-finals, and are a significantly better side than four years ago.
Top scorer – Luis Suarez. He isn’t the player he was a few years ago, but Suarez still has enough to score a few goals in the group stages. With another goal in the knockout stages, he should get the six goals usually required to win the Golden Boot.
Flop of the tournament – Belgium. Roberto Martinez already seems under a lot of pressure, and doesn’t appear to have the respect of the big players in his squad. Tactically he has been questionable, and by the time he left Everton it looked like he had lost the dressing room. The same could happen with Belgium. They’re a talented team, but will probably be knocked out by the first decent side they face. The individual player most likely to disappoint is Paul Pogba. If selected, he will most likely underwhelm for France.
Player of the tournament – Lionel Messi. If Argentina are to even get out of their group they’ll need Messi to be at his best. He’s the best footballer in the world, possibly the best ever, and his genius should be enough to get them to the quarter-finals.
How will England do – Last 16. England haven’t won a knockout game at an international tournament since 2006. Although they won’t disgrace themselves and have some talented players, I don’t expect that to change at this tournament.
Dark horses – Uruguay. They are a settled side with a solid defence, a brilliant front two, creativity in midfield, and a very experienced manager. They reached the semi-finals in 2010 and look a decent outside bet to do the same at this tournament.

Simon Clancy

Winners – Germany 
Top Scorer – Gabriel Jesus
Flop of the tournament – Cristiano Ronaldo
Player of the tournament – Thomas Muller
How will England do – Semi-finals 
Dark horses – Senegal 

Wayne Farry

Winners – Brazil. They have one of the most talented squads and appear to be in good spirits, free (to a degree) of the painful and weighty pressure from 2014. If they click, they’ll be hard to beat.
Top Scorer – Neymar. If Brazil win, Neymar will likely have scored a lot of goals.
Flop of the tournament – France. Their prep has not been ideal, and there appears to be the now traditional discontent from fans and media. Doomed to fail.
Player of the tournament – Neymar again. This will be the summer that cements his quality and moves him closer to Madrid.
How will England do – Quarter-final. Cruelly knocked out by Germany on penalties, but national pride will be restored.
Dark horses – Senegal. They have Sadio Mane, which is always a plus, and will compete in the extremely even Group H alongside Colombia, Japan and Poland. They will surprise some people.

Reuben Pinder

Winners – Spain. Slightly bold given their managerial crisis but the players are experienced enough in big matches to not let it affect them. The squad has evolved since their disaster in 2014, and La Roja are back to their best.
Top Scorer – Neymar. Brazil are a much more balanced side than the one that played in 2014, and Neymar will be raring to go having just returned to full fitness.
Flop of the tournament – Belgium. Despite their wealth of attacking talent, Roberto Martínez’s side will be heavily disadvantaged by the lack of a fit Vincent Kompany. Without a proper left-back in the squad, they don’t have the option to revert to a back four either, unless Jan Vertonghen were to step out wide. On paper, they look like dark horses, but they look set to disappoint yet again.
Player of the tournament – Isco. Likely to play in the number 10 role for Spain, or even as a false 9 should Fernando Hierro decide to use that system, the Real Madrid playmaker will be central to Spain’s attacking play. Given their dominance with the ball, he will have plenty of opportunities to slice defences open like a hot knife through butter.
How will England do – Quarter-final. I think England have a good chance of topping their group if they get off to a good start, and should have enough to get through the second round given the weakness of Group H. However, Germany or Brazil, who will almost certainly meet England at that stage, will be too good for the Three Lions.
Dark horses – Denmark. Not regular participants in World Cups, but the Danes have a very talented, balanced squad. The omissions of Daniel Wass and Riza Durmisi raised some eyebrows, but the likes of Andreas Christensen, Thomas Delaney, Christian Eriksen and Pione Sisto will light up this tournament.

Patrick McCarry

Winners – Germany 
Top Scorer – Luis Suarez
Flop of the tournament – France. Powderkeg, waiting to implode
Player of the tournament – Neymar
How will England do – Quarter-final at best but they could get knocked out once they reach the second round.
Dark horses – I got Croatia in the office sweep-stakes so I’m confidently predicting them to go deep.

Rich Cooper

Winners – Russia. The combination of the most corrupt sport in the world and the most corrupt country in the world surely means no other outcome is possible.
Top Scorer – Messi. Could be his last outing on the global stage, so he’s going out with a flourish. I also don’t know any other international players.
Flop of the tournament – Spain. Maybe firing your manager the day before the tournament begins will turn out to be a brilliant piece of tactical thought, but on the other hand…
Player of the tournament – Raheem Sterling. Just to watch the Daily Mail squirm.
How will England do – Dominate the group stages, get everyone’s hopes up, out in the last 16. It’s what we deserve.
Dark horses – Costa Rica. Nothing to do with me getting them in the office sweepstake.


World Cup