FIFA World Cup 2018 | The Final

Welcome to the World Cup final!

We started with thirty-two nations competing for the World Cup, and only France and Croatia remain. There wouldn’t have been many people predicting this, not even Croatians. No Brazil, who were knocked out by Belgium in the quarters, despite having dominated the game. No Spain, who suffered at the hands of their own lack of ambition. No Germany, who joined the list of reigning world champions that fell at the first hurdle.

As this is likely to be my final World Cup piece – no need for the tears or the patronizing slow clap – I thought it best to wrap up the tournament with a brief look at: the final; who I believe is deserving of the Golden Glove (given to the best goalkeeper) and the Golden Ball (given to the player of the tournament); and my favorite three moments from the tournament.

The Final

fifalast2
Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow: the World Cup Final stadium.

My heart says Croatia.

My head says France.

My heart’s vote isn’t because I like Croatia, necessarily, but more that I’m not one to root for the French team. (Being English and Turkish, I remember that, on their way to the World Cup final, Croatia did eliminate Turkey during the qualifying groups. I can forgive that, though. For now.)

France have an exceptional team, and Didier Deschamps, who won the tournament as a player in 1998, is a great coach, even though he looks confused most of the time. They have many world-class players who could win the game, whereas, Croatia will be heavily reliant on 32-year-old Luka Modric. One other important piece of information: Many of the current French players were part of the squad that lost to Portugal in the European Championships Final two years ago. They were favorites in that game, too, but ended up losing to a goal from Eder. They will be reluctant to let that happen again.

So, let’s say that Croatian team outperforms France. How long could they do that for? The Croats’ energy level will definitely come into question. During the knockout rounds, Croatia has played 120 minutes of football against each of their three opponents, whereas France cruised past Argentina and Uruguay, before a good win against Belgium.

I can even picture the tactics boards prior to the game:

Match Tactics: Croatia

1. Don’t let Paul Pogba control the game.
2. Keep an eye on Giroud, as he likes to run behind the defense.
3. Don’t let Griezman receive the ball between midfield and defense.
4. Watch out for Matuidi’s late runs from deep.
5. Pavard and Hernandez like to go forward. Our wingers need to track them.
6. Make sure you double up on Mbappe, as he is too quick for us.

vs.

Match Tactics: France

1. Stop Luka Modric.
2. Allez Les Bleu! Allez! Allez! (Come on the blues! Come on! Come on!

France will definitely go into the game as favorites. They have world-class players all over the pitch. Players that have improved as the tournament has gone on. On the other side, Croatia is a nation that has always been decent but has never really expected to reach the latter stages of a tournament. The best previous performance was a World Cup semi-final in 1998, which was (ironically) held in France.

A World Cup final. It doesn’t get any bigger than this, especially for players from the Croatian side, who may never experience this again. Some of the older players, like Modric and Corluka might even call it a day after this game, knowing that it would be a great way to end an amazing international career. Obviously they would love to win the tournament, but this game, against a strong and experienced French side, may be one game too far for them.

Prediction:
France 3 – Croatia 0

Golden Glove

I would give it to Hugo Lloris (France), but only just over Jordan Pickford (England). He has been exceptional throughout the entire tournament. Some of his saves have been incredible, and he has lead by example. His save in the semi-final from Toby Alderweireld’s shot was incredible.

Golden Ball

It’s very close for me between Kylian Mbappe and Luka Modric. I would definitely give it to the latter, though. As good as Mbappe has been, he didn’t really do much in the group stages, mainly because he didn’t really have to. Modric, on the other hand, has been the catalyst and mastermind behind Croatia’s success. Without Mbappe, France could still have made it to the final, but without Modric, Croatia wouldn’t have gotten out of the group stages.  I’m confident FIFA will award it to Mbappe, because they like to give it to whoever they like instead of who played well. The 2014 cup was proof of that, when Arjen Robben deserved the Golden Ball, yet Lionel Messi was given it. Shocking …

The Top Three Moments

No. 3

This moment came pretty early on in the tournament. It was the match between Portugal and Spain. This game was my favorite from the entire tournament. There were huge players on show, plenty of goals being scored, and a hat-trick from one Cristiano Ronaldo. This game signaled the start of a fantastic tournament after the dross that we had witnessed on the previous day – and to some extent, the previous two World Cups.

No. 2

England!

They played well, got to the semi-finals and even won a penalty shootout (the latter being something of a rare occurrence. Don’t believe me? Ask any England fan or the England coach, who missed in the 1996 Euro’s semi-final. The same fate followed the national team in the 1998 World Cup, when England was eliminated by Argentina). Unfortunately, as per usual, some England fans, both back home and abroad, took celebrations to a destructive level. I just don’t understand why. I, for one, actually wanted England to do well for a change. The main reason: The memes!

(A few of my favorites)

I have especially loved the “It’s Coming Home!” memes. England fans were using any excuse to tell the whole world that “Football is coming home!” The origin of the statement comes from a song by Lightning Seeds, and featured David Baddiel and Frank Skinner. The original song was created before the 1996 European Championships, and was then re-released with a few alterations before the 1998 World Cup.

This song has just reached Number 1 in the U.K. music charts for the 4th time. Baddiel and Skinner will be financially rewarded again, and probably keep being rewarded every two years, when a major tournament is being played.

Of course, leave it to folks to then take it to a new level:

[Editor’s Note: The memes following England’s defeat have been just as delightful, if a bit of a sore spot. Memes … such a delightful waste of time.]

No. 1:

Sit back, relax, watch and burst into laughter!

Thanks for that, mate!

What a tournament it has been. Full of goals, drama, upsets and VAR. I have seen every tournament since 1998, and this one ranks up there as my second-favorite of all time, after the 2002 World Cup.

For any first-time viewers, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Thank you Russia, for being a great host, contrary to what was expected, and I hope to see you guys again in four years when the tournament is in … wait, what? Qatar? I guess the Brexit vote isn’t the only decision that needs to be revised …


Manfriend has been a hell of a … let’s say, World Cup correspondent for this otherwise sports-less blog. To revisit all his thoughts, predictions and informative breakdowns from this year’s World Cup, read on:

Round of 16
The End of Round 1
Sports Chat: FIFA World Cup 2018

Thanks so much for your insights and incredible hard work. I, for one, am so thankful, if only because I could join football conversations and sound like I knew something about sports.

You’re the best.

FIFA World Cup 2018 | Round of 16

(Author: Manfriend, of course)

After two weeks of non-stop ball chasing, diving, goal scoring and suggestions to the referee to check VAR, we have wrapped up the groups. Many of the big guns have managed to make it through safely, despite not looking overly convincing. That can’t be said for Germany, who got dumped out of the tournament in the group stages for the first time since 1938. And honestly, hardly anyone is sad to see them go. In fact, there’s a word to describe this feeling around the world: “schadenfreude”, (a German word meaning “to take pleasure from someone else’s misery”)

However, nothing was more heartbreaking than seeing Senegal eliminated. Despite playing with heart, they were sent packing because of the FIFA fair play rule introduced to this year’s tournament:

If teams are tied on points, then the team who have received less yellow and red cards would advance.

 This rule led to one of the most farcical ends to a group stage since the famous 1982 World Cup game between West Germany v. Austria, in which a win by one or two goals for the Germans would have resulted in both teams going through. No prizes for guessing what happened. West Germany scored after 10 minutes and then nothing of notable happened for the remaining 80 minutes.

More on that absurd end later.

So, with the round of 16 about to start, the most exciting fortnight of football is upon us. Every coach, player and fan knows that they are FOUR games away from holding up the World Cup – previously known as the Jules Rimet trophy. (Some still referred to it today.)

The Jules RimetTrophy was the original prize for winning the Football World Cup. Originally called “Victory”, but broadly known simply as the World Cup or Coupe du Monde, it was renamed in 1946 to honour the FIFA President Jules Rimet who in 1929 passed a vote to initiate the competition.

Here’s what we can look forward to, and where the game could be won and lost:


Game 1: France vs Argentina

This matchup is one most football fans would have expected later on in the tournament. Personally, I didn’t expect it to happen at all. Neither one of these nations have looked very convincing, so it will be interesting to see if they are able to step it up for this match-up between historically gargantuan forces in the tournament.

The French are definitely going into the game with more confidence, and are the better team on paper. This should be more than enough to beat a lackluster Argentinian side who lack any direction or impetus. If France can neutralize the threat of Lionel Messi – easier said than done – then the game will be their’s to lose. It will be a relatively fast-paced game, and one that neutral viewers will enjoy.

Winner: France
Method:* 90 mins

Game 2: Uruguay vs Portugal

Uruguay will have Diego Godin, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, faced with the incredible Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Quaresma and Andre Silva. There will be some amazing players on show.

So, why am I dreading this game?

Well, it’s simple. Uruguay are a disciplined side who prioritise defence over attack. They like to grind out wins by strangling their opponents into submission and stifling out any dangerous attacks that the opposition tries to conjure up.

Portugal won’t be much different, if their Euro 2016 victory is anything to go by. In that tournament, Portugal got through the groups with 3 draws, and didn’t actually win a game in normal time until their 2-0 semi-final victory over Wales. (Not a typo. I did write Wales.)

Don’t expect a goal-fest. The best way to describe this game is with a word that many Uruguayan’s live by: “Garra”. Simply put, it means “guts”, “grit” or “determination”. Both of these teams will show plenty of “garra” for the cause.

Winner: Uruguay
Method: Penalties

Game 3: Spain vs Russia

Spain haven’t really shown any weakness going forward on the pitch, but defensively they look a shambles. Despite having two of the best central defenders in the world – Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique – they are giving away too many chances, and conceding goals at an alarming rate.

Russia have already done better than expected, and will create chances against Spain. The problem is that they will also concede a few goals. If Russia is to have any chance of progressing in the tournament, they have to be more disciplined. All of their players need to perform their roles diligently.

I expect Spain to have too much firepower going forward. Their movement and passing will cut Russia apart. Once Spain score, Russia will push more men forward, turning this game in to a rout. However, if Russia score first, we could be looking at a potential upset.

Winner: Spain
Method: 90 minutes

Game 4: Croatia vs Denmark

What an opportunity this is for Croatia. They have managed to win the “group of death,” and it has left them on the easier side of the draw. The Croats have been clinical against their three opponents, and will now face a not-so-exciting Denmark side. This match will be won in midfield, which will definitely play into the hands of Croatia, who possess the better players.

Denmark’s only chance to progress will be by turning this game into a scrappy affair. They need to be smart, fouling when necessary and making sure the likes of Perisic, Modric and Rakitic don’t get too comfortable on the ball, while trying to muster up a chance to win the game through their star man Christian Eriksen.

Winner: Croatia
Method: 90 mins

Game 5: Brazil vs Mexico

After being taken apart by Sweden, Mexico are lucky to be in the knockout phases at all. If it wasn’t for the most unlikely of wins by South Korea over Germany, this tie could have been a repeat of the devastating semi-final from four years ago. Anyway, let’s all collectively say ‘Auf Wiedersehn’ to Germany. A smug smile is optional but appreciated. If not sure how to. Allow England Legend and broadcaster, Gary Lineker can show you.

Mexico have looked great so far, until their soft underbelly was exposed by one of the weaker teams in the tournament. Ill discipline and frantic decision-making could have cost them heavily. So, why were they so good against Germany and then South Korea, while looking amateurish against Sweden? Simple. Mexico is not a team that have the quality to chase a game. They are set up to hit teams on the counter. They opened the scoring in both of their wins, but got demolished in the game they conceded first in. Brazil will need to be aware of this and play smart football.

If Brazil score first, expect a comfortable win and a possible red card out of frustration for the hot-headed Mexican players. However, if Mexico score first, Brazil could be in for a tough afternoon. In either scenario, I don’t see Mexico winning, unless it goes to penalties, where anything could happen.

Winner: Brazil
Method: 90 mins

Game 6: Belgium vs Japan

Belgium, like many other nations, are referring to their current set of players as their “Golden Generation”. Never in the past have they had so many world-class players: Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Toby Alderweireld. The list goes on and on. They have players who don’t even get playing time despite being top stars.

Looks ominous for Japan, right?

Absolutely it does.

So, what can the Japanese do to progress? Do Belgium have a weakness?

Well, many might disagree, but I think they do, in Roberto Martinez, the coach. Some Belgian fans were a little apprehensive at his appointment in the first place, and despite an excellent qualification campaign, and three wins in the group stages, there will still be people who question his tactical nous. Arguably, the greatest thing he has brought to this squad of players is a feeling of togetherness, which they were lacking at the Euros. Yet, if they were to go a goal or two down, that “team spirit” feeling could wear thin, ending in a lot of finger-pointing across the Belgian side.

Could Japan be the team to destroy Belgium’s new-found togetherness?

Very unlikely.

Yes, they beat Colombia, but only because Japan played with an extra man for 87 minutes. Even then, the Colombians were the better side, until they understandably tired in the last quarter of the match. Against Senegal, they played well, but it was Senegal’s inability to finish that allowed Japan to scrape a late and unlikely draw against the Africans. As for the game against Poland, they got outplayed, out-thought and outworked. What was most disappointing was that, while they were losing 1-0, they heard that Colombia had scored against Senegal, which was enough to put Japan through to the knockout stages. What followed was incredible, in a not-great way: Neither Poland or Japan attacked. Poland wanted the win, and Japan to progress. Clearly both teams got what they wanted. But to take that sort of risk, knowing that Senegal needed only one goal to put Japan out, was more stupid than brave. Relying on another nation to do you a favour, especially when you can go and do the job yourself, isn’t anything to brag about.

Colombia won’t be saving Japan during this match. I wonder how they will fare when they have to win by themselves. I suspect not very well.

Winner: Belgium
Method: 90 minutes

Game 7: Sweden vs Switzerland

Sweden. What a team. They were boring against South Korea, naïve against Germany, and magnificent against Mexico. So, what should we expect from them against the Swiss? I genuinely can’t tell you. They have been the most unpredictable side for me this year. I do know, though, that without a world-class striker, their midfield will need to turn up.

Switzerland never look too convincing but always find a way of grinding out results, mostly in part to Xherdan Shaqiri. Sweden will need to keep a very close eye on him and make sure he doesn’t receive the ball near their goal at any time.

This match will be a war of attrition, and could be the second game to end up needing the penalties to decide who advances. I’m considering setting my alarm for two hours after this game kicks off, so I can experience the nail-biting tension of a World Cup penalty shootout, without having to waste over two hours of my life on a game that lacks any real quality.

Winner: Sweden
Method: Penalties

Game 8: Colombia vs England

When the World Cup draw was made, most people would have expected Colombia and England to face each other at this stage of the tournament. This expectation would have been followed by a confident: “Colombia will be too strong for England.”

I’m not sure those same people, myself included, are so confident now.

Colombia have played well, if not excitingly, so far. Their main strength lies with Davinson Sanchez, who has looked fantastic. The 22-year-old is the main reason the South Americans have been able to keep two clean sheets, against Poland and Senegal. He will once again be vital if Colombia are to be successful.

England have impressed, but against two weak opponents, making it very difficult to tell how good they actually are and whether or not they can be listed as one of the contenders. Their final game against Belgium could have given us a good idea, except both the English and Belgians decided to play their fringe players.

Oh well.

This will definitely be an intriguing match-up, with battles all over the pitch. The most important of which will be between the aforementioned Davinson Sanchez and the prolific Harry Kane. Not for one moment are England solely reliant on their talisman, but Kane is currently the sharpest shooter at this summer’s World Cup, hitting the back of the goal 5 times. Keeping him off the score sheet will give Colombia’s attacking line time to get the the goals they will need, and secure their progression in to the quarter finals.

Winner: Colombia
Method: 90 minutes

Nothing beats Knockout football, at the World Cup. No points! No draws! No second chances! Win or go home!


* Here, the method refers to how the match will be won. Will it be wrapped up in 90 minutes? Or will a goal in extra time be the decider? What about on penalties? We’ll find out!

For Manfriend’s previous World Cup articles, read on:

And as always, you can get your own schedule for the events – and all sorts of other World Cup info – here.

FIFA World Cup 2018 | The End of Round 1

Manfriend here again. Let’s talk the World Cup.

So the first round of the group games are over, but what have we actually learned from them?

Welcome to my roundup of what’s happened, and my predictions for each group at the end of the group stage.

Group A

Russia v. Saudi Arabia 5-0
Uruguay v. Egypt 1-0

Don’t let the 5-0 result trick you into thinking that Russia are a good side. Saudi Arabia were woeful. Absolutely diabolical. Their keeper wouldn’t be able to a catch a cold, never mind the ball. It was a dull game that didn’t deserve the number of goals it got.

The other game in the group wasn’t much better. Uruguay, one of the more fancied teams of the tournament, showed no urgency or desire to win the game. They were very slow, inconsistent and just plain boring. Only their captain, Diego Godin, who I believe is the best central defender in the world, showed any sort of world-class talent on the pitch. Egypt, on the other hand, were heroic in defeat.

I mentioned that Group D is the “Group of Death.” Well, the best way to describe this Group A so far is as the “Group of Wanting to Stick Needles in my Eyes”.

My predictions:

  1. Uruguay
  2. Egypt
  3. Russia
  4. Saudi Arabia

[Editors note: Due to both writer and editor needing sleep (time zones, they’re a b****), we weren’t able to post this until after the Egypt v. Russia match. Unfortunately, Egypt weren’t able to beat Russia in their second match, making this prediction impossible. Damn.]

Group B

Portugal v. Spain 3-3
Iran v. Morocco 1-0

What a game! Portugal and Spain played good football, showing lots of attacking intent and guile. Spain were a little unfortunate not to win the game, as they dominated the majority of it, but it was that man again, Cristiano Ronaldo. Fifty-one hat-tricks in his professional career (completing the the 51st hat-trick in the World Cup, too). Most people don’t get that many playing with friends at a park. Many people will look at Portugal as a one-man team, but they’re really not. It just happens to be that the “main man” always seems to grab the headlines. Spain will definitely do well in the tournament. They looked fantastic with the ball, and in Isco, they have a world-class player with incredible ability.

In the other game of this group, it was no surprise the match wasn’t a high scoring affair, as both these teams don’t tend to concede many goals. But the game was much more interesting than the result suggests. Morocco will be distraught with the 1-0 loss to Iran, as they created enough chances to win. But let’s get one thing straight: Neither one of these nations will be picking up another point. However, they will both still be vital to see who wins the group, as it will come down to goal difference.

My Predictions:

  1. Spain
  2. Portugal
  3. Iran
  4. Morocco

Group C

France v. Australia 2-1
Denmark v. Peru 1-0

France got their campaign off to a winning start, thanks to Video Assistant Referees (VAR). The newly-devised system removes the human error part of the game, taking the pressure off the referees in the middle. Having said that, no one really knows what is happening or whether it’s being used. According to the commentators, it’s being used constantly. Soon, I’m expecting VAR to be used at home to determine who ate the last doughnut. Anyway, France got their win over Australia thanks to technology. Both of their goals would never have been given two years ago.

Denmark and Peru, as expected, were closely matched, with the prior scoring the only goal of the game after Peru missed a penalty in the first half. An absolutely huge win!

My Predictions:

  1. France
  2. Denmark
  3. Peru
  4. Australia

Group D

Iceland v. Argentina 1-1
Croatia v. Nigeria 2-0

As mentioned in my first World Cup post, this is the group to watch. Iceland were excellent against the Argies. Despite only having 23 percent of the possession, Iceland created the better opportunities. Yes, they’re a very direct team, which is what made this match interesting. Argentina weren’t bad but you can see how reliant they are on Messi, which baffles me. Their other players, with the likes of Sergio Agüero, Angel Di María and at least another three or four, are world class, too.

Croatia are a good side, one that will trouble any team in the competition. In Kramaric, they have a striker who will cause trouble for an opposition’s defenders. If only he could finish the chances that fall to him. Nigeria are and will always remain an enigma to me. They should be good, but in the finals, they never perform.

My Predictions:

  1. Croatia
  2. Iceland
  3. Argentina
  4. Nigeria

Group E

Brazil v. Switzerland 1-1
Serbia v. Costa Rica 1-0

This wasn’t a a good return to World Cup football for favourites Brazil, as they were held to a draw by defiant Switzerland. Neymar was kept quiet by the Swiss midfield, in particular Valon Behrami, though not always in a sportsmanlike manner, if truth be told. You may think Brazil were unlucky not to win, but the truth is that they were never really in control. Yes, they did have more chances, and some of them were clear-cut, but a lot were just wayward shots. Once they get their shooting boots on, Brazil could become unstoppable.

Serbia and Costa Rica were well matched. Both teams battled in midfield and managed to create some good-looking attacks, but the lack of quality up front was obvious. Costa Rica don’t have a quality striker, and Serbian Mitrovic couldn’t get his feet under control. In the end, a fabulous free kick from the experienced Kolarov settled the game. The lack of firepower will be a huge problem when these two teams take on their more powerful opponents.

My Predictions:

  1. Brazil
  2. Switzerland
  3. Serbia
  4. Costa Rica

Group F

Mexico v. Germany 1-0
Sweden v. South Korea 1-0

Since 1998, four of five World Cup holders have been eliminated at the group stage of the tournament, with the only exception being 2002 winners Brazil, who lost in the quarterfinals in 2006. After the loss against Mexico, fans all over the globe have started wondering if Germany will be the next nation on that list. If they are to make it through to the knockout stage, then they are going to have to find a way to get Toni Kroos more involved. Mexico, on the other hand, are in a great position to win the group. They were impressive both in attack and defense, carving out many chances while restricting a lackluster German team to shots from a distance. Unfortunately they are a nation that likes to self-capitulate on many an occasion. Yet, this time around, I feel the Mexican party won’t be over for a while.

The other two countries in the group, Sweden and South Korea, didn’t look like they could score a goal in 300 minutes of football, let alone 90 minutes. In the end, Sweden were awarded a penalty, thanks to VAR, and that was the goal that separated the two teams. South Korea are a bizarre team. They have a gargantuan forward who is a foot taller than everyone else, yet no crosses were being sent in his direction for him to attack. Also, despite being behind for a large chunk of the second half, they only decided to attack for the last 10 minutes. It begs the belief that they didn’t try to do more in the earlier parts of the game. Poor all around!

My Predictions:

  1. Mexico
  2. Germany
  3. Sweden
  4. South Korea

Group G

Belgium v. Panama 3-0
England v. Tunisia 2-1

These two matches ended with expected wins for Belgium and England, but in very dissimilar ways.

Belgium dominated the game against Panama, and could have scored many more than the three goals they ended with. Panama did show effort and willingness to make a game of it, but the chasm between the two sides’ abilities were very clear from the 1st to the 90th minute.

England, on the other hand, were made to sweat by the Tunisians. The movement of the Premier League’s Elite was excellent, but the same brilliance deserted them in and around the box with Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli all lacking the kind of class shown by captain – and talisman – Harry Kane, who scored twice.

My Predictions:

  1. Belgium
  2. England
  3. Tunisia
  4. Panama

Group H

Japan v. Colombia 2-1
Senegal v. Poland 2-1

The Colombian team were rocked by the first red card of the tournament three minutes into the game against Japan for handling a ball that was on its way to a goal. This proved crucial. The resulting penalty for the handball was converted expertly by Kagawa. Playing with 10 men for 87-plus minutes proved too great a task for Colombia, and Japan managed to take an unexpected three points.

The Japan win had a huge impact on the second match of the group, making a win even more vital. Senegal, Africa’s last hope for a win, are arguably the best representative of the continent, and so it proved to be. They ran out winners over Poland, who are ranked 8th in the world rankings. Now, this sounds like a huge deal, but it really isn’t. The FIFA World Rankings are a joke of a system, as evidenced in this game.

My Predictions:

  1. Colombia
  2. Senegal
  3. Poland
  4. Japan

No matter what happens in the remaining games, the groups are shaping up nicely. Soon, the need to win will take over, forcing teams to play more expansive football, and leading to more games of Portugal v. Spain quality rather than Sweden v. South Korea.

Do tell, folks. What do you think will happen in the groups?


To read Manfriend’s initial piece about FIFA – and see his first thoughts on the tournament, read on.

Manfriend’s Mumblings | Sports Chat: FIFA World Cup 2018

World Cup 2014
Germany, celebrating the 2014 World Cup win. (via WikiCommons)

So, that dreaded month is upon us – a month that can be very challenging, yet incredibly rewarding. Nope, it’s not Ramadan again! It’s the World Cup!

Excitement fills me even as I type the words.

But I can hear the voices already.

“It’s not actually that interesting …”
“The players are always diving around like little b*****s!”
“It’s run by a group of criminals!” *
“There’s a lot of violence.”
“It happens every four years anyway!”

To which I say:

No.
Yes.
I know that.
Not always.
And finally, what the heck is wrong with you?!

The World Cup is one of the only events, in any sport, that really deserves the title of a “world cup,” as it actually involves every recognized footballing nation, big or small. Whether you call it football, like smart people, or soccer like … others, it’s a huge deal all around the world. I challenge you to name one other thing that has this much of an impact, brings this many people together, and is this full of entertainment.

FIFA World Cup 2018
Flags of all the nations competing in the finals. (Via Pixabay)

To those people who have been under a rock for eternity, and don’t know anything about football: I feel sorry for you. Nothing can be more fun than seeing 22 sweaty men treating a ball with more love and care than one of their five girlfriends. Actually, seeing them score a goal, and then celebrate by sliding on their knees is quite fun, too, especially as most players spend the entire game spitting all over the pitch.

Ahhh, memories.

I could talk forever about the World Cup, [Editors’ Note: Yes, he can. *eye roll*]  but instead, what I want to do is to give newcomers a chance to get the best out of the group stage.

So, welcome to my must-watch and don’t-even-bother selections. However, before I reveal that information, it’s important that you understand the basics of this year’s World Cup:

  • It’s being played in the very ‘welcoming’ country of Russia.
  • The opening game is on June 14th, with the final match being played on July 15th.
  • Thirty-two nations, from five different continents, are competing: Africa x 5; Asia x 4; Europe x 14, including host Russia; North and Central America x 3; Oceania x 1; South America x 5.
  • There are initially eight groups of four teams.
  • In the group stage, all teams play each other for points, with the top two teams going through to the knockout phase.
  • Knockout games are one-off games, which will go to extra time and penalties if there is no winner.

If you want to enjoy this tournament, then there are many games that you should avoid, but before we get to those, lets look at the must-sees:

Games to Watch

Portugal vs Spain

This game will be on Saturday at 2 a.m. Beijing time, and my alarm is already set. It is a historical footballing battle between two of the better nations in the tournament. Portugal are the reigning European Champions, and Spain are globally accepted as having the second best domestic football league in the world (second to the English Premier League). More interestingly, Spain have no coach now, after Lopetegui got sacked for accepting a job from Spanish giants Real Madrid without asking for The Spanish Football Association’s permission. If you’re still not sure about tuning in, the players on show are of world-class reckoning.

Plus, we get to see the amazing talent of Cristiano Ronaldo (Don’t even dare ask “Who?”) come up against his teammate Sergio Ramos. Normally, games between these two teams can be hit or miss, but the chance of seeing my man-crush Ronaldo – alongside the actor who played Aquaman in “The Justice League,” – in what is very likely to be his last-ever World Cup. Yes, please!

All of Group D

Every major tournament has a group branded the “Group of Death,” and this year it is Group D. Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria and Iceland. Every game in this group will be interesting. Any one of these four nations could win the group or come last. Argentina will undoubtedly be favorites, but they’re not well-balanced. The Argies are very top-heavy, like the guys who go to the gym but always miss out leg day. They play Iceland in the first game and it will give us a good idea as to how well Argentina will do. It doesn’t help that there’s a lot of controversy surrounding their coach, Sampaoli. Rumor has it that he has been a very, very bad man.

Iceland, around two decades ago, were classed as a minnow of international football, even tagged as “whipping boys.” But now, they’re about to play in their first-ever World Cup. They don’t have any major stars, but Iceland are a great example of a team. They qualified from arguably the most difficult group, overcoming Ukraine, Turkey, and Croatia to win the group. The latter they will play again during the group stages. They are a great team to watch, and not just because of the ‘Viking Clap’.

Still not happy? Maybe you will want to see Croatia, in their amazing tea towel-looking football shirts, or Nigeria with their confusing ones.

Brazil vs Switzerland

You have to watch Brazil. They are the most coveted nation, winning the World Cup a record FIVE times, and they are once again favourites. But this time, rightly so: For the first time in a long time, Brazil has strength and depth, the likes they haven’t had since the millennium. This is their toughest game of the groups, and one that I expect them to win. The more important thing for me is to see how many games Brazil can go without conceding a goal. Unbelievably, in the build-up to this year’s tournament, Brazil has only conceded one goal, despite playing friendlies against decent footballing nations. Plus, you get to see Neymar, the most expensive player in history. He is a delight to watch, especially surrounded by players like Coutinho, Willian and Jesus. No, he looks nothing like the one you are thinking of.

FIFA World Cup
Devastated home fans after the Semi-final against Germany in 2014. (Via WikiCommons)

The most important aspect of this game is that it is the first World Cup game Brazil will play since their humiliating defeat against Germany in the Semi-Finals of the tournament 4 years ago, which was held in front of their home fans.

Denmark vs France

This game is likely to be a group-decider. France are one of the favourites for the tournament, but they have a tendency to capitulate in tournaments that are not held in their home country. The main reason: squad harmony. I know you are surprised to hear that, as the French never moan about anything … *queue skeptic eye-rolls*

Denmark are a good side, and will be a difficult team to play. In Christian Eriksen, they have a play-maker who is as good as anyone else in the world. He will be influential if the Danish – mmmmmm, a danish … wait, concentrate, where was I? Ah, yes, Eriksen. He will be influential if the Danish are to progress in this tournament.

Germany vs Mexico

Germany have had a bit of a strange 2018 so far. They have lost the majority of their games played, and are looking very weak. In their last friendly, they won 2-1, which would be a good sign, but they played Saudi Arabia. The game against Mexico will definitely be an entertaining one for the neutral. Expect a bucket full of goals. I predict four, at least. Both Germany and Mexico are high-tempo attacking teams. Hopefully they won’t change their styles.

England vs Belgium

This will be the final group game of the tournament, and what a game it should be. If all goes to plan, which it usually does not, this match should be a decider to see who will finish top of the group, as both teams are likely to win against Tunisia and Panama, respectively.


As for the all of the other games, you shouldn’t really make an effort to watch them. Definitely don’t wake up in the middle of the night to watch any of them. (That last note is more for personal use. I know my partner appreciates the self-reminder.)

However, if you do feel like you want to watch other games, you should definitely avoid the following:

Games To Avoid

Russia vs Saudi Arabia

Normally the opening game of a tournament is huge … except this time. The game is between a Russian team, who are awful at best, against a nation who are always prone to a 7-0 loss. I’m expecting a very boring draw – maybe 1-1. Not even the Russians and Saudis will want to watch this, so why would you?

Belgium vs Panama

This game will be the World Cup equivalent of the initial confrontation between the “Sky-People” and the Na’vi. (If you are not sure of the analogy, then instead of watching this game, turn on Avatar. You can thank me after.)

England vs Panama

Again, I would urge you to watch Avatar. Even for a second time. This game will be very boring. England have a tendency to play boring football against weaker teams, and win 2-0.

Uruguay vs Russia

It’s very likely that Uruguay will have wrapped up the top spot by the third game, and watching their reserves kick lumps out of old men isn’t my idea of fun. If it is yours, then by all means, enjoy.

Panama vs Tunisia

Poor Panama. I didn’t realize that I had selected every one of their games on this list. I have nothing against them, really, apart from that they will be boring, none more-so than in this game, which I expect to be a dead rubber. Normally, when a game lacks stress, teams will end up playing good, expressive football. I don’t expect that to happen here. I will even stick my neck out and say that Panama has featured in this section more times than the number of goals they will score in the competition.


I realize that this article would have been a lot easier to write four years ago, when I nearly put myself into an early grave by attempting to watch every game. This time around, I have decided that it might be better for my health and well-being to moderate. Plus, it will keep my partner happier with me. [Editor’s Note: Wise move, sir.]

Whether you like the FIFA World Cup or not, you cannot undermine its importance for billions of people around the world. So, even if you are not a fan of football, and hate FIFA, give this tournament a chance.

You won’t regret it.

* FIFA is an organization riddled with massive, cringe-worthy problems. Don’t believe me? Check out John Oliver’s pithy summation of the whole thing. Released four years ago, it’s as salient now than ever.