The 2018 World Cup in Russia begins Thursday, June 14, and it will end with the final on Sunday, July 15. The 32 successive days of play will encompass 64 games in what promises to be one of the better World Cups in recent memory. U.S. television schedules are here, and an easy to follow World Cup resource with regular updates appears here.
Most of the world’s top stars will be in Russia, leading their national teams, from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, to Neymar and Toni Kroos, to Kylian Mbappe and Sergio Ramos, to Luka Modric and James Rodriguez, to Mo Salah and Paolo Guerrero, to Kevin De Bruyne and Edinson Cavani, to Kaylor Navas and Harry Kane, to Chicharito Hernandez and Robert Lewandowski.
There are five pre-tournament favorites, with today’s odds at: Brazil at 9/2, Germany 26/5, Spain 13/2, France 7/1, and Argentina at 10/1. These heavy favorites exclude a number of quality sleeper contenders such as current Euro (2016) champions Portugal, and fine teams from Uruguay, Croatia, and Belgium. The cup is redolent of talent and there are several mouthwatering matches already scheduled wherein high exponents of vastly different styles of play will vie for preeminence. You can read Papa’s World Cup 2018 Predictions here.
Over the next two days Papa will also preview each of the cup’s teams in their respective eight groups, (here are Groups A, B, C, D and E) thereafter each successive stage pairing will be previewed and covered, the Group of 16 and the quarterfinals, semifinals and final. At cup’s end there will also be concluding coverage recapping and assessing the cup. Once the cup begins, Papa will cover every major confrontation and many of the better secondary games all the way to the final. Let’s get started!
Teams: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea.
The Group winner will play second placed team of Group E, the second placed team will play the winner of Group E. Projection: 1—Germany, 2—Mexico.
Squad—Coach: Joachim Low, Captain: Manuel Neuer (G), Top players: Toni Kroos (M), Mesut Ozil (M), Mats Hummels (D), Jerome Boateng (D), Thomas Muller (F), Joshua Kimmich (D), Neuer, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (G), Leroy Sane (M)
Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barca), Kevin Trapp (PSG).
Defenders: Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Matthias Ginter (Borussia Monchengladbach), Jonas Hector (Cologne), Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Marvin Plattenhardt (Hertha Berlin), Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea), Niklas Sule (Bayern Munich).
Midfielders: Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen), Julian Draxler (PSG), Leon Goretska (Schalke), Ilkay Gundogan (Man-City), Sami Khedira (Juve), Toni Kroos (R-Madrid), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Sebastian Rudy (Bayern Munich).
Strikers: Mario Gomez (Stuttgart), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Timo Werner (RB Leipzig).
Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): Marc-Andre Ter Stegen; Joshua Kimmich, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Jonas Hector; Toni Kroos, Ilkay Gundogan; Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Leroy Sane; Timo Werner.
The cup holders are so good, so confident, and so picked to win it all again by so many they are beginning to believe their press. This will not be an early issue thanks to Low’s tight reigns and the German’s usual reserve, but as the tourney progresses and they reach the semifinals without much effort, the final two games will take their toll. But for now, this group is a cakewalk for the Teutonic horde.
Squad—Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio, Captain: Andres Guardado (M), Top players: Hirving “Chucky” Lozano (F), Guardado, Hector Herrera (M), Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (F), Jesus “Tecatito” Corona (F), Miguel Layun (D), Hector Moreno (D), Carlos Vela (F).
Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa (Standard Liege), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul).
Defenders: Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt), Diego Reyes (Porto), Hector Moreno (Real Sociedad), Hugo Ayala (Tigres), Edson Alvarez (America), Jesus Gallardo (Monterrey), Miguel Layun (Sevilla).
Midfielders: Rafael Marquez (Atlas), Hector Herrera (Porto), Jonathan dos Santos, Giovani dos Santos (both LA Galaxy), Andres Guardado (Real Betis), Javier Aquino (Tigres), Jesus Corona (Porto).
Forwards: Javier Hernandez (West Ham), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Oribe Peralta (America), Carlos Vela (LA-FC), Hirving Lozano (PSV Eindhoven), Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt).
Projected lineup (4-3-3): Guillermo Ochoa; Edson Alvarez, Carlos Salcedo, Hector Moreno, Miguel Layun; Diego Reyes, Hector Herrera, Andres Guardado; Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Hirving Lozano.
Constantly underperforming was once a Spanish specialty, but their New World ex-colony has taken over that mantle with a fervor. Mexico is good enough to advance out of this group and it will. They are not good enough to progress out of the Group of 16 simply because they are unlucky and never get to play against the team that lucked into the stage but instead are usually paired up with a cup favorite. But for now, Mexico progresses as the second team in the group.
Squad—Coach: Janne Andersson, Captain: Andreas Granqvist (D),Top players: Emil Forsberg (M), Victor Lindelof (D)
Goalkeepers: Robin Olsen (Copenhagen), Karl-Johan Johnsson (Guingamp), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Swansea).
Defenders: Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Victor Lindelof (Manchester United), Andreas Granqvist (Krasnador), Martin Olsson (Swansea), Ludwig Augustinsson (Werder Bremen), Filip Helander, Emil Krafth (both Bologna), Pontus Jansson (Leeds United).
Midfielders: Sebastian Larsson (Hull), Albin Ekdal (Hamburg), Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig), Gustav Svensson (Seattle Sounders), Oscar Hiljemark (Genoa), Viktor Claesson (Krasnador), Marcus Rohden (Crotone), Jimmy Durmaz (Toulouse).
Forwards: Marcus Berg (Al Ain), John Guidetti (Alaves), Ola Toivonen (Toulouse), Isaac Kiese Thelin (Waasland-Beveren).
Projected lineup (4-4-2): Robin Olsen; Mikael Lustig, Victor Lindelof, Andreas Granqvist, Ludwig Augustinsson; Viktor Claesson, Sebastian Larsson, Albin Ekdal, Emil Forsberg; Ola Toivonen, Marcus Berg.
Getting past Italy to attend the party in Russia was and will remain this team’s biggest accomplishment. They are a rudimentary side with little inventive flair despite a disciplined defense and some experienced players. But Germany and Mexico are superior and the Swedes will take the short trip home early.
Squad—Coach: Shin Tae-yong, Captain: Ki Sung-Yueng (M), Top players: Son Heung-min (F), Ki
Goalkeepers: Kim Seung-gyu (Vissel Kobe), Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka), Cho Hyun-woo (Daegu FC).
Defenders: Kim young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Jang Hyun-soo (FC Tokyo), Jung Seung-hyun (Sagan Tosu), Yun Yong-sun (Seongnam FC), Oh Ban-suk (Jeju United), Kim Min-woo (Sangju Sangmu), Park Joo-ho (Ulsan Hyundai), Hong Chul (Sangju Sangmu), Go Yo-han (FC Seoul), Lee Yong (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors).
Midfielders: Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea), Jung Woo-young (Vissel Kobe), Ju Se-jong (Asan Mugunghwa), Koo Ja-cheol (Augsburg), Lee Jae-sung (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Lee Seung-woo (Hellas Verona), Moon Seon-min (Incheon United).
Forwards: Kim Shin-wook (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Hwang Hee-chan (Red Bull Salzburg).
Projected lineup (4-4-2): Kim Seung-gyu; Lee Yong, Kim Young-gwon, Jang Hyun-soo, Kim Jin-su; Kwon Chang-hoon, Park Joo-ho, Ki Sung-yeung, Lee Jae-sung; Son Heung-min, Hwang Hee-chan.
The group’s Asian contingent is several steps below Sweden, who is steps below Mexico, who is steps below Germany. So, playing tough in all matches so as not to get blown out is the best they can hope for.
Germany will want to upstage Brazil and get their chance to set the tone for pre-cup favorite wins as they play on the same day as their potential finals rivals, but three hours earlier. Germany will want to make a statement but Mexico, whose A team lost to Low’s B team at the Confederations Cup will not allow a blowout. Germany will win by one or two goals at most. Sweden will see beating their Asian opponents as their one chance to shine and they will make the best of it winning an ugly affair by just enough. Mexico will bounce back from their loss with a convincing win over South Korea and Germany will beat Sweden convincingly. Mexico will play their best group game against Sweden and get the win that pulls them through. Germany will pad their team and player scoring stats with a devastation of South Korea.
Special thanks to: Fox Soccer, Univision Deportes, Telemundo, BeIn Sports, and ESPN en Espanol television networks and YouTube for live feeds and replays of games and plays; Getty Images, for photos; BBC Sport-Football, Yahoo Sports, ESPN FC, SI Planet Futbol, FIFA.com, Live Soccer TV, Wikipedia, and Marca.com websites, for regularly updated, published information (such as the latest team rosters featured in these previews); and World Soccer, Four-Four-Two, and ESPN magazines, and The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Telegraph newspapers, for news and commentary to draw from for this coverage.