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, E and F) 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: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England.
The Group winner will play second placed team of Group H, the second placed team will play the winner of Group H. Projection: 1—Belgium, 2—England, with caveats.
Squad—Coach: Roberto Martinez, Captain: Eden Hazard (F), Top players: Kevin De Bruyne (M), Hazard, Jan Vertonghen (D), Dries Mertens (F), Romelu Lukaku (F), Thibaut Courtois (G)
Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool).
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Vincent Kompany (Man-City), Thomas Meunier (PSG), Thomas Vermaelen (Barca), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham).
Midfielders: Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham), Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Youri Tielemans (Monaco), Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian).
Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea), Nacer Chadli (West Brom), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Dries Mertens (Napoli).
Projected lineup (3-4-2-1): Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen; Thomas Meunier, Kevin De Bruyne, Mousa Dembele, Yannick Carrasco; Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens; Romelu Lukaku.
Any team as talented as Belgium should move into the Group of 16 with ease and in this group it should be foregone conclusion. Only England offer any resistance and even they are no match.
Squad—Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez, Captain: Roman Torres (D), Top players: Jaime Penedo (G), Torres, Anibal Godoy (M)
Goalkeepers: Jose Calderon (Chorrillo), Jaime Penedo (Dinamo Bucharest), Alex Rodriguez (San Francisco).
Defenders: Felipe Baloy (Municipal CSD), Harold Cummings (San Jose Earthquakes), Erick Davis (Dunajska Streda), Fidel Escobar (San Miguelito), Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls), Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo), Luis Ovalle (Olimpia), Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders).
Midfielders: Jose Luis Rodriguez (Gent), Yoel Barcenas (Cafetaleros de Tapachula), Armando Cooper (Universidad de Chile), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes), Gabriel Gomez (Bucaramanga), Valentin Pimentel (Plaza Amador), Alberto Quintero (Universitario).
Forwards: Abdiel Arroyo (Alajuelense), Ismael Diaz (Deportivo La Coruna), Blas Perez (Municipal), Luis Tejada (Sports Boys), Gabriel Torres (CD Huachipato).
Projected lineup (5-4-1): Jaime Penedo; Michael Murillo, Felipe Baloy, Roman Torres, Fidel Escobar, Luis Ovalle; Armando Cooper, Gabriel Gomez, Anibal Godoy, Alberto Quintero; Gabriel Torres
First time participants Panama will be happy to play luck-out spoilers but will find that even Tunisia is too much for them to handle.
Squad—Coach: Nabil Maaloul, Captain: Aymen Mathlouthi (G), Top players: Wahbi Khazri (M)
Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab), Mouez Hassen (Nice), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Baten).
Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa), Dylan Bronn (Gent), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek).
Midfielders: Wahbi Khazri (Rennes), Anice Badri (Esperance), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Etoile Sportive du Sahel), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nasr), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier).
Forwards: Saifeddine Khaoui (Marseille), Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ettifaq), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Bassem Srarfi (Nice), Naim Sliti (Lille), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Ghaylen Chaaleli (Esperance).
Projected lineup (4-3-3): Aymen Mathlouthi; Hamdi Nagguez, Yassine Meriah, Syam Ben Youssef, Ali Maaloul; Ghailene Chaalali, Mohamed Amine Ben Amor, Ferjani Sassi; Naim Sliti, Ahmed Akaichi, Wahbi Khazri.
A good team with the misfortune to be paired with two better sides, Tunisia still has a chance to upset their European elders if either has a truly awful day at the office. The odds are historically better that England will be the one to falter and if they do Tunisia moves into that second slot.
Squad—Coach: Gareth Southgate, Captain: Harry Kane (F), Top players: Raheem Sterling (F), Kane, Kyle Walker (D)
Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Burnley).
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Harry Maguire (Leicester), Danny Rose (Tottenham), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Ashley Young (Manchester United).
Midfielders: Dele Alli, Eric Dier (both Tottenham), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea).
Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal).
Projected lineup (3-5-2): Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, Eric Dier, John Stones; Kieran Trippier, Jesse Lingard, Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli, Danny Rose; Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane.
With one of their most exciting squads in ages this team has the potential to make some noise. But, Belgium is much stronger and Tunisia will be a big test, so the team can only count on beating Panama, which won’t be enough to move on. So this will be another nail bitter for the Brits until that one Kane or Vardy strike puts a tea bag in each shaky cup.
Belgium will make mincemeat out of Panama in the first game of the group. Then, Tunisia and England will play the group’s decider and England will find a way through. Belgium will then beat Tunisia convincingly putting together good back to back matches. England will gain its Group of 16 slot with a laugher win over Panama. Tunisia will team the Isthmus dwellers a thing about the growth of global soccer and walk away with a win. Belgium and England will only play to a draw preferring to save themselves for the next meaningful match.
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.