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, F, and G) 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: Colombia, Poland, Senegal, and Japan.
The Group winner will play second placed team of Group G, the second placed team will play the winner of Group G. Projection: 1—Colombia, 2—Senegal.
Squad—Coach: Jose Pekerman, Captain: Radamel Falcao (F), Top players: James Rodriguez (M), Davinson Sanchez (D), Juan Cuadrado (M), Falcao
Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Arsenal), Camilo Vargas (Deportivo Cali), Jose Fernando Cuadrado (Once Caldas).
Defenders: Cristian Zapata (Milan), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Oscar Murillo (Pachuca), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors), Johan Mojica (Girona), Yerry Mina (Barcelona).
Midfielders: Wílmar Barrios (Boca Juniors), Carlos Sanchez (Espanyol), Jefferson Lerma (Levante), Jose Izquierdo (Brighton), James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich), Abel Aguilar (Deportivo Cali), Mateus Uribe (America), Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus).
Forwards: Radamel Falcao (Monaco), Miguel Borja (Palmeiras), Carlos Bacca (Villarreal), Luis Fernando Muriel (Sevilla).
Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): David Ospina; Santiago Arias, Yerry Mina, Davinson Sanchez, Frank Fabra; Abel Aguilar, Carlos Sanchez; Juan Cuadrado, James Rodriguez, Luis Muriel; Radamel Falcao.
Falcao sorely missed playing a World Cup in his home continent and will be ready to play catch up in Russia—this does not bode well for opposing defenses. James will team up with Falcao, Cuadrado, Bacca, and Muriel to provide one of the cups most inventive and potent offenses. Their defense with Mina resurgent, and Zapata and Sanchez coming off solid seasons, is also a strong point. If they click as they can no one in this group can compare and the Colombians will move on in first place.
Squad—Coach: Adam Nawalka, Captain: Robert Lewandowski (F), Top players: Lewandowski, Piotr Zielinski (M), Kamil Glik (D), Arkadiusz Milik (F), Wojciech Szczesny (G)
Goalkeepers: Bartosz Bialkowski (Ipswich), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City), Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus).
Defenders: Jan Bednarek (Southampton), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Thiago Cionek (SPAL), Kamil Glik (Monaco), Artur Jedrzejczyk (Legia Warsaw), Michal Pazdan (Legia Warsaw), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund).
Midfielders: Jakub Blaszczykowski (Wolfsburg), Jacek Goralski (Ludogorets Razgrad), Kamil Grosicki (Hull City), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Paris St-Germain), Rafal Kurzawa (Gornik Zabrze), Karol Linetty (Sampdoria), Slawomir Peszko (Lechnia Gdansk), Maciej Rybus (Lokomotiv Moscow), Piotr Zielinski (Napoli).
Forwards: Dawid Kownacki (Sampdoria), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Arkadiusz Milik (Napoli), Lukasz Teodorczyk (Anderlecht).
Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): Wojciech Szczesny; Lukasz Piszczek, Kamil Glik, Michal Pazdan, Maciej Rybus; Grzegorz Krychowiak, Karol Linetty; Jakub Blaszczykowski, Piotr Zielinski, Kamil Grosicki; Robert Lewandowski
Poland depends on Lewandowski having a great tourney to progress and the group’s African competition will be just the team to show them how one dimintional they are. Though the team has a shot at the second slot they will have to prove their mettle and play better than Senegal to get there. That will prove difficult.
Squad—Coach: Aliou Cisse, Captain: Cheikhou Kouyate (M), Top players: Sadio Mane (F), Kalidou Koulibaly (D), Idrissa Gueye (M), Keita Balde Diao (F)
Goalkeepers: Khadim N’Diaye (Horoya AC), Abdoulaye Diallo (Rennes), Alfred Gomis (Torino).
Defenders: Kara Mbodji (Anderlecht), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Moussa Wague (Eupen), Saliou Ciss (Angers), Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux), Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor).
Midfielders: Badou Ndiaye (Stoke), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham), Cheikh N’Doye (Birmingham), Salif Sane (Hannover 96), Alfred N’Diaye (Villarreal).
Forwards: Moussa Sow (Bursaspor), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Keita Balde Diao (Monaco), Moussa Konate (Amiens), Ismaila Sarr (Rennes), Diafra Sakho (Rennes), Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke), M’Baye Niang (AC Milan).
Projected lineup (4-3-3): Khadim N’Diaye; Youssouf Sabaly, Kalidou Koulibaly, Salif Sane, Lamine Gassama; Cheikhou Kouyate, Idrissa Gueye, Alfred N’Diaye; Keita Balde Diao, Diafra Sakho, Sadio Mane.
The second African team with the goods to advance makes good and comes in second after Colombia on the backs of Sadio Mane, Koulibaly, Gueye and Diao who put in a comprehensive performance at just the right time.
Squad—Coach: Akira Nishino, Captain: Makoto Hasebe (M), Top players: Shinji Kagawa (M), Keisuke Honda (M), Maya Yoshida (D)
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Metz), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol).
Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray), Tomoaki Makino, Wataru Endo (both Urawa Reds), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Gen Shoji, Naomichi Ueda (both Kashima Antlers).
Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca), Takashi Inui (Eibar), Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin), Takashi Usami (Augsburg), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale).
Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester), Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz).
Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): Eiji Kawashima; Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Tomoaki Makino, Yuto Nagatomo; Makoto Hasebe, Hotaru Yamaguchi; Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Genki Haraguchi; Yuya Osako.
Japan is big in Asia but small in the World Cup. They are traditionally the whipping boy of any group they are in and unfortunately the other three teams seem stronger in most departments. They will be lucky to gain a point but should be able to score given their offensive strengths.
Colombia will set the tone for the group with an easy and goal-filled win over Japan. Poland will fall to a surprisingly hitting-on-all-cylinders Senegal with all of its stars playing as if they know this is their group’s key game. Senegal when then work a win over Japan while Colombia and Poland will slug out an eventual South American win. Poland will defeat Japan to make a statement—”we were here.” Senegal and Colombia will not feel the need to go after each other and if cooler heads prevail this will be a fun to watch but meaningless and uneventful draw.
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.