This is America – land of the free, home of the brave. It’s also the land of a team not qualified for the World Cup this summer. Watching the USMNT flop during qualifying was soul-crushing. However, I didn’t just wallow in self-pity and cry myself to sleep. I got off my ass, put in some honest work, and am now the proud owner of my very own soccer team. Just a small team called Manchester United, nbd. Shameless brag aside, they don’t just let anyone own a soccer team. You have to have a vast knowledge of everything soccer. That’s why I am happy to provide you with my expert opinion on how I think this USA-less World Cup group stage plays out.
Group A – Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
The host country kicks off the tournament on June 14th against Saudi Arabia. I’m casting my vote for most boring kickoff match of all time – let’s hope Russian bots can’t influence that election. Anyway, I’m predicting Russia to be the second host squad in the last 3 World Cups not to make it out of the group stage. If Luis Suárez can avoid biting anyone, Uruguay will finish at the top of this group. Shockingly, Mohamed Salah still doesn’t look tired after carrying Liverpool on his back all season. If he can make enough room for the entire country of Egypt as well, they should finish a close second.
Group B – Portugal, Spain, Morocco, IR Iran
After winning Euro 2016, Portugal will look to continue their success in International competition. With the best player in the game on their side, it’s hard to pick against them. Portugal finishes top of the group with no issues. Spain will look to redeem themselves after a disappointing ’14 World Cup. Their only true competition is their neighbor country, so they waltz out of the group with no problem.
Group C – France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
The French national team did what France is know for in the 2016 Euro final – waved the white flag. The favorite fell to a Portuguese team without CR7… embarrassing. However, I’d be stupid not to pick them to win this group with the amount of weapons they have. Moving on, if the tournament was based on team name alone, the Socceroos would win without question. But let’s be honest, Australia isn’t much of a threat on the pitch. With Christian Eriksen leading the squad, I’m picking Denmark to join France in the knockout stage.
Group D – Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
I love to entertain the age old debate: who’s better – Messi or Ronaldo? Well, this is an International competition, so there’s no doubt in my mind that Messi won’t show up. Luckily, the rest of the Argentina squad is solid, so they should move into the knockout stage with no major problems. Now, the rest of the group is interesting. I love what Iceland did in the Euros, and come on how cool is that Skol chant (it’s a shame what the Minnesota Vikings did to it). I just don’t see them replicating what they did in 2016. I’m predicting Croatia to join Argentina in the knockout round. With the likes of Ivan Rakitić, Luka Modrić, and Ivan Perišić commanding the middle of the park, its hard to pick against them.
Group E – Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Okay seriously, who was in charge of drawing these groups? I don’t know if any team in history will have an easier road to the knockout stage than Brazil does this year. If Switzerland can fight their natural instinct and stop being neutral all the time, then they could actually be a threat. That’s why I’m picking them to move on.
Group F – Germany, Mexico, Sweden, Korea Republic
A lot of experts are calling this the group of death, and to be honest I can’t say I disagree. The defending World Champions put out a squad that is even more intimidating than the one that helped them bring home the trophy in 2014. Manuel Neuer’s place in the squad is still up in the air, but Germany has a “next man up” mentality – with Marc-André ter Stegen being one of the best keepers in the world this season. I like Germany not only advance through this group, but to make a run at being back-to-back champs. I can tell you right now that a Swedish National team without Zlatan Ibrahimović will struggle. So between Mexico and Korea Republic, here’s what I’m thinking. – Mexico hits a wall, but they’re still a solid squad. They advance as well.
Group G – Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
On paper, Belgium has one of the strongest squads in the tournament. Seriously, they have some of the best talent in Europe – Hazard, De Bruyne, Mertens, Lukaku, Kompany, Courtois all on the same side. I’d be surprised if they even drop a point in this sorry ass group. But since I have to pick a team to join them, it’s going to be the three lions of England. After a disappointing appearance in Brazil in 2014, England may face a Revolutionary War on their own turf if they don’t show up this time around.
Group H – Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
The “last, but not least” group. Just kidding, there isn’t a single team in this group that is actually a threat to make a run. But, since I have to make a prediction – Poland and Colombia advance.
Stay tuned for my in-depth breakdown of the knockout stage – coming soon.