The wait is almost over! We are now under 30 days until footballs greatest and possibly sports greatest competition kicks off. Fans from around the globe plan their trips, buying new TVs, arranging their holidays, setting dates with their friends and many more other rituals in order to experience fully the FIFA World Cup 2018 which will be hosted by Russia. Moscow awaits and all preparation is almost done. Fan zones, hotels, restaurants, pubs, squares, subway and railway stations are eagerly anticipating the sea of supporters and tourist who will be part of the carnival of football. It’s fair to say that for almost a month, the whole world will be part of the show, no matter where the drama will catch you. Let’s dust ourselves down and see what we can expect. Enjoy the guide WhaleBets team prepared for you and get into the groove for the Russian party in June 2018.
FIFA World Cup 2018 Groups
In the first group, which is going to give us the opening game of the tournament we find the hosts – Russia, along with Mo Salah’s Egypt, strong Uruguay side with Luis Suarez and Edi Cavani, and the outsiders from Saudi Arabia.
The hosts qualified without having the need to go through qualifying campaign and will participate in their 10th World Cup. Being a top seeds in their group and having the expectations of a home nation, the Russians will be certainly looking at least to get beyond the group stage. By doing so, they must start with a win against Saudi Arabia at the opening game of the tournament. Led by the former goalkeeper Stanislav Cherchesov, the squad is revamping after a series of not so spectacular performances in the past few tournaments having being managed by the likes of Fabio Capello, Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat.
Saudi Arabia on another side, having being ranked 2 places above Russia in the FIFA rankings, the Arabs will be looking to cause a surprise at the start and possibly seek for some other points in their two remaining fixtures in order to have a chance of progressing. If they do reach the knockout stages, they will equal their best performance – from 1994 WC. Saudi Arabia has new manager in Juan Antonio Pizzi, who failed to qualify with Chile for the tournament but have managed to win Copa America with them 2 years ago. Saudi Arabia qualified for the tournament ending 12 years absence and will much likely to depend on the performance of their 16 goals dynamic forward Mohammad Al-Sahlawi. The battle is set to be between the South American side Uruguay and Egypt, who are relying mainly on their sensational Mohamed Salah. It’s yet to be seen whether the Liverpool goalscoring hero will be burned out following 30+ goals season for the Merseyside club. The hype in his homeland is great, but whether he can continue carry on dragging the whole nation will be a big task. Uruguay reached the Round of 16 in the last World Cup marred with Luis Suarez biting saga and will they will be looking towards the knockout stages as well and if they end up avoiding such negative shadow of their impressive generation, surely one of the most footballing nations will be more than happy.
Group B is with two of strong favorites to win the tournament representing the European nations. The iconic Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal National Team to a famous European Championship win in 2016 and the same generation will be looking to repeat the same heroics in Russia too. The achievement was already done by Spain and their history making generation of Xavi, Iniesta, David Villa and co. Much of the Portugal run depends on their first game – the mouth-watering clash with Spain in Sochi on 15 June. Russia is giving familiar territory to Portugal, where Fernando Santos’s side won 3rd place at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. Many of the Portugal and Spain legends are set to feature in what appears to be their last World Cup – Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, Ricardo Quaresma and others. Iran on their side, were the 3rd nation to qualify for the tournament after hosts Russia and firm favorites Brazil. Their side is depending much on Sardar Azmoun goals, as the 22-old striker who is playing in Rubin Kazan in Russia, scored 11 goals in the qualifying. Iran are performing great defensively and currently are managed by Carlos Queiroz (ex-Real Madrid and Portugal national team coach).
Morocco also went unbeaten during the CAF qualifying campaign and did not concede a goal across their six matches. More impressively they knocked out Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon and Mali. If the African side is to reach the next phase, they must make some great upsets against European favorites. Mbark Boussoufa, Karim El Ahmadi, Nordin Amrabat, Aziz Bouhaddouz, Nabil Dirar, Manuel da Costa and Medhi Benatia – all on the wrong side of 30, and it will be intriguing to see how well they can chase a game against Portugal or Spain if they fall behind.
France is another favorite which is expected to deliver on the tournament in Russia. Didier Deschamps is a man with many selection headaches as the young talent Les Bleus are possessing is really scary. With the exception of a few select positions, notably left-back and right-back, Deschamps has an enviable array of proven star quality or exceptional promise to choose from. They impressed during qualifying campaign and failed to lose a game in group with Sweden and the Netherlands.
Aiming to reach the knockout stages will be Denmark who must be thankful for their creative maestro Christian Eriksen. The Tottenham star was the main man in the Playoff win against Republic of Ireland and his goals and assist should be crucial. Socceroos with their new manager Bert van Marwijk are facing a real battle on their hands. Their talismanic attacker Tim Cahill is going to feature in his last World Cup being 40 years old. Mile Jedinak and Aaron Mooy will be crucial with their experience from the English football as Australia will be looking to stay strong defensively and prove hard to break down by their opponents. Peru upset the odds by qualifying to the tournament in stead of Chile, who were South American champions in the last Coppa America. La Blanquirroja are returning to the World Cup after 36-year absence and their qualifying campaign was marred with fielding ineligible players, points deduction etc., nut now Ricardo Gareca’s side are more than confident of progressing to next round. Guerrero and Jefferson Farfan are the star players to look forward to.
Leo Messi’s Argentina is facing relatively tough group having to play 2 of most well performing sides from the European qualifying stage and the promising Nigerian side. The Barcelona star man is trying to escape the shadow of the failure to win silverware with his home nation, having won everything on club level. Besides having the best player in the whole world, Argentina boast a number of other offensive players who are able to disrupt opponents with ease. Even though they are part of the group that has been harshly criticized after their losses in the finals, the credentials of players such as Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, just to name some forwards who excel in Europe, are undeniable. If they are on and if they finally understand how to play around Messi, the Albiceleste should feel enthusiastic.
The rise of the Iceland was confirmed by their strong performance in the qualifiers. Iceland and Croatia have met on six occasions in World Cup qualifying in the last eight years. The Croatians have the better of the head-to-head, with four wins from those games, but the Icelanders have the fonder memories of the most recent encounter, which they won 1-0 in June 2017. The Croatians will recall the spirit of 1998 where they finished 3rd thanks to Davor Suker and co. and now the generation of Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric will be looking to deliver on the biggest stage. Nigeria appeared in the knockout stages of the tournament in 2014 where they were eliminated from France in Brazil in 2014. There’s on-field strength across the park, with every area apart from goalkeeper and arguably centre-forward stocked with options. However, perhaps the Super Eagles’ key asset is the unity, morale and belief of this group of players.
Bookies favorites Brazil will be looking to win their group and the possible meeting with Germany in the next round. Tite’s side have plenty of strengths in disposal, but the fitness level of their star player Neymar is set to be determined. Celesao were the 2nd team to qualify for the tournament after hosts Russia, after they 3-0 win against Paraguay on 28 March 2017. The shadow of the 7-1 humiliation will hang over the South Americans, but now the mixture between upcoming young talent and experience in the likes of Dani Alves, Marcelo and Thiago Silva is looking really strong on paper. This is a team that knows how to pass the ball, how to attack and also how to defend. There are familiar faces (Dani Alves and Marcelo), new assets (Casemiro and Gabriel Alves) and athletes who have emerged across the European soccer scene (Philippe Coutinho and Willian).
Led by Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka the Swiss won against reigning Euro champions Portugal in the opening stages of their qualification group but were forced to go through the Play-off battle with Northern Ireland. Shaqiri, who would do his hopes of joining a bigger club next season no harm with a strong World Cup display, could hold the key to a successful tournament. Switzerland’s second game, against Serbia, already has a “showdown” sort of feel to it. The Serbians finally managed to qualify for a major tournament having being left out in recent years. Qualifying in such serene fashion had seemed a tall order at the outset, though, with Wales and the Republic of Ireland joining the Austrians in the group. Nemaja Matic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic provide strength in midfield as Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksandar Kolarov experience can be crucial as well. If Costa Rica repeat their heroics from last tournament, then Switzerland and Serbia are in big trouble. The underdogs qualified from a group with Uruguay, England and Italy, so Oscar Ramirez and his squad must not be ruled out easily. Keylor Navas, without question is their star player. Real Madrid’s keeper is also the leader of the Costa Rican side, and any shot at advancing out of the group stage will be tied to his performances. A good showing in the Champions League final with Real could result in some momentum.
While nothing can be taken for granted at the World Cup, four-time world champions and current FIFA Confederations Cup holders Germany are widely expected to top this group. That means that this duel between Mexico and Sweden could play a vital role in determining who secures the second Round of 16 spot – although Korea Republic will also be keen to have a say in the matter. Germany met last year Mexico in FIFA Confederations Cup semi-final and provided too strong test for the North Americans, winning 4-1. The Germans have depth in all areas, but fitness of Manuel Neuer is yet to be checked because the Bayern Munich stopper missed almost the entire season trough injury.
Sweden also played against Germany recently, having met Low’s side in their qualifying matches. Both games were a real classics – 4-4 and 5-3. Main question for Sweden was and will be – is there a place for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the squad or should the coaching staff put faith in the players who dumped out Italy in the Play-offs. Mexico draws strength from its defense, displayed in all its glory during a Hexagonal round in which it allowed just seven goals. In attack, Hirving Lozano and Carlos Vela are having solid seasons with their respective clubs. Both could be key to the Mexicans hopes of reaching the quarterfinal round. South Korea adds extra spice to this group and their main man Son Heung-Min from Tottenham will have to rely on his experience in playing in German Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen if he is to lead his country to the knockout stages.
Two of Europe’s hottest teams currently England and Belgium are meeting in Group G. Here we can find Tunisia which is returning to the World Cup for the first time for the last 12 years and Panama – one of the two debutants (alongside Iceland). Anything else than Belgium and England progressing should be considered a major shock. The wealth in all areas for Belgium and England is commonly known, but it’s to be seen whether Belgium’s Golden Generation and much demanding English nation can make major impact on yet another big tournament. The Red Devils secured their place in Russia 2018 long before the final fixture as they dropped only 2 points and scored 43 goals. Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard starred with 17 goals in total between them. Roberto Martinez can pick a truly magnificent and experienced world-class lineup in every department, meaning that plenty of quality is in all areas.
England also possess all the tools to be one of the fastest, strongest and most athletic teams on the tournament. The ever-demanding expectations over the shoulders of the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and co. is long gone. The English fans must expect their young side to develop and improve, but without that meaning winning the tournament at any costs. Raising the expectations could be crucial and could harm the whole campaign for the Three Lions. The main striking threat will naturally come from the newly-elected captain Harry Kane – an all-round front-man with the intelligence to provide a reference point for an entire attack and make his teammates better. There are shades of both Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham in Kane’s game and if he hits form, the Tottenham star can make England a threat to anyone. Panama shocked everyone when they qualified for the World Cup with rather controversial goal against Costa Rica, but their participation could be foundation for the future development of the game in the Caribbean country. Tunisia led by their former international player Nabil Maaloul will be looking to upset their rivals with solid defense and team spirit, knowing that there are no major star players in the North African side.
Group H sees an interesting blend between teams from 4 different continents and probably Colombia and Poland must be considered as early favorites to reach the knockout stages. Poland led by their iconic Robert Lewandowski who finished European qualifying’s top scorer and some experienced head in Krychowiak, Glik, Piszczek and mixed with the young and upcoming talent, could soon emulated the legendary Polish teams from 70’s and 80’s.
Poland impressed during the last European championship and reached Last 8 only to lose on penalties. Nothing less than knockout stages could be considered as failure and much depends on the games against the tricky Japan and Senegal teams. Senegal also have a man in form – Sadio Mane. The Liverpool winger was in the heart of great attacking threat that led Jurgen Klopp’s side to UEFA Champions League final. Senegal qualified unbeaten from CAF’s Group D after taking 14 points from their six matches, winning four and scoring 10 goals. The former player Aliou Cisse, now managing the squad, must expect more players to shine rather than just relying on Mane.
It’s clear that Colombia has the players to compete against the very best. They have players used to playing in the top European leagues at every position, led by James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao. The Bayern Munich No.10 finished top scorer at the 2014 World Cup and arrives in Russia in top shape; he’s already one of the tournament’s favorites to score the most goals. Falcao also has high personal expectations for this tournament after missing the last World Cup through injury. Japan meanwhile have a generation which will feature on 3rd World cup in a row and will have the experience on their side. Keisuke Honda, Yuto Nagatomo, Shinji Okazaki and captain Makoto Hasebe all played in 2010 and 2014 and it will be up to them to give the team the much-needed lift behind the scenes after a difficult lead-in to the finals.
FIFA World Cup 2018 Stadiums
The 65 matches of the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia is going to be played on 12 venues across 10 cities. The 21st major footballing forum is returning to Europe after previous finals being played in Brazil 4 years ago. The host cities are in or just outside European Russia, aiming to reduce travel time for the teams in the huge country. 9 of the stadiums are brand new and 3 of them are being extensively renovated. The total amount of funds spent by the host nation is going to be more than $11.8 billion for the organization of the tournament. Biggest stadiums of course are going to be used most and 4 of the newest stadiums will host only 4 games each and will no have knockout contest being played at. So lets take a look on the stadiums and see what we can expect:
Luzhniki Stadium – Moscow
- Capacity: 81 000
- Opened: 1956
- 14 June 2018 18:00 – Russia vs Saudi Arabia – Group A
- 17 June 2018 18:00 – Germany vs Mexico – Group F
- 20 June 2018 15:00 – Portugal vs Morocco – Group B
- 26 June 2018 17:00 – Denmark vs France – Group C
- 1 July 2018 17:00 – 1B vs 2A – Round of 16
- 11 July 2018 21:00 – W59 vs W60 – Semi Final
- 15 July 2018 18:00 – W61 vs W62 – Final
Otkritie Arena (Spartak stadium) – Moscow
- Capacity: 42 000
- Opened: 2014
- 16 June 2018 16:00 – Argentina vs Iceland – Group D
- 19 June 2018 15:00 – Poland vs Senegal – Group H
- 23 June 2018 15:00 – Belgium vs Tunisia – Group B
- 26 June 2018 17:00 – Serbia vs Brazil – Group C
- 3 July 2018 21:00 – 1H vs 2G – Round of 16
Krestovsky Stadium – Saint Petersburg
- Capacity: 67 000
- Opened: 2017
- 15 June 2018 17:00 – Morocco vs Iran – Group B
- 19 June 2018 21:00 – Russia vs Egypt – Group A
- 22 June 2018 15:00 – Brazil vs Costa Rica – Group E
- 26 June 2018 21:00 – Nigeria vs Argentina – Group D
- 3 July 2018 17:00 – 1F vs 2E – Round of 16
- 10 July 2018 21:00 – W57 vs W58 – Semi Final
- 14 July 2018 17:00 – L61 vs L62 – Third Place
First Olympic Stadium – Sochi
- Capacity: 48 000
- Opened: 2013
- 15 June 2018 21:00 – Portugal vs Spain – Group B
- 18 June 2018 18:00 – Belgium vs Panama – Group G
- 23 June 2018 18:00 – Germany vs Sweden – Group F
- 26 June 2018 17:00 – Australia vs Peru – Group C
- 30 June 2018 21:00 – 1A vs 2B – Round of 16
- 7 July 2018 21:00 – W51 vs W52 – Quarter Final
Cosmos Arena – Samara
- Capacity: 45 000
- Opened: 2013
- 17 June 2018 16:00 – Costa Rica vs Serbia – Group E
- 21 June 2018 19:00 – Denmark vs Australia – Group C
- 25 June 2018 18:00 – Uruguay vs Russia – Group A
- 28 June 2018 18:00 – Senegal vs Colombia – Group H
- 2 July 2018 18:00 – 1E vs 2F – Round of 16
- 7 July 2018 18:00 – W55 vs W56 – Quarter Final
Kazan Arena – Kazan
- Capacity: 45 000
- Opened: 2013
- 16 June 2018 13:00 – France vs Australia – Group C
- 20 June 2018 21:00 – Iran vs Spain – Group B
- 24 June 2018 21:00 – Poland vs Colombia – Group H
- 27 June 2018 17:00 – Korea Republic vs Germany – Group F
- 30 June 2018 17:00 – 1C vs 2D – Round of 16
- 6 July 2018 21:00 – W53 vs W54 – Quarter Final
Rostov Arena – Rostov-on-Don
- Capacity: 45 000
- Opened: 2018
- 17 June 2018 21:00 – Brazil vs Switzerland – Group E
- 20 June 2018 18:00 – Uruguay vs Saudi Arabia – Group A
- 23 June 2018 21:00 – Korea Republic vs Mexico – Group F
- 26 June 2018 21:00 – Iceland vs Croatia – Group D
- 2 July 2018 21:00 – 1G vs 2H – Round of 16
Volgograd Arena – Volgograd
- Capacity: 45 000
- Opened: 2018
- 18 June 2018 21:00 – Tunisia vs England – Group G
- 22 June 2018 18:00 – Nigeria vs Iceland – Group D
- 25 June 2018 17:00 – Saudi Arabia vs Egypt – Group A
- 28 June 2018 17:00 – Japan vs Poland – Group H
Nizhny Novgorod Stadium – Nizhny Novgorod
- Capacity: 45 000
- Opened: 2018
- 18 June 2018 15:00 – Sweden vs Korea Republic – Group F
- 21 June 2018 21:00 – Argentina vs Croatia – Group D
- 24 June 2018 15:00 – England vs Panama – Group G
- 27 June 2018 21:00 – Switzerland vs Costa Rica – Group E
- 1 July 2018 21:00 – 1D vs 2C – Round of 16
- 6 July 2018 17:00 – W49 vs W50 – Quarter Final
Mordovia Arena – Saransk
- Capacity: 45 000
- Opened: 2018
- 16 June 2018 19:00 – Peru vs Denmark – Group C
- 19 June 2018 18:00 – Colombia vs Japan – Group H
- 25 June 2018 21:00 – Iran vs Portugal – Group B
- 28 June 2018 21:00 – Panama vs Tunisia – Group G
Central Stadium – Yekaterinburg
- Capacity: 36 000
- Opened: 1957
- 15 June 2018 17:00 – Egypt vs Uruguay – Group A
- 21 June 2018 17:00 – France vs Peru – Group C
- 24 June 2018 20:00 – Japan vs Senegal – Group H
- 27 June 2018 19:00 – Mexico vs Sweden – Group F
Kaliningrad Stadium – Kaliningrad
- Capacity: 36 000
- Opened: 2018
- 16 June 2018 21:00 – Croatia vs Nigeria – Group D
- 22 June 2018 20:00 – Serbia vs Switzerland – Group E
- 25 June 2018 20:00 – Spain vs Morocco – Group B
- 28 June 2018 20:00 – England vs Belgium – Group G
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