In theory England should beat Tunisia and Panama in their first two group matches in the World Cup which means the third fixture against Belgium will decide the group winners. If England qualify for the last 16 a winnable tie awaits which suggests England have a relatively easy route to the quarter-finals when a match could be decided by one mistake or piece of skill. However, with England in the World Cup the reality is often different.
Belgium are potential world champions but the belief is that when England meet them qualification for the next round will have been secured. However, a feasible scenario is that England draw against Tunisia and Panama and lose to Belgium so depart the World Cup before the business end of the tournament. In 2014 Costa Rica were seen as the whipping boys of England’s group that also involved Uruguay and Italy but in actual fact Costa Rica won the group.
Everybody in England seems to get carried away before a World Cup and then it all goes pear shaped. Expectations exceed the facts when England breeze through an easy qualifying group. It is a lot easier to qualify now but let’s not forget the teams that have fallen by the wayside. Italy and Holland won’t be playing in Russia next summer and the other three home nations have failed to qualify. England won’t win the World Cup but have at least a shout because they are playing in the tournament.
History shows that England lose to the first decent side they encounter. They usually scrape through the groups though 2014 was an exception. Dropped points in eminently winnable matches throw up one of the better sides early in the knockout stages. It might be on penalties after a plucky effort but England have not reached the last four of the World Cup since Italia 90. A quarter-finals place looks the limit of their achievements again this time.
It’s hard for a country to win a World Cup out of their own continent. Brazil and Germany are the only teams to do so and they are the first and second favourites to win the World Cup in 2018. Brazil have changed things since the debacle of losing to Germany 7-1 in the last four in their own country in 2014. A great deal of progress has been made in the last four years and the team are solid and confident. It would be ironic if Brazil won the first World Cup in Europe after hosting it and that could happen but the European superpowers are preferred.
Germany have a great depth of talent and could field three competitive teams. The manager has even more options than four years ago but the job is to find the most effective starting 11. There is an embarrassment of riches and the manager is spoilt for choice. Germany have the best potential squad but that does not equate to the best team and they could come up short this time. They are potential semi-finalists but at that stage confident opponents with a settled team could be their undoing.
Argentina are too dependent on Lionel Messi, Belgium have an unbalanced squad and Spain may struggle defensively so by a process of elimination that leaves France. Les Bleus can win the World Cup out of their own country for the first time. The tournament has come at the right time for a new generation of players allied to some wise old heads in the squad. France have great talents in key areas and are the ante post tips to win the 2018 World Cup.