On Friday, the World Cup draw was made in Russia which provided few stand out ties in an otherwise standard schedule.
England’s toughest tie in Group G will be against Roberto Martinez’ Belgium side, but they should come through against Tunisia and competition debutants Panama to qualify for the Round of 16. No doubt that Gareth Southgate was relieved to face Belgium, and consequently miss out on facing the likes of Germany, Brazil, France, Portugal and Argentina, for this part of the competition anyway.
Similarly, England were fortunate to bypass Denmark, Sweden and Senegal from Pot 3, and likewise Serbia, Nigeria, Japan or South Korea from Pot 4.
As a result of the draw, England will begin their World Cup campaign in Volgograd on June the 18th when they face Tunisia, before playing Panama six days later in Novgorod, and ending their World Cup group schedule four days after in Kaliningrad against Belgium. It is likely that the last game could be the one to decide who will finish in first or second place of the group.
In 21 games against Belgium, England have only lost once and have won on 15 occasions. But of course, Belgium probably have the best group of players in their history. With the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois, Belgium have a strong core of talented players.
Should England manage to qualify for their group, they will face the side who will finish 1st or 2nd in Group H, which looks to be one of the most unpredictable groups of the competition, although England will feel that they could beat any of the sides. Group H is made up of Pot 1 Poland, Colombia, Senegal and Japan. This group is one of two groups to only have one European side within it. Whilst all 4 sides have dangerous individual players, such as Robert Lewandowski, James Rodriguez, Sadio Mane or Shinji Kagawa, England should have the players to see them through these tasks.
If England were to win Group G ahead of Belgium, and overcome the relevant team in the Round of 16, then they could be expected to face Brazil in the Quarter-Final. The former hosts of the competition make up Group E, alongside Serbia, Switzerland and Costa Rica. Brazil will win that group quite comfortably, but it will be a battle for second place amongst the remaining 3 sides.
However Group F is a lot less predictable. Whilst Germany should find the group relatively comfortable, Mexico, Sweden and South Korea all have the potential to provide some scares. Mexico have qualified out of the group for the last 6 World Cups, dating back to 1990. The Swedish national team enhanced their reputation last month by overcoming Italy in the play-offs, forcing Buffon and his teammates to miss out on the World Cup for the first time in their history. The World Cup holders should still be dominant in Group F, but the Germans would probably have liked an easier draw.
But Argentina will feel aggrieved in Group D, having been handed the toughest group of the competition. They are up against Nigeria, who they have been drawn against in 5 of the African country’s 6 World Cup participations, and also Iceland who will participate in their first ever World Cup. But the sternest competition from Group D will be from Croatia, who arguably have the best central midfielder in the world in Luka Modric. Paired next to Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Rakitic, the three of them should be able to control games and provide Lionel Messi with serious worries about taking first spot.
Whoever comes second in Group D, will face the winners of Group C in the Round of 16, which is likely to be France. The Blues’ were drawn alongside Denmark, Peru and Australia, which is unlikely to provide any scares for the Didier Deschamps’ side. Christian Eriksen will be itching to participate in his first World Cup, but he will need to be in the form of his life if he is to inspire his team to match their previous best of reaching a World Cup Quarter-Final like in 1998.
Elsewhere, the draw threw out the best game of the Group Stage in Group B, where Portugal were drawn against Spain. The current European Champions will face the World Cup winners from 2010 in the first game of Group B. This is likely to be pivotal in deciding who will top the group, as Iran and Morocco will be easy games for the European sides.
Although winning the group will not be crucial in the short term for Spain or Portugal, as they will fancy their chances against any side in Group A, where Russia were drawn against Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Egypt. Even though the South American’s will have Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani, I wouldn’t expect Uruguay to overcome either Spain or Portugal in the Round of 16. Russia will be fancying their chances to get out of the group, but Mohamed Salah will be in inspired form to try and drag his country into the latter stages of the competition.
Group A: Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
Group C: France, Denmark, Peru, Australia
Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
Group G: England, Belgium, Tunisia, Panama
Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
(*) – bold indicates predicted progress to the Round of 16