What to watch for in the 2018 World Cup
Every four years, the world stops in its tracks. Political and organizational backdrop aside, the FIFA World Cup has the unique ability to make the reality of life move to the periphery. Each tournament is history, more drama than a soap opera, the absolute pinnacle of competition.
The 2018 World Cup hasn’t even started yet, and expectations have already been rocked. Perennial contenders Italy and Holland will not be represented in the event, an in-form Chile failed to qualify, and the United States lost to Trinidad and Tobago (the worst team in CONCACAF).
It is a truly eclectic field. Countries like Morocco, Egypt, Panama, Tunisia, and Peru are breaking monumental droughts away from the tournament. Russia is taking on Saudi Arabia as the opening match. Neighbors Spain and Portugal are pitted against each other to win their group.
The next month is going to be absolutely crazy. Here are just 10 storylines and conflicts to keep your eye on in the 2018 World Cup.
1. Luis Suarez
Suarez made his mark in 2014 – literally. After enormous hype, the Uruguayan forward lost his momentum after biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in a group stage game. This year, he’s playing in front of a solid midfield and will be looking to rewrite his place in international soccer.
2. Messi v Ronaldo
Who is the world’s greatest player? Whether it’s based on heart or statistics, millions have already backed one of these iconic players. Both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo hold scoring records, UEFA Champions League titles, La Liga titles – but the one thing neither has been able to attain yet is the FIFA World Cup. This tournament, a win by either Argentina or Portugal would secure one of these legends’ place in history.
3. Mohamad Salah
Mohamad Salah is in a race against the clock to recover from a shoulder injury before Egypt’s opening game this World Cup. Can the prolific Liverpool striker convalesce in time and carry his team through the tournament?
4. Paul Pogba
Pogba is a problem. For all his hype and talent, he often fails to live up to expectations – now, on the world’s largest stage, it will be up to him to truly make his presence known.
Despite a glut of talent, Argentina manages to self-sabotage every year. More troubling, the team saw three different coaches during a turbulent qualifying campaign. Will Aguero, Higuain, Dybala, and talisman Lionel Messi be able to improve upon last year?
I pity the rest of the teams in Group E. Brazil is young, hot, and angry – determined to forget their 2014 humiliation at the hands of Germany, the team blazed through their qualifying matches on the back of superstar Neymar. In an extensive simulation, Goldman Sachs AI has overwhelmingly predicted Brazil to win the entire tournament.
Very few nations have stronger lineups than France on paper. Griezmann, Pogba, Mbappe, Giroud, Matuidi, Kante – from front to back, this is indisputably a team designed to do damage. Coach Didier Deschamps has struggled to find the right formation and formula to get the most out of his players, however, and their performance in qualifying has been mercurial and sloppy at times.
It’s hard to defend a World Cup. Only two nations – Brazil and Italy – have ever won it back to back. That being said, Germany’s talent and depth is absolutely terrifying.
Iceland qualifying for the World Cup is like Bakersfield, California qualifying for the World Cup. It just shouldn’t happen. But it has, and the nation has made [sound]waves with their now infamous Viking Clap. Few doubt the tiny country can do much damage in their first ever World Cup, but the comradery and closeness of their community make it impossible to root against them.
Coming off a disastrous 2014 World Cup, Spain will be a serious threat this tournament. Aging talent has been reinforced with youth, and it will definitely be worth keeping an eye on new additions Isco and Marco Asensio. David Silva is also a force to be reckoned with.