And it Begins – Russia 2018 – Very average hosts and who is going to conquer the world?

So the World Cup 2018 is nearly upon us – expect my musings with the odd article here there as well daily predictions every match day. Also keep an eye on my guest blogs relating to England, there is already one up there for your perusal.

So to begin here are some initial thoughts on the host nation and my predictions as the winners.

LOW RUSSIAN STANDARD

In 2018, I wrote how Brazil were the most under pressure hosts in the history of the competition. Whilst Russia are not under as much scrutiny, there is an expectancy on the team in their home nation. They open the tournament against Saudi Arabia on Thursday (14th June), arguably the easiest possible game they could have drawn and lets be honest it gives them a fantastic opportunity to get their campaign off to a winning start, something they most desperately need as this is a very poor Russian team as we stand. Since failing to qualify from their group at Euro 2016, they have been playing friendly matches and whilst the clear objective is to be firing ready for the start of this World Cup, just 5 wins (Ghana, Romania, Hungary, New Zealand and South Korea) in the 20 international matches, including no victories in their last 7. Their last win was way back in October.

JUST GET OUT OF THAT GROUP

Being realistic, qualifying from their group will be seen as a success, anything less an embarrassment (just like it was in last years Confederations Cup). The problem they’ve got is that whilst the Saudi’s will be seen as cannon fodder, Uruguay and Egypt most certainly wont be. The hosts second match against the African opposition will be crucial for me. Hopefully already backed up with 3 points, another victory would then give them some real momentum going into their final match against Uruguay, potentially if results go their way they could head into that game already assured of qualification to the knockout phase. The fact that Egypt may well be missing their talisman, Mo Salah (or at least a Mo Salah not at the peak of his fitness) might be the tipping point in that game and maybe just maybe the bit of luck they need to at least give their fans something to shout about during the World Cup. We shall see.

For the record, I think Russia will start the World Cup with a bang and I reckon they will give their fans real hope with a 3-0 victory and I fancy, if he starts, Alan Dzagoev to get the first goal.

WINNER PREDICTION

In regards of my thoughts as to who may well win the tournament. For me it is very open and a number of teams will fancy their chances, my vote however goes to France. They have untold talent and have performed well in the last two major competitions. They made the last 8 in Brazil 2014 (losing to a much more experienced German side who went on to win the competition), then in their own back yard in Euro 2016 they got to the final but somewhat fluffed their lines a bit in losing to a determined Portugal team. I think those experiences will be used to go that one step further and win the competition. They have a reasonable group which they should top and then it will be about making sure they perform in the knockout matches, which I feel they will.

AN OUTSIDER TO CONSIDER

My outside tip are for a team I have already mentioned in Uruguay. With a solid defence marshalled by Diego Godin alongside his club teammate Jose Gimenez allied with a potent strike force of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, they can cause trouble to any team especially in tight matches. Their midfield is now much more durable with dynamism and not just full of hatchet men so they will be able to supply the ammunition for the front pair whilst the aforementioned central defensive duo keep it oh so tight at the back. They may not be the South American team most would expect to get the furthest but don’t be surprised if they are. I for one won’t be.

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