The FIFA World Cup celebrates its 21st edition next year, when 32 teams head to Russia hoping to walk away with the famous gold trophy. With qualifying well underway, we’ve decided to look into crystal ball and come up with five predictions for the tournament…
1. England to disappoint (again)
Once again England are breezing through their qualifying campaign, despite some pretty embarrassing off-field headlines involving former manager Sam Allardyce. With Gareth Southgate now at the helm, England have chalked up four wins and a draw without conceding a goal and look like a surefire bet to be in Russia next summer. As we have learnt from past tournaments however, an impressive qualifying campaign doesn’t mean much when the tournament gets underway and if Euro 2016, when England crashed out to minnows Iceland, was anything to go by, we can probably expect England to underwhelm their fans yet again. If the team can get to grips with Southgate’s new system and Dele Alli remains fit for the tournament, England could potentially reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2006, but don’t expect them to get much further.
2. Brazil back to their best
Slowly but surely, Brazilian football looks to be recovering. The five-time champions have already qualified for the tournament, despite the fact that they still have four games left to play. During their qualifying campaign they have chalked up some impressive wins, including a 3-0 victory over Argentina and a 4-1 away drubbing of Columbia. In Neymar they have one of the best players in the world and a leader they can rely upon, and if they can get everyone else on song when the tournament arrives, you can expect them to bury the painful memory of that semi-final against Germany in 2014.
3. Ronaldo’s swansong
Cristiano Ronaldo will be 33 by the time next summer comes around, so it’s safe to assume that this could be the World Player of the Year’s final World Cup. The Portugal captain dragged his team to victory at Euro 2016, doing everything from scoring vital goals to convincing Joao Moutinho to take a penalty when he didn’t fancy it. When injury forced Ronaldo from the field early on in the final, he was on the touchline yelling instructions to his team-mates, willing them to victory. Although some have said Portugal may find it tough going in Russia, if last summer proved anything it was that you can never write Ronaldo and company off. With some impressive youngsters and a strong team ethic, we’re backing the European champions to be among the final few teams still standing at the business end of the tournament.
4. Failure at home?
Traditionally, the World Cup hosts usually receive a bit of a boost thanks to their home fans. It also helps that the host nation are placed in the first pot of the draw, ensuring they avoid some of the favourites in the group stage. All of this may not be enough, however, for a Russian team that is seriously lacking in pace and invention. During Euro 2016 they were slow and laborious, losing 2-1 to Slovakia and 3-0 to Wales on their way to being dumped out in the group stage. This year they host the Confederations Cup which will see them take on Portugal, Mexico and New Zealand in the first round. If they fail in 2017, you can expect much of the same next year.
5. Germany to go far
There are very few bankers when it comes to teams at the World Cup, but Germany are definitely one of them. They have placed third or better at every World Cup since 2002, going all the way and winning it last time around. With Marco Reus, Julian Draxler and Mesut Ozil comprising an intimidating attacking midfield trio, if everyone is fit in Russia, Germany could be hard to stop. Keep your eye out for Julian Weigl too, the Dortmund midfielder has world-class written all over him and by the time the tournament gets underway, he could prove to be a serious challenger for Sami Khedira’s spot.
For more information on next year’s tournament, make sure you check out the Betting Gods World Cup 2018 preview where you’ll find everything you need to know for Russia 2018.