World Cup

How this year’s World Cup will shake out

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world, watched by millions of people from all corners of the globe. The final of last year’s UEFA Champions League – a tournament involving the top soccer clubs from the best European leagues – had a viewership of more than 180 million. The most recent World Cup final in 2014 took place in Rio de Janiero, and involved a combined in-and-out of home audience of over a billion viewers.

This year’s event, which begins on June 14, is the pinnacle of sport. Only one nation from the 32 qualifiers can raise the trophy and I will now endeavor to predict who that will be, thanks to the assistance of my longtime best friend, Coach Peet, who has taken many of our developmental youth clubs abroad for international competitions.

First, let’s take a look at the Group Stage where the 32 teams have been split into eight groups of four. Each nation will play the other teams in their group once in a round robin format. Nations that finish first or second in each group will advance.

While I don’t see too many surprises in the group stage, a couple of interesting narratives arose as I filled in my brackets at fifaworldcuppredictor@easports.com In Group A, I have host team Russia narrowly edging out striker extraordinaire Mohamed Salah and his fellow Egyptians and advancing to the Round of 16 while finishing second — well behind the group favorite, Uruguay. In Group D, I foresee a surprising amount of drama and heartbreak as I have the great Lionel Messi’s Argentine squad finishing third behind a Croatian team led by his rival from the Spanish league, Luka Modric, and (here’s my shocker) also finishing behind tiny Iceland, darlings of the Euro 2016 competition when they shocked the world by upsetting England.

But perhaps my craziest prediction from this opening round of the tournament is the elimination of Mexico, as my final standings from Group F show Sweden edging out El Tricolor by the slimmest of margins. As three points are awarded for a victory and one point for a draw, I foresee both countries finishing with four points as they both lose to the mighty Germans and draw with each other. And I don’t see the first tie-breaker separating them as both will have scored one more goal than they concede. I believe second tiebreaker, total goals scored, will decide that Sweden advances as they will find the net five times compared to Mexico’s three.

In the “Round of 16” or what is known as the first knockout stage I predict a couple of surprising results but, for the most part, the tournament favorites, Germany, France, Brazil and Spain, will all advance and be one of the eight teams in the quarterfinals. Brazil, re-focusing after their embarrassing performance four years ago, will dominate Sweden as they look to erase the ghosts of 2014. This should be the end of the tournament for my favorite longshot, 200 to 1, Iceland as they’ll have to play a talent laden French side.

Two of the sport’s most recognizable faces will clash in my projections for this round when Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo squares off against Uruguay’s Luis “The Vampire” Suarez. I’m calling for a 2-1 result in favor of the South American side. Maybe not a true upset, as Ronaldo’s teammates are not in his class. For a true upset how about Colombia knocking off the consistently disappointing English team in a penalty-kick shootout.

In the quarterfinals I see Brazil’s quest for redemption ending with their matchup versus Belgium’s two world class midfielders, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard. I also see both France and Germany maintaining European dominance in the quarterfinals, defeating Uruguay and Colombia respectively. And even though Croatia will have fought mightily to get this far, I predict their fairy tale comes to an end with a tough 1-0 loss to Spain.

I have the semi-finals as an all-European affair where the quality of the talent on display will make for some highly entertaining matches. As it may be the last chance for Belgium’s “Golden Generation,” look for their brilliant midfielders to be the difference as they prevail 2-1 over archrival France.

Germany’s poise and focus in the crucial moments will show itself as they will wear down Spain in a classic match. The 2010 winners will fall to the 2014 champions by a 3-1 score as Die Mannschaft blitz their way into the final.

Unsurprisingly, my predicted final will be an extremely tight one but, once again, the relentless Germans will outlast the Belgians. It will take an extra 30 minutes of overtime however, as the Deutschlanders will notch two scores – one by the ageless Thomas Muller – and triumph by a 3-1 final.

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Glen Walker is the former manager of a Las Vegas sports book and a member of ‘The Gang That Beat Las Vegas.’

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