One of the harsh truths of a tournament like the World Cup revolves around the unequal difficulty of the group draw during the round robin phase. Some sides face an easy path deep into knockout rounds because they avoid traditional favorites until the quarterfinals or semis. Every competition features a group of death, and the FIFA World Cup in Russia maintains this trend.
Group D happens to offer the toughest challenge during the 2018 World Cup, including Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria – all superb football clubs. One of these teams will face France to start the knockouts, a difficult prospect even for the mighty Messi. In some groups, a lack of competition gifts a contender an easy path through the knockouts, while other groups feature favorites who seem unlikely to live up to their potential.
World Cup Odds Courtesy of CSB.ca
Columbia (+4100) – Group H
After an intense qualifying process which witnessed Columbia clinch a World Cup spot at the latest possible juncture, this club was gifted a prime spot in the bottom on the table. Poland will provide the most significant test during the first month of Columbia’s journey. Senegal and Japan will require effort from the Columbians, but the talent level on paper clearly trends towards the South Americans.
A favorable draw in Group H will give James Rodriguez and the rest of the squad an opportunity to accelerate into the knockout rounds, which begin on June 30th. Belgium will be the team to beat out of Group G, a team with fantastic talent along with a history of underwhelming performances. England’s the other team likely to meet Columbia in the knockouts – another nation with dubious international credentials.
Naturally, a semi-finals with Germany or Brazil, the favorites in the bottom half of the group draw, will not favor Columbia. No club will admit to being happy with a potential top-four finish in the 2018 World Cup, but this would represent a superb result for any side in the tournament.
France (+622) – Group C
With all due respect to Australia, Denmark and Peru, France should breeze through the initial phase of the tournament. Already gifted a free goal by the Video Assistant Referee, the French sleepwalked past a gutsy Aussie side that deserved a draw. The Danes started well with a victory over the Peruvians, but France features an abundance of elite talent up front and in the midfield, far superior to the rest of Group C.
Perhaps more important, France will likely clash against a relatively weak Argentina during the first round of the knockout stages. Barely surviving the qualifying process, the Argentinians continued their inconsistent play during their 1-1 draw against Iceland. Since France has never defeated Argentina in World Cup play, a poor opening from their South American rivals bodes well for Les Bleus.
Croatia’s a fine team, featuring elite talent like Luka Modric, but the Croats have never defeated the French in FIFA or UEFA tournaments. Spain was supposed to provide the most difficult challenge for France, but the Spaniards fired their coach shortly before the World Cup commenced – the worst type of omen for any major sporting competition.
Uruguay (+2400) – Group A
Perhaps the most fortunate draw of any contender, Uruguay landed softly in porous Group A, which features Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran. After a solid, if sleepy, 1-0 victory over the Egyptian squad, Uruguay will attempt to best Russia’s 5-0 destruction of the Saudis, which would allow Suarez and mates to cake walk into top spot with a tie against the Russians.
Spain’s undefeated against Uruguay, but the aforementioned issues with the Spanish club could be the opening needed for the Uruguayan side to earn their first win over La Roja. Portugal and Uruguay have never met, and the talent level of the two sides isn’t too far off, with Ronaldo existing as the obvious game-breaker.
If Suarez avoids stupid behavior, he and Cavani could explode in the top half of the draw, becoming a problem for traditional powers like France and Argentina. If a strong defensive identity emerges from Uruguay, they’ll emerge as a superb sleeper pick partly due to the ease of competition in the first portion of the World Cup.
Portugal (+1600) – Group B
After a stunning 3-3 draw which featured an historic hat-trick from Ronaldo, Portugal’s completed the most difficult challenge of their first month in the World Cup. Morocco and Iran certainly won’t oust Portugal. If anything, the Portuguese will focus on outscoring their border rivals for the remainder of the group stage, an outstanding position to begin this tournament.
Group B will match up against Group A during the first part of the knockouts, which means that Portugal will face Uruguay in a worst case scenario for the round of 16. This excellent top-half draw and a recent Euro victory boosts the odds of a superb run from the Portuguese.
All teams eventually collide with a football power at some point, and Portugal could end up pairing off with France, Croatia or Argentina in the semis. However, an easy path to the quarters has opened after drawing with Spain. Barring a surprise, Ronaldo should have an opportunity to lead Portugal late into the tournament bracket.
Belgium (+800) – Group G
Will Belgium finally live up to their considerable talent on paper? Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Kevin De Bruyne form as fearsome a foursome you’ll find at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but they’ve underwhelmed at major tournaments over the last half-decade. They’ll only have themselves to blame if they fail to progress far, given the draw handed to them by FIFA.
Of all European contenders, Belgium enjoys the most plausible path the semi-finals, clearly the club to beat in the bottom quarter of the draw. England will be the most difficult team during the Group G round-robin. The first knockouts will likely involve Colombia or Poland, neither of whom represent World Cup favorites.
England’s notorious reputation for folding on the international scene bodes well for Belgium, along with the struggles experienced by Columbia during qualification. Germany or Brazil will be the likely semi-finalists out of Group E and F, and these heavyweights have started slowly in Russia. A strong World Cup for Belgium will be enabled by a relatively easy bracket.