A World Cup to remember...

2018 FIFA World Cup Preview

We take a look at the four countries still in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. From our writers that predicted the winner of the tournament, just Benedict Ngwenya and Banele Pikwa – who both backed France at 13/2 – are still standing tall, while heavyweights Argentina, Brazil and Spain have all let our other analysts down. It’s been a fascinating World Cup that has seen last edition’s champions Germany not only fail to progress from their group but finish dead last, while hosts Russia – who were the lowest-ranked team in tournament – reached the quarter-finals, losing to Croatia on penalties. The remaining four teams in Russia are France, Belgium, England and Croatia – a final four few would have seen coming. 



France – France are currently favourites to win the 2018 World Cup (at the time of writing) and coach Didier Deschamps will be desperate to get his hands on the trophy for the second time, having captained the World Cup winning French team of 1998. Les Bleus are the most experienced team from the remaining four nations and if they’re able to get past Belgium in the semis, they’ll fancy their chances of going all the way. Deschamps’ men haven’t been breathtaking, but they’re doing what other successful teams at the World Cup have done, namely get stronger with each game and against progressively better opponents. Kylian Mbappe has been the star performer in Deschamps’ side while we’ve yet to see the best of Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Antoine Griezmann and goal-shy Oliver Giroud – Deschamps will need all of his players to come to the party.

The FIFA World Cup, litten up by a boy

With all the high-profile superstars underperforming for France, Golden Boy, Mbappe, has stepped up when his nation needed him most. Whether the 19-year old bows out in the semi-finals or not, he can keep his head held high after lighting up the World Cup in the knockout stages.

It has taken two long years and a FIFA World Cup for Mbappe to truly put to bed the debate on whether he was worth the hefty fee that Paris Saint-Germain agreed on paying for him. Now, it seems that he may have played his socks out for a move to Real Madrid. All speculation for now, with Mbappe still enjoying his time in Russia, but you get the feeling that the teenager could be scooped up after his heroics with France, even more so should they go on to win the tournament.

Belgium – Although France are the favourites to win, this has been a World Cup for the underdogs and Belgium, despite boasting a star-studded squad, were considered dark horses before the tournament kicked off. Belgium didn't qualify for Euro 2012, went out in the quarters of the 2014 World Cup, and then out in the quarters of Euro 2016. Not many pundits expected them to outlast the likes of Germany, Spain, Brazil and Argentina, but they’ve been one of, if not, the best teams to watch in Russia. Coached by Roberto Martinez and assisted by Thierry Henry, the Red Devils are blessed with world class talent with players like Vincent Kompany, Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard. Belgium will hope to turn their talent into success and win their first ever World Cup. If they don’t capitalize on all the talent they have, this golden generation may be looked back on in disappointment.

Why Kevin De Bruyne has a case to win Ballon d’Or

When you mention any footballer’s name other than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the same sentence as “Ballon d’Or”, you immediately think to yourself, no chance! With De Bruyne, it should be different. The Belgian superstar has shone the brightest in a team filled with gems. Looking at the season De Bruyne had with Manchester City, many put it down on the brilliance of Pep Guardiola, but now, under Martinez, the 27-year old has shown no signs of slowing down.

De Bruyne had a remarkable campaign with City, assisting goals left, right and centre, and is now the driving force that keeps the Belgian bandwagon rolling. The Red Devils have never won the FIFA World Cup before, and should they do it now, De Bruyne surely has to receive more plaudits for his work. We’re not saying that he should get the Ballon d’Or, but anything but a top three finish on the podium would be truly unfair.

England – Before the tournament started, few would have predicted England winning it but the Three Lions are roaring loud in Russia and Gareth Southgate’s side could go on and do what England’s golden generation only dreamed about. Following years of heartbreak at the international football front, Southgate seems to have finally found the right mix of experience, youth and steel. Transitioning from a team of individuals to an actual “team”, and led by talisman and leading Golden Boot contender, Harry Kane, England know they have the opportunity of a lifetime in the palm of their hands right now. Unlike their golden generation, this England team are united. Is it coming home? We will see.

HurriKane taking the World Cup by storm

With six goals under his belt before the semi-finals even kicked off, Kane is proving again that he is a world class striker and is on top of his trade. A hat-trick against Panama, and some important goals to see his nation over the finish line has shown that the Tottenham forward can dwell under pressure, being the Three Lions’ most prolific player, while also carrying the weight of being captain on his shoulders. Kane is special. Some would say that he is the best number nine in the world, but in fact, he offers much more than being a poacher. Many times, at this year’s World Cup, Kane has dropped deep and played that quarter-back role, spraying the passes wide to the forwards and making that dashing run into the box. With the current form that Kane is in, it really could come home.

Croatia – Ranked 20th in the world, Croatia are the surprise team of the 2018 World Cup. Zlatko Dalic’s Vatreni have a perfect blend of experience and youthful flair in their team to aid their World Cup quest. Led by their midfield maestro Luka Modric, along with Ivan Rakitic – the two combine to form arguably the best centre-midfield pairing at the tournament – and the impressive centre-forward play of striker Mario Mandzukic, Croatia have been a joy to watch. The Croats were arguably the best side in the group stages, with their 3-0 win over Argentina the highlight of their tournament so far. Croatia have never made it to a World Cup final but if they’re able to overcome England, they’ll fancy their chances of going all the way.

The midfield combination capable of conquering the world

Rivalries at club level, but allies on the pitch. Modric and Rakitic have proved to be the best midfield partnership this FIFA World Cup has seen, putting to shame the likes of Pogba and Kante, De Bruyne and Axel Witsel, and a little less surprisingly, Jordan Henderson and Jesse Lingard.

The duo make it almost impossible to mark them out the game. One minute, Modric is deep, orchestrating the balance between defending and attacking, then the next second, he is in the number 10 position. The same with Rakitic, they roam across all areas of the pitch, not giving you a second thought to defend against them, and that has been key to Croatia’s chances so far. Dalic’s charges opened up the betting at 33/1 to win the tournament. The fact that they’re here and in the final four – possibly further – has to come down to the partnership and link-up play between Modric and Rakitic.

Written by Chadley Nagel & Jesse Nagel