FIFA World Cup 2018: Opening fixtures to look out for


by Murad Ali Khan 


It’s still as a doubt as to whether Mo Salah, arguably the main attraction of the match, will feature or not for Egypt, due to his shoulder injury in the Champions League Final. The Liverpool forward single-handedly led his nation to the World Cup, after having a record-breaking season with his club, scoring 32 goals in 36 matches. Another name, synonymous with goals is Luis Suarez. The former Liverpool forward had yet another prolific year with Barcelona and will look to impress at the World Cup this year, following the embarrassing end in 2014. Suarez will be pairing up with Edison Cavani, who had an outstanding season at PSG, scoring 28 goals in the league, becoming the club’s all-time top scorer in the process. These two will surely cause problems for defenders, throughout the tournament.

Egypt is clearly the underdog going into this matchup, and without their star forward, it’s almost certain that Uruguay will progress with ease, but if Salah does get a chance to play, considering the form he’s been in, he will definitely be tough to handle and could be the catalyst behind an upset.


Cristiano Ronaldo and his side will have a lot of trouble containing this Spanish side, who are in red-hot form, following an undefeated qualifying campaign. Spain won the tournament in 2010 but were dumped out of the group stage in 2014, they will be looking to redeem themselves with a rejuvenated side, full of talent in every position with the likes of Isco, Sergio Ramos and David De Gea. Although Spain do look like the clear favorites heading into this heavyweight matchup, they can’t take it easy on a side with Cristiano Ronaldo, who is expected to be playing his last tournament and will look to make this one memorable. Analysts have said that Ronaldo is not the player he once was, and that this will be a walk in the park for Spain, but Ronaldo is known for hushing his critics. Will he do just that with a victory against this overwhelming Spanish opposition?


The French team is clearly the most talented side heading into the World Cup. They are young and dynamic but the main problem surrounding this squad, is whether they can be as good on the field as they are on paper. During the warmups they showed a lack of chemistry with mediocre performances, including a draw against a weak American side. This opening game against Australia is the perfect opportunity for the head coach, Didier Deschamps, to assess his side, and to eventually finalize a starting eleven for the tougher fixtures that are to follow.


Iceland, with a small population of 334,252 will be playing their first World Cup game. Sadly they will have to take on arguably one of the greatest players of all time, Lionel Messi, who will be leading his talented opposition to another tournament, after single-handedly carrying them through the qualifying matches. After three finals losses in the past 4 years, Messi and co are ready to redeem themselves. Managed by Jorge Sampaoli, we can expect attack after attack from the likes of Messi, Higuaín, Aguero, Dybala and Di Maria. If the manager can get this squad to click, they will surely make an example out of the inexperienced Iceland side, who are most likely set for a disappointing start to a hopeful campaign.


“Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win.”
– Gary Lineker.

The current champions are looking stronger than ever, which is scary considering their dominant campaign in 2014. They have depth, talent, experience and are perfectly set up to retain their title as World champions. Mexico came first in their group in qualifying and are capable of causing some trouble for the Germans. History is on the Mexican side, as the last two defending Champions (Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014) were knocked out in the group stage, but those sides weren’t like this German squad, who eased passed their European qualifiers, and will look to send a message to the other teams, by taking down this Mexican side.


The 7-1 defeat to Germany in 2014 still haunts the Brazilians, especially because it happened on their home ground. Since then the side has bounced back phenomenally, resembling the feared 2002 side with flair and talent to match, the Brazilian squad will definitely be worth watching in their opening game, with the likes of Neymar, Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus looking to dismantle the Swiss opposition with the abundance of skill at their disposal. This is set up for an easy Brazil win, but a lapse of judgement or an overconfident approach could lead to Brazil’s downfall, as Switzerland have proven in the past, that they are a side to be taken seriously.


The English side are used to generating hope. The side selected this year was finally built based on the players who are in form and are capable of generating excitement. The likes of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard are young and inexperienced but have shone for the Three Lions when given the chance to do so. Gareth Southgate will be looking to live up to the hype built around his side, but England have a history of coming up short, even against the weakest of sides, which is why a draw, maybe even a loss can’t be ruled out.


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