The 2018 FIFA World Cup is set to take place this summer from June 14 to July 15 in Russia. Despite the United States men’s national soccer team’s (USMNT) failure to qualify, there are still plenty of highly anticipated matchups in the group stage and beyond. Here is a breakdown of all the groups to guide you through one of the most anticipated events in sports competition.
Group A: Egypt vs. Uruguay
Led by Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah who recently won the English Premier League Player of the Year title, Egypt will enter the competition for the first time in 28 years. Uruguay, a veteran team, qualified out of the brutal South American qualifying group, CONMEBOL. With two strong offensive teams, this matchup promises a high-scoring affair.
Players to Watch: Salah (Egypt), Luis Suarez (Uruguay), Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)
Salah tied the Premier League record with 31 goals in a season. As for Cavani and Suarez, the striker pair for Uruguay, they are both known for being prolific in front of the goal for both club and country — Suarez has scored 23 goals and six assists in the Spanish League for his club FC Barcelona, and Cavani has scored 25 for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in France this season.
- Saudi Arabia
Group B: Portugal vs. Spain
In one of the most anticipated matchups to kick off the group stage, this high-profile game will not disappoint. Arguably the best player on the planet, Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo will face off against many of his current Real Madrid teammates and the club’s rivals from Barcelona when the neighboring countries play. On paper, Spain has more talent with many of its players starting for top European teams such as Real Madrid and Barcelona, but Ronaldo always pulls through for his team.
Players to Watch: Ronaldo (Portugal), Alvaro Morata (Spain), Diego Costa (Spain)
Portugal will go as far as Ronaldo will take them. Two years ago, he led them to a European championship, so anything is possible. Apart from all the talent on Spain’s roster, the most intriguing storyline is who will lead the front line as the striker — Morata, who plays for Chelsea FC or Costa of Atletico Madrid. Despite Costa’s replacement by Morata on Chelsea and his playing time delay, Costa is currently in better shape, having scored six goals throughout all competitions in 2018 compared to Morata’s three goals.
Group C: France vs. Denmark
France enters the tournament as a younger team, brimming with talent. Denmark, on the other hand, is a very consistent team, boasting a group of elite Premier League players.
Players to Watch: Christian Eriksen (Denmark), Paul Pogba (France), Kylian Mbappe (France)
Eriksen has been an unsung hero for Tottenham Hotspur F.C. for the past couple years, dominating the midfield. This World Cup could show the world what he is capable of as a facilitator in attack. Pogba, who plays as a midfielder for Manchester United F.C., has been hyped as a rising soccer star. For the past three seasons, he has accounted for at least 18 goals from midfield for Manchester United and Italy’s Juventus F.C. This is his chance to secure stardom status when the stakes are highest. Mbappe, at the ripe age of 19, has caught European soccer by storm with AS Monaco F.C. and Paris Saint-Germain F.C. (PSG), and will undoubtedly show off his incredible attacking prowess this summer.
Group D: Argentina vs. Croatia
Group D could be top to bottom the most impressive group, but this game stands out above the rest. It features two teams with a lot to prove when they face off. Argentina, the 2014 World Cup runner-up, is looking to make another trip to the finals after losing to Germany in 2014. Croatia has the talent to run deep in the tournament, but the team has struggled to reach their potential in recent international tournaments, including bowing out in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup.
Players to Watch: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Luka Modric (Croatia), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Iceland)
At age 30, this may be Messi’s last opportunity to win a World Cup and cement his legacy as one of the greatest players to ever touch a soccer ball. Modric, the fulcrum of the Croatian midfield, created six assists for Real Madrid this season and boasts a passing accuracy of nearly 90 percent. Sigurdsson operates in a similar role as Modric as Iceland looks to continue their form from their Cinderella run in the 2016 European Championships where they beat England to reach the quarterfinals.
Group E: Brazil vs. Switzerland
Brazil is looking to rebound from their humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals on home soil. But first they face a tough test from a balanced Switzerland squad.
Players to Watch: Neymar Jr. (Brazil), Granit Xhaka (Switzerland)
All eyes will be on Neymar after his controversial transfer last summer from Barcelona to PSG for a record transfer fee of more than $200 million. Neymar is currently injured, but he faces immense pressure to return to form. Xhaka is a versatile midfielder for Switzerland who has proven a key cog in the middle of the field for Arsenal F.C. His box-to-box ability will be vital for Switzerland’s success in the tournament.
- Costa Rica
Group F: Germany vs. Mexico
In a 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup Semi-Final rematch, Mexico will look to bounce back from last year’s 4-1 loss and try to defeat the top-ranked team in the world, Germany. The defending 2014 World Cup champions are in a great position to repeat their success but will face their first true test of the tournament against Mexico, the top team in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying group.
Players to Watch: Timo Werner (Germany), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Germany), Manuel Neuer (Germany) Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (Mexico)
Germany has experienced and talented players in every position. The only real potential weakness is at the striker position, which Werner will most likely occupy. He is young and fairly unschooled, but has recently come into the spotlight. Neuer usually occupies the starting goalkeeper and, when healthy, is considered the top goalkeeper in the world. However, he has been injured for the majority of the season which has casted a dubious light on Germany’s campaign. Goalkeeper ter Stegen has had a standout year for his club Barcelona having only conceded 19 goals in 33 league games this season. Finally, Chicharito is the all time leading scorer for Mexico with 49 goals in 100 international appearances. He will need to provide offensive firepower when the team needs a goal in order to advance.
- South Korea
Group G: Belgium vs. England
Another highly anticipated opening matchup pits two teams which feature many players that compete against each other during the club season in England. England is bringing a younger squad than previous tournaments with a new manager, which will give a new look to their team. Belgium is looking to finally capitalize on their golden generation of players, who are all currently reaching their prime.
Players to Watch: Harry Kane (England), Eden Hazard (Belgium), Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium)
Kane, the main attacking threat for the England squad, has been a goal-scoring machine the past couple of years for Tottenham Hotspur. Hazard and De Bruyne are the keys to Belgium’s success as they are the two biggest creators of offense for the team both through goalscoring and distributing.
Group H: Colombia vs. Poland
These two highly ranked teams full of clinical goal scorers face off in a matchup that will likely determine the winner of Group H.
Players to Watch: James Rodriguez (Colombia), Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Sadio Mane (Senegal)
James was the breakout star of the last World Cup, which helped him earn a transfer to Real Madrid that summer. His production on the field stalled last season, but he has enjoyed a resurgence at his current club, FC Bayern Munich. At Bayern Munich, Lewandowski has arguably been the best pure striker in soccer for the last couple of years. Poland will look to him to take them past the group stage. Mane, who plays for Liverpool, has been the main attacking force for an upstart Senegal squad that looks poised to upset major teams in this tournament.