Sport on the Spot: Who will triumph at the World Cup?
PUBLISHED: 14:34 15 June 2018
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Could the opening game of the World Cup have gone any better for Russia?
A 5-0 win in your country’s flagship stadium at your home World Cup rarely gets any better, but misplaced dreams about ultimate Russian success should dissipate following a game against superior opposition.
Spare a thought for Saudi Arabia. The only team in the tournament with a squad made up of solely domestic-based players, they were described by some as the worst side ever to appear in the competition.
Granted, there was even an early goal-of-the-tournament contender, as substitute Denis Cheryshev struck a sumptuous left-footed effort beyond the outstretched right hand of the helpless Abdullah Al-Mayoof, and the final result showed a surprising level of attacking intent from the hosts.
Few expect Russia to get much further than the group stage. Far more is expected of the European giants who face off tonight when a Ronaldo-inspired Portugal come up against a Spain side which sacked their manager, Julen Lopetegui, two days ago.
Both are expected to challenge, with Spain a strong favourite before the Lopetegui saga and Portugal the reigning European champions.
As for other contenders, the infuriatingly inconsistent France should have no trouble advancing from their group, pending a player strike or a player/coach bust-up, of course.
Whether they go any further than the quarter-finals will, however, be down to the attitude of a notoriously moody group of players.
The greatest player of all time, Lionel Messi, is likely to help Argentina at least as far as the semi-finals in what is, realistically, his last hope of returning home with a winners medal.
Brazil have mostly recovered from their 7-1 humiliation against perennial contenders Germany in 2014 and are favourites with the bookies to lift the famous trophy on July 15.
As for England, they will be lucky to advance beyond the first knockout round and could crash out of the group stage if Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku remembered to pack his shooting boots and if Gareth Southgate’s men struggle against Tunisia and World Cup first timers Panama.
What is most likely, however, is likely to mirror former England striker and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker’s famous quote.
“Football is a simple game.” he said. “22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”