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Russia 2018 is almost upon us, and the scrutinising of selections and fixtures is well underway. Should Shelvey have been given a chance? What is Welbeck doing in the squad? Will England leave themselves with everything to do against Belgium? We don’t know the answers just yet, but the fixture list does give us an indication of how the tournament will pan out. This is how it could all go down.
England have a fairly straightforward group this year. Panama and Tunisia really shouldn’t pose much of a barrier to qualification, though topping the group is far from certain. Belgium, touted as potential dark horses seemingly every year, have every chance of winning all three games. England traditionally do OK in the group though, and most pundits reckon they should be comfortably through, even with a loss against the Belgians.
There’s no clear ‘group of death’ this year, which means that all of the big teams should make it out of their groups into the round of 16. This is of course partially down to the fact that neither Italy nor the Netherlands managed to qualify this year, giving most highly seeded teams a straightforward route. There’s a chance that hosts Russia will miss out however. Uruguay are naturally expected to take first place in that group, and Egypt, led by the superb Mohamed Salah, could do well. Group D, consisting of Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria is probably the most competitive group, but fan-favourites Iceland, and Nigeria, are likely to miss out.
England’s round of 16 prospects are good. Winning or being runners up in the group will mean a fixture against, most likely, either Colombia or Poland. Not easy matches by any stretch, but both winnable ones, with Colombia the more dangerous side. The problems begin in the quarter finals. Brazil or Germany are the most likely opponents depending on winning or running up in the group. Semi-finals would most likely be against Spain or Portugal respectively, and then the final is most likely to be against Germany or Brazil. Barring any group or round of 16 upsets, England are going to have a very tough route to the final.
The final itself is most likely to be Germany against Brazil, which would be a hugely exciting event given that Brazil were thrashed by Germany at the last World Cup. France and Spain also have a good chance of making the final, followed by Argentina.
There you have it. Whatever happens, and whatever happens to England, it’s going to be a good one.