The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia… who will win, who will top score, who will be the danger men and the danger teams and ultimately who will prevail?

England will play in Group G and will kick off their campaign on June 18th against Tunisia in the Volgograd Arena, a 45,000 capacity stadium in Volgograd, situated on the Western bank of the Volga River after which the city is named.
Tunisia, known for good dates and figs and one of their players, Khazri, has said ‘Tunisia can go far in Russia.’
Tunisia put up a fair show in 1978 (Dhiab and co) managing to beat Mexico 3-1 and holding the 1974 Champions West Germany to a 0-0 draw and were ultimately beaten 2-0 by England in the opening group match of the 1998 World Cup. Let’s hope we do it again.
England are next up entertaining Panama in the Nitzhy Novgorod stadium (45,000 capacity) on 24th June. Don’t know anything about Panama apart from they make cigars and hats and are the complete underdogs of the tournament! It is their first time at the World Cup, they beat Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifying group match and they are rank outsiders at 1000/1. Not the best odds! If we don’t beat this team we should hang our heads in shame.
West to Nizhny is the Kaliningrad Stadium (35,000 capacity) and it is here where England will meet Belgium on 28th June. The group’s biggest match in the smallest stadium makes no sense to me but anyway. No English referees are going to this World Cup – but there is an Ethiopian ref who referees in a semi-professional league.
Obviously Belgium are the strongest opposition and Kevin de Bryne will be dangerous, he has been instrumental in Manchester City’s success this season, scoring and assisting goals. Also look out for the pace of Lukaku and the skill of Eden Hazard.
Belgium were eliminated at the quarter final stage last time after a tight match with Argentina. Jan Ceulemans ‘winner’ for Belgium in a 4-3 win over Russia in the 1986 second round match was a mile offside but Jean Marie Pfaff was the best goalkeeper in the tournament and they went on to take fourth place.
I clearly remember Bernd Schuster on a set of 1986 World Cup stickers, not the Panini one’s though – yet he played no part in the tournament whatsoever.
Despite for years being one of West Germany’s most creative players, Schuster’s 21st and final cap came in 1984 and he never played in a World Cup.

THE DANGER TEAMS, THE DANGER MEN

Argentina’s Lionel Messi is the obvious choice, along with Neymar (Brazil) and Ronaldo (Portugal). Then comes Harry Kane (England), Antoine Griezmann (France) the 2016 Euro Championship top scorer with 6 goals, Germany’s Timo Werner plus Brazil’s Gabriel Jesus.
Belgium’s Kevin De Bryne has already been mentioned and James Rodrigues whose round 1 flick up and volley against Uruguay was one of the goals of the last tournament has been in good club form at Bayern Munich and will be there again for Columbia.
Edison Flores scored 5 goals in qualifying for Peru and looks to be their threat up front. Could Flores be Teofillo Cubillas again? Cubillas’s free-kick with the outside of the right peg over the Scotland wall past a bemused Rough was one of the goals of the 1978 series.
Egypt’s Mohammed Salah is another dark horse ‘if he keeps performing like he has for Liverpool he could carry them through the first round,’ said George Barrows. Egypt and Denmark could be dark horses, goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel and Eriksen could have big tournaments. Poland still have Lewandowski up front and Grosicki down the wing.
There are two main contenders for the golden boot: Griezmann or Werner then maybe Neymar and Kane. Germany and Brazil for me have to be favourites to lift the World Cup. Spain have got good players (Morata) but they have not looked outstanding like the other 2 countries have. France are attacking and skilful and must also be a threat. Look out for Alexandre Lacazette, the Arsenal forward, who will no doubt shine in this year’s tournament.

SO WHAT OF ENGLAND’S CHANCES THEN?

England have a chance if they perform well, Manager Gareth Southgate has to get the squad and tactics right. The bookmakers make England the 7th favourites.
If you are picking strikers on form at the minute, it will be Kane, Vardy, Rashford, Welbeck plus possibly another then there is Sturridge, the recently recalled Defoe, plus the new breeds such as Swansea’s Tammy Abraham so there is no shortage. Peter Crouch (42 caps, 22 goals) could also (but probably won’t be) an option.
There is only really Kane, Vardy and Welbeck who have been scoring regularly for England so they also need someone who can come off the bench and get them a goal, win them a match or get them out of trouble (like when they were 1-2 down with Iceland in the 2016 Euros.)
Although pundits may differ in opinion, I think the inclusion of Andy Carroll would give them still more aerial threat and offer them something different.
Vardy, Kane and Carroll up front all together would be a ‘mare’ for most defences, Carroll could win crosses at the far post and poor old Panama and Tunisia would not know what had hit them, even the top defences would struggle. After all, Carroll is supposed to be one of the best three headers of a ball in Europe.
Out of the international set-up since 2012, could he add to his tally of 2 goals in 9 international appearances in the 2018 World Cup in Russia?
England’s defenders will have to mark a lot tighter than they did last time and not leave big gaps at the back like they did against Uruguay when Suarez exposed them.
In the group match against Belgium, which will be the toughest, the England defenders will have to have their wits about them.
However they have defenders who are physical and could do man-marking jobs against Belgium and other teams later in the tournament.
The defenders I identify that can do this are Eric Dier, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Ryan Bertrand and James Tarkowski if selected. They all get stuck in and can mix when they have to.
Italy’s Claudio Gentile man marked Zico and particularly Diego Maradona out of matches during Italy’s run to the 1982 World Cup and Nobby Stiles’s shadow and stifle of Eusebio was instrumental in England’s 1966 success as was Alan Balls man-mark of Karl Heinz Schnellinger in the final.

WHERE TO WATCH?

There are many good bars and sports bars in Marbella. However Marbella Rocks recommends Lineker’s and Portside in Puerto Banus, GK in San Pedro, The Hairy Lemon in Sotogrande, The Robin Hood in Estepona and The View Bar in Centro Plaza is always worthy of a visit.

WORDS BY: Steve Billingham