FIFA World Cup 2018 Preview

The Premier League might be done for another season, but it’s one of those glorious years where that is followed up with the pinnacle of sport – World Cup time! Not the best timing for us here in Australia, but if you’re not a fan of sleep you could potentially lock in some epic sporting Saturdays with three NRL games into three World Cup matches through the night!

For the tournament, NRL SC Talk are running a fantasy league (https://t.co/FUHakc2lZI) and PlayON will have various DFS competitions running throughout. I’ll probably throw up some more DFS previews for some of the bigger game days, but figured I’d start with a bit of a preview and some thoughts on fantasy picks.

Group A

  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Egypt
  • Uruguay

Probably one of the “easiest” groups here, with hosts Russia being assigned a top seed so avoiding a big country. That gives second-seeded Uruguay a bit of good luck and the chance to top the group. The bad luck is that if they do they’ll play the second placed team from group B, likely Portugal.

To Qualify: Uruguay to top the group, Russia second

Fantasy Watchlist: All eyes in this group on Mo Salah as he fights for fitness following a dislocated shoulder in the Champions League final. Hard to carry an entire country’s hopes on two shoulders never mind one… Even if fully fit, I can’t see Egypt sticking around too long, so not a must for any fantasy teams unless he’s going bottom dollar.

Uruguay should have a couple of dark horses for Fantasy leagues and DFS comps, given they should on paper win all three games. Suarez and Cavani obvious choices, but I’ve also been looking at Muslera as a cheaper GK option and Godin/Cacares at the back.

Group B

  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Morocco
  • Iran

A tale of two halves here. Portugal the reigning European Champions and Spain having won Euros in 2008 and 2012 and the 2010 World Cup in between. Iran have been at five previous World Cups, but have never passed the group stage. Morocco have gotten out before, and won their group in 1986, but haven’t been at this tournament in 20 years. I always love a WC underdog upset, but can’t see it coming here. Although Spain could be thrown by removing their manager two days before the start of the tournament…

To Qualify: Portugal, Spain

Fantasy Watchlist: Cristiano Ronaldo unsurprisingly a popular choice, but I’d hold off for Fantasy teams until after Portugal play Spain in match one. I reckon the Spanish win that one, so less cautious about their players from the start –Isco, Pique, De Gea and David Silva the obvious standouts.

Group C

  • France
  • Australia
  • Peru
  • Denmark

On paper, this is one of the toughest groups, with the 7th, 11th, 12th and 36th ranked teams as at June 2018. In fact, three of the teams in this group are higher ranked than the highest ranked in group A. A lot of that stays on paper for me though – Peru are good at home in high altitude and Denmark look a one-man team to me.

France are one of my picks to win the whole thing. Yes, they’ve had a mixed run in warm ups, but they smashed the warm ups last time and then went poorly, so backing them to do the reverse here. No way they don’t top this group with maximum points (famous last words!). The interesting battle is for second here and for me that’s wide open. I’m going to be biased to my adoptive country here and back the Aussies to sneak it. Van Marwijk seems to have them well-drilled and if they can find another source of WC goals besides Tim Cahill, they could well get some results here.

To Qualify: France, Australia

Fantasy Watchlist: Wouldn’t be surprised with three French clean sheets, so Lloris, Varane, Mendy etc. good picks. Griezmann obviously a good pick for forwards, but will likely be expensive.

Denmark have the obvious main man in Eriksen, but again he could be pricey. Farfan and Guerrero will be the main men for the Peruvians.

One of the main candidates to replace Cahill as attacking talisman looks to be Matt Leckie. If he finds form, expect goals and assists. Arzani seems exciting from the little I’ve seen of him, but how much game time does he get?

Group D

  • Argentina
  • Iceland
  • Croatia
  • Nigeria

Whatever way you look at this one, Argentina surely top the group. Sure their defence may be suspect, but that forward line should comfortably account for the teams here. Iceland sprung some shocks at the Euros, but should find this group a step too far. Backing the Croat midfield guns to fire them into second spot. Nigeria’s kit is cool, and apparently selling out fast here, but you’ll probably only get three game to see it in this tournament.

To Qualify: Argentina, Croatia

Fantasy Watchlist: In the ever-raging Messi vs Ronaldo debate (I’d say most fantasy games would price you out of both of them without too much sacrifice elsewhere), this is one of the few times I’d opt for the former, with Argentina poised to win all three games in this group compared to Portugal’s tough opening game. Aguero, Higuain, Dybala and Di Maria aren’t bad ‘backup’ forward options for your team either.

Croatia’s midfield/attack is nothing to be sneered at either with Mandzukic, Perisic, Rakitic and Modric all proven class players at the highest levels.

Iceland have Gylfi Sigurdsson and a load of players I’ve barely heard of and Nigeria will be relying heavily on Iwobi and Victor Moses if they are to cause an upset in this group.

Group E

  • Brazil
  • Switzerland
  • Costa Rica
  • Serbia

I had to double check this when I was researching, but Switzerland are ranked six in the world?! Xhaka and Shaqiri are solid, but not a lot of depth post that for me.

This is the group I see the upset coming from, with 34th ranked Serbia my tip to take out the second spot. Topping their group in qualifying and coming in off some big warm up wins, I like what I see here.

Brazil obvious favourites for the group and another South American side with an enviable front-line.

To Qualify: Brazil, Serbia

Fantasy Watchlist: A lot of fantasy competitions weight towards attacking stats, so you want defenders who bomb on a bit, and Marcelo is one who does that, so he’s in my team. The class of Coutinho, Willian, Firmino, Neymar and Jesus is unquestionable, but do they all it into the starting 11?

Shaqiri my pick from the Swiss and Bryan Ruiz, if anyone from Costa Rica. For Serbia, my boy Mitrovic has benefitted from a loan spell at Fulham in the back half of the season and has been banging them in for club and country, including a hat trick last our against Bolivia. Watching the highlights of that game, I also noticed Ivanovic high up the field (and scoring a well-taken volley) which was enough to put him on my radar.

Group F

  • Germany
  • Mexico
  • Sweden
  • South Korea

For every major tournament since around 2002, I’ve written off the Germans. Each time, a new wonderkid has appeared and they’ve the same force they’ve always been. This time I’m on them for the start and backing them as my favourites with France. Nothing in this group to overly worry them either and a likely first knockout round against Serbia and then quarter against England (and let’s face it, the Germans always win that on penalties…), they’re a sure-fire bet for making semis at least.

Sweden have no Zlatan, which pretty much makes them irrelevant. South Korea have Son Heung-min, but one man can’t carry a mediocre team, except Cristiano Ronaldo. That sort of leaves the Mexicans to progress by default, barring Donald Trump building a wall around group F. Speaking of ancient defensive structures, Rafael Marquez is still in the squad.

To Qualify: Germany, Mexico

Fantasy Watchlist: As I said above, Germany have a wonderkid each tournament, and this one looks like Timo Werner, who already has eight in 14 at international level. If you’re playing FIFA’s fantasy game, he’s appropriately priced, but he’s an absolute steal on the Sun’s Dream Team comp in the UK (as is Mitro for Serbia). Neuer in goal is a good shout for three shutouts as well and there’s no doubting the class of previous wonderkids Ozil and Muller.

Son would be my only take from South Korea and I wouldn’t take any Swedes (no offensive, I do love your massages, supermodels and flat pack furniture). Mexico have some players who know how to find the goal, most notably Javier Hernandez.

Group G

  • Belgium
  • Panama
  • Tunisia
  • England

As an Englishman, I can tell you exactly how we’ll go here. We’ll draw 0-0 against Tunisia, we’ll beat Panama 1-0 courtesy of a 90th minute Danny Welbeck winner and we’ll lose 3-0 to Belgium, crashing out on goal difference.

In all seriousness, as much as this is the least exciting looking English squad in my lifetime, if they don’t progress out this group, they should all be sacked. Belgium will win and England will stumble through to lose on pens (refer Germany group above).

To Qualify: Belgium, England

Fantasy Watchlist: England’s starting line-up seems to have been released and Southgate is stick with wingbacks, so Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier good picks to sneak assists. I’ve gone Rose, but it was almost a coin flip. There a many things I’d rather do that put Jordan Henderson in my fantasy side, but they cannot be voiced in this forum. Lingard potentially worth a look, but only at the right price (i.e. very, very cheap).

Do or die for some of this Belgium squad, having promised so much for a while. De Bruyne is world class, as are Lukaku and Hazard if fit. Given the only other two guys who’ve scored many for Panama are old enough to claim a pension, Gabriel Torrres would be your only pick to squeeze a cheapie in.

For Tunisia, Wahbi Khazri was one of the better players in the Sunderland side that was relegated from the EPL last year and the only player in the Tunisia squad to have scored double figures.

Group H

  • Poland
  • Senegal
  • Colombia
  • Japan

When I first looked at this group, I thought it looked tight on paper, but once I look past the history of a couple of teams, it becomes less so.

Japan and Senegal used to be solid teams, but have lost a couple of big players. Yes, the likes of Mane, Kouyate, Honda, Kagawa and Okazaki are still around but the rest of the squads are quite average and even some of those big names seem less impressive following quiet recent seasons.

You could potentially say the same about Colombia and Poland, but to me their big names (Lewandowski, Błaszczykowski, Rodriguez, Falcao) just seem that little bit bigger and not just from all the extra letters in the Poles’ names.

To Qualify: Poland, Colombia

Fantasy Watchlist: Refer above, where most have been covered, possibly with the addition of Bacca Cuadrado and Muriel for the Colombians.

Best Bets

As alluded to above, France and Germany are my picks to win this, and probably for the two finalists. Sportsbet are giving $6 for the Germans, $7.50 for France and $15 for them to be the finalists (“Name the finalists” market in World Cup Outrights).

Where I see good value is in the “Name the Semi-Finalists” market. If the groups go as I predict above, and playing through the likely knockout results, I see the following as my likely semi-final options:

  • Spain, France, Brazil and Germany ($26 on Sportsbet)
  • France, Argentina, Brazil and Germany ($51)
  • France, Germany, Belgium and Spain ($56)
  • France, Germany, Belgium and Argentina ($51)

Sneaky couple of bucks on all four and you’re laughing if all goes to plan.

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Sparky

Accountant by day and Sports Fanatic by night (and also day). Originally from Newcastle, England. Lifelong NUFC fan, taking on Titans, Bombers and Roar affiliations since moving to Australia.

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JackMoot
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JackMoot

Posted this earlier on trade talk but will put it on here for all you soccer heads. Hey Fellas, here is my extensive World Cup betting preview for the first 4 groups, outright betting and Golden Boot. I’m studying statistics at Uni so used my stats to hopefully help find me (and some of you guys) some nice profit. Enjoy

JackMoot
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JackMoot

Updated document including tonight’s plays and results so far. Currently 4.18U in front with some really solid outright bets starting well too (Thanks Ronaldo).

Zlatan
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Zlatan

For those who are doing the World Cup fantasy, remember to take advantage of the special additional rules. You can switch your captain and sub players off and on the bench mid round, even after someone has played. It’s heaps weird… So put the captain on someone playing early, if they go crap you can just switch the captain to someone else. For example, I have the captain on Messi. If he scores less than 6 points, I’ll change the captain to Kane. If he then scores less than 6 points I’ll put the captain on Lukaku. Happy to help… Read more »

Souffs
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Souffs

That’s so cool

Paddy
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Paddy

Overlooked the fact that Match Day 1 ran straight into Match Day 2, didn’t make use of the free transfer.

Still, at least I put up an OK score for Round 1. Team is Golden Bhutan in the league.

Zlatan
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Zlatan

Mine is ‘Socceroos Glory’ I only pipped you by a point in round 1. Captain Lukaku and Kane saved what was shaping up to be a terrible score haha

Paddy
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Paddy

Zlatan WeninRome and others

I was thinking that Round 3 is a huge opportunity to target some fixtures. The idea is to use the wild card for max trades, pick based on some easy games and maybe even bench boost in the same round. Then you get another fresh slate of unlimited trades leading into Round 4 to fix the team back up.

Thoughts?

If there’s some games with soft, dead in the water opposition, you could potentially stock up on some 6pt CS defenders and that type of thing.

Not sure, my first ‘football’ fantasy experience.

Zlatan
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Zlatan

I’m in a similar predicament. My original plan was to use the bench boost in Round 3, although I didn’t want to use the wildcard. Due to a couple of players being dropped and suspended, it looks like I may have to… The main problem is; You only have 3 transfers between Round of 16 and Quarter Final; and Only 5 between Quarter Final and Semi final. I had originally planned to use the wildcard for one of those rounds, most likely between round of 16 and QF. There are 16 teams playing, so what happens if you have 7… Read more »

Zlatan
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Zlatan

Further to this, it may even be wise to hold off on the bench boost till one of those later rounds just to ensure you have the highest chance of having the best players for the round. Possibly in the Final? Nothing worse than having the only goal scoring sitting on your bench…

In terms of Max Captain, I’ll definitely be using that in either SF or Final for the same reason – pretty much guarantee having the highest scoring player as your captain.

Zlatan
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Zlatan

Last point – in final round fixtures, it is not uncommon for players to be rested if their progress is already secured. I would be targetting players who’s team will need to win, e.g. Germany, Portugal, etc. even the might Socceroos!

Zlatan
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Zlatan

Last last point – I have a super gut feeling that Messi is going to explode in this last round with a hatrick or something similar against Nigeria. Just a gut feeling.

Paddy
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Paddy

That’s true on the later fixtures, I will hold my wild card and have a little clean up after Round 3.

It’d be a hella ballsy power play otherwise. Will also have to see how my squad looks pending rested players etc.

Paddy
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Paddy

Ok, Zlatan

I could be missing the following players in MD3:
Danilo, Nandez, Meunier, Lukaku, Caballero, Valera and Pavard

All rumored to be missing. Has my hand been forced?

Zlatan
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Zlatan

Very tricky. I’d almost be tempted to make 3 transfers and play with 9… it probably depends on if you’re remaining players have decent match ups

Zlatan
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Zlatan

What did you end up doing? I ended up using the 2 transfers: Lukaku – Salah. Varela- Ramos. Cop a 4 point hit but hopefully they make up for it. Definitely want that wild card for later rlunds

Zlatan
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Zlatan

Paddy
I see you used the wildcard and bench boost! I guess it was tough with so many out. Hard to predict results though and who will do well (Costa + Ronaldo fluffed).

Paddy
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Paddy

Yeah I really went for it, took on defenders who I though were locked for CS and so played the BB. Could’ve been a master stroke, but already a couple disappointing outcomes.

Not sure it’s going to yield that much of a better performance than joe blow who had 11-13 playing, but I was missing so many I had to do something. Wouldn’t be any fun sitting on my hands!

If the Swiss go ok and I pick a decent captain, It’ll be alright. Shame Reus and Coutinho are both tonight. Think Reus and back up with James tomorrow.

Zlatan

Zlatan
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Zlatan

Paddy
What’s your plan for the QF’s? Just use the 3 transfers or will you take a point hit and use some more?
Any round from now till the end is same same for using your max captain as there is only 2 game days in each round. I’ll probably use it in the final.
Using the 3 transfers this week, then the wildcard and bench boost next week.

Paddy
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Paddy

Zlatan
Only have 3 eliminations (Inui, Costa and Isco) so I should be OK this week.

Max captain this week, unless I bring in a French striker I think. If I do then I’ll save for next week.

Zlatan
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Zlatan

Mbappe looked freakish against Argentina. Uruguay’s back 4 aren’t the quickest either. I reckon he’s a good trade in if you can afford it. Easy captain choice for the first day as well. I captained him last week and will do again.
Surely Russia’s little party comes to an end against Croatia. There are some bargain players I could get, but I can’t go near them cause I can see a 3-0 Croatia victory…although I said the same thing about Spain haha Paddy

Paddy
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Paddy

Just locked in trades, I didn’t realise you can’t reverse or anything.
I’ve kept Inui and NPR, using a higher $ player to fund some swaps. Not happy keeping too many from Belgium at the back.

Guess that’s the squad!
Zlatan