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.
- Saudi Arabia
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.
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.
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?
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.
- Costa Rica
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.