Analysis

9 bold predictions we're making for World Cup 2018

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6. Germany don’t concede a single goal... until they face England

Germany World Cup 2018

Germany are a team of cyborgs. They have the second-best goal-differential in the history of this tournament, and look good to keep clean sheets against Sweden, Mexico, South Korea and in the last 16 against the Group E runners-up (likely Switzerland or Serbia).

That impressive run will end when they face the best England side in years (come on!). Joachim Low’s team should still go through in the quarter-finals, but it will be a test. Harry Kane belter incoming.

7. England’s quarter-final exit regarded as moral victory

Harry Kane, Gareth Southgate

In any normal World Cup year, with the talent at their disposal, exiting at the quarter-final stage would have been a failure for England.

Not this year. The Three Lions will play good football as they navigate their way through the group stage under Gareth Southgate. They may fall short and allow Belgium to top the group, but England should hit their stride by the time they face Germany – going toe-to-toe with the defending champions in a narrow, heartbreaking loss.

Southgate’s 3-5-2 will bring discipline and balance, and the width of his side will give opposing teams trouble.

8. Argentina out at the group stage

Lionel Messi World Cup 2018

This will be the shock of the tournament. Jorge Sampaoli’s men are top heavy but still struggled to score in qualifying (only Bolivia bagged fewer), and there are serious midfield and defensive concerns.

Croatia are packing plenty of firepower in Russia, Iceland pride themselves on being horrible to play against, and Nigeria beat the Albiceleste 4-2 in a November friendly. Lionel Messi will likely be in God-mode, but it still might not be enough.

9. Iceland swoon everyone again

Gylfi Sigurdsson Iceland

The biggest winner of Argentina’s struggles will be the Nordic nation, who will continue to build on their historic run of Euro 2016. That was no fluke: they finished above Croatia, Turkey and Ukraine in qualifying – another monumental achievement.

Heimir Hallgrimsson’s team will be typically tough to break down, and they pose enough danger on set-pieces and crosses to nick a goal or two in situations where the odds suggest otherwise.

“Everyone spoke about how bad England were [at Euro 2016], but watch the game again,” midfielder Aron Gunnarsson wrote on the Players’ Tribune recently. “Look at how organized we are. We run. We shut down space. We cover for each other. What Eidur [Gudjohnsen] had said after training was spot on: we really are horrible to play against.”

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