This should be a battle between Belgium and England with Tunisia having an outside chance. Panama should find the going difficult.
Belgium possesses an extremely talented team. However, they seem to lack that winning experience and killer instinct to go all the way.
In Eden Hazard, Belgium possesses one of the most gifted players in soccer. Hazard, supported by Kevin de Bruyne and Mousa Dembele, will form arguable the best mid-field in the competition and should be expected to dominate most teams in the mid-field area.
Belgium qualified unbeaten in World Cup qualification, scoring a total of 37 goals in 10 games. With leading goal scorer, Romelu Lukaku with 11 goals leading the way, Belgium owns a capable center forward.
Belgium is also well organized at the back with Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompnay, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen. They possess capable defenders to assist Thibaut Courtois in goal.
The question for Belgium will be whether they will find the spirit and will to compete. If they find that spirit then ook out as they will be dangerous and the semi -finals may not be out of the question for them.
England’s road to the World Cup was not difficult. They went undefeated, winning eight games and drawing two; scoring 15 goals in 10 games while conceding three. Captain Harry Kane was their leading scorer with 5 goals, but no other member of the present team scored more than 1 goal.
England has a fairly young group of players. In Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling. England possesses two young players with immense talent and creativity and the team will be hoping that both players have a good World Cup and lend assistance to Harry Kane.
Their defense has been well organized with the likes of John Stones, Gary Cahill and Kyle Walker and should be able to hold their own at this level.
England’s first task is to get out of the group stage and then take it one game at a time.
Tunisia was unbeaten in their African Group with 4 wins and 2 draws, scoring 11 goals and conceding 4. Tunisia has been greatly affected by the loss of their top marksman, Yousseff Msakni, due to injury.
However, Tunisia is an extremely athletic team and their strength lies in the mid-field with Ellyes Skhiri, Ben Amor, and Ferjani Sassi all gifted players. Depending on their tactical approach against both Belgium and England, that will decide whether they can steal the top two spaces and advance to the second round.
Panama’s qualified for the World Cup finishing third in the CONCACAF qualifiers. They are an organized group but can be considered inexperienced and a bit tactically naïve.
Panama will depend a lot on their defensive unit, led by the hard-tackling Roman Torres, to withstand the pressure from the opponents. In mid-field the hardworking Armando Cooper will be required to put in a lot of miles to protect Panama’s defense. Forward Ismael Diaz will need to make use of the limited chances that can be expected to come his way. But in the end, this World Cup will serve as a developing experience for the advancement of Panama’s soccer.
My prediction: Belgium to top the group and England will be the runners up.
This group should be one of the most competitive groups. Poland, in my opinion, is the dark horse of this World Cup but with Senegal and Colombia posing serious treats to their route to the second round. No team can afford to relax as advancing from this group could come down to goal difference. Japan, the fourth team in this group, will be hard pressed to progress from the group, but could take a point or two from their more fancied rivals.
It has been some time since Poland has assembled a team with such talent. One must go back to the golden era of Polish soccer – 1974 -1978 – when Poland was led then by their prolific marksman Grzegorz Lato, who was the leading goal scorer for the 1974 World Cup with seven goals.
Poland’s 1974 team finished third then; narrowly losing 1-0 to the eventual winners West Germany in the semi-final and then defeating Brazil by the same score to claim the third place.
This time around, Poland will be led by Robert Lewandowski, their current goal scorer and World Cup qualifying top marksman, with 16 goals. He will be supported by the talented attacking mid-fielder, Piotr Zielinski, who is also expected to get on the score sheet.
Poland has a strong, well-organized back three defensive unit led by Kamil Glik and supported by Michal Pazdan, Lukasz Piszczek. Teams will find them difficult to break down and they will be extremely dangerous on the counter attack. It will come as no surprise if they make it to the semi-final.
Colombia finished fourth and took the final South American automatic qualifying spot. Colombia possesses an extremely balanced squad with some gifted players.
James Rodriguez, the 2014 Golden Cup Golden Boot winner with 6 goals for Colombia is a match winner. He will be well supported by fellow mid-fielder, Juan Cuadrado, the World Cup 2014 leading assist man.
Colombia will also welcome their top marksman, Radamel Falcao, who missed the last World Cup due to injury. Radamel Falcao should partner the dangerous Luis Fernando Muriel in attack and they will be a handful for the opposing team.
At the back, Colombia has the experience with Cristian Zapata and the steady Davinson Sanchez will provide protection for goalkeeper David Ospina.
There is no real weakness in this Colombian team and they too might be setting their eyes on a semi-final spot.
Senegal is undoubtingly one of the top teams in Africa. Senegal went unbeaten during the African World Cup qualification, scoring 10 goals and conceding 3 in 6 matches.
The Senegal team is very athletic and well organized defensively. Led by the central defensive pairing of Salif Sane and Kalidou Koulibaly, along with goalkeeper Abdoulaye Diallo manning the goal, Senegal will certainly be difficult to beat.
In mid-field, the Senegalese will be well served with the hardworking defensive mid-fielders Cheikh N’Doye and Idrissa Gueye. They will be supported by two of Senegal’s rising stars in Ismaila Sarr and Mbaye Niang.
In attack, they have the hard working and skillful Sadio Mane, who has the ability to run defenders ragged. He should be partnership in attack with Diafra Sakho, who can also be a handful.
Senegal is Africa’s best hope to advance to the second round.
Japan topped their Asian qualifying group over Saudi Arab and Australia to secure their World Cup berth. The Japanese are known for their well organized and disciplined approach.
How Japan fairs in this group will depend on the outcome of their first game against Colombia.
Japan’s performance coming into the World Cup has been average at best. They seem like a team lacking in confidence but should not be taken for granted. A lot will depend on their experienced goalkeeper, Eiji Kawashima, and central defender Maya Yoshida. They should be supported by Japan’s talented wings backs, Hiroki Sakai on the right and Yuto Nagatomo on the left, to keep it tight at the back.
The experienced trio of Captain Makoto Hasebe, Hotaru Yamaguchi and Keisuke Honda will look to dictate the pace in mid-field and create the chances for the tireless Shinji Okazaki upfront.
If Japan is to advance, they will have to be at their very best.
My prediction is that when it’s all over, Poland will top the group ahead of Columbia.