independent

Thursday 20 September 2018

Cup is half empty as draw is made

Weird Wide World of Sport

Hopefully Lionel Messi can lead Argentina to World Cup glory in Russia next summer
Hopefully Lionel Messi can lead Argentina to World Cup glory in Russia next summer

Dave Devereux

I had just about come to terms with the fact that Ireland won't be part of the World Cup in Russia next year when the draw for the next tournament stirred up all those unwelcome feelings of regret and what might have been.

When you see teams like Panama, Japan and Saudi Arabia dining at the top table, it's hard not to feel a little miffed that we're not on the guest list for the biggest party in world football, instead having to press our out of joint noses against a condensation-soaked window and watch from the periphery.

That said, we're in pretty good company, with the likes of Italy and Holland also having to make different plans for their summer sojourn, instead of limbering up for a battle with the big boys.

Whether you like it or not, much of the focus in these parts will now be on how England fare and they certainly couldn't have asked for a more favourable group to get them up and running, having to pit their wits against Panama and Tunisia, with their match against Belgium expected to decide who goes through as group winners.

However, considering Iceland and Costa Rica sent them packing from the Euros and World Cup respectively in their last two major tournaments, the Rule Britannia brigade wouldn't want to be getting overly carried away with their expectations this time around

With a dilution of quality the good old-fashioned group of death is almost a thing of the past, although neighbours Spain and Portugal being drawn together in Group B is an intriguing tie. Still, they both would be expected to progress, at the expense of Morocco and Iran.

The hardest one to call would definitely be Group D, containing Argentina, Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria, and I, for one, am hoping the South Americans won't come unstuck in a tricky enough assignment.

I would dearly love to see Lionel Messi leading Argentina to World Cup glory like the magician Diego Maradona before him, if only to shut the nay-sayers up once and for all.

Fellow South American giants Brazil will, as usual, top many people's lists of potential winners, although they haven't been gifted the most straightforward group, with two European teams, Switzerland and Serbia, and the aforementioned Costa Rica, who left England red-faced at the last World Cup, in their way. They still should progress without too much fuss, however, and it would be a surprise if they're not there or thereabouts at the latter stages of the tournament.

After disappointing in the Euro 2016 final on home soil, France will be determined to make amends and should go deep into the tournament if they can make the most of the talent at their disposal.

Denmark may have made Ireland look like schoolboys in the second leg of the play-off at the Aviva Stadium, but France should have their measure and be too good for Peru and Australia.

Germany always seem to produce the goods on the big stage and will be expected to top the group ahead of Mexico, Sweden and South Korea before marching on to the business end of the tournament.

Hosts Russia are certainly far from world-beaters and even though they could hardly have hand-picked a better group, containing Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Egypt, I wouldn't expect them to do much in the tournament.

So, at this early stage, what's the prediction?

Without delving too much into possible last 16, quarter-final and semi-final pairings, I'll let the heart rule the head again and say Argentina.

Cristiano Ronaldo did it at the Euros, so maybe this will be Lionel Messi's turn to shine brighter than ever, and cement his place as a true legend of the game.

As for England, with a few decent young players in their ranks they might do a little bit better than usual, before suffering the heartache of another penalty shoot-out defeat.

Wexford People

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