With two calendar seasons still to go, Elite Sports NY brings the fans a way too early in-depth preview of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

While a ball won’t be kicked off in the 2018 World Cup until Jun. 14, Friday, the second day of December, marked a significant day for the tournament. The World Cup draw took place at the Kremlin in Moscow, an event that saw the 32 teams participating in this summer’s tournament found out what groups they would participate in.

Here are the results:


Now that the group stage has officially been set, we can begin to look forward to this summer’s contest which will take place in Russia for the very first time.

Here is a way-too-early preview featuring group by group previews, a look at contenders and dark horses, and some of the key players. The best month in football is rapidly approaching, so without further adieu, let’s take a look at the groups.

Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay

One of the Groups of Life. The tournament kicks off with the two lowest ranked teams according to FIFA’s coefficients, hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia. Uruguay must be prohibitive favorites in this group given their tournament pedigree and the stars they boast (Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Godin), but the real race should be for second place. High flying Egypt, led by Liverpool’s Mohammed Salah, will be confident of their chances of advancing in their first ever World Cup, but don’t discount the host’s chances of slipping through.

Predictions:
1. Uruguay
2. Egypt
3. Russia
4. Saudi Arabia

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran

The most exciting fixture of the group stage figures to be Portugal and Spain, as the nations that share the Iberian Peninsula do battle on Matchday 1. You’d figure the winner of that match will go on to win the group, and the loser will finish second; despite a strong qualifying campaign by Morocco and a resilient performance by Iran in 2014, Portugal and Spain enter as overwhelming favorites to advance. There are certainly question marks about each side—how will Portugal play after winning the European Championships 2 years ago, and how will Spain bounce back after a very disappointing 2014 campaign? The first match will be enticing; the outcome of the group shouldn’t be.

Predictions:
1. Spain
2. Portugal
3. Morocco
4. Iran

Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark

What a dream draw for Didier Deschamps and France, who should be aiming for nine points out of nine in the Group stage. France are a trendy pick to win it all, with a young, exciting attacking outfit led by Antoine Greizmann and Kylian Mpappe. Second place should be Denmark’s; Christian Eriksen and Co. certainly have enough firepower to get by Australia and Peru, although the Socceroo’s World Cup experience shouldn’t be overlooked. Peru, surprise entrants after beating Chile to the finish line, will also be an interesting watch. This group, however, is quite clearly France’s to lose.

Predictions:
1. France
2. Denmark
3. Australia
4. Peru

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria

Argentina won’t be too thrilled about this draw— there are no clear-cut wins in this group, and although the 2014 runners-up will be expected to win their group, it certainly won’t be as easy as they would have liked. Iceland were the surprise package of the Euro’s in 2016, and have a cohesive nature that will be hard to break down. Croatia have tremendous individual talent, highlighted by a strong midfield of Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, and Mateo Kovacic, while Nigeria boast several impressive attacking players, including Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi. Argentina should emerge victorious, and Croatia appear to be favorites to advance, especially after a disappointing 2014 campaign.

Predictions:
1. Argentina
2. Croatia
3. Nigeria
4. Iceland

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

Brazil will also be slightly annoyed by the difficulty of their draw. While they are also overwhelming favorites to advance, there are no easy games in this group. Switzerland are always a tough side to break down, and have steel in the midfield and defense; however, their lack of attacking options limits their upside. Costa Rica were the surprise package of 2014, coming within a penalty shootout of the semi-finals, but they won’t sneak up on anyone like they did in Brazil. Serbia make their return after a one-Cup hiatus, and also pose a chance at advancing. Brazil will win the group, but it should be quite the shootout for second.

Predictions:
1. Brazil
2. Switzerland
3. Costa Rica
4. Serbia

Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, Korea Republic

The Germans, like Brazil and Argentina, have a difficult draw, but considering how difficult their group was in 2014, this shouldn’t cause the defending champions any troubles. Germany are young, deep, and will likely return the majority of their 2014 World Cup winning squad. Mexico look primed to finish second, but their run of being eliminated in the Round of 16 looks likely to continue, as they would likely meet Brazil in the round of 16. Sweden did well to defeat Italy to qualify, and Korea Republic do have some quality (particularly Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son), but Mexico do appear favorites to advance.

Predictions:
1. Germany
2. Mexico
3. Sweden
4. Korea Republic

Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England

What a dream draw for England— following a very tough 2014 draw, England have matches against Panama and Tunisia before playing Belgium in the final match of the group. While England are perpetual underperformers at major tournaments, Panama and Tunisia should pose little threat. Belgium are also beatable— Roberto Martinez has not received many plaudits for his management of the team, and Belgium have struggled to impress at their last two major tournaments, despite reaching the quarterfinals twice. The final match of the group stage should decide who is first and who is second, and Belgium’s added boost in quality (particularly, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne) have the Red Devils in prime position to win the group.

Predictions:
1. England
2. Belgium
3. Panama
4. Tunisia

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

Another wide open group. Colombia were ever-so-impressive in Brazil, and Radamel Falcao’s return to form is very encouraging for Los Cafeteros. Poland are the weakest top seed other than Russia, but should have enough firepower to advance. Senegal will be exciting to watch, particularly with Sadio Mane, and Japan are always an interesting side, but it should be Poland and Colombia jostling for top spot.

Predictions:
1. Colombia
2. Poland
3. Senegal
4. Japan

 NEXT: The Contenders 

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Staff Writer at Elite Sports New York. Lead Writer at New York Sports Hub and My Weekly Sports. Twitter, instagram: @skylardarel. Avid fan of the Yankees, Knicks, Giants, New York City FC, FC Barcelona, and Arsenal FC. Sophomore at the College of New Jersey, studying Communication. Aspiring play-by-play commentator. Grew up in Manhattan, and proud to know how to work the Subway system.