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2018 World Cup Group Stage

Commencing June 14 with Russia’s meeting with Saudi Arabia in Moscow, the World Cup group stages are the first round of fixtures played in the Finals, for which this will be the 21st edition. 

As ever, there have been some intriguing pairings of top teams who will face each other early on in the competition, such as Portugal and Spain, Argentina and Iceland and England and Belgium, which are likely to be the most eye catching of the early fixtures, all for different reasons.

How do the World Cup Groups work?

The group stages involve all 32 teams that qualify for the World Cup Finals, with all teams divided up into eight groups, each containing four teams. The draw for the Finals took place on December 1 2017. The group stages last almost two weeks, with the first game being on June 15 and the final group stage fixture being on June 28.

Each team in the group plays each other once in a round-robin format, with the first and second-placed teams progressing to the knockout stages of the competition, while the third and fourth-placed sides are eliminated. Three points are awarded for a win, one for a draw and zero for a defeat.

Should a situation arise where two or more sides finish on the same number of points, the rankings of the teams will be first decided by goal difference then, if their goal difference totals are also equal, then it will be decided by goals scored. However, if two or more teams all have equal points, goal difference and goals scored, then the following factors will come into play:
  • points obtained in the group matches between the teams concerned;
  • goal difference in the group matches between the teams concerned;
  • number of goals scored in the group matches between the teams concerned;
  • fair play points
  • first yellow card: minus 1 point;
  • indirect red card (second yellow card): minus 3 points;
  • direct red card: minus 4 points;
  • yellow card and direct red card: minus 5 points;
  • drawing of lots by the FIFA Organising Committee.
The results of the group stages have a direct knock-on effect to who the progressing teams face in the last 16 of the tournament. 

For example, should Russia win Group A and Uruguay finish as runners-up, the former would face the runners-up in Group B (one of Portugal, Spain, Morocco or Iran) and the latter would come up against the winners of Group B. As such, there is always an incentive for teams competing in the group stages to win all of their group games to give themselves a better chance of earning an ‘easier’ draw.

Who is in each World Cup Group?

A full list of the 2018 World Cup Groups can be found below:

Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

Who is in World Cup Group A?

Group A Teams
Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay

In terms of out-and-out World Cup contenders, Group A may not be the one which has the most attention bestowed upon it, but there remains some intriguing fixtures nonetheless. 

Hosts Russia continued the tradition of opening the ceremonies in the first game against Saudi Arabia, before Salah vs Suarez and Cavani the following day in Egypt the following day. 

Naturally after the season he has enjoyed with Liverpool, Mohamed Salah will be the player turning most heads in Group A to see how far he is able to take this Egypt team in their first World Cup since 1990. 

The pairing of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, along with their surrounding parts make Uruguay the favourites to finish top, but perhaps the most intriguing factor of the group is how Russia deal with the pressure of being hosts. 

We have seen previous examples of it both inspiring and hampering teams when it comes to the competition and this is a side who have failed to escape the group stages at Euro 2012, 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016. 

Saudi Arabia meanwhile come into the tournament with their third manager in less than a space of the year and with little expectation on them.

Who is in World Cup Group B?

Group B Teams
Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran

When the draw for the World Cup finals was made, Group B instantly stood out after the pairing of two geographical rivals and contenders to go all the way in the competition when Portugal and Spain were matched up together, alongside Morocco and Iran. 

Both Portugal and Spain have faced each other in the first knockout round of both the 2010 World Cup and the semi-finals of Euro 2012 in recent years, and the latter have come out on top in both occasions, as Cristiano Ronaldo and co. finally look to get one over their rivals. 

Both are expected to finish in the top two places in Group B, with that meeting in the first game of the group being potentially pivotal to their seedings. 

Morocco won’t be a walkover and have an experienced coach in Herve Renard and proved to be a stubborn outfit defensively during the African qualifiers. 

Iran meanwhile will hope to improve on the single points they earned in the group stages in 2014 in what is their fourth appearance in the World Cup finals in the last six editions.

Who is in World Cup Group C?

Group C Teams
France, Australia, Peru, Denmark

For the second successive tournament, France head into it as heavy favourites both in their group and to win it altogether. Didier Deschamps will have been more than satisfied with the draw his team received back in December, facing far from easy fixtures but nothing too strenuous, either. 

The quality of the French team and some of its star men in Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane make it easy to see why they are one of the most fancied sides to go all the way in Russia this summer. 

Elsewhere, Australia are competing in their fourth successive World Cup finals, though this is perhaps the weakest side they have had during that spell. 

Peru reached this stage of the World Cup for the first time since 1982 by finishing fifth in South American qualifying - eliminating Chile in the process - and overcame a two-legged play-off against New Zealand. 

As for Denmark, they are unbeaten in each of their last nine competitive fixtures coming into the World Cup and have the best player in Group C not wearing a France shirt in Christian Eriksen, leaving them as the favourites to finish as runners-up in the group.

Who is in World Cup Group D?

Group D Teams
Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria

Group D is perhaps the most curious group of all at this summer’s World Cup finals, given that all four sides stand a chance of progressing, yet also possess an heir of uncertainty about them. 

Argentina are the clear favourites to go through given the array of talent in their squad, particularly in attacking areas where Lionel Messi spearheads a star-studded group of players. 

Getting the best out of Messi on the international stage has long been a riddle for Argentina and time is running out for the Barcelona man to be held on the same pedestal by Argentina fans as Diego Maradona. Iceland were the surprise package at Euro 2016 and will bring an element of fear with them after making the quarter-final stage two years ago. 

Croatia have the second most talented squad in Group D after Argentina and caused something of an upset in the Euro 2016 group stages by beating Spain and have Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic to call upon in midfield. 2013 Africa Cup of Nations winners Nigeria are back at their third successive World Cup and faced Argentina at the 2010 World Cup - losing narrowly 1-0 in the group stages.

Who is in World Cup Group E?

Group E Teams
Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

Plenty of eyes will be on Brazil in the group stages to see how they respond to their last performance in a World Cup - crashing out in their home tournament in 2014 after a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany. 

They will be hoping Neymar can return to full fitness and form by the time their opening game comes around on June 17, as the PSG forward looks to put his name in the hat for the Ballon D’Or come the end of the calendar year. 

Switzerland overcame Northern Ireland in a playoff to reach the World Cup and will be a tough opponent for any team that faces them after winning nine of their 10 group games. 

Not much is expected of Costa Rica, but that was also the case in 2014, where they went all the way to the quarter-finals and that performance alone is enough for them to demand respect from the rest of Group E. 

Serbia came from nowhere to finish top of a tight group in European qualifying and this is their first appearance at a major tournament since 2010, giving a number of the veterans of their squad one last attempt at international glory.

Who is in World Cup Group F?

Group F Teams
Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea

Like a number of these groups given some high-profile absentees such as Italy, Netherlands and Chile, the winner of Group F, on the surface at least, appears to be pretty cut and dry. 

Germany have been there and done it on the international stage, reaching at least the semi-finals of each of the last six major tournaments they have been involved in, including winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. 

There is nothing left than can surprise Joachim Low’s side, who have truly seen it all over the years and could easily retain their crown. 

From there, it’s anybody’s guess who will qualify, with Mexico having just as good a chance of any other side given their performance during qualification. 

Mexico lost just once during their qualifiers - with that result coming against Honduras after they had already sealed their place at the World Cup finals. 

Sweden have surprisingly thrived since the retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2016, while South Korea stand the chance of beating any side in group on their day. These factors leave Group F as one of the most wide open at the World Cup.

Who is in World Cup Group G?

Group G Teams
Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England

Belgium and England supporters must really feel as if they have hit the jackpot with this draw, with both sides being clear favourites to progress to the last 16 from Group G. 

Starting with Belgium, they have now had two major tournaments in 2014 and 2016 with this ‘Golden Generation’ of players to adjust and get used to life at the top level of international football. 

Boasting Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku in their squad to name just a few of their most talented players, Belgium are in a real golden era and need to capitalise on it sooner than later. 

As for England, who knows what Russia will hold for them. Gareth Southgate has brought a refreshing feel to this side, experimenting with new systems and players since taking over. 

Whether or not they have the quality within them to go all the way remains to be seen and much of their hopes will rely upon Harry Kane, who will need to find form at the right time for them to stand a chance of going deep into the tournament. 

Panama and Tunisia aren’t fancied by many to cause upsets against either side, who should have too much quality for them to contend with.

Who is in World Cup Group H?

Group H Teams
Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

Group H is the ultimate ‘pick em’ group, with no real outstanding candidate or favourite to progress to the last 16 of the competition. 

Each teams boasts one outstanding player with Robert Lewandowski, Sadio Mane, James Rodriguez and Shinji Kagawa all carrying the hopes of their respective nations on their shoulders. 

Poland come into the tournament off the back of another strong qualifying campaign and are one of the most rapidly improving sides in international football, having won eight of their 10 qualifying games. 

Mane-led Senegal are competing in their first World Cup since 2002, where they wrote their name into World Cup folklore by defeating holders France in the opening game and went on to progress to the quarter-finals. 

Unquestionably one of the most enjoyable teams to watch at the 2014 World Cup was Colombia, whose attacking style of play made them everybody’s second-favourite side. 

Rodriguez and co. will hope to take inspiration from that summer’s success heading into Russia. Japan meanwhile are due an appearance in the knockout stages, having been eliminated in the groups and progressed the following year in alternate competitions since 1998 and failed to get past the group stages in 2014.

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