Time to place your bets: who will win the soccer trophy in Russia?
Former South African footballer Matthew Booth shares his predictions for the standouts in this year’s global soccer extravaganza
Zdravstvyite tovarishchi! (Hello, comrades!)
Every four years, South Africans get to adopt a country to represent us in the world’s greatest sporting spectacle. My intention here is not to depress you, but just in case you haven’t registered, our beloved Bafana Bafana failed to qualify … yet again.
Still, we are fortunate to be able to admire some of the globe’s best athletes strut their stuff for their flags instead of their clubs, with their compatriots instead of their colleagues, and for national pride instead of pay cheques.
So who’s going to win the World Cup in Russia, Matthew? I get bombarded with that question, and I grimace because it’s almost impossible to answer. Here’s the rub: the trouble with making predictions is that you can only analyse from the outside. You cannot be embedded in every squad, sharing intimate details with every player and being privy to the coach’s private thoughts. The variables and permutations become too numerous.
Let’s forget about whether Mohamed Salah Ghaly’s humerus will reconnect to his glenoid sufficiently enough to allow him to compete against the nuggety Uruguayans. And if so, which formation will Héctor Cúper institute? Will England’s Jordan Pickford be experienced enough to keep Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku & co at bay? And will Neymar be 100% match-fit by June 17 for the Swiss?
Sometimes it’s the smaller things that count when placing a bet…
How about taking into consideration on which side of the bed the French team will wake up, or whether Peru’s pre-match meal of quinoa will be cooked thoroughly, or if Japan’s manager calculated the time difference correctly?
Having said that, here are mine.
Lionel Messi’s Argentina will hold the trophy aloft on July 15 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. I like the look of the spine of the team with Nicolás Otamendi, Javier Mascherano, Ángel Di María, Messi and Sergio Agüero. A question mark hangs over the goalkeeping department after Sergio Romero’s untimely injury. They scraped by in the South American qualifying group and therefore have escaped the scrutiny and hype surrounding the Germans and Brazilians.
The Golden Boot award will find its way to Agüero’s cabinet, as I believe Messi and Di María’s combined creative juices will be in full flow during the Russian summer.
The Golden Glove award is usually assigned to the goalkeeper whose backline is the shakiest and whose defensive midfield combination is uncertain but whose team progresses the furthest. My pick is therefore England’s Pickford as the £30m ex-Sunderland man has been a standout for Everton and resolute during the Nigerian friendly.
The player to watch, from the talent pool, is Antoine Griezmann. The “Athleti” #7 is on the watchlist of Europe’s elite clubs and he is likely to make full use of the French talent around him and the massive stage to push his agenda for the 2018–19 season.
From an African perspective, I am confident all our teams will progress to the knock-out stages – except for Tunisia. My gut feel is that led by Medhi Benatia, Juventus’s rock at centre-back, Hervé Renard’s Morocco will make the quarterfinals.
Despite the many possible arrangements, the scene is set for a remarkable World Cup and I am confident that Mama Russia will be an excellent host of the globe’s biggest show.
Do svhidanye. (Goodbye, until next time.)
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This article was paid for by Betway.