Matthew Booth gives us his take on the 2018 FIFA World Cup
Zdravstvyite Tavarishi! (Hello Comrades)
South Africans, every four years, 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).
The time is upon us once again as we are fortunate enough to be able to admire some of the globe’s best athletes strut their stuff for their flag instead of club, with their compatriots instead of colleagues and for national pride instead of a pay cheque.
‘So who is going to win the World Cup in Russia then Matthew?’ as I grimace slightly at the much asked question…and before I answer herein lies the rub…the trouble with making predictions is that you can only analyse from the outside and that you cannot be imbedded with every squad, sharing intimate details with every player and privy to the coach’s private thoughts therefore the variables and permutations become too numerous.
Let’s forget about whether Mohamed Salah Ghaly’s humerus will reconnect to his glenoid sufficiently to allow him to compete against the nuggety Uruguayans and if so which formation will Hector Cuper institute or will England’s Pickford be experienced enough to keep Hazard, Lukaku & Co. at bay or will Neymar be 100% match-fit by the 17th of June for the Swiss?
Sometimes it can be the smaller things that count when placing a bet…
How about taking into consideration which side of the bed the French team will wake up on or will Peru’s pre-match meal of quinoa be cooked thoroughly or has Japan’s manager calculated the time difference correctly?
Having said that, here are mine…
Messi’s, Argentina to hold the World Cup trophy aloft on the 15th July at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. I like the look of the spine of the team with Otamendi, Mascherano, Di Maria, Messi & Aguero. A question mark remains in the goalkeeping department after Romero’s untimely injury. They scraped by in the South American qualifying group and therefore have escaped the scrutiny and hype that perhaps the Germans and Brazilians have been subjected to.
The Golden Boot award will find its way to Sergio Aguero’s cabinet as I feel that Messi and Di Maria’s combined creative juices will be in full flow during the Russian summer.
Golden Gloves are usually assigned to the goalkeeper whose backline is shakiest and whose defensive midfield combination is uncertain but whose team progress the furthest. My pick is therefore England’s Pickford as the ex-Sunderland, £30m-man has been a standout for Everton and resolute during the Nigerian friendly.
The player to watch, from the talent-pool, is one Antoine Griezmann. The ‘Athleti’ #7 is on the watch-list of Europe’s elite clubs and I feel that he will make full use of the French talent that surrounds him and the massive stage that is set before him to push his agenda for the 2018/2019 season.
From an African perspective I am confident that all ‘our’ teams will progress to the knock- out stages except for Tunisia and my gut feel tells me that Renard’s Morocco led by Benatia, Juventus’ rock at centre-back, will make the quarter-finals.
Despite the unknown and the many permutations the scene is set for a remarkable World Cup and I am confident that mama-Russia will be an excellent host to the globe’s biggest show!
Do svhidanye (Goodbye, until next time)