The latest version of FIFA World Cup is less than a week away and the football lovers from all around the world have started gathering in Russia. We got an opportunity to talk with renowned sports journalist and avid football lover Novy Kapadia about his expectations from this tournament. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
Which teams will dominate the World Cup 2018 according to you?
I think the same European and South American teams will dominate the World Cup, there won’t be any change in that. I believe past the quarterfinals stage it will be the European and South American teams which will emerge as front-runners. I am not expecting much from the Asian and African countries and even entering the quarterfinals stage is going to be a tough task for them.
The heavyweight teams will do well because they have players who are professionals and have played in competitive leagues and knows how to tackle pressure in a high-pressure tournament like the World Cup. I think the winning team will be from the usual suspects ie Germany, France, Spain, Brazil and if Messi plays brilliantly Argentina. Teams like Belgium and Uruguay can be the dark horses.
What is your pick of the players to watch out for in this World Cup?
Its really interesting because the World Cup has always given some new talented players to Football, for eg James Rodriguez from Colombia in the last World Cup was a great find. Apart from the usuals like Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar, players like Toni Kroos, Sergio Ramos, , Mohammed Salah (depending on his fitness, I have my doubts) will be interesting to watch.
Among the youngsters Gabriel Jesus, Mbappe, Phillip Coutinho can be the real stars of the World Cup. France has a really strong squad this time and players like Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Matuidi, Kante and Pogba will be really interesting to watch and I think Mbappe and Jesus(Brazil) could be the most exciting young players in this Tournament.
What are some of the unmissable games during the group stage?
Portugal vs Spain will be one of the most outstanding game to look out for. The opening game of the Group B is going to be very vital because it will almost decide which team will top the group table and thus qualify for the next stage. Apart from this game, I think England vs Belgium, the penultimate game of group G in Kaliningrad Stadium would be really crucial as the result will decide the group topper and might even decide who will play Poland or Colombia(if they succeed) from Group H in the next stage. I think it will be a cracker of a match as Belgium has a large number of players who play in the Premier League as well.
Argentina vs Iceland could be interesting as Iceland is playing their first World Cup and they are a tough team to break down. Apart from these games, it’s really unpredictable to guess. But a lot of games will become interesting to watch in the later stages of the tournament.
Which is your favourite team for this World Cup?
Well, until I see them (the teams) actually playing I cant say for sure. I don’t have any favourites as of now but I guess one of the four teams ie. Germany, France, Spain and Brazil will be capable of winning it all the way. There are so many factors like important players getting Yellow cards, players getting injured etc. By the time a team reaches final its really hard to guess. Like it happened last time for Brazil when Neymar got injured. In this respect, I think Germany and France have a very balanced side and a strong bench strength.
I think all of these four have their strong points and weaknesses as well. For instance, Germany is not having a good striker. I watched their practice game against Saudi Arabia. They want to walk the ball into the net, this can cause them problems. They create ten openings and score two goals.
France has a very exciting team with new talents, but it would be interesting to see their temperament to perform well in the finals. Brazil is also a bit over-dependent on Neymar, which can cost them later on.
Which teams are capable of making some major upsets in Russia?
Belgium, Uruguay, Colombia and (if Salah is fully fit) Egypt are capable of giving any top team a hard time in the field. Nigeria is also one team that can give any team a run for their money on any given day. Costa Rica and Peru can surprise as well. But these teams are lacking depths in their squads and they are most probably going to be one-match wonders.
I believe this time there is no ‘Group of Death’, so it will make the task for the favourite teams easier to move ahead to the Knockout stage. When the Knockout Stage begins, the real World Cup begins.
(As told to Shrey Singh)