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Revenge for Brazil and your ridiculously early 2018 World Cup predictions

We peer into the crystal ball and come up with three things that are likely to happen at the 2018 World Cup.

Image: Imago/PA Images

1. ‘Brazil, eh, are back… They’re back, baby!’ – Eamon Dunphy, 15 July 2018

First things first: Brazil will win the 2018 Fifa World Cup because they are, once more, the best international team in a world filled with mediocre international teams.

Yes, the tournament takes place in Russia, and yes, European teams tend to dominate World Cups which take place on their continent, but Brazil remain the only South American nation to have won a World Cup on European soil with thanks to their 5-2 destruction of host nation Sweden in the 1958 final, and they’ve won three in total outside of South America.

Granted, two of them occurred in Mexico and the USA respectively, but 2002′s triumph in Japan and South Korea – Brazil’s fifth and last – put paid to any notion that the Canarinho wilts once forced to take flight from The Americas.

Indeed, Germany breaking Europe’s duck in South America last time out was the third example in four World Cups of a country hoisting Jules Rimet on a foreign continent, so if it was a problem before – and history suggests it might have been – this no longer remains the case.

Imago 20171010 Source: Imago/PA Images

Former Corinthians coach Tite has transformed the Seleção since taking the reins in June of last year: still suffering from a World Cup hangover, Brazil languished in sixth spot in South American qualifying at the time of his appointment, but finished their campaign with 10 wins and two draws en route to Russia – topping their group with 10 points to spare over second-placed Uruguay.

Most importantly, Brazil are back, and not just in the win column.

“The football this team are playing has made me happy,” Tite said back in October.

It’s won back what I believe football is, linking effectiveness with beauty and winning games, and showing that these things aren’t conflictive.

It’s won back a nation, too, just over three years after the darkest hour in its footballing history, as a Neymarless, gormless, feckless Brazil were ruined 7-1 by eventual champions Germany in their own back yard.

Should both sides top their respective groups as expected, Brazil would avoid a chance for retribution versus the world champions until the final should both make it. And a Brazil-Germany final, with its irresistible Neymar-is-such-an-obvious-Christ-figure narrative, is scarcely unlikely: Germany’s likely opponents in the knockout stages are Serbia, England and Spain – the first two of whom, at least, are eminently beatable.

Which leads us to prediction #2.

2. Sorry, England. It’s the Germans again.

One wonders if expectations in England have truly become tempered over the past four years or if the mask will slip as we approach the summer.

Whatever the apathy from the English public towards its national team, however, a quarter-final exit for Gareth Southgate’s men would surely be greeted with more magnanimity than in past tournaments: This is, after all, a youthful team which, in spite of oozing genuine attacking talent akin to that of its predecessors – Kane, Sterling, Rashford – doesn’t really have any pretence about it. In fact, for the most part, Southgate’s England don’t even pretend to know what they’re doing.

It’s not inconceivable that they might top a group composed of themselves, Belgium, Panama and Tunisia, but the likelihood is that the Belgians, who have scored 29 goals in their last nine games (nine of them against Gibraltar, granted) compared to England’s 14, would top the group on goal difference even if England could earn a draw against Roberto Martinez’s side.

Should they qualify behind the Belgians, England will likely face a tall order in the form of Colombia – a tournament dark horse once more given the return to form of ‘El Tigre’ Radamel Falcao, who missed the 2014 tournament.

Germany, for whom one of Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia will lie in wait at the last 16 stage should they progress themselves, would potentially play the winner of England-Colombia in the quarter-final.

Soccer - 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa - Round Of 16 - Germany v England - Free State Stadium Source: EMPICS Sport

Joachim Löw’s side are frankly better than both, and the suspicion is that once England do eventually square off with a better team in the knockout stages, their tournament will end.

In truth, it might even transpire should they indeed face José Pékerman’s stylish Colombians a round prior. Germany, though, as they proved in 2010, will almost certainly be a bridge too far on this occasion.

3. David Silva will win Player of the Tournament

Neymar might seem a shoo-in should Brazil come good on our first prediction above, but David Silva seems primed for a breakout tournament at international level (think Euro 2012 for Andrea Pirlo: We always knew he was good, but my God, he’s good).

The 31-year-old Manchester City playmaker has already amassed 118 caps and 35 goals for his country, but with Andrés Iniesta’s powers on the wane, only over the past 18 months has Silva been handed the keys to Spain’s attack.

And boy, has it proved fruitful: Silva has scored 11 goals and registered five assists since Julen Lopetegui took charge last July, while Spain scored 36 goals in qualifying, albeit in a group where their only significant challenge arrived in the shape of Italy, from whom the Spaniards took four points.

Spain: Spain vs Costa Rica Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

With Iran and Morocco joining neighbours Portugal in their group, Spain strike as dead certs to score plenty of goals en route to the last 16. How far they can go might be determined more so by their defence, which conceded just three in their 10 qualifiers, but will be tested more sternly in the knockout stages.

On current form, they should be good for a semi-final berth at least, which in turn should be enough for Silva – should he continue in his current vein – to be the first name on plenty of lips when it comes to the Player of the Tournament conversation.

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