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The World Cup may not have started yet, but we already know what will go down in the last two groups of the first stage as Cricket Soccer’s Russia 2018 predictions continue…

Group G

You can bet a World Cup or Euro is coming up when you hear the fancy, cool football analysts preaching that “this will be Belgium’s year”. It never actually happens, but listening to that mantra has become as frequent as traffic jams in Valencia.

The eternal promise embodied by the ‘Red Devils’ found itself at odds once again in the group stage, this time thanks to an excellent English side who impressed and delivered the goods regardless of their youth.

Both Belgium and England pulled off easy wins in their opening games. Gareth Southgate’s men cruised past Tunisia (3-0) with Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane capping off Jordan Henderson’s opening header, while Belgium didn’t break a sweat and made poor Panama chase the ball around (2-0). Kevin de Bruyne provided a brace and Thibaut Courtois had no problem adding another clean sheet to his impressive resumé.

The ‘Red Devils’ stumbled days later, unable to find a way to tear down Tunisia’s impressive defensive display (0-0). The disappointment was complete after England snatched first spot in Group G, trouncing a very inexperienced Panamá (4-1) who got a single goal late in the second-half thanks to a long-range shot by Quintero.

Everything came down to the third match day. And, oh boy, the surprise was big: while Tunisia failed to make something positive out of its draw against Belgium (their draw against Panama was disappointing), the Belgians themselves were absolutely destroyed by England on the counter-attack (4-0).

Marcus Rashford, Sterling and Jamie Vardy in the second half ran circles around the opposition. They might still ruin it in the Last 16 round with a stinker, but this young and promising squad (three games, three wins, 11 goals scored) has finally gotten rid of the loser smell they used to have in any World Cup.

1.       England

2.       Belgium

3.       Tunisia

4.       Panama

Group H

It was going to be an ‘up for grabs’ first spot since the World Cup draw made it official. Exotic and relatively obscure teams were going to face each other with a golden chance of surprising and moving on to the Last 16 round. Each of them defied expectations: Colombia didn’t score with ease, Senegal never relied in the usual African physical superiority, Poland surprised with their solid defense…and Japan came out on top unexpectedly only two months after sacking Vahid Halihodzic as their manager.

Matchday 1 brought the first upset: Japan defeated Colombia (1-0) with a single goal by veteran Shinki Kawawa. The loss was considered a national tragedy in Colombia and soon criticism and pressure made the national team a very unpleasant place to be. Meanwhile, Senegal put up a fight and unexpectedly got away with a point against the better Poland (1-1).

The ‘Samurai Blue’ were ready to take on another challenge and, again, unexpectedly came back after 0-2 score versus Senegal and drew the game in the second half. Meanwhile, disaster struck for Colombia as James Rodríguez picked up a calf injury and scoring responsibilities relied on Radamel Falcao. ‘El Tigre’ scored against Poland but it wasn’t enough to upstage the quality Polish midfield (1-2). Colombia was out of the World Cup.

The Colombian disaster was mitigated slightly by their win in the last game (3-1 over an unexpectedly competitive Senegal), but the interest was placed upon the battle for the first spot. Again, another draw (1-1) as Japan proved solid enough and fended-off Lewandowski and his team mates. With seven points and no defeats, Japan provided the excitement and unpredictability in the last group of the World Cup’s opening stage.

1.       Japan

2.       Poland

3.       Colombia

4.       Senegal

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