The 2018 World Cup is nearly here, and as the anticipation reaches its peak, we make our predictions for who will get out of the groups and ultimately win it all and lift the trophy in Russia.

By SI.com Staff
June 04, 2018

The World Cup kicks off June 14 in Moscow with a meeting between the two lowest-ranked teams in the field, which, in some ways, is quite appropriate. The competition is meant to be a crescendo, one whose drama and defining moments don't occur until the very end. With the way the draw and schedule worked out, that's precisely how Russia 2018 is shaping up to play out.

Russia vs. Saudi Arabia will be a massive 90 minutes for the host nation, which can set its tone for the tournament in front of its partisan crowd. But once it's over, the focus will shift to the traditional powers and the individual superstars who figure to have plenty of say in determining the 2018 world champion. 

At least that's how we see things going. In anticipation of the 32-team, month-long battle for international supremacy, SI's Avi Creditor, Luis Miguel Echegaray, Brian Straus, Grant Wahl and Jonathan Wilson size up the tournament field and make their picks for who will get out of each group and how the knockout stage will unfold–from the round of 16 to the moment the trophy is lifted July 15 at the same Luzhniki Stadium where all of the drama will kick off.

In case you're in need of a refresher, here are the eight groups at the World Cup:

AVI CREDITOR

Group Winners: A - Uruguay | B - Spain | C - France | D - Croatia | E - Brazil | F - Germany | G - Belgium | H - Colombia

Group Runners-Up: A - Egypt | B - Portugal | C - Peru | D - Argentina | E - Costa Rica | F - Mexico | G - England | H - Senegal

The World Cup field seems pretty straightforward, with most groups having a clearly defined top two. There's room for some slight surprises–and juicy storylines–to develop, though. Like how about Argentina finishing second in its group and going into the same quadrant of the bracket as Portugal for a potential Messi-Ronaldo quarterfinal showdown? And after that, how about the potential for an Argentina-Brazil semifinal, which would be their first World Cup showdown since 1990? And what about a Paolo Guerrero-sparked Peru getting out of its group and making some noise as this year's Costa Rica, going on an inspiring quarterfinal run?

Ultimately, the bluebloods will decide the winner, and we're left with an incredible final four. Argentina and Brazil provide an all-South American semifinal on one side, while Spain and Germany make for an all-European one on the other. Ironically and poetically, a more balanced and multi-pronged Brazil will advance due to Argentina's over-reliance on one star, while Spain has the skill and depth to break down a resolute defending champion in Germany. 

Neymar makes the difference in the final, lifting Brazil to its record sixth title–60 years after Pelé carried the Seleção to their first.

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LUIS MIGUEL ECHEGARAY

Group Winners: A - Uruguay | B - Spain | C - France | D - Argentina | E - Brazil | F - Germany | G - Belgium | H - Senegal

Group Runners-Up: A - Egypt | B - Portugal | C - Peru | D - Nigeria | E - Switzerland | F - Mexico | G - England | H - Colombia

There are two World Cup predictions I feel very strongly about: Radamel Falcao will score more goals than anyone in the group stage, and, for the first time since 1958, Brazil will win the World Cup on European soil.

With all due respect to Serbia, Switzerland and Costa Rica, the group is Brazil's for the taking, meaning the Seleção can ease Neymar back into the lineup and get him ready for the knockout stage.

Brazil, however, is not just about the PSG star. This is a loaded team in every facet, and thanks to Roberto Firmino and preferred starter Gabriel Jesus, there is serious competition in the No. 9 role, something that has been missing for a long time. 

Thanks to coach Tite, this squad is as creative as it is disciplined, and the latter will be the deciding factor in the knockout rounds. After beating Mexico in the round of 16 (sorry, El Tri fans), Belgium awaits in the quarters, and this is where I think experience overrules talent, as Brazil beats Roberto Martinez’s side. The harder test will come in the semis when France comes knocking, but this goal-fest will go in favor of the South Americans, and you know what that means? The final presents an opportunity for redemption against Germany and a chance for Brazil to heal the wounds from 2014's shocking 7-1 semifinal exit on home soil.

In the end, Brazil writes a new ending against Joachim Low’s squad and wins its sixth World Cup.

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BRIAN STRAUS

Group Winners: A - Uruguay | B - Spain | C - France | D - Croatia | E - Brazil | F - Germany | G - Belgium | H - Poland

Group Runners-Up: A - Egypt | B - Portugal | C - Denmark | D - Argentina | E - Switzerland | F - Mexico | G - England | H - Colombia

Past performance never guarantees future results, but in searching for patterns that might help predict a World Cup, it’s worth looking at what we’ve learned from recent editions.

World Cups aren’t won by second-tier countries led by golden generations. They’re won by nations that produce talent far more consistently, without dramatic peaks and valleys. World Cups are won by teams on the rise that have paid their dues, not by sated or aging stars. And they’re won with world-class resilience and depth. Champions evolve during a tournament and have options available as they adapt, and they need talent in reserve in big moments. Germany’s Cup-winning goal in Rio was scored by a sub and set up by a midfielder who relieved the guy playing in place of the injured starter.

There will be three teams in Russia with enough talent, depth, fortitude and pedigree to win–Germany, Spain and France. Germany, who’s bringing back less than half its 2014 squad, will edge Spain in one semi. France, whose ‘B’ team might make the final four, will knock out Belgium’s golden generation in the other. In the final, a French team bursting with talent that will have hit its stride—both in the long-term and during a tournament in which it faces a few tactical questions—will triumph. Les Bleus will come in waves, and they have the hunger, quality and flexibility to triumph.

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GRANT WAHL

Group Winners: A - Uruguay | B - Spain | C - France | D - Croatia | E - Brazil | F - Germany | G - Belgium | H - Colombia

Group Runners-Up: A - Russia | B - Portugal | C - Denmark | D - Iceland | E - Switzerland | F - Mexico | G - England | H - Senegal

Spain will win its second World Cup in three cycles by relying on an experienced core balancing solid defense (goalkeeper David De Gea; center backs Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué), a masterly midfield (Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta, Thiago) and an emerging front line (Marco Asensio, Isco, Diego Costa).

Their ball control will wear out defending champ Germany in the semifinals and then, in the final, Belgium, which will outlast a slew of talented teams in the Red Devils’ half of the draw: Brazil (upset by Mexico), France (which has at least one stinker every five games) and Uruguay.

Ultimately, the teamwide strength of Spain will prevail in a tournament of surprises over the individual stardom of Brazil’s Neymar, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi (who will go out in the group stage as Argentina finishes behind Croatia and Iceland).

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Group Winners: A - Uruguay | B - Spain | C - France | D - Argentina | E - Brazil | F - Germany | G - Belgium | H - Colombia

Group Runners-Up: A - Egypt | B - Portugal | C - Denmark | D - Croatia | E - Switzerland | F - Mexico | G - England | H - Senegal

World Cups are not rational and there is something very strange about the fact that in a competition that even in its expanded form lasts only seven games, there has not been a surprise winner in the mold of a Denmark or Greece in the Euros. The only real shock winner, in fact, was West Germany in 1954, and subsequent history indicates what a shock that was. The World Cup is long overdue for a surprise.

Having said that, there are four squads that have quality and depth far in excess of their rivals, and the way the draw has worked, Spain, Brazil, Germany and France can all avoid each other before the semifinal; although Spain, in particular, may fear the quarterfinal where Argentina probably lies in wait (Spain’s recent 6-1 friendly win over Jorge Sampaoli’s side notwithstanding). This is a Spain team rejuvenated under Julen Lopetegui, and given Brazil’s issues at right back in the absence of Dani Alves and the way Spain seems to be coming into form at just the right time, it is my favorite to win in Moscow on July 15.

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