Here’s Rob Reid with his 4th and final World Cup Fantasy Group Stage tips article. This time it’s Groups G and H where he looks at each team individually within both Groups and their fantasy player prospects
World Cup Fantasy Group Stage tips – Rob Reid previews Groups G and H
Group odds – Belgium 5/6 England 11/8 Tunisia 25/1 Panama 55/1
A group that initially looks pretty straightforward on paper – the European teams should be a cut above their rivals. Both are packed with Premier League talent and qualified easily through their respective groups. Read between the lines though and there are cracks that could appear. Belgium for all the talent of their latest golden generation have struggled to find a blend at major tournaments. And England haven’t produced a good major tournament run since the 1990s. Could Tunisia do the unthinkable and win a World Cup match for the first time since the 1970s? Or could debutants Panama spring an even bigger surprise? The odds would suggest otherwise.
Let’s start with the teams we know best and have a look at England. They dominated their group, only dropping 4 points with draws away to Slovenia and Scotland, conceding only 3 times in the process. Expectations are actually fairly low and there is a quiet acceptance that England may just be out of their depth should they go beyond the last 16. That being said there’s some great talent in this young England side that certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.
Harry Kane is England’s captain and rightly their most expensive fantasy player with an international record of 13 in 24 caps. He’s likely to be the figurehead in a 3-4-3 and will be joined by Raheem Sterling who’s been in great form this season but had some media trouble in the build-up. Dele Alli should start as well but probably in a midfield role with Lingard or Rashford getting the other forward place. They could switch to a 3-5-2 against Belgium which would probably see the latter players benched.
England’s defence did well in qualifying but have their issues. The centre is a bit soft and might be exposed by a pacy attack. Then there’s the goalkeeper conundrum with the out of form Joe Hart dropped and the inexperienced Jordan Pickford likely to start. Spurs full-backs Trippier and Rose might well start in the wing back positions and therefore offer the best options as they will certainly push forward and offer assist threat.
Belgium are the group favourites and won UEFA group H at a canter, only dropping points in a draw against Greece. They scored 43 goals in the process (albeit with 25 of them coming against Estonia and Gibraltar) and conceded just 6. Friendly results have been good as well, 3 wins and draws against Portugal and Mexico since they secured qualification.
Romelu Lukaku scored 11 goals in Belgium’s qualifying campaign, the 3rd highest overall in the UEFA section. He’s Belgium’s all-time leading scorer with 34 in 68 caps and will fancy his chances as a flat-track bully against the underdogs in this section. He won’t have penalties though – these will be taken by Eden Hazard who scored 6 times and made 5 assists in qualifying though he’s likely to be listed as a striker, rather than the midfield listing he gets in FPL. Kevin De Bruyne will be heavily fancied in midfield but is more of an assist player at this level as well.
The Belgian defence gives some nice options, especially taking their fixtures into account. Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld give game time security in the middle but I’d favour Thomas Meunier who plays at wing-back, he’s a fantastic attacking option who scored 5 and got 8 assists in qualifying.
Tunisia were unbeaten in Group A of the African qualifiers but still only edged out DR Congo by 1 point in what was one of the easier sections. They kept 3 clean sheets in the process conceding 4 across their 6 matches. The Carthage Eagles have also been in good form this year, beating Costa Rica and Iran, drawing with Portugal and only losing to Spain through a late goal. I think they’ll be much tougher opposition than people think.
Their problem could be lack of big tournament pedigree and they will have to be at their best to win their first World Cup match since 1978. They will need a strong showing from talented midfielder Wahbi Khazri, he has 12 goals in 35 caps. Only their game versus Panama stands out as clean sheet potential but keeper Aymen Mathlouthi is likely to pick up some save points in the first 2 fixtures.
Last up is World Cup debutants Panama. They come in with no expectations, nothing to lose and will no doubt relish every moment of the experience. They scraped through the CONCACAF hexagonal on goal difference, thanks to an utterly dubious phantom goal in their final match against Costa Rica, turning their players into national heroes in the process. Friendly results this year haven’t been great, their only win was through a late winner against Trinidad and they were drubbed 6-0 by Switzerland in March. Most recently they’ve held Northern Ireland 0-0 and lost narrowly in Norway.
They have 2 highly experienced strikers in Blas Perez and Luis Tejada, both have 43 international goals apiece but are in their late 30s. Perez is more likely to start and could be partnered by Gabriel Torres if they play 4-4-2, he has 14 goals in 71 caps.
Roman Torres became a legend when he scored the goal that took Panama to Russia and he’ll be a standout figure at the back and offer set piece aerial threat. He’s got 10 goals in 109 caps. Their keeper is likely to be busy for some save points – he’s Jaime Penedo of Dinamo Bucharest and is his countries second most capped player with 131 caps, behind defensive midfielder Gabriel Gomez.
Belgium versus England in Matchday 3 is likely to be the group decider so good prospects for Matchdays 1 & 2 for these teams. I’d fancy defence and attack cover for both. Being among the later fixtures, they are also good targets to be used off the bench.
Group Odds – Colombia 13/8 Poland 21/10 Senegal 55/10 Japan 8/1
This looks like an entertaining open group, drawing teams from 4 different federations. Colombia won many fans on their way to the 2014 quarter-finals inspired by James Rodriguez. Poland and Senegal both have players in great form at club level and will be keen to have a shot at the knockout phases. Then there’s group underdogs Japan who are a bit of an unknown under a new manager. Anyone could win this group and similarly anyone could finish bottom.
We’ll start with Senegal and The Lions of Teranga were comfortable group winners in African group D. They were unbeaten, keeping 4 clean sheets in the process though would have been disappointed by their 2 draws against Burkina Faso. Friendly results since then haven’t been great either – underwhelming draws versus Uzbekistan, Bosnia and Luxembourg and a defeat to Croatia. Worrying form as they head for Russia.
Their most notable talent is of course Sadio Mane. He’s coming off the back of a great season with Liverpool and has 14 goals in 51 caps. There’s a number of players in their squad who could join Mane at the attacking end of a 4-3-2-1 or 5-4-1 – if he plays Moussa Sow of Bursaspor has the best record in internationals – 18 goals in 51 games.
Senegal are tighter at the back than in previous years, though I can’t say this is a group that particularly stands out for clean sheets. Kara Mbodji is possibly their standout defender with a bit of attacking threat; 5 goals in 52 caps.
I’ll look at Japan next, they qualified by winning Asia Group B. It was a bit of a mixed bag of results with 4 clean sheets in 10 but they had comfortably made it through before they were defeated by Saudi Arabia in the final match. Bosnian boss Vahid Halilhodzic was then fired in April, leaving new coach Akira Nishino little time to prepare. It’s not gone well so far with 2-0 reverses to Switzerland and Ghana with only a game against Paraguay to come a week before their opener in Russia.
Nishino is likely to favour 4-3-3 with older heads Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki likely to take 2 of the front 3 berths. Both gave prolific international records and have 86 international goals between them. I don’t really fancy them defensively but Southampton’s Maya Yoshida does offer a goal threat with 10 goals in 80 caps.
Colombia will start as group favourites and will fancy their chances at matching their 2014 run to the quarters. South American qualifying is always tough but they secured an automatic spot in 4th place, keeping 7 clean sheets. They didn’t however beat any of the teams above them which is a concern if they reach the knockout stages.
Their star player James Rodriguez has been in and out of form since winning the Golden Boot at the 2014 tournament, but has played well on loan at Bayern this year. He was key in qualifying, scoring 6 and making 4 assists. Radamel Falcao also looks back to his best and should finally make his World Cup debut at 32 having missed the last 2 tournaments through injury. He’s got 29 goals in 73 internationals and is Colombia’s all-time leading scorer.
Colombia are probably the best prospect in this group for a clean sheet. Barcelona’s Yerry Mina is a significant aerial threat with 3 goals in 12 caps and looks the best option at the back for me.
Last but not least it’s Poland. They go to Russia with one of the oldest squads and it will represent a last shot at glory for some. They qualified well winning 8 with a 4-0 defeat away to Denmark the only blip in proceedings.
Robert Lewandowski was the star of the show as expected. He scored 15 in the qualifiers and was the second highest scorer overall behind Cristiano Ronaldo. He has 53 goals in 94 caps and scored 41 in 48 for Bayern this season. He’s a player in great form and will look to carry that to Russia.
I’ll be honest, there’s not many others that appeal from the Polish ranks. Defensively they conceded 14 and kept only 2 clean sheets in qualifying so I’m not sold on prospects here. Wolfsburg’s Jakub Blaszczykowski is injury prone and may have his minutes managed accordingly, though has been good in midfield in previous years. The best outside prospect may therefore be Piotr Zielinski the creative Napoli midfielder. He’s only got 4 goals in 31 caps but is a good assist threat.
Lewandowski, Mane, Rodriguez and Falcao could score against anyone and the Japan fixture would be targets for them. Colombia probably have the best clean sheet prospects but their toughest fixture versus Poland is on Matchday 2 so not as appealing for clumps of 2. This could be a nice group for a cheap midfielder though as they play last and could make a nice substitute.
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