Cup is half empty as draw is made

Wexford People - - SPORT -

I HAD just about come to terms with the fact that Ire­land won’t be part of the World Cup in Rus­sia next year when the draw for the next tour­na­ment stirred up all those un­wel­come feel­ings of re­gret and what might have been.

When you see teams like Panama, Ja­pan and Saudi Ara­bia din­ing at the top ta­ble, it’s hard not to feel a lit­tle miffed that we’re not on the guest list for the big­gest party in world football, in­stead hav­ing to press our out of joint noses against a con­den­sa­tion-soaked win­dow and watch from the pe­riph­ery.

That said, we’re in pretty good com­pany, with the likes of Italy and Hol­land also hav­ing to make dif­fer­ent plans for their sum­mer so­journ, in­stead of lim­ber­ing up for a bat­tle with the big boys.

Whether you like it or not, much of the fo­cus in these parts will now be on how Eng­land fare and they cer­tainly couldn’t have asked for a more favourable group to get them up and run­ning, hav­ing to pit their wits against Panama and Tu­nisia, with their match against Bel­gium ex­pected to de­cide who goes through as group win­ners.

How­ever, con­sid­er­ing Ice­land and Costa Rica sent them pack­ing from the Eu­ros and World Cup re­spec­tively in their last two ma­jor tour­na­ments, the Rule Bri­tan­nia brigade wouldn’t want to be get­ting overly car­ried away with their ex­pec­ta­tions this time around

With a di­lu­tion of qual­ity the good old-fash­ioned group of death is al­most a thing of the past, al­though neigh­bours Spain and Por­tu­gal be­ing drawn to­gether in Group B is an in­trigu­ing tie. Still, they both would be ex­pected to progress, at the ex­pense of Morocco and Iran.

The hard­est one to call would def­i­nitely be Group D, con­tain­ing Ar­gentina, Ice­land, Croa­tia and Nige­ria, and I, for one, am hop­ing the South Amer­i­cans won’t come un­stuck in a tricky enough as­sign­ment.

I would dearly love to see Lionel Messi lead­ing Ar­gentina to World Cup glory like the ma­gi­cian Diego Maradona be­fore him, if only to shut the nay-say­ers up once and for all.

Fel­low South Amer­i­can gi­ants Brazil will, as usual, top many peo­ple’s lists of po­ten­tial win­ners, al­though they haven’t been gifted the most straight­for­ward group, with two Euro­pean teams, Switzer­land and Ser­bia, and the afore­men­tioned Costa Rica, who left Eng­land red-faced at the last World Cup, in their way. They still should progress without too much fuss, how­ever, and it would be a sur­prise if they’re not there or there­abouts at the lat­ter stages of the tour­na­ment.

Af­ter dis­ap­point­ing in the Euro 2016 fi­nal on home soil, France will be de­ter­mined to make amends and should go deep into the tour­na­ment if they can make the most of the tal­ent at their dis­posal.

Den­mark may have made Ire­land look like schoolboys in the sec­ond leg of the play-off at the Aviva Sta­dium, but France should have their mea­sure and be too good for Peru and Aus­tralia.

Ger­many al­ways seem to pro­duce the goods on the big stage and will be ex­pected to top the group ahead of Mex­ico, Swe­den and South Korea be­fore march­ing on to the busi­ness end of the tour­na­ment.

Hosts Rus­sia are cer­tainly far from world-beat­ers and even though they could hardly have hand-picked a bet­ter group, con­tain­ing Saudi Ara­bia, Uruguay and Egypt, I wouldn’t ex­pect them to do much in the tour­na­ment.

So, at this early stage, what’s the pre­dic­tion?

Without delv­ing too much into pos­si­ble last 16, quar­ter-fi­nal and semi-fi­nal pair­ings, I’ll let the heart rule the head again and say Ar­gentina.

Cris­tiano Ron­aldo did it at the Eu­ros, so maybe this will be Lionel Messi’s turn to shine brighter than ever, and ce­ment his place as a true leg­end of the game.

As for Eng­land, with a few de­cent young play­ers in their ranks they might do a lit­tle bit bet­ter than usual, be­fore suf­fer­ing the heartache of an­other penalty shoot-out de­feat.

Hope­fully Lionel Messi can lead Ar­gentina to World Cup glory in Rus­sia next sum­mer.

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