Round 1: England face Tunisia in World Cup test

The waiting is finally over as the World Cup kicks off on Thursday and Predikta will be there every step of the way with a free-to-play prediction game for the duration of the tournament.

The name of the game, as Benny and Bjorn wrote, is to predict the scores from seven rounds of matches and the player with the highest number of points overall wins an England shirt signed by David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and many more.

If you haven’t played before you will need to register and then you can either create or join a league by clicking on the cog in the top right-hand corner. You can also check out the scoring system from our earlier blog and if you want to know how we split players who have the same number of points then click here for an explanation of the Separata rules.

But now it’s time to crack on with a preview of all the games, starting with Thursday’s curtain-raiser between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Russia v Saudi Arabia (Thu): As World Cup hosts Russia did not need to qualify but they have been busy organising lots of friendlies. Hopes of reaching the knockout phase will not be high with Russia supporters who have not seen a win in six attempts. In four high-profile matches they managed to draw 3-3 against Spain, but lose to France, Brazil and Argentina. Stanislav Cherchesov’s side also followed a 1-0 defeat by Austria with a 1-1 draw against Turkey. Despite being in the weakest group, Russia are not guaranteed to reach the knockout stage and lack quality all over the park especially in the absence of star striker Aleksandr Kokorin.

Saudi Arabia automatically qualified for the World Cup as runners-up to Japan in Group B, but only squeezed through on goal difference from Australia. They were battered by Belgium and Peru in  a couple of friendlies but were also only beaten 2-1 by both Italy and Germany recently. Could sneak a draw in a low-scoring affair.

Egypt v Uruguay (Fri): Uruguay are favourites to top Group A after finishing runners-up to Brazil, three points clear of Argentina. Oscar Tabarez has two of the world’s best strikers at his disposal in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, who was the top scorer in South American qualifying with 10 goals. Warm-up wins against Wales, Czech Republic and Uzbekistan without conceding mean they head into the World Cup in good shape.

Liverpool sensation Mo Salah could be fit for Egypt despite damaging his shoulder in the Champions League final. Despite having a player of Salah’s quality, Egypt are actually a fairly defensive team under Hector Cuper, scoring just eight goals as Group E winners in African qualifying and once in their last four friendlies against Belgium, Colombia, Kuwait and Greece.

Portugal v Spain (Fri): The highest profile match of all the group games takes place on the second day of the tournament as European champions Portugal meet 2010 World Cup winners Spain. The teams met in the semi-finals of Euro 2012 when Spain prevailed 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out after the game finished goalless at the end of extra time. Spain also beat their Iberian neighbours 1-0 at the 2010 World Cup to reach the quarter-finals.

Spain have made good progress under coach Julen Lopetegui who masterminded nine wins and a draw from their 10 qualifiers which included a 3-0 victory against Italy. Despite lacking natural strikers, Spain are unbeaten in 20 matches and smashed Argentina 6-1 in a March friendly, although later they could only draw with Switzerland and needed a last minute goal from Iago Aspas to see off England’s opponents Tunisia at the start of June. Third favourites with France to win the World Cup.

Portugal also won nine of their matches, but needed a 2-0 win against Switzerland in their final match to secure automatic qualification and they have had mixed results in their friendlies since March. Fernando Santos’s side have played against three north African teams as preparation for their clash with Morocco, beating Egypt 2-1, Algeria 3-0 and drawing 2-2 with Tunisia. In between they lost 3-0 to Holland and shared a goalless draw with Belgium. Cristiano Ronaldo (15) and Andre Silva (9) were the top scorers of all players during European qualification.

France v Australia (Sat): France are third favourites to repeat their triumph of 20 years ago after a reasonably comfortable qualifying campaign in which they topped the group with seven wins, two draws and a defeat to finish four points clear of Sweden. Didier Deschamps has star quality in every position but they ended their World Cup warm-ups with a 1-1 draw against the USA with a full-strength team and squandered a two-goal lead in losing 3-2 to Colombia, but in between they beat Russia, Ireland and Italy all by two-goal margins. Should have too much for Australia.

Australia’s campaign was marred by the resignation of their coach a few days after they qualified and Bert van Marwijk’s first game in charge did not augur well as they went down 4-1 to Norway, but since then the Socceroos have drawn 0-0 with Colombia and beaten both the Czech Republic and Hungary by 4-0 and 2-1 scorelines. Will be set up defensively but would be surprised if they get through a group which isn’t the strongest.

Argentina v Iceland (Sat): Group D is the most interesting of all and Argentina will do well to get through it after making a hash of their qualifying campaign. Needing to win their final match they fell behind to Ecuador inside a minute before Lionel Messi came to the rescue with a hat-trick as Argentina qualified by the narrowest of margins. Worryingly, they let slip a two-goal lead to lose 4-2 to Nigeria in a friendly and were then crushed 6-1 by Spain. Messi, Aguero, Higuain and Dybala make up a great attacking line-up but question marks surround the rest of the team.

With a population of just 335,000 Iceland are the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup and they did so in style by finishing top of a group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey. Iceland hope to repeat their heroics at Euro 2016 when they eliminated England to reach the quarter-finals and in a group where all four nations could finish top do not be surprised if their compact side springs a surprise against Argentina.

Croatia v Nigeria (Sat): Despite finishing runners-up to Iceland in qualifying there are some who fancy Croatia to do well in Russia thanks to a strong midfield led by Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Overcame Greece 4-1 in a two-legged play-off to secure their place at the World Cup but have not escaped the group stage since they finished third on their debut 20 years ago. Could go well but have a tough group to negotiate.

Nigeria are at the World Cup for the third successive time, qualifying comfortably with a W4 D1 L1 record from a group containing Zambia and Cameroon. Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho are some of the Premier League stars on show for a team that beat Argentina and Poland in friendlies but fell short against Serbia, England and the Czech Republic more recently.

Germany v Mexico (Sun): Defending champions Germany are second favourites to win the tournament after ending a five-match winless run with a less than convincing 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia. However, Germany were the only team to qualify for the finals with a perfect record and they also scored the joint highest number of goals (43). Germany crushed Mexico 4-1 in the Confederations Cup semi-final 12 months ago with several players who are now in their World Cup squad.

Mexico have reached the knockout phase at their last six World Cups but have been knocked out at the round of 16 stage on every occasion. This time round it looks like Sweden stand in their way of making it through. El Tri topped their qualification group for the first time in 20 years and in winger Hirving Lozano they could have one of the best players of the World Cup after a superb season with PSV. Mexico have lost all three encounters with Germany and we don’t expect them to break that trend.

Brazil v Switzerland (Sun): Brazil are favourites to win the tournament for a record sixth time and in Neymar, Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus they have the weapons to destroy any team. They will be keen to atone for their humiliation on home soil four years ago when they lost 7-1 to Germany in the semi-final. Tite’s men lost just one of their 18 qualifiers and they have won four of their last five friendlies, conceding just once. In Allisson they have one of the best goalkeepers at the tournament so the foundations are there for an excellent campaign.

Switzerland won nine qualifiers but still had to see off Northern Ireland in a play-off to book their place in Russia. Vladimir Petkovic’s team may not be the most exciting team in the world but they know how to get the job done and go into the finals having drawn with Spain 1-1 and defeated Greece, Panama and Japan without conceding. Will be a tough test for Brazil.

Belgium v Panama (Mon): Belgium are sixth favourites to win the World Cup after qualifying unbeaten with nine wins from Group H. Roberto Martinez has some excellent attackers in his squad like Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, but also has some top-quaity defenders like Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen. Kevin de Bruyne was one of the best midfielders in the Premier League last season. Unbeaten in nearly two years, Belgium look quarter-final material.

Panama qualified for their first World Cup after finishing third in CONCACAF qualifying with a controversial 2-1 win against Costa Rica in which their equaliser did not cross the line. With some bookmakers pricing them up at 2000/1 to win the tournament and having scored just once in their last five friendlies we expect an early flight home.

Tunisia v England (Mon): England breezed through qualification unbeaten with eight wins but are not expected to get beyond the quarter-finals and will need to top the group if they want to avoid a potential clash with Germany in the last eight. Before then they will need to negotiate their opener against Tunisia, who nearly drew with Spain recently only to concede a last-minute winner. Draws against Turkey and Portugal also suggest they could prove a tough nut to crack.

England last lost to France a year go and their friendlies have gone reasonably well with wins against Nigeria, Costa Rica and Holland, plus high-profile draws with Germany, Italy and Brazil.

We hope our round one preview has been of use. All you need to do now is to make those all important predictions by clicking on the blue banner below. You can edit your predictions in between matches and we will update the tables after each match too so that you can monitor your progress. Best of luck to everyone.