World Cup Bracket Predictions 2018: Full Knockout-Stage Projections

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistJune 13, 2018

Argentina's Lionel Messi (C) celebrates after defeating Ecuador and qualifying to the 2018 World Cup football tournament, in Quito, on October 10, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Juan Ruiz        (Photo credit should read JUAN RUIZ/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP Contributor/Getty Images

Russia won't make it out of the group stage at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, despite being the host nation. Croatia and Poland will join them as other notable absentees once the first phase of the tournament's knockout stage begins on June 30 at the Kazan Arena.

Many of the heavyweight nations can be expected to be part of the round of 16, including holders Germany and five-time winners Brazil. France, Spain, England, Argentina and Belgium should join them.

However, a few surprise packages will also make it through.

The full fixtures for the group stage are available via FIFA's official website.

Here are the projected last-16 matches, based on the potential group-stage results, as well as the world governing body's bracket:

  • France vs. Nigeria
  • Uruguay vs. Spain
  • Portugal vs. Egypt
  • Argentina vs. Denmark
  • Brazil vs. Mexico
  • Belgium vs. Senegal
  • Germany vs. Serbia
  • Colombia vs. England


Here are the full projections for each group:

Group A

  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Egypt
  • Uruguay

Winner: Uruguay

Runner-Up: Egypt

Uruguay have too much quality in forward areas not to make it through. Strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani will overwhelm Group A defences with a combination of power, trickery and perceptive movement.

Cavani scored 38 times for Paris Saint-Germain in all competitions last season, while Suarez was one of the more active players in the final third in Europe, per OptaJose:

OptaJose @OptaJose

299 - Lionel Messi (299) & Luis Suárez (291) are the players to have completed most touches in the opposite box in the Top 5 European Leagues this season. Dual https://t.co/o0IJfWTnSU

The presence of Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah on this list offers the strongest indication why Egypt can make it through. His pace and ruthless streak in front of goal will frighten Russia and Saudi Arabia defences after his prolific debut campaign with Liverpool.

Salah should receive a steady supply from Arsenal midfield man Mohamed Elneny, who is an astute passer.


Group B

  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Morocco
  • Iran

Winner: Portugal

Runner-Up: Spain

Group B is one of the easiest groups to call, with the only question being who will finish first between Spain and Portugal. It's safe to opt with the latter, who are more talented than the group who won Euro 2016.

Cristiano Ronaldo remains a consistent source of goals, and he is surrounded by some excellent playmakers. In particular, Manchester City's Bernardo Silva and burgeoning star Bruno Fernandes will ensure the Real Madrid man isn't lacking for chances.

The Selecao's chances only improved on Wednesday when Spain sacked coach Julen Lopetegui just two days before their opening match of the tournament, with the 51-year-old replaced by the national team's sporting director Fernando Hierro, per the BBC.

It's thrown La Roja's preparations into disarray, and Portugal will sense an opportunity to seal a crucial win against them on Friday.

Silva's creativity will make the difference for Portugal.
Silva's creativity will make the difference for Portugal.Luis Vieira/Associated Press

Spain can create for fun thanks to pint-sized pass-masters such as David Silva, Andres Iniesta and Koke. However, the 2010 winners have lacked a cutting edge up top in recent tournaments, and the onus will be on Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa to offer more than he did four years ago. That coupled with the recent managerial drama may leave Spain falling just short of top spot. 


Group C

  • France
  • Australia
  • Peru
  • Denmark

Winner: France 

Runner-Up: Denmark

France should saunter through Group C given the talent in their ranks. Les Bleus have several match-winners in attacking areas, with none better than Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann and PSG's Kylian Mbappe.

The pair possess the pace and finishing quality to undermine any defence in Russia. However, Mbappe's fitness will be key after the striker confirmed he suffered a knock after a clash with Adil Rami in training recently (h/t Goal).

Mbappe's fitness will be vital for France.
Mbappe's fitness will be vital for France.FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

Denmark should overcome what will be a scramble for second place. Much will depend on how many goals the Danes get from Pione Sisto, Viktor Fischer and Kasper Dolberg.

Christian Eriksen's supply means they should score enough to help Denmark take vital points off Australia and Peru.


Group D

  • Argentina
  • Iceland
  • Croatia
  • Nigeria

Winner: Argentina

Runner-Up: Nigeria

The mild surprise in Group D will be Nigeria beating Croatia to second.

Croatia are dark horses at most tournaments, but the core of this team is ageing. Key playmaker Luka Modric is 32, as is main striker Mario Madzukic.

Mandzukic and Modric won't be able to carry Croatia into the knockout phase.
Mandzukic and Modric won't be able to carry Croatia into the knockout phase.Clive Rose/Getty Images

By contrast, Nigeria look refreshed thanks to a number of young stars from England's Premier League. Arsenal schemer Alex Iwobi's eye for a pass belies his tender 22 years, while 21-year-old Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho can take his chances at the highest level.

Iheanacho's fellow Leicester player Wilfred Ndidi offers strength in the middle, while the pace of Chelsea's Victor Moses will be an asset out wide.

As for the group winner, there will be little surprise. Argentina have never quite managed to get the balance right around star man Lionel Messi, but 2014's beaten finalists can at least still count on their magical No. 10 for inspiration.

Messi will enter this World Cup in peak form after completing an awesome season with Barcelona. Squawka Football detailed his contributions for the La Liga champions:

Squawka Football @Squawka

LaLiga is Lionel Messi's competition... everyone else is just playing in it. 🤯 https://t.co/aCXvgp0UWt

This is probably the toughest group, evidenced by the fact Euro 2016 surprise package Iceland will be left in the basement.


Group E

  • Brazil
  • Switzerland
  • Costa Rica
  • Serbia

Winner: Brazil

Runner-Up: Serbia

Like France, Brazil shouldn't struggle too much to top their group. The Samba stars simply have too many match-winners in the final third, with Neymar predictably leading the way.

While Neymar will be the main man, he'll receive ample support from Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus and Liverpool No. 9 Roberto Firmino. This squad is just as strong in wide areas, with Willian and Douglas Costa both offering pace and flair from the flanks.

With Philippe Coutinho threading the passes, this should be the most potent attack in Russia.

Brazil's brilliant attackers will ease them into the knockout rounds.
Brazil's brilliant attackers will ease them into the knockout rounds.Leo Correa/Associated Press/Associated Press

Serbia can spring a mild surprise by finishing ahead of Costa Rica and Switzerland, despite the inexperience of coach Mladen Krstajic. He "has literally never overseen a competitive international or professional game," per Henry Bushnell of Yahoo Sports.

Krstajic may be venturing into uncharted territory, but he is doing so with several gifted players. Midfield trio Nemanja Matic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Dusan Tadic perfectly blend technical quality and defensive tenacity.

Those attributes should be enough to earn points against a tough Switzerland outfit, as well as Costa Rica.


Group F

  • Germany
  • Mexico
  • Sweden
  • South Korea

Winner: Germany

Runner-Up: Mexico

Germany will have too much guile in central and wide areas to ultimately boss a tough Group F.

The holders can rely on Real Madrid schemer Toni Kroos for creativity in the middle and have an enviable contingent of prolific wide forwards, including Marco Reus.

Kroos still runs the show for the holders.
Kroos still runs the show for the holders.Michael Sohn/Associated Press

Mexico should join the holders in the last 16 thanks to their own attacking flair. Carlos Vela, Javier Hernandez and Raul Jimenez will be dangerous up top, while rising star Hirving Lozano could make big clubs take notice with some stellar performances.

El Tri's midfield is run superbly by Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado. There is simply too much talent in this squad, even if Sweden and South Korea will not be easy to overcome.


Group G

  • Belgium
  • Panama
  • Tunisia
  • England

Winner: Belgium

Runner-Up: England

England's squad may have a prolific strike pairing of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, but a lack of creative options in midfield will see the Three Lions finish second in Group G.

Midfield creativity won't be an issue for Belgium, not with Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings.

WhoScored.com outlined the 26-year-old's awesome season with Premier League champions Manchester City:

WhoScored.com @WhoScored

European Team of the Season: CM – Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) – by @BenMcAleer1-- https://t.co/ubtSB6bNgi https://t.co/0UCaeFgvHL

De Bruyne and Chelsea winger Eden Hazard will lead this so-far unfulfilled generation of players into the round of 16 without too much fuss. Expect Belgium to decide the group by winning the vital encounter with England on June 28.


Group H

  • Poland
  • Senegal
  • Colombia
  • Japan

Winner: Colombia

Runner-Up: Senegal

Colombia don't always play as progressively as their attacking talent demands, but they still made the quarter-finals four years ago.

Stylish No. 10 James Rodriguez was the catalyst for success in Brazil, and he's back again to act as conductor-in-chief. His ability to set strikers Radamel Falcao and Carlos Bacca free behind defences will prove decisive.

Bacca's eye for goal will be crucial for Colombia winning a competitive Group H.
Bacca's eye for goal will be crucial for Colombia winning a competitive Group H.Fernando Vergara/Associated Press

Competition will be fierce, though, with Japan offering plenty of quality in possession. Even so, Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Takashi Inui won't be able to compensate for a lack of scoring power up top.

By contrast, Robert Lewandowski will lead the line brilliantly for Poland, before ultimately being let down by the lack of marquee talent around him.

It will leave a useful Senegal side to finish second. The midfield is loaded with brawn and vision thanks to Idrissa Gueye and Cheikhou Kouyate.

Meanwhile, the forward line features the experience of Moussa Sow and Diafra Sakho, as well as the pace and dynamism of Sadio Mane and Keita Balde. Senegal will overpower Japan and edge Poland to make it through.