The World Cup is officially back and if Russia vs. Saudi Arabia doesn’t get your juices flowing like a perfectly-bleached Ronaldo hair curl than are you even a football, soccer or futbol’nyy fan? And as fans, it is my stance that we are obliged to fill out our predictions for what will happen in this year’s tournament, even though no one can predict who will play, who gets injured and who gets red-carded. Fans have to do this mandatory exercise for the love of the bracket. But rather than you looking at my suboptimal and not-very-informed takes on who will win Group G, I’m staying on brand. Let’s go through the World Cup, group-by-group, and pick how the teams will finish 1-4 by how many English football minutes (Outside of the Top 6) each national team had this past season. The nation with players who played most minutes wins.
I want to get through these picks faster than Spain pulling the trigger on sacking their manager, but first, here are the rules.
- Squad with the most English football (Outside of the Top 6) minutes on their roster from the 2017-18 season wins.
- Except for Group A. It got weird there.
Groups A, B & C
Group A: As stated earlier, it got weird. First, the winner – Egypt. Thanks to Ahmed Hegazy (West Bromwich Albion), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa), Samy Morsy (Wigan) and Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke City now with Huddersfield), the Pharaohs ran away with the group in total minutes. But we already have a problem. And remember, Mohamed Salah doesn’t count.
Egypt is the only team in Group A that has players who play in English football. So let’s work this out. I took Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia, and combed through their 23-man rosters looking for anyone who has ever touched an English pitch for a club Outside of the Top 6.
To my delight, Uruguay’s Cristhian Stuani spent three seasons with Middlesbrough from 2013-2016. Count it! Before I went any further, I skimmed through Russia’s squad for any evidence of English football. There was only one.
No. 23 on the Russian roster (a/k/a the last player I researched) is Zenit St. Petersburg defensive midfielder Yuri Zhirkov, and he played two seasons at, wait for it…Chelsea. Zhirkov is ineligible for the exercise.
Okay, this went long. Promise I’ll go through these quickly.
Group B: Romain Saiss (Wolverhampton) vs. Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forrest) are in a head-to-head battle for the final knockout stage slot out of Group B. It’s a Championship battle for the ages. Until you look at the minutes played. Morocco wins in a landslide with Saiss playing 3,398 and Dejagah just 14. Drama, cometh.
Group C: Please, God, let this be the actual outcome.
Peru finished third despite having one player, Benfica-owned André Carrillo, on loan at Watford this past year. Heavy favorites (at least in this exercise) Denmark and Austrailia run away with the group.
Groups D, E & F
Group D: Skál! Skál! Skál!
Group E: Every now and then, this exercise brought up something that could actually happen. Like Xherdan Shaqi leading Switzerland to a second place finish in this group.
Group F: Bizzaro Group F results…but at least Mexico won’t have to endure another Round of 16 loss. Speaking of Mexico, their third-place finish behind Korea was one of the closest of this exercise. West Ham’s Chicarito and Swansea City’s Ki Sung-yueng – remember, no Son Heung-Min – went head-to-head, and believe it or not Ki played 326 more minutes than Mexico’s all-time leading goal-scorer.
Groups G & H
Group G: Just when we thought we hit peak drama with Morocco and Iran, Belgium and Tunisia give us an encore. Nacer Chadli (West Brom) vs. Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City) and Wahbi Khazri (Sunderland). Somehow, SOMEHOW, with a man advantage, Tunisia lose this matchup. Benalouane and Khazri only combined for 160 minutes this season thanks in part to Khazri going on loan to Rennes. Chadli squeaks Belgium through with 216 minutes at relegated West Brom.
Group H: The only group with players in the English football league on every squad. Senegal and Poland have a combined 11 players in the league so they move on by a wide margin.
Round of 16
After keeping Morocco in the tournament, Romain Saiss is overcome by a strong Egyptian squad. Same goes for Nigeria’s Wilfred N’didi and Kelechi Iheanacho against Denmark, and Korea’s Ki Sung-yueng against Serbia.
Round of 16
Uruguay is eliminated solely because they don’t have a player who played English football last season. Stretching the rules to get them through pool play doesn’t apply in the knockout rounds. Iceland and Australia is a fantastic matchup considering the make-up of the exercise. Thanks to James Meredith’s 4,009 minutes at Millwall this season, the Socceroos are through despite Iceland registering nearly 10,000 with five players.
Sweden and Switzerland in the matchup of “the two countries who sort of sound familiar and that’s why you get them mixed up” isn’t close at all. Shaqiri signs with Liverpool shortly after the match.
Denmark’s Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City), Jonas Knudsen (Ipswich Town), Zanka (Huddersfield Town), Henrik Dalsgaard (Brentford) and Jonas Lossl (Huddersfield) are too much for the Pharaohs.
Okay, the jig is up. England is obviously still here and won their group with ease. Spoiler alert, folks. They win. It’s no surprise. You were probably screaming at the screen when you saw this headline that, of course, England were going to win through this exercise, especially with three goalkeepers who qualify. But just wait, keeping scrolling, we’ll do another version of this where we eliminate England in the Round of 16.
Portugal’s trio of Joao Mario (West Ham), Cedric (Southampton) and Adrien Silva (Leicester City) weren’t enough to overcome Australia’s group of six. Fun fact: Aaron Mooy and Mathew Ryan are the only Socceroo in the Premier League.
Sweden have two fewer players eligible for this exercise than Senegal. Of Sweden’s four players, only three of them registered minutes this season. Swansea’s Kristoffer Nordfeldt didn’t play a single minute at Liberty Stadium this season.
Final Results (If We Count England)
Okay, let’s go back, eliminate England and see what would happen.
CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN WHO?! Despite the star Tottenham midfielder’s 3,226 minutes thrown out of this exercise, Denmark is our English football (Outside the Top 6) World Cup Champions.
Eliminating England opened the door for a stacked Poland squad who have five players eligible, totaling 11,672 minutes. They dumped Serbia’s Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Aleksander Mitrovic (Newcastle), Dusan Tadic (Southampton) and Marko Grujic (Liverpool player who counts because he was at Cardiff City this past season).
Obviously, nothing changed on the other side of the bracket, but Senegal had a hell of a run. Senegal tied England for the most players eligible for this exercise with six. With West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyaté, Everton’s Idrissa Gueye and Stoke City’s Mame Diouf leading the way, Senegal totaled 12,979 minutes.
But it wasn’t enough to stop a five-man Denmark, who had three players registering more than 3,400 minutes.
That was fun. Thanks for tagging along with me as we decided a winner for a different type of World Cup. I’ll be back for more fun stuff like this throughout the tournament.