Predicting the Outcome of World Cup 2018 UEFA Qualifying Group G
The Spanish national football team essentially crashed and burned at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and they aren’t exactly setting the world on fire in the qualifying rounds for the 2016 European Championship, either. However, in spite of Spain’s recent struggles on the global soccer stage, the Red Fury still have enough built-up respect and notability to remain the frontrunners in their World Cup 2018 UEFA qualifying group G.
Group G also consists of Italy, Albania, Israel, Macedonia, and Liechtenstein—Spain should have little trouble qualifying for a spot in Russia in 2018. The Red Fury haven’t missed out on World Cup qualification since 1974, and have typically been a consistent fixture in the knockout stages of the prestigious FIFA tournament. 2014, which saw Spain eliminated after two group stage losses, was the country’s worst-ever performance in WC competition.
Out of Gas?
Still, while Spain certainly have a tradition of World Cup participation, the question at this point is whether or not the team has run out of gas, so to speak. The Spanish national football team were easily the best in the world—and arguably the best ever—from about 2008 to 2013. In 2008, they won the European Championship for the first time since 1964; in 2010, they won their first World Cup, after winning all 10 of their qualifying matches and six of their seven WC fixtures; and in 2012, they successfully defending their Euro title. FIFA named the Spaniards as their “Team of the Year” in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.
Now, though, it looks like Spain’s golden age has come to a close. Greats like David Villa (Spain’s all-time leading scorer) and Xavi Hernandez or Xabi Alonso (both among the top five most capped players in the team’s history) retired from international football following the 2014 World Cup, and the impact has been evident in recent Red Fury matches.
Indeed, since Brazil, the Spaniards have lost friendlies to Germany and the Netherlands, as well as a Euro 2016 qualifying game with Slovakia. They do look like they’ve bounced back from the WC disappointment, winning their other seven Euro qualifying fixtures and guaranteeing themselves a chance to defend their European Championship title in France next year. Still, just looking at the Spanish soccer squad on the pitch, it’s clear that these guys aren’t playing the kind of transcendent football they were three or four years ago.
The Group G Challengers
If there’s another contender for the top spot here, then it’s definitely Italy. But while the Italian side have won four World Cups over the years (most recently in 2006), they’ve failed to get beyond the group stage at each of the last two WC tournaments. In fact, Italy have only won one of the six World Cup matches they’ve played since hoisting the trophy in 2006—not a record that inspires confidence. Add a middling Euro 2016 qualifying record (five wins and three draws), and it’s entirely possible that 2018 could see Italy’s first failed WC qualification since 1958.
The good news for Italy is that, even if they can’t beat Spain to score direct qualification, they still have a more-than-good chance at landing in second and advancing to the qualification playoffs. Between Albania, Israel, Macedonia, and Liechtenstein, there’s only ever been one WC appearance: Israel’s winless group stage run in 1970. In other words, even past-prime Spanish and Italian squads will look like soccer powerhouses in this group.
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