June 12, 2018 7:01 pm

Rick Zamperin: Will we see a first-time champion at the 2018 World Cup? Likely not

Brazil's Neymar celebrates scoring his side's 2nd goal against Colombia during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Manaus, Brazil.

AP Photo/Andre Penner, File

The world is ready for “the beautiful game” to dazzle us again.

Four years after Germany won its fourth FIFA World Cup to pull even with Italy for the second most all-time victories, one behind Brazil, soccer fans are turning their attention to the 2018 tournament in Russia.

It kicks off Thursday at 11 a.m. Eastern Time when the host Russians play Saudi Arabia and will wrap up with the championship final on July 15 in Moscow.

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Iceland and Panama are making their World Cup debuts, while players from Italy, the Netherlands and the United States will be watching after failing to qualify.

There are 32 countries taking part, but only a handful have a reallistic shot at winning it all.

Only eight nations have won the quadrennial tournament since its inception in 1930: Brazil (5 times), Germany (4), Italy (4), Argentina (2), Uruguay (2), England (1), France (1) and Spain (1).

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And this year, barring something really bizarre or spectacular, odds are we will see another repeat champion.

Brazil and Germany are undoubtedly the favourites, but they will be challenged by Spain, France, and maybe the likes of Belgium, England, Argentina and Portugal.

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So, who do I think is going to win?

I’ll go with Brazil. Neymar is playing lights out. No, wait, Germany. The Germans will go back-to-back. No, no, no, France will win, they have so much talent. Actually, not France. I meant Spain. Then again, Belgium, Argentina or even Uruguay could surprise.

Ah, who’s kidding who? I have no idea. But for the record, I’ll pick Brazil over Spain.

Rick’s World Cup Predictions

Group Standings

Group A – Uruguay, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia

Group B – Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Iran

Group C – France, Peru, Denmark, Australia

Group D – Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria

Group E – Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Costa Rica

Group F – Germany, Mexico, South Korea, Sweden

Group G – Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama

Group H – Poland, Columbia, Senegal, Japan

Knockout stage

Round of 16: Uruguay over Portugal, France over Croatia, Brazil over Mexico, Belgium over Colombia, Spain over Russia, Argentina over Peru, Germany over Switzerland, England over Poland

Quarterfinals: France over Uruguay, Brazil over Belgium, Spain over Argentina, Germany over England

Semifinals: Brazil over France, Spain over Germany

3rd place game: Germany over France

Final: Brazil 2, Spain 1

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