Magpies fans might still be smarting at the Gareth Southgate’s incredible decision to omit Jonjo Shelvey and Jamaal Lascelles from the 23 man squad bound for Russia 2018. But that doesn’t mean NUFC fans should lose all interest in the events to come. If Southgate’s strange selectorial decisions have left you feeling less patriotic than you might otherwise be, there are 31 other teams to choose from.
Everyone loves an underdog
Even if you will still be donning your England shirt and adorning your car with the obligatory flag of St George, it’s always fun to have a little side bet on one of the outsiders. And for Magpies fans, there are only really two choices in the Football World Cup 2018. Let’s take a look at the men who will be flying the flag for Newcastle over in Moscow, and how their teams are likely to fare.
Aleksandar Mitrovic – Serbia
The 23 year old spent last season on loan to Fulham, but we all know he is a Geordie at heart. He is runaway favourite to be top goal scorer for Serbia, and it is down to him to get his team through the group stage. The team has not had the luckiest draw, landed with tournament favourites Brazil, perennial dark horses Switzerland and Costa Rica.
If everything goes to form, it could all come down to the match up against Switzerland on 22 July to see who will accompany Brazil into the knockout stages of the competition. Serbia are an 8/1 shot to make the quarter finals, and that will be a compelling punt for many fans.
This will only be Serbia’s second World Cup appearance since the nation achieved full independence, having previously played as part of Yugoslavia, and subsequently in the 2006 World Cup as Serbia and Montenegro. In 2010, Serbia played in Group D alongside Germany, Ghana and Australia, and finished bottom of the group with one win, but what a win it was – they defeated group winners Germany 1-0.
Matz Sels – Belgium
Sels has spent the last season on loan to Anderlecht after a frustrating period in which he was unable to oust Karl Darlow from between the posts. Belgium are alongside England in Group B, so there will be some divided loyalties among Magpies fans when the teams meet on 28 July. That could prove to be a decisive match in terms of who finishes at the top of the group, and the bookies have it too close to call.
One thing the pundits and bookies are far more confident about is that England and Belgium are the hot favourites to proceed to the knockout stages, and it will take an upset of epic proportions from Panama or Tunisia to change that. But can Belgium go all the way? They are 9/1 to make the final and 12/1 to win it, so this is a team to be taken seriously.
Historically, their best performance was in Mexico 1986. That was the year of Maradona and the Hand of God, so it’s easy to forget that Belgium had such a strong performance, beating Spain on penalties in the quarter finals and losing to eventual winners Argentina in the semis. More recently, Belgium had a strong World Cup in 2014, when they made the quarter finals before coming undone, once again, at the hands of Argentina.
Sels himself is one of four goalies in Belgium’s preliminary 28 man squad, the others being Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois, Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet, and Koen Casteelsso who plays for VfL Wolfsburg. It will be a case of fingers crossed as to whether he makes the final cut.