As the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off, The Japan Times got the lowdown from Japan-based supporters of some of the 32 teams fighting it out for the ultimate prize in Russia.

First, groups A and B.

Hager B. (Egyptian)

Who’s your team’s man to watch?

So, obviously, everyone should be watching out for Mohamed Salah, or as the people call him, Mo Salah — that’s fine.

The other one, there’s an underdog coming up whose name is Sam Morsy, so look out for him.

And we actually have the oldest goalkeeper in the world, he’s 45 years old and still going, so, you know: Egyptians it’s what we do — build pyramids and stuff.

Which World Cup game are you most looking forward to?

I’m really looking forward to the first game — it’s on Friday at 9 p.m. and I even know where I’m going to watch it. It’s Egypt vs. Uruguay, and the reason I’m so looking forward to it is because in all the predictions Uruguay is supposed to be the favorite, which is not true. Egypt is the favorite, just to be very clear, so to any other team out there: Egypt is going to win.

How far do you expect your team and Japan to go?

I hope Egypt will make it through to at least the 16 final ones, let’s put it that way. Obviously I hope that they win the World Cup, because it has been 30 years since the last time we even qualified. A lot is riding on some key players on the team, so I hope they make us proud.

I think Japan’s going to do really well too, they’ve got some really strong players who’ve been abroad a while — (Keisuke) Honda obviously is the main one, so we are going to be looking out for him.

I hope they make it. I think their team, their group is quite good, so they should be able to actually go through — aside from the obvious fact that they have to play against Colombia in the first match, but we won’t talk about that, that’s fine.

They’re going to be fine. You’re going to be fine, Japan, you’re going to be fine — not as fine as Egypt but you’ll be fine.

So who’s going to win?

So, I read all the simulation predictions today and, uh, supposedly Argentina’s going to win. But I think the only reason they say that is because they just want Lionel Messi to finally have a World Cup win.

Obviously I think Egypt is going to win — I have to say that — but realistically I’m not actually sure. I’m thinking Brazil might take it this year. Let’s see.

Ignacio Davalos (Uruguayan)

Who’s your team’s man to watch?

My player to watch is Ed Cavani, Edinson Cavani — I think it’s going to be his World Cup because he’s really focused, at every stage he has to pass, in the Paris Saint-Germain team. Luis Suarez too, but Suarez is already considered great. I think that Edinson Cavani is going to be the No. 1 player in the Uruguay team this World Cup.

Which World Cup game are you most looking forward to?

I think the most important game for Uruguay is going to be the third one against Russia, because we are going to play the first one against Egypt and Salah, the most amazing player for Egypt, is injured right now, so I guess we are going to win that game. The second game is going to be against Saudi Arabia, so it’s going to be weird if we lose some points on that game.

But Russia is the local team. It’s going to be really hard, because I think they are going to find the points to qualify too, so that’s going to be the most important game for the first stage.

How far do you expect your team and Japan to go?

I think we are going to qualify to the final 16, but I think we are going to play against Portugal or Spain, and that’s going to be really, really, really difficult — and I think that’s it for us.

It’s going to be really hard for Japan because they’re going to play against Colombia, against Poland. (Robert) Lewandowski is one of the most important players there, and the Colombian guys play in Europe all year with the most important stars in soccer. And Senegal, they are African guys, they are really, really speedy, really fast guys and they have technique, so I think it’s going to be difficult for Japan to qualify and pass the group.

So who’s going to win?

I think that this World Cup is going to be for Brazil because they have an amazing team, they didn’t lose any of the last 10 games since they changed to a new coach, Tite.

I think maybe Germany, because Germany is always in the finals, but I think Brazil is going to win this World Cup.

Mariet Paranuk (Russian)

Who’s your team’s man to watch?

I’m very curious to see one of the strongest players in the team, his name is Alan Dzagoev.

As a matter of fact, I haven’t watched the Russian football team playing for a while, so this is a very exciting opportunity for me to catch up on how football has evolved in Russia. I’m really, really excited to see whether we are gonna go through. Hopefully we will.

Which World Cup game are you most looking forward to?

Russia and Saudi Arabia will be opening the World Cup, so it’s a very exciting game, I think — I’m really looking forward to it. I hope we’re going to win. Go Russia!

How far do you expect your team and Japan to go?

How far will Russia go? Wow, well, Russia is not that strong, I think. However, I’m hoping maybe we will have more than four games, so that will be great.

And Japan? Well, Japan maybe can go to the semifinals, I’m not sure.

So who’s going to win?

It’s hard to say who’s going to win. Last time Germany won, so maybe another European country. Maybe Spain?

Rifki M. Hicham (Moroccan)

Who’s your team’s man to watch?

My team’s best player is Hakim Ziyech because he’s a good midfielder, like he creates lot of chances to score goals, and that’s my big reason. And he’s still young, so I think he’s gonna be a very big plus for the Moroccan team.

Which World Cup game are you most looking forward to?

Well, I’ll take Morocco against Spain. Spain is considered one of the most strong and skilled soccer teams in the world. Morocco is good, we have a lot of good skilled players, but we still have less experience. They had a very good run during the qualifications up till they went to the World Cup. And I think it’s gonna be a very good, interesting game. I’m very optimistic that Morocco might have a very, very positive result!

How far do you expect your team and Japan to go?

Seriously, the Japanese national team for this World Cup, I don’t feel like they have the power to go so far. We saw them having recently not really good games — like, they lost most of their friendly games. And they have some trouble, like they don’t have a real coach who can lead them to be one of the competitive teams.

For Morocco, I’m hoping they will be one of the surprise teams at this World Cup, and I think we will enjoy watching good, beautiful soccer from the Moroccan national team.

So who’s going to win?

This is actually very difficult, but (for the final) we can choose one from Brazil, Belgium or Germany — as they are always in the finals — and one team, I think we can say, from France or Spain, one of those two teams.

Jorge Diaz (Spain)

I think a Spanish player to watch is Isco. Because, (for him) Real Madrid is in second position — before, with Zidane (as manager), he is not included in the real one, the real team, because maybe Isco wants to show something for the people, this time.

Which World Cup game are you most looking forward to?

Spain and Portugal.

How far do you expect your team and Japan to go?

Spain, I don’t know really. I hope they will win, but there are different teams better than Spain and Japan.

Japan has a new trainer, a new coach from Japan. For the first time in a long time. They have to show exactly how proud they are. I think Japan will go to the quarterfinals.

So who’s going to win?

OK, this is really difficult. Of course there are only five teams… maybe Portugal?

Interested in gathering views in your neighborhood or just have something to say? Email community@japantimes.co.jp

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