Charlie Nicholas’ World Cup predictions: Crunch time in Russia as final group games played

It’s crunch time at the World Cup with the final round of group-stage fixtures set to get underway in Russia. Charlie Nicholas is here to give us his predictions…

Stepping in as a late substitute for Paul Merson, Charlie offers up his thoughts on the upcoming week of games where we could see some big exits.

Argentina then take on Nigeria and Germany face South Korea later in the week, with Jorge Sampaoli and Joachim Low both knowing defeats would almost certainly end their World Cup hopes in Russia.

England will then battle it out for top spot in Group G with Belgium on Thursday, so who is Charlie tipping to come out on top?

Australia v Peru (Tuesday 3pm, Group C)

Australia are a hard side to beat. They are physically in good condition and run all day. Mathew Leckie is an absolute powerhouse on the right side and Celtic’s Tom Rogic is very talented but we haven’t yet seen the best of him yet. However, there’s something about Peru and their performances that has been unlucky. They may be out but I think the South Americans can edge this one. The Aussies, who still have a great chance of qualification, have to go for it so I think this will leave plenty of space of Peru’s attacking players.

CHARLIE PREDICTS: 1-2 (9/1 with Sky Bet)

Denmark v France (Tuesday 3pm, Group C)

France can afford a few changes against Denmark but I think Olivier Giroud deserves another start. When he plays with Antoine Griezmann I think they are a stronger side. I am also a massive fan of Kylian Mbappe – he’s the best young player in the world – and I think you can fit all three into the team. There will be changes though and I still expect France to be too strong for Denmark.

CHARLIE PREDICTS: 0-2 (8/1 with Sky Bet)

Iceland v Croatia (Tuesday 7pm, Group D)

Croatia are another side that could make some changes. Some of the smaller nations that have captured the imagination, like Croatia, the structure of the team doesn’t change too much and if you disrupt that with two or three changes it can cause a massive disruption. People might say they are already qualified but you want momentum to continue in this situation. You don’t want to upset it by making too many changes and then not getting a result. Iceland have got to go for this if they are to have a chance of reaching the next round but I can see this being a draw. Iceland will just fall short.

CHARLIE PREDICTS: 1-1 (5/1 with Sky Bet)

Nigeria v Argentina (Tuesday 7pm, Group D)

In terms of performance, it can’t get any worse for Argentina. I actually thought that when Jorge Sampaoli got the job he would sort out the structure of the team and build it in a fashion that made Lionel Messi return. Messi has returned but they just don’t have any answers. They don’t know what to do, they have no DNA and they have absolutely no fluency.

What I cannot believe is that he cannot get Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala into the team with the way Messi plays. For me, it’s staring him in the face, just play them all together and go for it. The defence isn’t great, we know that, but he has to take the biggest risk of all time now. I see this game being a bit like Germany’s against Sweden. Pressure will come on Argentina but this time we’ll see an answer from Messi. On the other hand, it’s a stunning opportunity for Nigeria and they will make life difficult for Messi and co.

CHARLIE PREDICTS: 1-3 (12/1 with Sky Bet)

South Korea v Germany (Wednesday 3pm, Group F)

I had my doubts about Germany before this tournament. For me, they don’t tick a lot of the boxes you need to win this tournament but that being said they will beat South Korea and progress. Joachim Low has to be tempted to bring in Mario Gomez but I wouldn’t. I don’t think his movement is good enough. They will get through this though because that’s what the Germans do. It’s all about timing and taking the pressure away with a big result. The fact they won the other night in the fashion they did, it tells you the Germans will come on strong later in the tournament. The chests will be puffed out now and we’ll see a return to the Germany we all know.

CHARLIE PREDICTS: 0-2 (11/2 with Sky Bet)

Mexico v Sweden (Wednesday 3pm, Group F)

Sweden have been very good in this tournament so far. In terms of organisation and togetherness it’s as good as anything we’ve seen so far. However, they are a counter-attacking side and when they are asked to go on the front foot it doesn’t always work. That’s what makes this game very awkward for Sweden. By having to go for it, Sweden could easily get picked off by the Mexicans, who have an abundance of pace up front. Mexico may consider a change or two but for me, this is the type of nation that will want to keep the momentum going. They’ll want to win the group and that’s what I expect them to do. Don’t be surprised to see Javier Hernandez get another goal or two either.

CHARLIE PREDICTS: 2-1 (9/1 with Sky Bet)

Serbia v Brazil (Wednesday 7pm, Group E)

It’s a gigantic game in group E. People have been sweating a little bit over Brazil but I think they are playing well. They may not have brushed all the opposition aside with ease as expected but you cannot do that all the time. However, now that Neymar is off and running we’ll see the best of him and Brazil. Serbia will try and hit them on the break but I think Brazil will have too much quality.

CHARLIE PREDICTS: 1-3 (12/1 with Sky Bet)

Switzerland v Costa Rica (Wednesday 7pm, Group E)

Switzerland are another side that have played well at this tournament so far. I wish Granit Xhaka could play for Arsenal like he does for his country! Xherdan Shaqiri is another that has found a bit of form for his country. I’m just not convinced about them at the back. I’m very pleased Arsenal have signed Stephan Lichtsteiner. He’s been a warrior for many, many years but it’s the other side of the defence that concerns me. I think you can really get at the centre-backs and the left-back. However, that won’t be too much of a problem against Costa Rica, who will be on their way home with zero points after this match.

CHARLIE PREDICTS: 2-0 (6/1 with Sky Bet)

Japan v Poland (Thursday 3pm, Group H)

Japan showed brilliant character to come from behind twice to get a point against Senegal. It’s one thing you just cannot deny them. They may not be technically the best but in terms of effort, togetherness and character they always give their all for the cause. They are all in it together and along with the bit of pace they have up front they are a very dangerous opponent. On the other hand, Poland are broken. They had no answers against Colombia and you have to ask questions about what is going on behind the scenes in the camp. It’s been such a disappointing tournament for Robert Lewandowski, who has had no service from his team-mates so far. This is a golden opportunity for Japan to qualify for the last 16 and even win their group.

CHARLIE PREDICTS: 2-1 (9/1 with Sky Bet)

Senegal v Colombia (Thursday 3pm, Group H)

Group H is the group of death because it’s so hard to split the teams. They are all around the same level and so closely matched. Senegal had progression in the palm of their hand against Japan but let the lead slip twice and now they face a huge challenge to reach the knockout face, especially after Colombia hit form against Poland. They returned to form in style on Sunday evening and with Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez hitting their straps that should prove to be the difference.

CHARLIE PREDICTS: 1-2 (8/1 with Sky Bet)

England v Belgium (Thursday 7pm, Group G)

The game both sides want to lose apparently! I think that’s a total bag of nonsense quite frankly. There are too many side stories in this game for the two teams to take it lightly. You’ve got the two Tottenham centre-backs for Belgium against their club team-mate Harry Kane. You’ve also got Roberto Martinez’s link with English football and he will feel like he’s got a point to prove to the English game. There’s also Romelu Lukaku but I think he will be rested with Michy Batshuayi coming into the starting line-up. The Chelsea striker, who has been on loan at Borussia Dortmund, will be another with a point to prove. All these subplots are very intriguing.

People will say finishing second gets you an easier route but if you go into a game half-baked, it could prove very costly. I’m sure both sides will make changes but I think they will both be desperate to win this match. For England and Belgium, if they win this match it turns them into contenders for the World Cup. There’s a lot resting on this game but I’m struggling to split the two sides.

CHARLIE PREDICTS: 1-1 (5/1 with Sky Bet)

Panama v Tunisia (Thursday 7pm, Group G)

Another game with just pride at stake and I must admit it’s not one I will be rushing to tune into. Tunisia have been okay at this tournament whereas Panama have been embarrassed quite frankly. However, the Panama fans don’t care because they are just happy to be there. They won’t get the victory they crave though as I think Tunisia will win this one, salvaging some pride.

CHARLIE PREDICTS: 0-2 (17/2 with Sky Bet)