At first, I want to clarify that I will make predictions only about the main referees, without taking into account VAR and reserve referees. Surely the final number of selected officials will be higher than the previous edition. Another important thing to say is that, without any chance to know more about the spots for each confederation, I will try to adapt what occurred in the previous editions, making changes only when really needed.
In Brazil we had 4 referees from AFC, 3 from CAF, 3 from CONCACAF, 5 from CONMEBOL, 1 from OFC, 9 from UEFA.
So, now let's start with a short analysis about all the confederations.
In this confederation I think we shouldn't have any doubt about Ravshan Irmatov (UZB), who is still strongly trusted by FIFA committee. He handled many tournaments and the very important play off between Australia and Syria (in which, among other things, he got injured). Second name is clearly Alireza Faghani (IRN), despite of some problems at Confederations Cup I think he has the full trust of the committee, like Irmatov, he officiated the play off between Syria and Australia and therefore he will attend the WC as main referee. He was reserve referee in Brazil and then after that he handled two FIFA tournaments finals. So, everything is definitely speaking in his favor. Coming to a third name we should be quite sure that Nawaf Shukralla (BHR) will manage it. The official from Bahrain has a great experience and he attended many FIFA tournaments as well. Now, the most interesting speech is surely about the fourth name. Here, I'm in trouble. According to what I watched and taking apart the performances, I would say that Fahad Al Mirdasi (KSA) would have the chance to attend the World Cup. But of course we have to say that he is young and surely a name for the future. In addition, difficult to think that all AFC officials will come from a certain Asian zone... therefore I think we can expect the Japanese Ryūji Satō. However, I must say that I didn't have any occasion to watch him in any FIFA tournament, and he didn't look to be too much on the spotlights. It is difficult to imagine a WC without a Japanese or Korean referee, I know that this would be only a geo-political question, but we all know how it works sometimes with FIFA. This doesn't mean that the Japanese doesn't deserve the call, of course, but as said, I would have liked to see him more, and at moment, he has not the same reputation of the previously mentioned officials from AFC.
Things are turning interesting in Africa. Despite of a definitely poor performance at Confederations Cup, while having to assess some incidents via VAR, I think that Bakary Gassama (GAM) must be still considered as Africa's Nr.1. He got many CAF Champions League finals in his career, and it is impossible to think he wont fly to Russia. He also officiated important games of qualifiers. However, I want to say that before Confederations Cup I liked him definitely more than now. I had a very and extremely poor impression when he wasn't able to assess the incidents under his eyes, watching the monitor. But well, simply said, it was very likely the first time for him with this technology, so in a way he can be excused. A few months ago I was convinced he had endangered his position, but now i can easily say that I was wrong. He will be there. The second sure name should be Janny Sikazwe (ZAM): many important appointments in both CAF qualifiers and FIFA tournaments. The first African referee, after a very long time, to officiate again a FIFA tournament final, so this should definitely play in his favor. He will be in Russia. About the third name, the speech becomes more interesting: we should underline again that both Gassama and Sikazwe come from the Sub-Saharan Africa. This could mean that it would be difficult to have a third name from this area. It is the same speech as the previous one about AFC. So, in my opinion, despite of having attended 2014 WC as reserve referee, there aren't too many chances for Alioum (CMR), who, in "normal conditions", maybe 1 or 2 years ago, could have been quite sure of the call. Of course, it is still possible that he will attend WC, but I would go for a referee from the North of the continent. At moment, countries like Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco are working for new names in international refereeing. On the contrary, Egypt has already the chance to offer Gehad Grisha, with already a certain experience in FIFA tournaments and surely waiting for this call. So, I would choice him as third CAF referee, considering as relevant motivation the speech about referees from " different areas".
Redarding this confederation, and assuming that three referees will go to Russia from Central America, the situation looks to be quite clear. Mark Geiger (USA) is the first choice. The experienced maths teacher from Beachwood is definitely liked by Busacca and the committee. I must say that, at FIFA level, he has been always good / very good. He had some problems in CONCACAF Gold Cup, as you all remember, but surely this wont affect at all the choice. Second name in terms of experience is surely Joel Aguilar (SLV), reserve referee in South Africa, main referee in Brazil and now main referee in Russia as well. However, I think it will be the last time for him, then it would be nice to read a different name, representing another country from CONCACAF at WC. About the third name, it is more than easy to guess that a referee from Mexico will be there. The only doubt is about the real choice between the two preselected men from this country. At moment, César Ramos (MEX) seems to be ahead of Roberto García. The latter has been quite unlucky in his FIFA career, at first being the second option for Mexico, due to Marco Rodríguez presence in 3 WC, and now, with Ramos who seems to be ahead of him.
I must admit, and I really apologize, that CONMEBOL is a confederation that I don't follow too much. However, it is not difficult to make predictions, considering all what I saw at FIFA level, and given the presence of very strong names. Without making it too long, we all know that Sandro Ricci (BRA) and Néstor Pitana (ARG) at moment are the most important names, with excellent assignments. The Brazilian had to renounce to U17 WC to officiate some crucial games of CONMEBOL qualifiers. Pitana got the intercontinental play off. Then, I think that Wilmar Roldán (COL) is another sure name. The referee from Colombia has the trust of the committee. However I must admit that I was always unlucky while watching him, I never had the impression of the talent who is reported to be. That's of course can be my fault, because I don't follow too much CONMEBOL, as said, but regarding his FIFA appearances, the Colombian in my opinion showed too often many weaknesses. However, no doubts that he will be at WC, and at the same time I wish him to have a very good experience in Russia. The fourth name should be the experienced Enrique Cáceres from Paraguay: among other things, he has officiated 2017 U17 FIFA WC final. Now, it becomes difficult while having to select the fifh name. I think for this spot there is a contention between Andres Cunha (URU) and Julio Bascuñán (CHI). The latter joined the list as preselected officials later than the other names, as replacement, following Enrique Osses retirement. Having to choose one name, I would say Bascuñán, considering also the recent appointment for Copa Libertadores final, along with Caceres In any case, Cunha is surely the alternative choice. The latter could work as VAR.
Only one referee, as always, from Oceania will attend WC. I think that we have to consider two names: at first, Norbert Hauata (TAH), reserve referee in Brazil, with some appearances in other FIFA tournaments, and then Matt Conger (NZL). The latter got many interesting assignments in FIFA tournaments as well, and he will attend 2017 Club World Cup. Having to choose one of them, I would say Matt Conger (NZL), based on the appointments he got. Two group stage games both at 2015 and 2017 FIFA U20 WC, the same at Olympic tournament and some appearances at CWC. Hauata got only fifth place game at CWC and one group stage game at FIFA U17 2017 WC it seems Busacca has not a big trust in him. The experience as fourth official at WC 2014 for a referee from French Polynesia could be already a very good achievement.
I could write a very long chapter about "our" confederation, but of course I will try to make it short because there are many things more than clear. Without doubts, we can say that Cüneyt Çakır (TUR) and Björn Kuipers (NED) are the first choices for Busacca and the FIFA committee, among the European preselected officials. They got an immense trust in the past by FIFA. They will go without doubts to WC. For the Dutch, it will be the last act of his career, as he already announced. Coming to the other names, German Felix Brych (GER) is another safe bet. He will go to Russia, after having shown a great consistency in many years at UEFA and also FIFA level. Serbian Milorad Mažić (SRB) has a great experience and a very good attitude to take his games under control. He is not a referee who likes to show cards, but his players management has worked for years at high level. Of course, to be added, he was in the middle for Confederations Cup final. In my opinion he will go to Russia. I wish him, and that's very important, a better WC than the previous one. He can manage that. Even though there aren't rumors in this regard, it is possible that he could retire after WC, as well, being already 45 years old. We will see. Italian Gianluca Rocchi (ITA) is another sure name, if you ask me. He was solid in recent years at UEFA level, showing good performances, but, more important than that, he spent his whole international career, being the shadow of Nicola Rizzoli. It is impossible to think that he could miss this big chance, the occasion of his life. Absolutely deserved. Szymon Maciniak from Poland has shown in recent times a more than outstanding development as FIFA referee. He has impressed for his style, feeling for the game and skills. For this reason I'm sure he will attend WC as main referee, being still quite young (1981), but the call will be absolutely deserved. Antonio Mateu Lahoz (ESP), despite of the criticism he got for Italy - Sweden, should be a safe name as well. Before the match in Milan, he had shown some excellent performances in UEFA competitions. Making an analysis on a long-term period, he deserves without doubts WC. Now, starting from the eighth name, things become more difficult to read, or at least not clear like the previous ones. In any case, for what he did in recent times, despite of having missed a WC play off appointment, I'm sure that Damir Skomina (SVN) will be in Russia, absolutely deserved call, considering that he is in top form. I think committee decided to avoid an appointment for keeping him safe, after what happened 4 years ago. He could fly to Russia, that's of course just my idea, directly after having officiated CL final in Kyiv. My nineth choice is Jonas Eriksson (SWE). This decision was not easy for me, especially if compared to all the other ones, very like this was the most difficult to be taken. I think that the Swedish has still the trust of Busacca and FIFA committee, in 2014 WC he got a Round of 16 game, it is true that now he is not at the top of the form, but surely he has the experience and he can be helpful for certain types of games. To be added, in recent times I got the impression he recovered a bit, but of course, and here we all agree, he is not the old Eriksson we knew. Also in this case, I think it was a question of opportunity by FIFA when they didn't appoint him for a play off. He is another name who, after WC (in case of call, of course) could retire. Difficult, very difficult to think that he could miss this chance. That's my feeling. So no room for all the "young" and talented officials like Karasev, Hațegan and Turpin, but surely, thank to VAR and FO duties, all them could be in Russia as well.
So, my final list is the following:
Ravshan Irmatov (UZB), Alireza Faghani (IRN), Nawaf Shukralla (BHR), Ryūji Satō (JPN).
Bakary Gassama (GAM), Janny Sikazwe (ZAM), Gehad Grisha (EGY)
Mark Geiger (USA), Joel Aguilar (SLV), César Ramos (MEX)
Sandro Ricci (BRA), Néstor Pitana (ARG), Wilmar Roldán (COL), Enrique Cáceres (PAR), Julio Bascuñán (CHI)
Matt Conger (NZL)
Cüneyt Çakır (TUR), Björn Kuipers (NED), Gianluca Rocchi (ITA), Damir Skomina (SVN), Jonas Eriksson (SWE), Antonio Mateu Lahoz (ESP), Szymon Marciniak (POL), Felix Brych (GER), Milorad Mažić (SRB)
As already said, VAR and FO should be added, and the list of selected officials will be surely longer than than this one.
What do you think? Now it's your turn, have your say.