With the World Cup fast approaching we take a look at some of the teams who we think will contend for the trophy.
World Cup Favourites
It is less than two months until the 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia so at World Soccer we thought it best to look at some of the teams who are the favourites to win the tournament, and how they stand right now.
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Admittedly, Argentina may not be as strong as some of the other teams on this list, but with a man like Lionel Messi on your side, anything is possible. Lest we forget, he managed to get Argentina to the final four years ago.
The main question here will be if they can defend well enough to stop teams, and if their World Cup qualification tells us anything, it is that they are not strong enough in this department. Nicolas Otamendi has improved but they only managed to keep clean sheets in eight of their 18 qualification games and in several of those games they conceded more than one. Their 3-0 loss to Brazil was particularly humiliating. And recently, they conceded six to Spain.
Indeed, coach Jorge Sampaoli’s side will probably have to score plenty and with Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria, they clearly have the talent to do so. Interestingly, it appears as if Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi are on the outside looking in at the moment. Both have been named in the preliminary squads, but their exclusions will be a huge shock when the final 23 is announced later this month.
Belgium have one of the strongest teams in the competition and many of them are coming into the primes of their careers. The time to step up is now but there are two concerning aspects to the side. First there is a serious reliance on Romelu Lukaku to score goals. If he doesn’t, then they may struggle.
The other aspect is more serious and it regards the manager Roberto Martinez. Arguably their best player, Kevin De Bruyne has publicly criticised the tactics of the coach before and if your best player is not on board with what the coach wants to achieve, then this could cause fissures throughout the side.
Nonetheless, as mentioned above, the talent throughout the side is world class. With Thibaut Courtois, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, and Vincent Kompany in defence, they are strong in that department. Moving into the midfield you of course have De Bruyne, Mousa Dembele, Radja Nainggolan, and Axel Witsel.
In the attacking department there is Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Michy Batshuayi. With all these names competing for the side, Belgium will be tough to beat, but the side is pretty inexperienced at getting to the business end of big tournaments.
Their last performance at the European Championships in 2016, they were famously dumped out of the quarter finals by a weak Welsh side.
Four years on from their humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany, Brazil are one of the favourites to win in 2018 due to having a incredibly talented squad.
Dani Alves recently injured his foot so is unlikely to take part in the tournament.
In midfield, Casemiro has become solid and integral for Real Madrid, Fernandinho has improved massively under Pep Guardiola, and then you have Coutinho, Paulinho, Douglas Costa, Willian, and Renato Augusto.
No, talent is not not an issue here, instead it is the temperament and leadership of the team. Neymar, who is their best player, in particular sometimes has head explosion moments and at times they cost the side. During qualification he received a needless booking against Ecuador and missed four games through suspension. He is also in a race against time to be fit after injuring his foot for Paris Saint Germain.
In terms of leadership, head coach Tite has said he will continue to choose different captains at each match in Russia. There is a reason most teams do not do this and the lack of leadership may hinder Brazil from making it a long way in the tournament.
In terms of talent, France are similar to Belgium in that they have bucketloads of it. What they do have over their European neighbours is more experience in big competitions, they got to the final of the European Championships in 2016. However, they ultimately failed to get the job done against a weak Portugal side.
Obviously, the whole team is two years older and many of their most talented have become sublime players . Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, N’golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, Thomas Lemar, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Alex Lacazette, Antoine Griezmann are to name but a few.
However, the inconsistency of Paul Pogba could be an issue. On his day, he is often unstoppable, but he can occasionally look pedestrian and non-existent. Some of his performances for Manchester United this year have been truly awful. And it is this inconsistency that could cost France as, most of the time, the game goes through him. If he isn’t playing well, then they could struggle.
Germany are the number one pick to win the tournament. A large number of the players returning this year have won the Cup before and know what it takes to win. And due to their depth, the players who have retired, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm have been replaced by more than capable players. Leon Goretzka has become a sought after player around the world and Joshua Kimmich has become integral to Bayern Munich.
Worryingly though, the core of the team remains the same. Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Sami Khedira, Julian Draxler all return and then you can add Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane, Marco Reus, Antonio Rudiger to the side too.
Yes, it would take a brave person to bet against the Germans getting a long way in the World Cup once again.
Their are still two issues to mention though.
Manuel Neuer has been injured for a long time and has rarely been featuring for Bayern Munich. As a result Marc-Andre Ter Stegen has been called in to replace him. He is Barcelona’s starting keeper so he is no slouch, but they are weaker without Neuer.
Additionally, Germany occasionally lack an out and out striker of the Miroslav Klose variety. Coach Joachim Low has options here though, with Sandro Wagner possibly acting as the target man. Or he could use Timo Werner as a freewheeling forward. Right now it appears Mario Gotze misses out.
Spain are arguably not as strong as they once were, but they still have world class players aplenty and didn’t lose a game during qualification.
David De Gea is probably the best goalkeeper in the world and in front of him you have the ying and yang centre back partnership that is Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique. Jordi Alba and Cesar Azpilicueta will probably be the left and right backs respectively.
Finally, up front you’ve got the choice of Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata, but both of these players could provide issues. Costa hasn’t been playing a lot for Atletico Madrid after their transfer ban meant he couldn’t play until after January 1st. Alvaro Morata has also been struggling significantly for Chelsea. Both need to show some form, but who do you start in the first place?
Regardless, Isco is the key man and if he plays like he did against Argentina, he scored a hat-trick, then Spain are dangerous.
So there are our six favourites to win the tournament. All are strong, but all have their issues too.
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