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.
If you would like to take a look at specific team guides, then simply click on the name of the country you want to see. Alternatively you can go to our World Cup homepage
Argentina – OUT
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 struggled to make the final squad given Sampoali’s style and Mauro Icardi failed to make the squad altogether shockingly.
Argentina in their first game of the tournament struggled immensely against Iceland. Messi missed a penalty and 1-1 was the final score.
Then Argentina played incredibly poorly against Croatia to lose 3-0. Throughout the match there was a sense the only Messi was going to do anything to hurt Croatia and he could not. A truly awful team that played poorly and were set up incorrectly by their manager. A sorry sight from one of the great World Cup nations, but they somehow found a way to qualify for the round of 16 with a 2-1 win over Nigeria. They will face France in the next round.
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, 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.
Their opening game could not have been against a better opponent for them as they played Panama. The final score was 3-0 with Dries Mertens, and Romelu Lukaku getting on the scoresheet with the Manchester United man picking up a brace. Belgium then demolished Tunisia 5-2 with Lukaku and Hazard picking up a brace each. Michy Batshuayi scored the other.
Their final group game was against England and with 9 changes to the side, Belgium came away with a narrow 1-0 victory. This set up a Round of 16 tie with Japan. And it appears as if they would be heading home after going 2-0 down. But three unanswered goals, including one in the final minute, got them the win.
Belgium would beat brazil but lose to France setting up a third place playoff tie against England.
Brazil – OUT
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.
Brazil played a spirited Switzerland side yesterday and were held to a 1-1 draw. After going 1-0 up to a beautiful Philippe Coutinho goal, Brazil sat back and allowed Zuber to score from a corner.
They then managed to win 2-0 against a defensive Costa Rica, and they then beat Serbia and Mexico by the same scoreline to set up a quarter final match against Belgium.
They would lose 2-1 to go crashing out once again.
Inconsistency is the issue here, and the fact that they have a tough group alongside Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland. Before World Cup qualification started, Croatia were expected to top their group with ease, however they would lose out on top spot to Iceland. This meant they had to go through the playoff phase against Greece. They would qualify comfortably with a 4-1 in the first leg, but the fact they were there in the first place showed how inconsistent they have been.
With players like Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Peresic, and Mateo Kovacic on the team, they should be a lot better than that. And it is because of these class players that they could be an outsider in Russia.
They started the tournament with a solid 2-0 win over Nigeria, and then smashed Argentina 3-0. They then secured another win over Iceland to get the maximum of nine points from nine in the group. Modric and Rakitic look to be on good form, and Croatia are more than capable of getting to the semi-finals.
Their round of 16 opponent was Denmark and the scoreline after 90 minutes was 1-1 after goals from either side in the first five minutes. Ivan Rakitic scored the winning penalty in the shootout. Rakitic again had to score the winning penalty against Russia after the score was tied at 2-2 after 120 minutes.
In the semi-final against England, Croatia would win 2-1 after Ivan Peresic scored the equaliser after 60 minutes and forced extra time once again.
They face France in the final.
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, and 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.
France did not play well against Australia and thanks to luck and VAR, they were able to pick up a 2-1 victory. They then won 1-0 against Peru and then played a shocking draw against Denmark. They played Argentina in the next round by four goals to three and then beat Belgium 1-0 thanks to a Samuel Umtiti goal.
They face Croatia in the final.
Germany – OUT
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, 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 Mario Gomez possibly acting as the target man. Or he could use Timo Werner as a freewheeling forward. Shockingly, both Mario Gotze and Leroy Sane have missed out on the final World Cup squad.
Germany’s 2018 World Cup got off the worst possible start against Mexico as they were beaten 1-0 thanks to a Hirving Lozano goal. It could have been more too as Mexico squandered countless chances to put the game to bed. Germany have to regroup and should still get out of the group, but the promise of a next round tie against Brazil could be on the cards.
A win against Sweden was a must, and it looked to be going badly when Ola Toivanen scored to put Sweden one up. But Marco Reus equalised after half time, and with the last kick of the game Toni Kroos scored a free kick to save Germany’s World Cup aspirations.
Despite all this, Germany went crashing out of the tournament after a shocking performance against South Korea where they lost 2-0.
Spain – 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 Diego Costa who got selected over Alvaro Morata. Costa hasn’t been playing a lot for Atletico Madrid after their transfer ban meant he couldn’t play until after January 1st.
Regardless, Isco is the key man and if he plays like he did against Argentina, he scored a hat-trick, then Spain are dangerous.
However, their head coach Julen Lopetegui has been sacked just before the tournament and only time will tell how much of an effect this has on the Spanish.
Spain looked very good indeed against Portugal, but one man, Cristiano Ronaldo stopped them from picking up three points. He scored a hat-trick to draw 3-3.
They then picked up a 1-0 victory over Iran and squeaked past Morocco with a 2-2 draw to top the group. They play Russia next.
So there are our six favourites to win the tournament. All are strong, but all have their issues too.
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