The 21st FIFA World cup begins in less than one week. On June 14, one of the most watched sporting events in the world will commence in Russia, as the hosts kick off against Saudi Arabia. 32 teams enter this years competition and conclude with only one team lifting the trophy on July 15. This article provides a look into the tournament’s 32 teams while addressing their individual strengths and weaknesses.
- Saudi Arabia
Uruguay is by far the most experienced team on the international stage in Group A. They have two world-class attackers in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani and an experienced Diego Godin leading the backline. Suarez and Cavani should have no problem creating scoring chances against the other teams in this group. La Celeste should cruise to first place in Group A.
If Mohamed Salah is healthy for the entire group stage, the Liverpool man will make the difference and carry Egypt to second place in the group. Salah is having the best year of his career and is one of the best three players in the world right now, alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. He single-handedly dragged Egypt to its third World Cup. The on-form attacker is more than capable of taking advantage of both Saudi Arabia and Russia. However, Russia is the Egyptians’ biggest challenge for a place in the knockout rounds and if Salah is not available, the hosts will advance.
Spain’s quality on every part of the pitch will be too much to handle for any of these teams. The Spaniards have one of the best goalkeepers in the world in David De Gea. They also have arguably the best and most experienced back line, composed of Dani Carvajal, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Jordi Alba. La Roja’s greatest strength is the number of quality midfielders they have at their disposal. The other Group B teams will be dominated in the middle of the pitch as the Spaniards will dictate the tempo of the game limit quality chances to the opposition.
Portugal, led by Captain Cristiano Ronaldo, is also a strong team and will take the second spot in the group. The reigning European champions have an experienced backline led by Besiktas man, Pepe. The midfield and attack are made up of experienced internationals like William Carvalho, Joao Mario, Premier League champion Bernardo Silva, Ricardo Queresma and the main man, Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese also have called up promising young stars like AC Milan’s, Andre Silva and Valencia’s, Goncalo Guedes. Although Coach Fernando Santos’s men are unpredictable in performances, the gap in quality between his squad and Morocco and Iran will be insurmountable.
The depth and quality of France is frightening. The young center back pairing of Rafael Varane and Samuel Umtitti is world-class, and both center-backs have great recovery pace. The midfield will be anchored by N’Golo Kante and and in front of him will most likely be Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi. The midfield is very strong and balanced, and the majority of the players contributed to a runners-up position in the 2016 European Championship. Les Bleus greatest asset is their attacking trident and its many options. The attack will be made up of three of these players: Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann,and Ousmane Dembele. These players are young, fast and extremely talented, which will provide the spark that drives France to first in Group C.
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Denmark will certainly take second place in the group. With Kasper Schmeichel in net and RB Liepzig’s, Yussuf Poulson leading the line, the Red and Whites have quality throughout. They possess a game-changer in Christian Eriksen, who is a world-class midfielder and has the ability to score and assist at any moment. His leadership in midfield will be enough to dismiss the Australians and Peruvians.
Group D (Group of Death)
Every four years there is a group dubbed the group of death and this has to be it. Argentina is inconsistent but extremely talented, as they never seem to be able to produce on the big stage, losing in the last two Copa America finals on penalties and losing the 2014 World Cup final in extra time. They are undoubtedly the strongest team in the group but are over reliant on Lionel Messi. If Messi is unable to drag the team across the finish line it is unclear who will step up. The 6-1 friendly result when Messi was not in the line-up showed the frailty of the side, but if Coach Jorge Sampoli can get Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Angel Di Maria, and Sergio Aguero on the same page, they should coast to first in the group.
Everyone’s favorite Cinderella is making its first appearance in a World Cup. Iceland has shown its footballing ability by making it out of its group in the European Championship and by knocking out England in a historic display. They are a strong team with a lot of belief and support. The Icelanders have the ability to progress but they will have to be at the top of their game in every match.
The Croatian National team struggled in the World Cup Qualifiers but were able to win when they needed it most. The midfield strength on this team is extraordinary. It is composed of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Rakitic, and Ivan Perisic. All of them play for top European clubs and will be able to dominate every midfield in Group D. The Croatians also have a proven goal scorer in Mario Mandzukic. The squad definitely have the talent and experience to advance in second place but its lack of goals in the recent qualifiers are worrisome.
Nigeria is one of the best African teams in the world right now. They have plenty of European experience with the likes of Victor Moses, Kelechi Iheanacho, Ahmed Mousa, and Alex Iwobi. If the squad is clicking, its pace could exploit the defenses of its opponents. However, the Super Eagles will need Croatia and Argentina to be out-of-form if they hope to advance.
- Costa Rica
After a humiliating 1-7 against Germany in the 2014 World Cup, Brazil will be out for redemption. This team is one of the favorites to win the 2018 competition because of its strength in almost every position. The strength of Brazil will be its wing play. Brazil has the option of playing some combination of Douglas Costa, Neymar Jr., Gabriel Jesus and Willian. Despite the absence of right-back Dani Alves due to injury, Marcelo and Danilo offer a lot of offense from the wingback position. The Brazilians will also have a strong midfield with the likes of Casemiro, Paulinho, Philipe Courtinho and Fernandinho facilitating their attack while snuffing out the opposition. The pace and technical ability of the Brazilians will overwhelm every team in their group and they will easily take first in Group E, just as they did in the South American World Cup Qualifiers.
The FIFA ranked 6th best team in the world will take second place in their group. The Swiss National Team qualified for the World Cup by defeating Northern Ireland in a playoff tie. The team is led by defender Stephan Lichtsteiner and midfielder Granit Xhaka, with Xhaka providing the main offensive spark. The main threat to the Swiss is the Serbian National Team, but the Serbian’s best players are defenders and defensive midfielders. Meanwhile, Costa Rica is carried by goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who provided great performances in the previous tournament, carrying a relatively weak team to the quarter finals of the 2014 World Cup.
- South Korea
The reigning World Cup champions will place first in the group. The Germans are a strong and well-rounded team. They have two of the best goalkeepers in the world in Manuel Neuer and Marc-Andre TerStegen. Its defense, led by Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and the 2017 German Player of the year Joshua Kimmich, will be very tough to break down. The greatest strength of the Germans is the middle field. Toni Kroos controls and orchestrates the entire team, Sami Khedira and Ilkay Gundogan provide a solid two-way presence and Mesut Ozil pulls the strings in attack. Die Mannschaft’s attack is solid as well. The attack includes Thomas Muller, Julian Draxler, Mario Gomez, and Marco Reus, to name a few. Die Mannschaft is one of, if not the most, well-rounded teams in the tournament. No team in Group F will be able to slow down the Germans in its pursuit of a second consecutive World Cup trophy, and it would be surprising if they let one point slip.
Second place will be a fight between Sweden and Mexico. Sweden has a strong squad that is more well-rounded than the teams Zlatan Ibrahimovic used to once carry to victories. However, it will not be enough to slow down a very experienced Mexico team led by Carlos Vela, Javier Hernandez and Andres Guardado. Vela has been playing exceptionally well after making the jump to LAFC from Real Sociedad, and Guardado has helped a very good Real Betis team qualify for the UEFA Europa League. With these two leaders and “Chicharito” Hernandez the Mexicans will qualify in second place.
Two big footballing countries that have failed to produce in recent years clash in Group G. England has developed a reputation for choking in big games and being outplayed when it matters most, like against Iceland in the Euros. Belgium, on the other hand, is a team loaded with talent but can never seem to put it all together in knockout competitions.
However, England will not choke this soon. They have good youth talent like Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford and have a very on-form Harry Kane leading the line. Its defense is decent with the likes of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Chris Smalling. The Three Lions should brush aside both Tunisia and Panama.
Belgium is led by two of the very crucial players involved in Manchester City’s demolition of the Premier League in Vincent Kompany and Kevin DeBruyne. They are surrounded by stars like Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku. Belgium will place first in the group, with the only real challenge they will face being England.
James Rodriguez, who has been exceptional for Bayern Munich, will lead a strong Colombian side to first in Group H. James will play alongside Juan Cuadrado, Carlos Bacca and Radamel Falcao. Los Cafeteros performed well in the World Cup Qualifiers and beat France 3-2 in recent friendlies. Los Cafeteros will take first in Group H and should have a good tournament as they are led by last World Cup’s Golden Boot winner.
Although Poland is the second strongest team, Robert Lewandoski is their only real offensive threat. Lewandoski has been good for Bayern Munich this year but has failed to produce on the big stage, and with the lack of support he is likely to receive from his team, it is unlikely they will advance. Poland will have to battle Senegal for second place. Sadio Mane has been deadly this year for Liverpool, and with his pace and skill, he will give defenders nightmares throughout the tournament. Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly will be able to structure the Senegalese defense and push the Lions of Teranga to the knockout stage over Poland.
Cover photo courtesy of qrznow.com.