Can Lionel Messi lead Argentina to World Cup glory or will Spain finally find their successor to David Villa?
For all football fans across the world, this is a time of patience and waiting. The FIFA World Cup is coming with its much-awaited glitz and fandom. It was in 2014 when we saw a Mario Gotze winner put Germany again on the highest echelon of world football. Since then, times have changed.
Mario Gotze is no more the player he was (albeit he’s been excluded from the German World Cup squad). Runners-up Argentina are not the dominant force anymore, with a harrowing qualifying adventure. Spain have become a feared force again since their shaming in Brazil. Last time’s hosts have themselves become the strongest South American team again, reminiscent of their glory days.
So, here we will discuss the five factors which could decide the FIFA World Cup 2018 campaign.
5. African teams are not to be underestimated
The likes of Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria, Morocco, and Senegal are not to be taken lightly. They are Africa’s candidates travelling to Russia and believe us this time the CAF qualifying process was a very competitive one. Ivory Coast and Ghana couldn’t cross the line. The former came second to Morocco in Group ., Meanwhile, the latter came third in Group D comprising of table-topper Egypt. Out of all the CAF teams, Nigeria, Egypt, and Senegal possess the players to beat the heavyweights.
Egypt qualified for the FIFA World Cup through a last-minute Mohamed Salah penalty against DR Congo
Nigeria haVE proved themselves to be a very strong team filled with noteworthy players like Victor Enyeama, Alex Iwobi, John Obi Mikel and Kelechi Iheanacho. Egypt have their king Mohamed Salah, Mohamed Elneny and Ahmed Hegazi. 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists Senegal have Sadio Mane, Keita Balde Diao and Idrissa Gueye. One should not forget that The Lions of Teranga beat France in 2002.
They can beat any team on their day. So, it won’t be a surprise to see them reach the tournament’s latter stages.
4. Spanish attack
Post-South Africa 2010, Spain have been lacking a true successor to the majestic David Villa. If it weren’t for him, some matches in the African nation would not have been won by La Roja.
Diego Costa seemed like the ideal candidate. But in Brazil, he couldn’t connect with any of his teammates, to the level the former Barcelona talisman did. Then came Alvaro Morata who showed positive signs. But, his dismal season for Chelsea has led to his exclusion from the squad for Russia.
Spain have scored 36 goals on the road to Russia
Manager Julian Lopetegui has picked Costa, Iago Aspas and Rodrigo Moreno for the upcoming tournament. The Atletico Madrid superstar seems to be the ideal starter, but Aspas and Rodrigo have proved their worth whenever given a chance.
With all honestly, La Furia have the perfect team in terms of goalkeepers, defenders, and midfielders. Their playmakers are some of the best in the world and will create a lot of chances for sure. So, it will be up to the strikers to convert them and take Spain to glory.
3. Germany’s Goalkeeping Conundeum
The defending champions are also arguably, the favorites this time around. Germany won the FIFA Confederation Cup with their reserve team; with the likes of Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos rested.
Die Mannschaft seem to have the perfect starting XI, even if Jerome Boetang misses the tournament due to injury. The only problem this time could be their goalkeeper.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen put in a Man of the Match performance during the FIFA Confederations Cup final against Chile
Manuel Neuer would have been first-choice, but his injury has cost him the starting place. However, the rest of his deputies have also proved their worth at club level. Marc-Andre ter Stegen is the obvious starter this time, but his Germany career has had instances of Loris Karius-like mistakes.
He also received the Man of the Match award in Germany’s final match against Chile at the FIFA Confederations Cup. The Barcelona shot-stopper is no doubt a world-class goalkeeper, but he is unreliable sometimes and is not in the same league yet, as the Bayern Munich ace. So, Germany’s road to the final could depend largely on their goalkeeper; be it Neuer or Ter Stegen.
2. Belgium’s Golden Generation:
Belgium had an excellent squad even back in 2014, but their lack of experience internationally proved to be a crucial factor in their loss to Argentina. However, this time around, they are out of excuses. The likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Mousa Dembele, Jan Verthongan and Thibaut Courtois have played their share of big matches. Belgium are not newbies anymore.
Belgium scored 43 goals on the road to Russia
Post-Euro 2016, they have become stronger and better. Their star players have to prove their mettle this time around and show that they are not just top players at club level. The European nation will be heavily reliant on the skills of Hazard and hope that Lukaku doesn’t miss a lot of chances like in the the previous World Cup.
1. Lionel Messi and Argentina:
It is arguably true that Argentina have been on a decline since they lost to Chile in consecutive Copa America finals. If one looks back at their qualifying campaign for the 2014 showpiece, it was a different Argentina. They ran riot during the qualifying process, with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain racking up the goals.
Lionel Messi single-handedly took the Albiceleste to Russia with a hat-trick against Ecuador
We have seen the wonders Lionel Messi can do on the field. He can dribble past almost an entire team. He can nutmeg opposing defenders. He can score from anywhere. God forbid, he can even nutmeg a goalkeeper. On his day the Argentine magician can win a match single-handedly. It won’t be surprising to see him take his team the distance in Russia, but he will need the support of his teammates.
Argentina have a tough group with the likes of Iceland, Croatia, and Nigeria. They are all technical teams. The Albiceleste will find it tough against them, but a top-two spot seems probable.