FIFA World Cup 2018: Top 5 contenders to win the crown
Written by: Neelav Chakravarti
Just a few days are left for football’s grandest event, and the hype around it has already reached fever pitch.
At Brazil 2014, Germany beat Argentina (through an extra-time Mario Gotze goal) to win the FIFA World Cup for the first time as a unified country. Touted to successfully defend their title, Die Mannschaft boast tremendous squad depth with a world-class player in every position. Joachim Low has an immense pool of talent at his disposal. Two powerhouses in Italy and the Netherlands won’t be catching the plane to Russia this time, but then too, there are quite a few favorites to win the grand title.
In this article, we will discuss the five favorites to lift the title in Russia.
This time it won’t be like Brazil. Alejandro Sabella had created a feared Argentine squad back then. The La Albiceleste blitzed past CONMEBOL qualifications taking the top spot. In Brazil, Sabella changed the team’s strategy – from an ultra-attacking side, the two-time World Cup winners became a well-oiled defensive engine. The Lionel Messi-led squad conceded just four goals during the entire tournament.
Fast forward to June 2018 – just a few days before the World Cup is set to start – they look to be out of ideas. After three finals, they seem to have wavered from their winning mentality. This time on their road to Russia, the Latin American nation suddenly became unsure about their qualification.
Scoring just 19 goals, a Lionel Messi hat-trick at their last match opened the gates to Russia for the team. This time, they look neither defensively solid, nor offensively threatening. Without their skipper, they seem to lose games in a whimper.
The likes of Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala have put in performances which are a shadow of their club selves. With the Barcelona superstar, they seem to be an inspired team and Jorge Sampaoli will be counting on him to once again deliver the goods.
Argentina scored just 19 goals in their CONMEBOL Qualifiers for Russia 2018
La Albiceleste is placed in Group D consisting of Iceland, Croatia, and Nigeria. It’s by no means the proverbial "Group of Death." Moreover, Argentina possesses arguably the world’s greatest player in their ranks. So, if he can carry on the form he has displayed this season for Barcelona, he can lead his team to the later stages of the tournament.
Post their disastrous World Cup campaign at Brazil 2014, Spain has re-built themselves totally. Their style is not dependent on tiki-taka anymore. Instead, they have adopted a more direct approach with possession.
La Roja have an amazing team with the likes of David de Gea, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Andres Iniesta, Thiago Alcantara and Sergio Busquets. The Red Fury’s only dilemma is their frontline. Loptegui hasn’t yet found a perfect replacement for David Villa. Alvaro Morata showed some promise, but his disastrous first season in England has seen him left out of the plane to Russia. Diego Costa just hasn’t fit into the squad since Brazil 2014, while Rodrigo and Iago Aspas are not world-class players.
Spain scored 36 goals in the European Qualifiers
The 2010 World Cup winners rely heavily on their midfield, especially Andres Iniesta and Real Madrid’s Isco. Isco could very well be their most important player in Russia, with the likes of Marcos Asensio and Koke fighting for a starting spot.
La Furia are expected to at least reach the semi-finals, anything less than that would be underwhelming. They are placed in Group B along with Portugal, Morocco, and Iran. Top spot is a reasonable and expected target for the Iberian giants.
The Selecao have totally changed since their disastrous semi-final loss to Germany in 2014. Apart from tumbles at the two recent Copa Americas, coach Tite has built a formidable attacking machine.
Unlike the 2010 and 214 editions, this time Brazil have world-class players in every position. They finally have an amazing goalkeeper in Roma’s Allison and his deputy Ederson. Defensively they are pretty rock-solid too, with Thiago Silva, Joao Miranda, and Marcelo – albeit for a World Cup missing injury to Dani Alves. In the middle of the park, they have enough depth with the likes of Fernandinho, Casemiro, Philippe Coutinho, Paulinho, and Fred. Their fearsome attack consists of talisman Neymar, Willian, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino.
Brazil topped CONMEBOL with a huge total of 41 goals
This team could be the one to win their sixth World Cup for the South American giants.
Brazil are placed in Group E with Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia. Grabbing top spot should be their primary target and a Neymar-led squad should honestly rack in the goals.
Arguably, the defending champions are the favorites this time too. 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 Boateng and Manuel Neuer don’t play.
Germany booked their plane to Russia with a massive haul of 43 goals in the European Qualifiers
Marc-Andre ter Stegen has had an amazing season for Barcelona. But, he could be on the bench, with skipper Manuel Neuer expected to start. Defensively, they are equally solid with the likes of Mats Hummels and Joshua Kimmich. Their creativity seems to have no limits either, with Kroos, Muller and Marco Reus in midfield. Timo Werner and Mario Gomez are expected to score goals on a frequent basis.
The defending champions are placed in Group F with Mexico, Sweden and the Korea Republic. Germany have a team which could thrash any side on their day and at-least a semi-final spot is expected from them.
Les Bleus have suddenly become title contenders again after a below-par past few years. This is not a team like the ones in South Africa 2010 and UEFA Euro 2012.
Didier Deschamps has built a European powerhouse with big names. After coming second to Portugal at Euro 2016, Brazil 2014 was seen as the start of a renaissance for the French team. The World Cup-winning coach has some world-class players at his disposal with the likes of Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Paul Pogba, Ngolo Kante, Florian Thauvin, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele.
France booked their place for the World Cup with a total of 18 goals
The current crop of French players going to Russia is reminiscent of the 1998 World Cup winning squad led by talisman Zinedine Zidane.
Placed in Group C with Australia, Peru and Denmark, the French have an easy task ahead with winning the trophy their sole target.
Published: Thu Jun 14, 2018 03:53 PM IST