An early preview for next year’s big tournament as we have no big tournament to look ahead this summer.
A tournament where 32 best football playing nations come together to compete for the biggest prize in world football, World Cup. The most exciting and most watched tournament in the whole world will be held in Russia, the world’s largest country full of world’s biggest hooligans. The 21st edition of the tournament will commence on June 14, 2018, and the final will be played on July 15, 2018. A total of 12 stadiums in 11 different cities including Kazan, Moscow, Rostov-ov-Don and Saint Petersburg are selected for the hosting of the world cup. The opening ceremony, one of the two semi-finals and the final will be held at Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow (Capacity: 81,000). The draw to group the 32 teams in eight separate groups will be held on December 1, 2017, by which time all the qualifiers would have been played bar the inter-confederation playoffs. The official mascot for the 2018 World Cup was unveiled on October 21, 2016. The wolf was chosen as the mascot as it received 53% of the votes ahead of the tiger (27%) and the cat (20%). The wolf is named Zabivaka (“the one who scores” in Russian).
Let’s get down to business and analyze which teams stand a real chance of winning the world cup.
The first team to reserve their place at the world cup (after Russia who automatically qualified as hosts), Tite’s men qualified for the world cup with four qualifier matches still left to play. Brazil lost 2-0 to Chile on Matchday 1 of CONMEBOL qualifiers but have not looked back since winning 10 matches including the 3-0 victory over rivals Argentina and drawing the other three matches. After winning just two of the first six matches, Dunga was sacked and Tite helped the team rocket from sixth to the top by going on an eight-match winning streak.
The boys in yellow suffered an abysmal 7-1 defeat at the hands of eventual winners Germany in the semi-final of the last world cup and will be looking to get their hands on the coveted trophy for the sixth time in Russia. Tite has world-class talent to call upon in attack like Neymar of Barcelona, Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus, Liverpool duo Coutinho and Firmino, Chelsea’s Willian, Bayern’s Douglas Costa and Oscar who is plying his trade in China. The midfield is packed with Real Madrid’s Casemiro, Chelsea’s David Luiz and Manchester City’s Fernandinho. The defense has world class players in Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marcelo and Filipe Luis. Though Brazil does not have a world class goalkeeper and Tite has over a year to find his first choice keeper where he can try out outcasts like Diego Alves, Neto and Jefferson.
The Selecao have the perfect mixture of youth and experience and are in with a great chance to win the world cup.
The defending champions would go in the tournament very confident of retaining the trophy and can become the first team to do so since Brazil who won consecutive world cups in 1958 and 1962. Die Mannschaft have been on a role in the qualifying campaign winning five out of the five matches scoring twenty goals and conceding just one in the process but that won’t matter to Joachim Low whose future could well be dependent on success or failure in Russia.
The golden generation of Germany won its first trophy in 2014 and would be expected to repeat the feat but it would be comparatively tougher without the experience of Lahm, Mertesacker, Klose, Schweinsteiger, and Podolski. The aforementioned golden generation can no longer be referred to as promising youngsters with Muller, Reus Ozil, Schurrle and Gotze turning 25 or above before the start of the world cup. Though, Low has injected some youth into the team in the form of Germany’s Olympic silver medal winners Suele, Brandt, Meyer and Sane. Real Madrid’s Kroos and Arsenal’s Ozil would be the chief creators of Die Mannschaft with Bayern’s crucial quartet consisting of Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, and Muller forming the spine of the team along with the attacking trio of Gotze, Reus and Schurrle ply their trade at Dortmund. The likes of Ter Stegen, Howedes, Gundogan, Sane, Schurrle, Draxler, and Gomez not getting a look in the starting XI proves that Germany still has a quality squad to compete for the biggest honors.
Under the captaincy of world’s best keeper and with no recognized striker, Germany would be hoping to take Russia by storm next year.
Les Blues lost to Portugal in the final of Euro Cup last year and it would go down as one of the biggest upsets in football history. After France faltered in the first rounds of the qualification for the world cup as they drew with Belarus (who have FIFA ranking 78th), they won their next four matches by defeating the likes of Netherlands and Sweden.
Eliminated at the quarter-final stage by eventual winners Germany in the last edition, France will be more determined this time and leading the charge is Atletico Madrid’s Griezmann with Manchester United duo Pogba and Martial and Chelsea’s Kante giving him the much-needed support. Tottenham’s Lloris along with Arsenal’s Koscielny and Real Madrid’s Varane would be responsible for keeping clean sheets while the likes of Giroud and Payet bangs in goals. Right Back will prove to be the achilles heel of France as Didier Deschamps has tried at least five men in that position including Jallet, Sagna, and Sidibe but Debuchy should be his first choice if he moves in the summer and guarantees himself a starting position at a club in a major league. France has insane depth in every position with four of five world class players available to play and it will be very interesting to see the final squad, let alone the final 11 that plays in the world cup.
Didier Deschamps captained his country to win the world cup in 1998 and would be hoping to become the third person after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer to win it both as a player and a manager.
Often dubbed as the dark horses of a major tournament, Belgium would go into this world cup determined to lose that tag. In fact, they have one of the best squads in the world and calling them dark horses would be similar to calling Germany underdogs. After a dismal 2016 Euro Cup, they parted ways with their former manager Marc Wilmots and appointed Roberto Martinez as the head manager. Since then, Belgium have started their qualification campaign in style by beating teams by 3-0, 4-0, 6-0, and 8-1 but could only salvage a 1-1 draw to Greece and Martinez would be hoping that The Red Devils get back on track fast.
Belgium lost to Argentina in the quarter-final of the world cup in Brazil ending a promising journey with nothing to show in the end. Most of the Belgium players ply their trade in the English Premier League including Chelsea duo Courtois and Hazard, Spurs trio Alderweireld, Vertonghen, and Dembele and other players like Benteke, Lukaku, Origi, Fellaini, and De Bruyne. Some influential players like Mertens, Carrasco, Meunier, Witsel, and Nainggolan play elsewhere but are equally important to the core squad of Belgium. Over-equipped in attack, Martinez seems to have a problem when it comes to left back position. He can go for the experienced Vermaelen, the criminally under-rated Ciman and the young Jordan Lukaku. Currently, he has been favoring Ciman and that seems as the right choice until the completion of World Cup.
Belgium is seemingly ready to compete with the big boys and it would not be a big surprise if they win their first ever world cup noting that semi-finals is the furthest they have reached in the history of the tournament.
BEST OF THE REST
Last edition’s finalists Argentina would be led by Messi for whom this could be the last world cup he plays in. He will have able supporters in Di Maria, Aguero and Higuain but La Albiceleste has a weak defense which may be their undoing. Mascherano and Bigila will be holding the midfield and protecting the defense that consists of Manchester United duo Romero and Rojo. Four-time world cup winners but knocked out at the group stage in the last edition, Italy has the world’s best defense which has helped Juventus reach two Champions League finals. Buffon, Bonucci, Barzagli, and Chiellini will take charge of keeping the clean sheets and would be giving their maximum as it could be their last outing together. Antonio Conte and Max Allegri has drilled this defense over the years and Ventura should use the same personnel to make maximum use of the relationships made by players at the same club. Verratti, Marchisio, and Motta will be pulling the strings in midfield with Insigne and the revitalized Balotelli in charge of scoring the goals. Most of the players of the golden generation have retired or ousted from the squad with Spain rebuilding the squad from the scratch. De Gea, Carvajal, Ramos, Pique, and Alba make up one of the star-studded defenses in the world. Whether they will be able to gel up and perform against bigger teams is yet to be seen. Thiago, Busquets, Koke, and Herrera can be counted upon to ably support the forwards Costa, Pedro and Vitolo. Isco, Mata, and Silva will have to adjust to the formation of the team but the big squad can come in handy in the long tournament. England does not perform well in major tournaments but their new manager Southgate seems to have new tactics up his sleeve. Wayne Rooney has been ousted from the squad and it can be called the right decision as the record goal-scorer for the nation is past his prime and his powers have waned off. Spurs players Kane, Alli, Walker, Rose, and Dier form the nucleus of the side with Rashford, Butland, and Sterling part of the youth coming through the Three Lions squad.
It is basically all the usual suspects including Germany, Brazil, France, Belgium with Argentina, Italy, England, and Spain given a look-in to the proceedings. 18 of the 20 world cups have been won by these seven teams (excluding Belgium) collectively and considering them the contenders for the next world cup is a proof of how much football has become predictable. Two of the Big Three: Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona amongst themselves have qualified for the semi-finals stage of the Champions League season 2009-10 to season 2015-16 of the elite competition. This further solidifies the claim that football is as predictable as it can get.
Whatever happens, the 2018 edition of world cup promises to be a treat with Russia as the hosts and Zabivaka as the mascot of the world cup.