Top 5 contenders to win the FIFA World Cup next year
The FIFA World Cup is widely considered as the biggest event in football, if not the biggest in the world – as the ratings of the final games usually suggest. With less than 6 months to go for Russia to host the tournament, several sides are already being touted among the favorites to write history in Moscow.
Although a World Cup is never predictable, the fans have reacted differently following the draw which was held earlier this month. Many have already made their predictions as to who the four semi-finalists will be, whereas others have strictly confirmed the identity of the winner.
So, without further delay let us have a closer look at the top five contenders to claim the throne in 2018:
Argentina have had a rough passage in the CONMEBOL qualifiers and even faced the risk of not making it to Russia, but Lionel Messi and company were able to inspire their nation to book a ticket in the last round, after beating Ecuador 3-1 in Quito.
Despite struggling in the qualifiers, this Argentina side has already shown how well it can handle the pressure in big tournaments. As a matter of fact, they were able to reach the final of the 2014 World Cup, followed by two straight finals in Copa América, albeit, losing all three against Germany and Chile on two attempts, respectively.
What Argentina has lacked in the past few years is essentially the ability to cope with pressure in the finals, and to make the difference by scoring at least one goal, which could have been enough to claim the trophy in regular time.
Obviously, the team faces a lot of problems, especially the back-line and the defensive organization of Jorge Sampaoli. However, the most alarming concern might will be their failure to find the right combination in order to get the best out of their extraordinary pool of talent in the front lines.
Messil will be determined to bring the trophy home, this time around.
Spain’s national team have cemented themselves among the main protagonists of international football in recent memory. The revolution in Spanish football started with the Euro Cup triumph in 2008 under the tutelage of Luis Aragonés, before Vicente Del Bosque took matters into his own hands, by winning the World Cup in 2010, followed by another Euro Cup in 2012.
However, it was obvious that 2013 signaled the decline of Spain on the international scene, as they suffered a cracking 3-0 defeat at the hand of the Brazilians in the Confederations Cup final, in Rio de Janeiro.
Spain’s hard times were not yet gone in 2014, as they were eliminated from the group stage after a large defeat against The Netherlands, followed by another against the Chileans. In Euro 2016, the situation looked a bit better, but the round of 16 was as far as they would go, as Antonio Conte’s masterclass meant that Italy would eliminate Spain.
But ever since Julen Lopetegui took command, it seams that La Furia Roja is slowly getting back in business. As a matter of fact, Spain topped their group in the World Cup qualifiers with 28 points out of 30, including a 3-0 victory against Italy, which meant that the four-time world champions would eventually finish second and go to the playoffs, were they were eliminated by Sweden.
With arguably the best goalkeeper in the world in David De Gea, a back-line of Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba, alongside probaly the best midfield pool in the world featuring players like Sergio Busquets, Andrès Iniesta, Thiago Alcantara, Isco and David Silva, Spain will once again be among the top favorites to claim silverware, come Russia 2018.
After knocking out the favorites Germany in the semis, most of the neutrals expected France to beat Portugal on home soil, in the Euro Cup 2016 final. However, the Portuguese caused one of the biggest upsets in the history of the competition and claimed the ultimate European accolade.
France need to get over what happened and concentrate on what’s coming up next, because one thing is for sure, that their squad will be much stronger in 2018. The major issue for France is Didier Deschamps’ tactical approach, which many pundits have already criticized for being too pragmatic – but his pragmatism did pay dividends against the reigning World Cup winners in 2016.
France’s talent pool is ridiculously good, and most probably the best in the world. From Sidibé, Varane, Umtiti and Mendy in defense, to Kanté, Paul Pogba and Rabiot, without forgetting the likes of Ousmane Dembélé, Antoine Griezmann, Lacazette, and Kylian Mbappé in attack.
It is a shame that Les Bleus will not rely on the services of Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema due to personal issues between him and Deschamps, but despite that, they still have the best individuals in attack.
One player who has set the European scene on fire in recent times is Kylian Mbappé. The 19-year old Paris Saint Germain striker could well be the surprise of the World Cup in 2018.
After getting crushed by a scoreline of 7-1 against Germany, in the heaviest Brazilian defeat in World Cup history in 2014, many thought that the Seleção would never recover in time for 2018. And these critics were not far from being right, if not for Adenor Bacchi taking charge of the national team in 2016.
Brazil suffered two major blows since 2014, with the first being an elimination against Paraguay in the quarter final of the Copa América in 2015, followed by a humiliating group stage exit from the Centenario edition in 2016. It seemed that Brazilian footballs was in shambles and could never recover, but a young generation inspired the country to triumph in the Olympic games for the first time in history.
Shortly after, Tite guided Brazil to a 3-0 victory away to Ecuador at high altitude. And ever since, the national team has absolutely been the best of the South American continent, with win after win. Brazil would eventually climb from 6th place, to end up on top with a comfortable lead over Uruguay.
This Brazilian team is experienced and relies on players who have already proven themselves at the top level, such as Dani Alves, Marcelo and Neymar. Meanwhile, the midfield looks to be at its finest since a long time, with the likes of Carlos Henrique Casemiro and Paulinho – who are considered pillars at Real Madrid and Barcelona – not to forget Fernandinho and Philippe Coutinho, who are big stars in the English Premier League.
The attacking line has been as good as ever, with Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino and Neymar JR inspiring Brazil to big victories against Argentina (3-0), Uruguay (4-1) and Chile (3-0).
There is no doubt that Brazil is the best team in South America at the moment, but it remains to be seen how they will cope against the best European defenses.
A lot has been said about the downfall of Germany’s national team after the retirement of major leaders in the locker room such as Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose, especially after the Euro Cup elimination against France in the semi final in 2016.
However, despite all the talk, the reality is that Germany is living its best days on international football. They remain the reigning world champions, and Joachim Low is still the ambitious manager who looks to challenge himself every single year.
As a matter of fact, Low did not satisfy himself with the 2014 triumph and has already decided to move on from his old tactics, in order to impose a more modern approach consisting of three ball-playing center backs. Overall, Germany is stronger at retaining possession and more effective at regaining the ball in the opponent’s half.
Facing the Germans would really feel like a nightmare for most teams who do not have the technical quality to keep up with their high tempo. This side is much better at exploiting opponents who sit deep, than they were in 2014, and proved it when they faced the likes of the United Stages and Algeria.
The failure against France in 2016 could well have been a blessing in disguise for Low, who has already shown signs of improvement in the Confederations Cup in 2017. In a game against Mexico, who were likely to park the bus and hit on the counter attacks, Low proved that Germany learned from what happened a year ago, and gave away possession on purpose. In the end, the tactics back-fired on the Mexicans, as the Germans crushed them by a scoreline of 4-1.
This German side is tactically one of the most flexible ones, and is possible to adapt to various situations. With a young squad, mainly composed of under 23 players, they were still able to out-class the representatives of South America in the final, as they beat Chile to achieve their first ever triumph in this tournament.