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Germany

Winners : 1954, 1974, 1990, 2014

What could go right?

Reigning World Cup holders venture into Russia with an experienced line-up but with no real star player, but why tinker with something which isn’t broken. No countries in world football play better as a team than Germany do. World Cup winning Coach Joachim Löw has been there, done that, he knows what strings to pull and when to pull them. 

Coach Löw instils team and the players follow his lead, knowing whoever the opponent is or quality of talent on the opposition team, that German systems and tactics can overcome them. The squad is dominated by players who ply their trade in the Bundesliga, with all the forwards and all but one defender playing in their home country. The players who don’t play in Germany play for world class clubs in Real Madrid, Juventus and Paris St-Germain, Barcelona, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal. The team is stocked with proven, highly motivated individuals who always put the team first.

What could go wrong?

Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has spent most of the season on the injury list and has just returned to international football. Whilst Neuer started in the last warm up match against Saudi Arabia, his match fitness, and reflexes may still need time to adjust to the rigours of so many games in such a short space of time.

If Neuer isn’t quite at his best, Germany are ably supported by Barcelona number one Marc-Andre ter Stegen as his understudy. They might not be the sexy team of the World Cup but they sure are reliable. 

World Cup Friendly warm up matches: v Saudi Arabia 2-1, v Austria 1-2

Players to watch: Marco Reus, Thomas Müller, Julian Draxler 

Argentina

Winners : 1978, 1986

What could go right?

You have the best player in the world, Lionel Messi and a host of attacking talent, Gonzalo Higuain Paulo Dybala, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria at your disposal. Coach Jorge Sampaoli must go all out and play to his teams strengths. 

The Argentine defence is strong if not vulnerable and the midfield lacks the class of previous generations. Messi may have to forsake his desire to play solely as a forward for the benefit of the team and use his strengths of having the ability of providing perfect assists for his teammates in a deeper role. Opposition teams would have to redefine their plans in trying to stop him by assigning a holding midfielder rather than a designated defender.

What could go wrong?

Getting the right combination of forwards. All of Argentina’s forwards are great individually but can they work as a team. Coach Jorge Sampaoli’s best bet may be to play Higuain and Dybala up front, from their understanding of playing together as a pair for Juventus for the past two years with Messi behind them, with a free reign to do as he pleases. If the forwards don’t gel, Argentina’s midfielders appear more workmanlike than creative to make up the difference. 

The pressure on Messi to prove he is the best player of all time, surpassing countryman Diego Maradona by lifting the World Cup, this may be Messi’s last chance to do so, having missed out in Brazil four years ago. 

World Cup Friendly warm up matches:  v Israel PP, v Haiti 4-0

Players to watch: Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala, Angel Di Maria

Brazil

Winners : 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002

What could go right?

The time is right for Neymar Jr to step outside the shadow of Lionel Messi and Christian Ronaldo and prove he can be the best player in the world. It hasn’t quite worked out for Neymar Jr since his high priced transfer to Paris St-Germain, having missed the latter part of the season to injury.

Whilst Neymar Jr is the jewel in the Brazil team there are many fine players wanting to make up for the wrong experienced in their own country four years ago in the semi-final loss to Germany (1-7).  Willian, Thiago Silva, Douglas Costa, Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus, Marcelo and Casemiro are all winners and experienced individuals at club level in their own right and are now hungry for national team success. 

What could go wrong?

Neymar Jr has the talent to be the best player in the world, his teammates need him to lead the team as well as inspire them but does he have the maturity and leadership skills to lead his country to glory? We will soon find out. 

Traditionally Brazilian teams have been all about attacking football and Coach Tite’s team is more of the same. Brazil cannot get caught up with shadows of the past, and must know when the best time is to attack, and to defend with numbers when necessary.

World Cup Friendly warm up matches: v Austria 3-0, v Croatia 2-0

Players to watch: Neymar Jr, Roberto Firmino, Fred 

Spain

Winners: 2010

What could go right? 

It will depend if Spain’s veteran stars still have one more big tournament left in them. Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta has played his last game for the Catalans before moving to Japan next summer and will be looking for a fairy tale swan song in national colours. 

Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique will command the defence supported by one the world’s best shot stoppers David De Gea, Sergio Busquets and Koke will provide the steel in the midfield and Manchester City’s David Silva and Real Madrid’s Isco the creativity.  

The core of this team has been ever present for many years and will monopolise possession with their passing game. When they don’t have the ball their ability to win back possession quickly by pressing the opposition in large numbers is crucial to their game plan.

What could go wrong?

Losing your coach 24 hours before the start of the World Cup. Coach Julen Lopetegui has been sacked after accepting the manager's role at Real Madrid. The Spanish Football Federation were blindsided by Loptegui's decision to join Los Merengues and acted swiftly to remove what they saw as a distraction and a potential conflict of interest.

Several Spanish players, including captain Sergio Ramos, are not happy with the decision to remove Lopetegui at such a late stage. Team harmony could be tested and how the players will respond, and who will replace Loptegui, is anyone's guess. Rumoured replacements have included Zinedine Zidane, Pep Guardiola and Ramos himself in a player/manager role. 

World Cup Friendly warm up matches: v Tunisia 1-0, vs Switzerland 1-1

Players to watch: Andrés Iniesta, Isco, Diego Costa

France

Winners : 1998

What could go right?

Everything, the French are a team capable of going all the way. The fire power Coach Didier Deschamps has at his disposal will be frightening for opposition teams (look out Australia in game one). Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe have the skills and ability to unlock any defence.

France boast talent, youth and experience on every line, led by their captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Central defenders Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane ply their trade in the world’s most successful league, the Primera Division in Spain. They have an abundance of holding and workhorse midfielders and gluttony of attacking talent. If the French team click into gear, anything is possible.

What could go wrong?

Whilst France boasts an array of tough and gritty box to box midfielders in Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Corentin Tolisso, they lack a creative genius of passed tournament victories in (Michel Platini Euro 1984 and Zinedine Zidane WC 1998 and Euro 2000). If Paul Pogba is to become the player he is destined to be, he needs to add playmaker to his resume.

Complacency, the French team know they have quality in their squad but talent alone won’t win you the World Cup. A disappointing hit out against the USA in their last warm up match where the team were booed by their own home crowd could be the reality check this fine array of players needs before the start of the competition.

World Cup Friendly warm up matches: v USA 1-1, v Italy 3-1

Players to watch: Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé


Categories: Analysis | World Cup

2018 world cup, #russia2018, argentina, brazil, france, germany, spain

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