With the 2018 FIFA World cup kicking off, let’s take a look at 5 challengers for soccer’s most prestigious competition.
Manager : Jorge Sampaoli
Key Player : Lionel Messi
The South American nation has placed all its expectations upon the shoulders of Lionel Messi, as the diminutive Argentine continues to establish himself as the world’s greatest player. On paper, the Argentina squad looks a scary prospect with lethal attackers such as PSG’s Angel Di Maria and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, but many of these stars have failed to show up on the international scene time and time again. Without Messi, the team has looked disjointed and horribly handicapped. Sampaoli will need his stars to link up and perform in order for Messi to have the support he so badly needs in order to secure the trophy. Watch out for youngster Giovani Lo Celso, who will look to make an impression this summer with his balanced play and various attacking skills in the midfield. A decent defense is anchored by Nicolas Otamendi, who has been in the form of his life for Manchester City, but is the only quality defensive option. With their starting goalkeeper, Sergio Romero, pulling out of the tournament due to injury, Argentina’s defensive woes have gone from bad to worse. Most importantly however, will be Messi, and if he is healthy and shows up at his best, Argentina will always have a chance of winning, no matter who they face. However, with a possible semi final matchup against Spain, their chances at winning look bleak.
Predicted Starting Lineup : Caballero, Mercado, Otamendi, Fazio, Tagliafico, Mascherano, Biglia, Lo Celso, Messi, Di Maria, Aguero
Manager : Didier Deschamps
Key Player : Antoine Griezmann
The European nation brings a squad absolutely bursting with young talent, filled with quality throughout the board. After a deep run during Euro 2016, the team has gained the valuable experience and know-how required to succeed in big international tournaments. A strong defense is led by Real Madrid center back Raphael Varane, who is paired with Samuel Umtiti of Barcelona. Both are no-nonsense, world class players, who were exceeding successful this past club season. Wide threats are provided by young talents Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele, who are matchup nightmares on the flank for opposing teams. Both will be looking to break out on the international stage and announce themselves to the whole world. In the center, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba form a core midfield which is loaded with balance and offensive skill. And up top is their lynchpin, Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann. Griezmann has established himself as the best player in the world behind Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar, and he has been prolific this past season. A solid goalkeeper in the Hugo Lloris caps off the team. France has weapons all around the field, and with the quality they contain, expect them to definitely challenge for this World Cup.
Predicted Starting Lineup : Lloris, Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Gomez, Hernandez, Tolisso, Kanté, Pogba, Griezmann, Mbappe
Manager : Tite
Key Player : Neymar Jr
Brazil was plunged into despair 4 years ago when they infamously lost 7-1 to Germany on home turf. After going through numerous inefficient coaches, they finally found the golden key in Tite. He has taken the team to new heights with his smooth, attacking style of play. Fast forward to 2018, and the South American nation looks like a new team altogether. Brazil has looked the part in South American qualifying, where they swept through opposition and became the first team to qualify after hosts Russia. The team have improved its defence by miles, with Joao Miranda bringing in more steel to the backline. Big names such as Casemiro and Paulinho bring dynamism and assurance to a perfect midfield. Out wide, Marcelo and Danilo will surely provide good service for youngster Gabriel Jesus, who will be their striker this summer. The most important, however, are Coutinho and Neymar, who are always capable to adding their own magic to the game, as both are prime attacking threats. Expect big things from Neymar as he goes into this tournament looking to finally take Messi’s spot as the greatest in the game. Brazil have the class. They have the skill. Now it is up to them to perform.
Predicted Starting Lineup : Alisson, Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marcelo, Casemiro, Paulinho, Coutinho, Willian, Neymar, Jesus
Manager : Jogi Low
Key Player : Toni Kroos
The reigning world champions define cohesive. They are the perfect attacking unit. All their players have the perfect understanding among one another, and they will be eager to be the first team to win back to back World Cups. They truly have the biggest combination of talent in the world. Their star studded defense is led by Bayern Munich duo Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, both of whom are among the best center backs in the world, and behind them is the world best goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer. Ahead of them sits Toni Kroos, the best midfielder in the world, and much of the German offense will be facilitated through him. His passing and smart play makes him a valuable asset to the German attack. Alongside him will be Dortmund’s Marco Reus, a speedy, tricky midfielder who is a big goal scoring threat. Their top scorer, Thomas Mueller, has been one of the greatest international scorers in the history of the game, and he will also be supported by Premier League duo Ilkay Gundogan and Mesut Ozil, and who both had fine club seasons and are in the top tier of midfield players. The German’s ability to smoothly link up and find openings in opposing teams puts them among the favorites to retain the World Cup. Now also supported by an array of young talent, and established veterans who are among the world’s best, expect big things from them in Russia.
Predicted Starting Lineup : Neuer, Hector, Boateng, Hummels, Kimmich, Kroos, Gundogan, Ozil, Reus, Mueller, Werner
Manager : Fernando Hierro
Key Player : Sergio Busquets
2010’s World Cup champions were left embarrassed in the last edition of the tournament, where they were mauled 5-1 by the Netherlands and were knocked out the in group stage. However, they have recovered, and Spain swept through qualifying with their trademark class and style. Their defense comes in as arguably the best in the tournament, with Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique pairing up once again in a bid to lead the country to more success. The midfield play will be led by the retiring Andres Iniesta, and Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets and Real Madrid’s Isco will be on hand to provide him with the support he will need. Busquets’ smart transitional play and ability to keep the Spanish passing game moving will be very important in order for them to keep their style of play and move the ball up the pitch. Their forward will be Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa, who has established himself as one of the scrappiest and ruthless strikers in the game. Worryingly, they fired their coach just a day before the World Cup, and how new boss Hierro leads the team will be a matter of concern. Hopefully the Spanish have got what it takes to recover and play to their abilities, and if they do, they will surely be in contention to win another title.
Predicted Starting Lineup : de Gea, Alba, Ramos, Pique, Carvajal, Busquets, Iniesta, Silva, Isco, Koke, Costa