By Shane Bidwell
With the most watched sporting event in the world kicking off in just under a month casual fans are clamoring to see who they should cheer for in this upcoming World Cup. These four teams I believe have the best shot to earn bragging rights for the next four years.
Les Bleus enter 2018 with their best shot at winning the World Cup in recent memory. France’s strength will be in the attacking third with two headed monster Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud. Supporting Griezmann and Giroud will be young PSG standout Kylian Mbappe. While Mbappe hasn’t exactly left a huge mark on the international scene quite yet he could find himself having a breakout summer after an incredible season playing alongside the likes of Neymar and Edison Cavani. The French also has a strong nucleus of midfielders in Ousmane Dembele, Paul Pogba, and N’Golo Kante. These three can create chances off the dribble and also play precise balls into the attack. France posses all the superstar talent to win it all in 2018 but what remains to be seen is if all the talent can gel together and perform as a cohesive unit. If the stars are able to play together fully expect France to be in contention as the World Cup winds down.
What could provide a challenge for the Belgians is the language barrier. Speaking two different languages could provide tough for team chemistry, but should Belgium be able to overcome this they could be a serious contender in Russia. The Belgians have one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Thibaut Courtois bolstered by a strong backline consisting of Thomas Meunier, Toby Alderweireld, and Vincent Kompany. Goals will be at a premium against their squad. On the attacking side of the ball Belgian midfielders can play with the best in the world. Premier League stars Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard headline this dangerous midfield. De Bruyne is a proven goal scorer that can score from almost anywhere on the pitch. Up front Romelu Lukaku has been on a tear scoring 11 goals in 8 qualifying games. Lukaku combined with the athletic Dries Mertens should give opposing goalkeepers a headache this summer. While they may not be as talked about as other teams, Belgium still is a serous contender to be crowned champs in Russia.
Germany is the the heavy favorites heading into Russia and rightly so. This team is downright loaded at every position. Germany posses the best goalkeeper in the world in Manuel Neuer and an incredible backup in Kevin Trapp. A stout defense headlined by Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, and Joshua Kimmich will be a task for even the most skilled attackers to score on. The German defense is no strangers to each other as they all play together at Bayern Munich resulting in impeccable team chemistry. Die Mannschaft posses a battle tested attack that can score seemingly at will. Led by Mesut Özil, Marco Reus, and Tony Kroos this seasoned group is no strangers to the big state and is looking to repeat as world champions. The glaring advantage that Germany posses over most other nations is their manager Joachim Löw. Since taking over as manger in 2006 Löw has amassed a whopping 106-30-24 record and shows no signs of slowing down. Löw has turned German football into an absolute machine, and anything short of a World Cup title is considered a failure.
2014 surely left a bad taste in the Brazilians’ mouth after getting absolutely manhandled 7-1 by Germany on their home turf. Neymar is coming off a foot injury and should be ready to go seeing as he returned to the training grounds last week. One player to keep your eye on is Philippe Coutinho. This summer he should see an increased role in the squad and for good reason. Despite only 17 appearances for Barcelona he made good use of his time scoring 7 goals. Rounding off the Brazil offense is Willian, Paulinho, and Gabriel Jesus. What makes this squad so talented is they all come in with hefty amounts of international experience and lots of time playing together. Brazil has been one of the most consistent powerhouses ever in international football, and that should continue on in Russia in 2018
Given that these teams provide the best chance to win it all some sleeper countries to be watched are Egypt, Columbia, and Croatia. Whether a top dog or diamond in the rough takes home the cup it will be interesting to watch how it all plays out. The 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia June 15th.