By Chase Albanese
Less than one month is upon us until the 2018 FIFA World Cup begins. Tensions are high and fans are chattering about who they should choose or bet on to win the event. Here are teams who I believe to be contenders, pretenders, and sleepers during this month long of madness.
1. Germany. The Germans have obviously been here before, winning the event in Brazil in 2014 thanks to Mario Gotze’s 113th minute extra time goal. Experience is the main reason I choose the Germans to make a deep run yet again. With a back line that consists of Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, and Joshua Kimmich the Germans will be a very tough team to get past or even score on, especially with the likes of Manuel Neuer in goal. The Germans will look to possess the ball as much as possible to score their goals because of the lack of speed in the team. Look for Mesut Ozil and Tony Kroos to control the game with their passing and great hold up play. Marco Reus is still not 100% fit due to injury and that may be key when it comes down to their attack. Even with the Reus injury Thomas Muller will step up as he’s done in the past as one of the most clinical finishers in the world. The Germans have the most experienced group in the tournament and have the clear managing advantage with Joachim Low in charge. The Germans will likely get back into the round of 16 after playing Mexico, South Korea, and Sweden in the group stage and should find themselves making another run for the World Cup Trophy this summer.
2. France. The Frenchmen are the real deal coming into the World Cup this year. With an absolutely loaded lineup with young talent across the board and speed that opposing defenses will be having nightmares about at night when sleeping, look for the French to make the biggest run they’ve made in awhile. Les Bleus has the attacking and midfield play that all teams wish to have, and is why they are the contender that they are this year. With the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema, and others up top the French have the most balanced attacking force in the World. There is no one way defenses can stop the attack. Stopping crosses and headers will allow the speed of France to play through space and if the space is taken the quality of Winger and Midfield play will send in crosses to the box. Arguably the most important part of the French team is N’golo Kante, an all around pest who roams around the field is like a fifth defender in the backline and will get the French counter attack going. France will roll through the group stage with ease and is my pick to get to the final. This team is very lethal in all aspects of the field and are ready for the big stage.
3. Brazil. After losing 7-1 in the semifinal to Germany in the 2014 World Cup, Brazil is hungry and determined to get back to the same destination or even further. With a player like Neymar who is a top three player in the world the Brazilians will have the leadership and star power to get them past any tough test. A solid backline will get the Brazilian attack going as Marcelo will look to play as a Wingback to provide extra offense. The balanced midfield play with Casemiro playing behind and Coutinho b playing up front will throw teams off balance either creating a possession game for Brazil or a counter attacking styled game in which a very quick Brazilian team prefers. The group stage won’t be as easy as people think. Switzerland will always put up a fight and Costa Rica was in the quarterfinal last year, but look for the Brazilians to push past the group stage and into the knockout rounds with an experienced and gritty group.
4. Argentina. Losing isn’t ever easy and the Argentinians are still thinking about the 1-0 defeat in the World Cup Final in 2014. Lionel Messi will be sure to lead this group back into the knockout rounds yet again. This may be the most experienced Argentina team yet. The attacking third is where Argentina will brutalize its opponents with players like Gonzalo Higuaín, Paulio Dybala, Sergio Aguero, and Lionel Messi the squad will have no issue scoring goals whether its on the counter attack or in build up play. The midfield isn’t the most promising part of the team but Ever Banega and Manuel Lanzini will take the next step for the Argentinians. Don’t forget about Angel Di Maria who will be a key out wide. The defense is solid and will be very hard to breakdown with all the experience shown in the back line. A big blow occurred as Goalkeeper Sergio Romero has been sidelined for the event. Argentina should get into the round of 16 but will go through some tough challenges such as Iceland and Croatia. Argentina should make a great run yet again.
1. Belgium. This Belgium team is my favorite team in the tournament this year. Simply put, you don’t want to run into this team in the summer. A young, talented, and balanced group is what makes this team so unique compared to others. Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Dries Mertens will look to create offensively for the Belgians. The three attackers have a mix of speed, skill, and strength that no other team possesses. Kevin De Bruyne is easily the biggest key to the team, if De Bruyne isn’t playing well, the Belgians are in trouble. The hold up and pace of the game is what he controls and is the best in the world at doing it. The defense could be an issue with the lack of pace but look for Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld to lead in the back with their physicality. Not many teams are sold on Belgium but this is a team who could very easily make a semifinal run or even win the World Cup. Overall this is the sneakiest team that could do damage and will surprise a lot of people in this years World Cup.
2. Egypt. This team is getting out of the group stage, plain and simple. Mohamed Salah is world class and its finally time for him to show the world that he can put Egypt on his back. A team that has only been here twice will be in a group with Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, and the hosts (Russia). The Egyptians will be on the back foot for majority of their games but the counter attacking play will cause fits for opposing defenses. With everything to play for and nothing to lose, look for the Egyptians to make it out of their group and try to make a Cinderella run in Moscow.
3. Iceland. The Viking claps are back and the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup is ready for the challenge. There is no one guy that makes this team amazing, its a collective effort. The Iceland side will be in the round of 16 when its all said and done. With Croatia and Luka Modric having issues and Nigeria always being vulnerable, look for Iceland to regain its momentum from The Euro 2016 and make it into the knockout stages. The communication of the team is second to none and everyone plays for each other and simply, Iceland does not want to lose. Gylfi Sigurdsson will be the main threat offensively for Iceland and will look to put Iceland on the map in this tournament.
4. England. After not making it into the Round of 16 in 2014, Harry Kane will look to lead his squad back to that destination. A speedy, skilled and determined team will look to get through the group stage, which I firmly believe they will. With Harry Kane up top and Raheem Sterling out wide this team could very easily blitz any opponent they play. The midfield is smart and experienced and can play at almost any pace with Dele Alli and Eric Dier. Kyle Walker will be the rock in the back for England and will lead this team into the Round of 16 again.
1. Portugal. This is a team who I could see getting upset very early in the tournament. In a weak group with every thing to lose, the pressure is on Cristiano Ronaldo to save his team in every game as usual. The team relies too much on him to do everything and this essentially could wear him out. Spain will have no issues in beating Portugal and Morocco and Iran aren’t afraid of the challenge with nothing to lose. If other guys step up such as Nani and others then the Portuguese could make a run. Teams are going to focus in on Ronaldo and make others beat them and I don’t see other guys stepping up which makes this team a very vulnerable team early in the tournament.
2. Uruguay. Ranked top ten in the world doesn’t get you into the round of 16 and neither will a squad like Uruguay’s. A team with almost no star power other than Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez will end up having issues in the tournament. The backline is very vulnerable and the midfield isn’t one that will take this team far in the tournament. The two guys up front will carry the load of scoring goals and leading the team, but will it be enough in a group with Russia and Egypt. The hosts will have everyone behind them and Salah is playing out of his mind. Uruguay will be sent home early.
3. Costa Rica. This team exceeded almost everything last time around. Going to the Quarterfinals was one of the magical runs I’ve seen in all sports, but I don’t see them going back this year. Look for Switzerland and Brazil to send the Costa Ricans packing early. With almost no star power, Keylor Navas will have to save them once again. This team’s only chance is to play as a team and not to play selfish because if they get caught up into the speed of the game, it’s over. With a defense that’s shaky and an attack that is fast but not very clinical the Costa Ricans will be bounced early.