By KYLE MCDANIEL
The World Cup in Russia is around the corner, and for one month, the 23 players for each of the 32 nations become a family. Only eight countries have ever won the tournament since its inception 88 years ago in 1930, and once you get out of the group stage, you just take it one match at a time.
Germany: When you are the holders of the cup, having won it four years ago and you go through qualifying without losing a match, as well as being ranked No. 1 in the world, there is a good chance you could be the favorite again to win it all. They are loaded from front to back and most of the players at the last Cup will be on the same roster. Germany must select 23 from a group of about 50 players. Which means in short their B team could make a deep run. They also have something a lot of the other favorites don’t have: the same managers last time.
Brazil: Tite has this team up to No. 2 in the world and playing like the old Seleção’s. The team is heavily influenced with smaller, more skilled players. It also doesn’t hurt having the most expensive and one of the best young players in the world, Neymar. They will look to start anew and dispel any memories of that 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Germany in 2014, on home soil, no less. A lot of experts are picking this team to lift the trophy for a record sixth time and they easily could.
Spain: Over the last decade Spain has been ruthless when it comes to tournaments, of their last four major tournaments they have won three. During this period, they adopted the model that Barcelona uses: pass, pass and more passing. This team will put you to sleep with their ball retention, sometimes scoring goals having passed it 40-plus times without an opponent’s touch. Now with most of the old guard slowly fading into the distance it will be interesting to see if the new boys can keep up the form they had in qualifying.
Argentina: Lionel Messi, need I say more? Yes, Argentina has a lot of excellent players surrounding Messi, but let’s be honest, he nearly won the 2014 World Cup by himself. There could be signs of cracks however, as they barely scraped through a tough COMNEBOL qualifying. Their offense will never be in question, never has been, their struggles have always been defensively and once you get further in the tournament, that could cost you.
Belgium: This team could go the distance, they are third in the world for a reason. My only reservation is they are a young unproven team… When it comes to the big games, that is. We got a glimpse of how special they could be when they made it to the semifinals of Euro 2016. Plus, when you boast the likes of Hazard and De Bruyne, you are bound to do great things. This is also one of the most well-rounded teams in the tournament, from front to back they are solid.
France: This team is sneaky good. They could wreak havoc on this tournament if they play their best. There is a lot of young talent who are starting to come of age, and could for the next decade be the best team in the world. The one problem that could come up is their immaturity, playing in a tournament of this magnitude for the first time. However, don’t be surprised if Lemar, Griezmann, Mbappe, Pogba and a host of others put it together and win it.
Portugal: Having Ronaldo in your team will always help, however, unlike Argentina who have plenty of help surrounding Messi, Portugal doesn’t have near the talent surrounding Ronaldo. Sure, they won the European Championship in 2016, but that was only for Europe, the field was expanded from 16 to 24, and some teams didn’t bring their strongest lineups. Fifa has them third in the world, and with that they will be looking to win their first World Cup.
England: The one time winners are looking to recapture the glory days. Over the years and tournaments, they have had teams that were stacked, you thought could go far and never did. The talent is always there, no question, but can they put it together and make a deep run. Even with Belgium in their group, they should qualify for the knockout stage with ease. Their destiny lies in their hands after that. However, the need to sort out their goalie situation, if they are to stand any chance.
Columbia: Don’t sleep on Columbia, with El Tigre, aka Radamel Falcao, scoring goals again, after that horrendous knee injury and James Rodriguez finding top form with Bayern Munich, they could make waves like last World Cup. Plus, keeping teams like Chile out of the World Cup shows they have the potential. Another thing they have most teams don’t, is the same coach from last tournament, and that truly could be the difference in a win or loss once the knockout stages hit.