FIFA World Cup Preview
It’s that time again, once every four years, where football fans around the world forget about their club side and those otherwise entirely uninterested by sport pay some attention to the world of football. Yes, the world cup is back!
This year’s tournament sees big names Italy and the Netherlands miss out, while Iceland and Panama have earned the right to contest their first World Cup finals. Australia, qualifying by the skin of their teeth, will also be there. The tournament is set to take place in Russia, with key games to be played in Sochi (pictured below), Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Our in house football guru has done football-mad, punting-fanatics and the ‘soccer-dumb’ a huge favour, and has previewed some of this years big guns.
World Cup 2018 sees Australia in a state of flux, prompted by the sudden resignation of coach Ange Postecoglou upon qualifying late last year. His style of slow build-up, possession-based football, ingrained into the Australian national side over the last four years has been replaced by the pragmatic leadership of Bert van Marwijk. Although van Marwijk boasts considerable international football experience, including leading Netherlands to the 2010 final, it may be a tall order to impose his style of play on Australia in the short amount of time he has to prepare with the team.
The Australian team’s strongest area is its midfield, headlined by Huddersfield’s Aaron Mooy. There’s a selection dilemma for van Marwijk, with only three available positions for Mooy, the highly rated Tom Rogic, QPR player of the season Massimo Luongo and captain Mile Jedinak. Australia faces a tough task to qualify to the knockout stages, with games against France, Denmark and Peru in that order. Most would consider the France match to be a write-off; however, the contests against Denmark and Peru should be fiercely contested and crucial in terms of qualification. The bookies have Australia down to be the lowest in their group; I’m a little bit more optimistic than that, I think they’ll do the job against Peru but probably finish behind Denmark to finish third in the group.
The ever-calm and methodical Germany will surely feel no pressure as favourites to win the tournament this year. They’re the most recent winners, headlined by a shocking 7-1 victory in the semi-final against Brazil in Belo Horizonte. The German team, as always, is fitted out with world class talent across the park. Winger Leroy Sane, midfielder Toni Kroos and defender Jerome Boateng, will be crucial, should Germany progress deep into the tournament as is expected. However, the striker position stands out like a sore thumb for this team; without a proper battering ram to break down teams – that will inevitably sit deep against them, they may struggle to score in key moments. I think for this reason, Germany will make the semi-finals, but will not take home back-to-back world cups.
The 2018 Brazil team looks the strongest in years. They’re headlined by Neymar Jr (pictured, middle), the unbelievably gifted forward, Paris Saint-Germain. Supporting Neymar is Barcelona’s pair, Coutinho (pictured, left) and Paulinho, and a strong defence featuring Inter’s, Miranda, and a pair of in-form world-class goalkeepers, Allisson and Ederson. Indeed, if only Brazil had this team in the semi-final against Germany four years ago. They’ve improved significantly more than their German rivals between the world cups and are a serious threat this world cup. Playing away from their home, fans may also lift a burden on their shoulders that was clearly evident in the last world cup. Brazil will be disappointed to finish anywhere below the semi-finals but should make the final.
The Spanish will be itching to correct their awful showing in World Cup 2014, having been knocked out of an albeit tough group. The 2010 champions are, like Brazil, stronger this tournament with Asensio, Isco, De Gea, Thiago and David Silva – all becoming world class players since 2014. As always with Spain, there are question marks over the physicality of the team; however, a 6-1 victory against bruising Argentina in March should demonstrate the effectiveness of their intricate play. Probably the second most pleasing side to watch in this year’s tournament (after Brazil), the Spanish should go deep. For my money, its hard to pick a hole in the team and so long as they can massively constrict the possession of their opponents, they should be very difficult to beat. Yep, I have them down as favourites to win the tournament.
France, fitted top-to-toe with unbelievable talent, have the squad to win World Cup 2018. Stars Antoine Griezmann and midfielder N’golo Kante will be their two headlining acts in this year’s tournament. Their defence is equally robust, based around the El Clasico pairing of Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti and Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane. Although talent has never been an issue for France, the form of Paul Pogba will be a cause for concern. He has the ability to turn any game on its head, but has struggled all season for Manchester United against opposition which sit deep and cede possession. The France team is likely to come up against these types of opponents in the group stage, with all three of Australia, Denmark and Peru willing to implement these tactics. Without a clear, cohesive narrative for the team, France will likely struggle to capitalise on the vast talent at their disposal and won’t add to their sole world cup victory.