Like most competitions there are some teams that are there for the experience, but they’re unlikely to make the final. There’s probably three brackets – the serious contenders, the ones with a possibility of surprising and those that would be major shocks.
Whilst I hope there is a surprise contender from the African nations, the form guide suggests the big eight are the established nations. Brazil and Argentina, the South American giants, against the European powerhouses Germany, Portugal, Spain, France, England and the emerging Belgium.
In the past it would have been expected that European teams had a huge advantage playing in a competition in Europe, particularly over Latin countries. Russia, whilst being part Europe and part Asia, is still close to most of the European teams. However the fact most of the Brazil and Argentina players already play in Europe week in week out negates that past advantage.
If the South Americans thus stay in contention, who do we eliminate? England are young, fresh and emerging, but doubt they’re ready just yet. They lack the mental strength to go for it when things are tight, so they’re out. Portugal, led by the mercurial Ronaldo, don’t seem as strong as when they won the Euros just two years ago and one man can only carry them so far. Belgium, touted by many to have the best emerging talent, have yet to prove their ability to combine and compete in a tournament of note.
Germany will stay in contention. They have the mentality to always be competitive and are of course the reigning Champions. That leaves one spot to join the big four, between Spain and France.
Here’s something to note. If France top their group, which they should against Australia, Peru and Denmark, then they don’t meet another winner of the previous 12 World Cups until the semi-finals. That’s a huge advantage, particularly with their strength in depth as they are stacked in most positions. So, they can afford to make some changes and freshen up along the way if needed. At this level it’s not just talent, it’s a war of attrition. Spain have led the way in Europe in recent years, but is the squad ageing and have we seen the best of them? Given the draw I think France just shades them.
Down to four teams and then it’s a toss-up. Five times winners Brazil have the pedigree. Their goal-scoring potential, with Neymar pushing his claim to be considered the new world’s best, and contributions from Jesus, Firmino, Costa and Coutino should see them through. Of course, the same could be said about Argentina, with a star-studded strike force of Messi, Dybala, Aguero and Higuain. Unfortunately, their defence is not the strongest and France may just pip them. Griezmann, Mbappe, Dembele and Pogba have the flair, whilst Kante and Matuidi will do the hard work to protect the defence.
So, my tip – Brazil to meet France. Choose your allegiance as to who will win that match up.
You can be sure whichever teams make the final, we will have their signed jerseys as a treasured memento for decades to come.