In light of sharing our thoughts in our previous article, where we discussed the 5 African 2018 Fifa World Cup teams taking part, we decided to share with you who we think the top contenders in Russia will be along with the key players of the respective teams.
The defending champions go into the showpiece event at the back of a faultless qualifying campaign which was followed by rather mixed results in the friendlies. The Manschaft rarely disappoint though, they are a tournament team and no matter how disjointed they look leading up to major tournaments, they always rise to the occasion. They will be expected to reach the semi-finals at the very least, something they have managed to do in their last six major tournaments.
Experience is a big thing in major tournaments and Germany has it in abundance with the core of their World Cup winning side still there. Captain Manuel Neuer’s fitness is a bit of a concern but they have able replacements waiting in the wings. Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil will lead the side again from midfield as before.
No team has managed to defend the World Cup trophy since Pele’s Brazil way back. If there’s a team that can do it though, then it is Joachim Low’s charges. De Manschaft’s fans will be hoping complacency does not creep in, for as always this is a talented side capable of going all the way.
Mesut Ozil & Toni Kroos
The most complete team of all the contenders by far. However, after the nightmare of their home World Cup in 2014, Brazil will be looking to make amends. Coach Tite has got the nation dreaming again after a poor start to the qualifiers had seen the fans losing interest in their national team. Finding the balance between the midfield and attack will be instrumental for the Selecao.
As admirable is the job Tite has done, he seems to be too loyal to some of his chosen starters even though he has more options at his disposal. Neymar is playing like he has never been away. There are a few concerns about their defense though with Danilo and Marcelo prone to lapses in concentration despite their brilliance as attacking fullbacks.
They haven’t reached the World Cup final since making three successive appearances in the final match between 1994 and 2002. If there was ever a better time to right those wrongs, then now is the time for this, as this is a hugely impressive Brazilian outfit. The Jogo Bonito of yesteryear is back and they be playing with a bit of swagger and flair missing from past tournaments. All this is testament to the job Tite has done since taking over. If Neymar fires then Brazil could go all the way.
Neymar Jnr & Phillippe Coutinho
Of course they have been dealt a major blow with the sacking of Coach Lopetegui just days before their first game in the tournament but still Spain are strong enough to challenge. How they handle this whole transition in the next few days will determine how far they go. After all they say sometimes the coach’s influence is overrated, big players know how to win. And in Andreas Iniesta, Sergio Ramos and co, they have players who have won big trophies before. Thus they should be good enough to handle the transition without much fuss.
In Fernando Hierro, the interim coach, Spain is not getting a novice. What he lacks in coaching experience, he makes up for it with loads of experience playing at the highest level with Real Madrid and also captaining La Roja at the 2002 World Cup in Asia. Perennial underachievers before their triple strike somewhat made up for years and years of disappointment.
It’s a mixture of youth and experience with a few survivors from their 2010 triumph in South Africa. Some of those stars would love to atone for their group stage exit four years ago. In Diego Costa they might have finally found someone to replace David Villa’s goals upfront. Lopetegui has managed to renew the squad without losing the fluency of the past decade.
This will be Iniesta’s swansong with La Roja. He will be motivated to leave on a high note. David Silva is still the unsung hero of the team though. If he finds his rhythm early on, then Spain will go far in the tournament. His combination with Isco in the final third will be very important.
Isco & David Silva
Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest player to come out of Argentina bar Diego Maradona. I find it unfair though to compare two players from different eras no matter how similar their style of play or their numbers are, one thing is sure, Maradona is more revered in his native Argentina because he won them the World Cup in 1986. Since then, the Albiceleste have flattered to deceive with talented squads failing to make an impact at the showpiece event.
In 2014 a Javier Mascherano and Messi inspired side went all the way to the final only to fall short again at the final hurdle. It is easy to call this side Messi and co but it is anything but, Argentina have one of the most talented forward lines in the world but have rarely fired when it matters most. Higuain has been the main culprit, failing to reproduce the kind of club form he shows week in week out for the national team. The Argentine fans will be hoping he finds his scoring touch in the country’s colors this time around. If not, Sergio Aguero is sure to step in and play a bigger role this time. He has never really felt at home in the Argentine colors but continues to be one of the best strikers in the world through his club performances. Angel di Maria will be hoping to put a troubled club season behind him with good performances for the Albiceleste. If Mascherano’s cry for other players to step up to Mess’s level is heard, then maybe just maybe this might be the year for the men from Sol de Mayo.
Lionel Messi & Javier Mascherano
After the disappointment of EURO16 on home soil, France will be looking to make amends and challenge for the title in Russia. They have a good crop of talented youngsters with tournament experience from the 2016 Euros. Le Bleu is one of many people’s favorites but coach Didier Deschamps selections sometimes somehow stall the team. France are the envy of many a national team out there with the number of talented players failing to make the cut, that just tells one of the competition or the pool of the players to choose from.
If Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe find their feet early on, expect Le Bleu to go all the way. Potential winners, from Raphael Varane, Pogba and Griezmann, France have the players to make it all the way. If Deschamps finds the balance then Le Bleu can surely add to their lone World title won back on home soil in 1998.
Paul Pogba & Antoine Griezmann