World Cup week is here! In anticipation of the 2018 World Cup kicking off on Thursday, we’ll be taking a look at all 32 teams in each of the 8 groups. It is worth noting that the 2018 World Cup lacks some luster as 5 of the Top 25 teams in the World failed to qualify. Those 5 include some of the biggest names and biggest draws both locally (with the United States missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986) and internationally with Italy, Chile, the Netherlands, and Wales.
Today, we continue with Group F which features defending World Cup Champions Germany, an entertaining Mexico side, a defense-first Sweden team, and South Korea.
Group A (Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay)
Group B (Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran)
Group C (France, Australia, Peru, Denmark)
Group D (Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria)
Group E (Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia)
Germany is the defending World Cup Champions after winning their 4th title in 2014. Deutschland is looking to be the first Champions to make it past the quarterfinals since Brazil in 1998 (who reached the Championship after winning it all in 1994). Germany has a strong history of success and has finished in the Top 3 in each of the last 4 World Cups. Only once since 1950 have they failed to make at least the quarterfinals. Germany also won the 2017 Confederations Cup with their “B” squad and came in 3rd at the 2016 European Championships.
Germany is the deepest team in the tournament and loaded with talented players all over the pitch. In World Cup Qualifying they won their group with an astonishing 10 wins in 10 games. Die Mannschaft are one of the clear favorites in the tournament and are talented enough to become the fist back-to-back champions since Brazil in 1958 and 1962. Famous English soccer player and broadcaster once said, “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win.”
Players to Watch
Thomas Muller will be appearing in his third World Cup and has netted 5 goals in each of the previous two. If Muller can repeat that feat in Russia he will draw within reach of Miroslav Klose’s record of 16 career World Cup goals. Keeper Manuel Neuer won the Golden Glove in Brazil as the top keeper of the tournament. This German team will feature a mix of veterans and young talent. Among the household names are midfielders Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), and Sami Khedira (Juventus) along with Bayern Munich defenders Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng. They will be joined by budding stars Julian Draxler (Paris Saint-Germain), Leon Goretzka (Shalke 04), and Timo Werner (RB Leipzig).
Mexico is appearing in their 7th consecutive World Cup and have reached the Round of 16 in each of the prior 6 tournaments. El Tri won the 2015 Gold Cup along with the “CONCACAF Cup” in a playoff with the United States to earn a spot in the Confederations Cup, where they finished 4th. The Mexicans suffered a surprising defeat at the hands of Jamaica in the 2017 Gold Cup semifinals and finished 3rd.
Mexico was bounced from the Confederations Cup by Germany, so their first matchup in Russia will be an opportunity for revenge. When Mexico is on their game, they are a fast-paced and exciting team, but they have also been prone to massive defensive breakdowns, such as in their 7-0 defeat by Chile in the Copa America Centenario semifinals and their 4-1 loss to Germany in the Confederations Cup semis. El Tri had a relatively easy qualifying road, comfortably winning the CONCACAF Hex group.
Players to Watch
Keeper Guillermo Ochoa was one of the stars of the 2014 World Cup after a dazzling performance led to a draw in the group stage against Brazil. This is a team loaded with international experience and primed to make a splash. In addition to Ochoa, forward Javier Hernandez (West Ham), midfielders Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy) and Andres Guardado (Real Betis), and defenders Rafael Marquez (Atlas) and Hector Moreno (Real Sociedad) all have over 90 caps.
Sweden qualified for the Wold Cup for the 12th time in their history but first since 2006. They have advanced past the group stage in each of their last 3 appearances with a 3rd place finish in the USA 1994 tournament. Sweden has exited in the group stage of the last 3 European Championships.
Sweden finished second in their qualification group behind France. They took on Italy in the playoff and won on a 1-0 aggregate, stifling the Italian attack to a 0-0 draw in the second leg. Sweden’s defensive style is reminiscent of Greece in the last few World Cups. Since their 1-0 victory over Italy in the first leg of the playoff, Sweden has scored just 3 goals in 7 games but has conceded only 4. They played Denmark and Peru to scoreless draws in World Cup tune-up friendlies.
Players to Watch
Zlatan Ibrahimovich retired after the Euro 2016 tournament, leaving Blagult bereft of goal-scorers. Sweden will lean on RB Leipzig midfielder Emil Forsberg to key their attack and hope that 31-year old forwards Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen can find the finishing touch.
South Korea qualified for their 9th consecutive World Cup. Their best performance was a 4th place finish on home soil in 2002, and they have only advance to the knockout stage one other time. The Taegeuk Warriors have finished in the Top 3 of the last 3 Asian Cups, including a second-place finish in 2015. South Korea has also won the last two East Asian Cups in 2015 and 2017.
South Korea finished second in their AFC qualification group, well behind first place Iran. They have struggled as competition has ramped up in advance of the World Cup, going 3-2-4 in 2018 (but winning just 1 of their last 6 outings).
Players to Watch
South Korea is not an overly talented or experienced squad and struggled to find goals through qualifying. They will lean heavily on Swansea midfielder Ki Sung-yueng and forward Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur).
Here are the predictions of the SCB crew (including a special guest appearance by soccer expert SteelSon) on which teams from Group F will advance to the Knockout Stage.