2018 FIFA World Cup Preview: Group F
Is this group a race for second place? Can Mexico give Germany’s route difficult to obtaining first place in this group, or will they flame out with Osorio’s tactics when facing tougher competition? How will Sweden do without former national team star, Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Is this the "Group of Death?"
These questions will be answered in two weeks when those three clubs join South Korea to see who advances to the knockout rounds.
Let’s go through each team, and see what their chances are of advancing out of the group stage and their probability of continuing in the knockout phase.
The Germans are a consensus top three favorite to win the tournament across. Bovada currently has them with the best odds to win the tournament at +450. Several starters from their 2014 championship campaign return, but will be without all-time leading scorer of the World Cup, Miroslav Klose, as he has transitioned to an assistant coaching role. However, what makes Germany so special is their remarkable depth. If one player is injured or someone is playing to the less of their abilities, they have enough from the rest of their squad to win a game.
Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan, who both missed the 2014 tournament, are in the squad for Germany looking to capture the trophy they missed out on four years ago. The player to most look forward to for Germany is Thomas Muller. The Bayern Munich star has been one of the best players of the previous two tournaments, and he will seek to continue his World Cup scoring streak as he moves closer to the all-time scoring record held by Klose. Muller has been the most consistent players for the national team, and his heroics will be needed in close matches.
Joachim Low will also have to decide between playing without a striker, or using the young Timo Werner or veteran Mario Gomez. Low will also have to deal with the absence of Phillip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, but luckily Joshua Kimmich has quickly developed into the next star for the national team, and Sami Khedira can play well in the defensive midfield role.
Germany has arguably the most success in the history of the FIFA World Cup, as their consistent play has provided them with four straight top three finishes. For the team to match its 2014 success, Muller, Jerome Boateng, Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil will have to maintain the level of play they did in the previous tournament, along with help from the players making their first starts to the tournament.
El Tri will look to break their curse of five straight Round of 16 finishes and advance to the quarter-finals, which they have not been to since they hosted the tournament in 1986. Arguably Mexico’s finest squad in years, the team boasts more players playing in European leagues than in its own Liga MX for the first time ever.
There are guaranteed starters for El Tri, including Hector Moreno, Miguel Layun, Andres Guardado, and Hector Herrera. Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and Guillermo "Memo" Ochoa have also likely secured their spots in the starting Xi. However, with Mexico’s manager, Juan Carlos Osorio, nothing is guaranteed. Osorio has given starting positions and the majority of minutes to the aforementioned players, but his rotations have drawn confusion and ire from fans. For these players as well as Carlos Vela and the Dos Santos brothers, this is the tournament they have been waiting for, to prove to themselves that the hype that revolved around them since their teen years was merited as they will lead Mexico to the fifth match and possibly further in the tournament.
For Mexico to succeed, they will need to convert the opportunities they are presented with in front of the goal. Mexico continued to experiment with players as the starting XI is likely not set and will vary depending on the opponent they face and their situation during the tournament, which has led to only one goal scored for El Tri in the previous three matches. Hector Herrera and the players Osorio decides to choose to be the attacking wings will have to be Mexico’s best players to provide them with the tempo they are seeking.
Their first match will be against Germany, the defending champions, and for Mexico to avoid a likely Brazil match-up in the Round of 16, they will have to finish atop of their group. A difficult task, but to succeed in the World Cup, you have to confront several challenges.
South Korea is looking to make it to the knockout stage for just the third time in its history. They were a great story in 2002, when South Korea reached the semi-finals and became the first Asian country to reach the final four. You can argue South Korea is perhaps the likeliest to finish last in Group F, but with the inconsistencies Mexico has displayed and Sweden not playing its best either in recent matches, they do have a solid chance at the runner-up spot.
This South Korea team will need strong play from Son Heung-min to advance to the knockout phase. Son has played against the Premier League’s top defenders in his three years at Tottenham, and has demonstrated great pace and his desire to want to create scoring plays makes him a threat. Ki Sung-yueng is another player who has commanded the midfield for South Korea as well as the Premier League, and will look to impress club teams as he is currently unsigned for the next season.
The first match for South Korea will be against Sweden. The loser of the match will likely be knocked out of contention from advancing from the group. In the previous two matches against European opponents, South Korea has lost both games and in the match against Poland, they generated six more shots on target than their opponent yet lost the match. Opportunities come slim in the World Cup, and if South Korea will seek to be one of the advancing teams of their group, they must be their finishing.
The absence of one of the game’s largest personalities, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, from the national team has been debated by many. However, the final squad is confirmed and we must analyze how the team will perform with the players they have.
Sweden has a great understanding of what their identity is and who should be the eleven players on the pitch. The team is captained by defender Andreas Granqvist, likely playing in his last World Cup, and young defender Victor Lindelof, who did not feature much for Manchester United in his freshman season with the club, will have to be a steady force for a team who at times has not maintained much possession of the ball. They have also failed to score in their three previous outings and have been in unimpressive since the more positive start of 2017 they had. The team also has not played in the tournament since 2006 and failed to reach the knockout phase in their past three European Championship tournaments played.
The squad is experienced, but have not been successful in high profile matches. They did however defeat Italy to obtain a spot in the tournament. In a tournament that can cause shock, Sweden will have an opportunity to advance, but they will need some luck going their way.
Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea