What we learned from the international break
Another game of Osorio experiments, another night of debate. Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio has garnered a reputation for continuing to experiment with his formations and rotations.
Credit should be given to Osorio for giving time to Mexico’s youth players, and allowing said players to demonstrate why they should have a place on the World Cup roster. However, Omar Govea and Jorge Hernandez disappointed the Mexican fans with their display against Croatia. Much of the same can be said about Rodolfo Pizarro, but he was less to blame as Pizarro was unable to achieve much possession of the ball with the lack of passes he received from the midfield. Hugo Ayala, a more experienced and older player, also had a night to forget.
Early reports indicate Nestor Araujo and Carlos Salcedo will be available for El Tri come June but nothing is guaranteed when it comes to player health. Diego Reyes also suffered an injury, and Mexico was missing the Dos Santos brothers, Jurgen Damm, Hector Herrera, and Jesus Corona in the second match. Injuries aside, the Mexican media and El Tri fans will continue to question Osorio’s tactics and how competitive this side can be against the strongest teams in the World Cup.
Brazil looks to be back as a contender in International football. The Selecao hosted the 2014 tournament, and was considered by many to be a favorite to win on its home turf. Brazil was then humiliated in a 7-1 beating by the eventual champion, Germany, in the semi-final. Germany exposed many of Brazil’s flaws, and demonstrated why the side was arguably a step below the current champion.
Brazil now looks set to be in serious contention for the crown as they sport an experienced squad, and beat a German team, who was lacking several key players, but was looking as good as they have in recent memory. Lacking Neymar, which has Brazil fans in serious worry, the team appeared to have several different ways to be a threat, either with Willian and Gabriel Jesus in the attack, Coutinho and Paulinho in the midfield, or players like Marcelo moving along the wings. Germany should be strongly considered to repeat. The Germans have the deepest team in the tournament, but Brazil displayed not only to its opponent but to the other national teams why they should be frightened of the Selecao again.
Spain is another team looking to rebound from a disappointing 2014 display. After winning the 2010 FIFA World Cup and having one of the best runs in international football history, Spain suffered an embarrassing 2014 campaign. The Spain side was eliminated in the group stage, and spelled an end to the Del Bosque era. The team maintains several players from the previous two tournaments, including captain Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta who were both in action tonight.
The Spanish team has quietly had an undefeated streak, not having had a loss on their column since they were eliminated by Italy in the 2016 Euro tournament. Spain is not the team they were in 2010, when Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, and Andres Iniesta were playing at one of the highest levels we have ever witnessed, but this Spain team should start to receive consideration as a dark horse contender for the tournament.
Spain has an experienced defense, some of the best passers in the midfield, and Diego Costa can have several opportunities to score as the 9 for this team. Isco will be important for the club as he will need to have moments of stardom when Spain’s offense can be stagnant. As for Argentina, they were lacking in several starters, but the team is lacking in much creativity outside of its star, Lionel Messi. Spain was able to generate double the amount of shots on target as the Albiceleste. Messi led Argentina to the final in 2014, and it seems he will have to carry much of the same burden again as the side clearly lacks to be threat for the trophy without its star.
Belgium and France are the other two squads who had notable games in the international break. Belgium only played one game, and it was against Saudi Arabia but the Belgians lived up to their billing. The Belgium team has several players who strike fear in an opposing manager as they will struggle to contain Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens, and Kevin De Bruyne.
The is arguably Belgium’s most talented squad, although they did finish in fourth place in the 1986 tournament, but if this would be their best chance since to reach the semi-finals once more. France had an intriguing two matches, as it lost to Colombia 3-2, in a match were they demonstrated their class as they were leading by two, and then beat the 2018 host, Russia, 3-1.
The French squad will feature players who will have important parts to play in this summer’s tournament as well as the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Kylian Mbappe scored twice for France this international break, and Paul Pogba also showed his class with a brilliant goal from a free-kick. France has several players who can have a moment of brilliance during a game as Griezmann, Pogba, and Mbappe did in the past two matches and that alone can take you far in a tournament that features a one-game knockout round.
For the 2018 FIFA World Cup we have several of the usual suspects as favorites for the tournament, and a few teams looking to play to the best of their ability for one month to compete with the favorites. With 78 days ‘til the tournament kicks off, team health will be of utmost importance as well as chemistry the international sides show as the tournament looms closer.