Early contenders to win the World Cup

100 Days. The wait for the next FIFA World Cup is ending. While the United States failed to make the tournament for the first time since the Reagan administration, the sports’ popularity in the country continues to grow. Although the tournament offers one game elimination matches in the knockout phase, we know which teams are considered the favorites for the tournament. Let’s take a look at how each contender fares. (Alphabetical Order)

   Fernando Vergara/AP

 Fernando Vergara/AP

Argentina

They were viewed as one of the two favorites heading into the tournament in 2014, according to Skybet, and are listed at fifth by the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook for the 2018 tournament at 8-1 odds. Headed by Lionel Messi, still at the peak of his powers, and surrounded by Sergio Aguero, who is rejuvenated under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, the rising Mauro Icardi, veterans Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano, the country should have belief in their squad. However, they have only won two games in their qualifying matches since 2017, and recently suffered a loss to Nigeria. Coach Jorge Sampaoli will be on the hot seat, and Messi’s National Team legacy will also be on the line as he looks to capture his first major trophy with Argentina.

   Pedro Vilela/Getty

 Pedro Vilela/Getty

Brazil

The Selecao are listed at second in the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook to win it all and deservedly so. They are looking to add to their already record-leading 5 World Cup titles. Led by Neymar, the team looks to rebound from a disastrous exit from the 2014 tournament as they were trashed 7-1 by the eventual champions, Germany. The midfield of Brazil has changed dramatically since the last tournament with the addition of La Liga stars Casemiro and Coutinho to the starting line-up and the maturation of players like Paulinho and Willian. Having easily qualified to the tournament, Brazil will wish for the health of their star players as the club seasons begin their last months of action.

France

Manager Didier Deschamps seeks to bring the World Cup trophy to France for the first time since 1998 when he captained the French National Team to victory. Les Bleus will boast one of the youngest rosters coming into the tournament as they are led by a combination of stars including Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Corentin Tolisso, Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar, and Raphael Varane. Griezmann, the oldest of that group, is one of the best players in all of Europe, and if the team seeks to go far in the tournament, they will have to rely on his production heading the attack, along with Pogba leading the midfield, and Varane commanding the defense. This roster will be competitive in this 2018’s tournament and the 2022 tournament led by this young core.

 AFP

AFP

Germany

Still the favorites and looking to become the first country to repeat since the 1930’s Italy teams. Germany is arguably the most successful country in World Cup history with eight finals reached, and they appear to be the team to beat in 2018 as well. The 2014 World Cup Champions are the deepest team in the tournament, and have not suffered a defeat since the 2016 Euro semi-final to France. The won the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup with a roster largely consisting of youth players. The 2018 Germany team will maintain many of its players from its previous World Cup campaign with Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, and Mat Hummels likely maintaining prominent positions in this year’s team. Muller will seek to continue his way up the ladder to becoming the tournament’s all-time top goal scorer, as he has scored 10 goals in only 13 appearances. The German squad  will likely include several young stand-out players such as, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sane, and Timo Werner. The previous World Cup roster had to casualties due to injury in Ilkay Gundogan, who is beginning to play some of his best football since the nagging injuries he suffered over the previous years, and Marco Reus, who is a dangerous player on the wing. Germany will face several challenges in the tournament, but this team is best equipped to handle the rigors of the tournament as the deepest team of 2018.

Spain

Following the retirement of Vicente Del Bosque, the tiki-taka style Spain played the past 10 years has officially ended. The team still maintains several players from that era including Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets in the midfield. Spain’s starting XI and the majority of the roster who will travel to Russia will be of Barcelona and Real Madrid. The 2010 Champions failed to qualify to the knockout phase of the 2014 tournament in disappointing fashion. They will seek to bounce back relying on the creativity of Isco and the veteran leadership of Sergio Ramos and David Silva. The tournament will be interesting for Spain as the country’s politics has divided several players on the roster who seek independence for Catalonia. Regardless, this is a roster consisting of players who are tremendous with the ball, and will likely be the farewell tournament for the remaining players from the 2010 Championship roster.