With the 2018 World Cup just on the horizon, MnM Coaching analyses the nations we consider the favourites and the dark horses this summer.
In just over 24 hours’ time the 21st edition of the World Cup will finally kick off at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia.
Four years of waiting will have passed when some of the world’s best players take to the field on football’s greatest stage.
Predicting a winner is always a difficult task, especially when there is little to choose between the favourites or when their is a strong possibility of a dark horse emerging and stealing the show.
So, which nation will it be that lifts the FIFA World Cup on June 15th in Moscow?
The World Cup holders boast one of the best squads heading into this tournament. Despite losing key leaders in Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Per Mertersacker to retirement, Joachim Löw’s side possesses plenty of experience and talent.
Toni Kroos is arguably the key player in the midfield with his ability to dictate play in the middle of the park and he will have plenty of support from either Ilkay Gündoğan, Sami Khedira, or Leon Goretzka.
Löw will most definitely stick to his usual 4-2-3-1 formation, which is likely to feature first team regulars Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller. The inclusion of Marco Reus, who missed the last World Cup through injury, will add both pace and creativity to their wing play, something which they have previously missed.
It’s unclear who will be the first-choice striker for Die Mannschaft. Mario Gomez is a more traditional centre forward in comparison to Timo Werner but both strikers are reliable goal scorers, who are more than capable of leading the front four.
According to the odds, Brazil are the favourites to win in Russia this year. After being humiliated by Germany on home soil four years ago, the Seleção have picked themselves up and rediscovered their rhythm since the appointment of Tite as coach in 2016.
Brazil, who topped the CONMEBOL qualification group by 10 points, have a more talented and balanced group of players than in 2014. Their defence is still their weakness but they have solid midfielders that they can count on in the likes Casemiro and Fernandinho.
But as it often is with Brazil sides, their strengths lie in their creative and attacking players. The likes of Coutinho, Fred, Fermino, and Neymar can certainly hurt opposition defences. And Gabriel Jesus, who is expected to start up front, is reliable striker who has shown he can score goals regularly.
After crashing out in the group stage in 2014 and underachieving at Euro 2016, many people may have forgotten just how good this Spain team still is.
Since taking over from Vicente del Bosque after Euro 2016, coach Julen Lopetegui has rejuvenated this team and got them playing their best football again.
Despite this being an ageing squad, they look more or less like the team that claimed three straight titles in 2008, 2010, and 2012. Experienced players such as Sergio Ramos, Pique, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, and David Silva remain key to Spain’s possession style of play that made them so successful in previous years.
Isco and Thiago are also expected to play a big part for La Roja this summer while Diego Costa is likely to be the first choice striker in what should be a 4-2-3-1 formation.
There are still plenty of doubts surrounding this France team. Despite the quality of their midfielders and forwards, Didier Deschamps’s side lack the consistency and character that the other top sides have going into this World Cup.
That was evident in the Euro 2016 Final defeat to Portugal and since then they have shown very few signs of progress. However, this France squad is still far too good to be written off as one of the favourites to win the tournament.
The midfield trio of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, and Blaise Matuidi have the ability to control the game when they all turn up. But what will ultimately win them games is the goals they score and this team’s strength lies in their forwards.
France have a variety of quality players to choose from up front with Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, Kylian Mbappe, and Thomas Lemar, who are proven playmakers and goal scorers at club level.
If France can maintain their organisation at the back and in the middle of the park, and show the attacking flair we often saw at Euro 2016, then this team can beat anyone.
Normally you would expect Argentina to be amongst the favourites to win the World Cup, but that simply isn’t the case this year.
The two-time world champions qualified for the World Cup by the skin of their teeth as a Lionel Messi hat-trick in their final qualifier against Ecuador sealed their path to Russia.
Coach Jorge Sampaoli, who took over with four qualifiers remaining, has been in charge for a year now but his side still lack consistency and an identity on the pitch.
Argentina still concede far too many goals and their backline will look even less secure with goalkeeper Sergio Romero ruled out of the World Cup. And despite possessing some of the best attacking players in the world (apart from Messi) such as Angel Di Maria, Sergio Agüero, and Gonzalo Higuain, they have struggled to click together.
However, you can never rule out Argentina when Messi is still involved. The little magician has carried them through before and regardless of the team’s obvious weaknesses, this squad have the ability to beat any opponent on their day.
And while Sampaoli has not had the preparation time he would have liked, he possesses the tactical knowledge and motivation skills to guide this team.
It is unlikely, but it's not impossible for La Albiceleste to go one step further than they did four years ago.
It almost feels as if now is the time for this ‘Golden Generation’ of Belgium to show how good they really are.
After failing to get past the quarter-finals at the 2010 World Cup and at Euro 2016, the squad looks to have finally matured and grown individually and collectively to seriously challenge the favourites.
The current Red Devils squad boasts some of the most exciting players the country has ever seen. If fit, Vincent Kompany is expected to lead from the back while the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Axel Witsel will look to control the game and create chances for the forwards.
De Bruyne has just come off the back of a great season at Manchester City and he will be crucial to Belgium’s chances of going deep into the tournament.
Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, and Romelu Lukaku are likely to feature in the front three and their combination of pace, power, and finishing will one of the Red Devils’s biggest strengths going into this World Cup.