The reigning World Cup champs from Germany feature prominently in Group F, and they’re once again well-positioned for a repeat performance at Russia 2018. Standing in their way in the first round will be an aggressive Mexican side, a team-oriented squad from Sweden, and a mediocre Korean group fresh off an awful qualifying run.
While the Germans have to be considered the prohibitive favorites for progression, once again the battle for second should be interesting. Sweden denied Italy from being here, and Mexico are fearless with their attack and tactics, regardless of opponent. Read on below for some more specific notes and predictions from what promises to be a Group F filled with intrigue.
Odds posted are ‘To Win Group’
Germany enters as big-time favorites in this group and are right at the top tier of all squads contending for the trophy at Russia 2018. Many pundits have them over Brazil as the team they foresee hoisting the trophy, but there are some vulnerabilities within the ranks.
For starters, their recent form has not been all that great. They lost to Austria in early June, and nearly squeaked by a lowly Saudi Arabia side just after that. Then with their team selection, longtime manager Joachim Low inexplicably left off talented young German attacker Leroy Sane.
While the Germans are littered with so many skilled players going forward that it may not matter, Sane represents the future of German soccer and is already one of the best German athletes on the planet. He exudes confidence on the ball and has the required game-breaking ability that can trouble compact defenses that typically thrive in these compressed tournaments. It was a shocking omission and I think Germany pays for it.
Still, however, the Germans still have the likes of Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, and Marco Reus. They’re well-coached and well-organized and Low knows how to get this side going. But there are suddenly a lot more uncertainties to this group than we’ve been accustomed to from the German soccer powerhouse.
Manuel Neuer has just returned from injury to feature between the posts, but nobody knows how his lack of game action will impact his performance. Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels are getting up in age, and I’m not certain defense remains a strength of the Germans any longer. The same goes with Sami Khedira and Thomas Muller in the middle of the pitch.
While Germany will win this group, and likely easily win four matches at the World Cup – I think they’re still a tier below Brazil in this tournament. There are too many questions entering, and their recent form has people scratching their collective heads. The lack of a game-breaker could prove to be the DFB’s downfall in Russia.
El Tri return to the World Cup after a solid qualifying performance that saw their rivals from the United States left in the dust. They’ve advanced to the knockout stage of the past six World Cups, and are poised to make it seven in Russia. But all of that moderate success isn’t what fans crave – they want a deeper run, though it just doesn’t seem like they have the depth or talent to make big waves once again.
One aspect of Mexico’s approach that people can really admire is how viciously they attack and come at teams, regardless of who their opposition is. That’s why their match against Germany should make for a fascinating affair. It’ll be interesting to see some of their pace and skill trouble an older German back-line and see how the Germans handle that.
Mexico plays a forward-thinking 4-2-3-1 formation, with the EPL’s Javier Hernandez up top. The man dubbed ‘Chicharito’ is a sublime finisher and will be the recipient of Hector Herrera’s great service. The Porto midfielder had an excellent club season and will be a key piece of the Mexican offense.
That said, concerns do exist – specifically at the back. For as forward as they like to play, it could leave them exposed against some skilled teams from this group. Making matters worse is the fact that Diego Reyes may not be fit to suit up for the Mexicans, and instead, they might just need to rely on the 39-year old Rafael Marquez.
Many Mexican supporters also are not big fans of their current manager, Juan Carlos Osorio. Though he’s gotten good results, many don’t feel like his constant tinkering and experimentation with the lineup and formation is justified. There have been many calls for his firing, but a good showing in Russia could silence the doubters.
The Swedes undoubtedly deserve to be here, doing things the hard way by ousting Italy over a two-game playoff. And even though they play a fairly dull, and super defensive style – it’s been effective on the international stage. They lack attacking flair and creativity, something Zlatan Ibrahimovic could have provided, but the Swedish squad felt it was within their best interest to leave him out, which says something about how they’ll play in Russia.
They possess a very healthy team dynamic and manager Janne Andersson has done an unbelievable job of coaching this squad. All eleven players on the pitch at the same time are committed to the end goal, and that’s staunch defending. It frustrated the Italians mightily a few months ago, and that strategy could be effective against the attack-minded Mexicans and Germans too. This is a team with no superstars, but they shouldn’t be overlooked. Sweden survived a grueling qualifying route to the World Cup, and that alone makes them a dangerous group in Russia.
For all of their team cohesion, the lack of a true star or game-breaker can also be their downfall. In fact, I’m thinking it probably will. Realistically, the attacks of Germany and Mexico will likely be too much for Sweden to withstand over 90 minutes, and this isn’t the type of group that can snag a goal when chasing the game from behind. They staggeringly haven’t scored in their past three friendly contests, and many of their more talented attack-minded players are entering the tournament mired in a run of awful form.
More will be needed from Ola Toivonen and Emil Forsberg if the Swedes want to progress in Group F. This is a boring team, and for all of our sakes – let’s hope their defensive rigidity does not win out in Russia.
South Korea (+2200)
This will not be anywhere near a magical run like the Koreans faced back in 2002 when they hosted a memorable World Cup. In fact, it’s magic that the Koreans are even here given how mediocre they were in Asian qualifying. They only managed fifteen points from ten games, only winning four times.
They had awful results such as losing to Qatar, China and drawing Uzbekistan. They only scored 11 goals for and allowed 10 against. It was surprising, but it’s who they are. The Koreans offer very little across most positions on the field. Outside of Tottenham’s talented striker Son Heung-min, the Taegeuk Warriors won’t be all that competitive in Russia.
Usually, many of these lesser-known, lesser-skilled sides come in and play unbelievable defensive soccer, but the Koreans don’t. They try to, they just are not very good at it. The Mexican and German attacks will be far too much to handle, and even Sweden’s physicality will give the Koreans fits. This is a squad that is totally reliant on their top player, Son – and if he can’t muster offense, the Koreans won’t either.
Manager Shin Tae-Young has recently said that he wants his side to play “high tempo passing football” but he just doesn’t have the pieces. I think this is going to be a really tough tournament for the Koreans and could envision them leaving Russia with zero points to show for their efforts.