After the 2014 Brazilian adventure, the World Cup is back in Europe this year, and it should be a fascinating feast of football as the reigning champions Germany fight to retain their title against a talented Brazilian squad, a powerful Spanish team, European champions Portugal, and the always dangerous French and Argentines. As we look ahead to the summer’s football action, here are the top four challengers for World Cup glory.
Joachim Löw’s team have bounced back from their Euro 2016 disappointment in fine style, winning all of their World Cup qualifying games and scoring an impressive 43 goals along the way. The Germans have a lot in their favour. Their most obvious advantage is their strength in depth. Despite the retirements of legends such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Per Mertesacker, Miroslav Klose and Philipp Lahm, they have enough talent to nearly fill two squads. Younger stars such as Joshua Kimmich, Timo Werner, Leroy Sané and Niklas Süle are fighting for a regular starting spot, and such is their strength that the Germans were able to leave out an entire first team’s worth of talent when they won the Confederations Cup last year.
With abundant talent, meticulous preparation and a wealth of big-tournament experience, it is no surprise that the Germans have been heavily backed ahead of the World Cup, and football punters who check out the odds on Stakers.com will see that the Germans are a short-priced 1.53 to start their defence with a victory against Mexico in their first Group F match.
While Germany are the favourites to retain their title, Brazil are not far behind, according to the betting markets, after an impressive qualification campaign in which they appeared to rediscover the free-flowing creativity and flair that has defined Brazil’s football legacy.
Under new manager Tite, Brazil have flourished by integrating all of their top talents, rather than attempting to mimic a European safety-first approach. With Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho making up a dazzling front-line and full-backs Marcelo and Dani Alves in flying form, Brazil look in good shape, though the relatively poor record of South American teams playing in Europe-based World Cups may count against them.
After knocking out the Germans at Euro 2016, France will rightly be regarded as dangerous challengers to the reigning champions this summer. Didier Deschamps’ side is packed with pace, skill and power, though they have at times struggled to break down well-drilled opponents in big games. Still, their Euro 2016 experience – and the disappointment of losing out to Portugal in the final – should serve to motivate and strengthen them in Russia.
The former World Champions have not slipped into a lengthy transition period following their disappointing performances at the last two major tournaments and have returned stronger than ever. Spain can boast a depth of talent that rivals and possibly even surpasses Germany, and if Julen Lopetegui can continue to get his team selection right and avoid some of the complacency that crept into their play four years ago, it would be no surprise to see Spain go all the way to the final this time around.
Germany’s talent and experience make them deserving favourites for the 2018 World Cup crown, but Spain, France and Brazil will push them hard, and we can also expect strong challenges from Argentina, Portugal and Belgium. It promises to be a thrilling tournament and we can’t wait for it to get underway!