FIFA World Ranking: 1
FIFA World Cup Appearances: 18
Best Place: Winners in 1954, Germany 1974, Italy 1990, .
Possible XI: (4-3-2-1) Neuer (GK) Kimmich (RB) Boatang (CB) Hummels (CB) Hector (LB) Kroos (CM) Khedira (CM) Muller (RW) Ozil (CAM) Draxler (LW) Werner (ST)
Joachim Low (GER) Age 58
Has been in charge of the German national side coming into his 12th year now and the man who took his side to World Cup glory in 2014 has the task of getting them again and there are a few that have no doubts that they can do it again. Their success in Brazil four years ago was unprecedented as they became the first European team to win the World Cup outside of their own continent, beating host nation and then favourites in a historic 7-1 win along the way. He continues to guide this German team, evolving them over the last few years introducing a whole host of young players who merit being in their national side such is the talent in Low’s disposal. The team still have some of the stalwarts from 4 years ago, including a midfield of talented players with Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller hopeful of a starting as well as Manuel Neuer who has his season written off through injury but is hopeful of making the Xi too. Low’s decision not to pick Leroy Sane caused a stir in England, and there have been recent controversies surrounding Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan over their support of Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan..
Thomas Muller (90 caps / 38 goals) Age 28
He first made his mark on world football with an impressive debut World Cup in Germany 2006 where he scored 5 goals, won the 'Golden Boot' as well as the Best Young Player of the Tournament. He then went on to score 5 more goals in Brazil 2014 equalling Helmut Rahn’s record of 10 goals and lifting the World Cup. He is still some way off of all time World Cup record scorer Miroslav Klose (16 goals). His career has been glittered with success while at Bayern Munich, 7 Bundesliga titles, a Champions League and a Club World Cup (2013) to name a few, his versatility is important to the team. Seen more as a right midfielder he has an excellent scoring record for simply being in the right place at the right time. His positioning and awareness excels in the penalty area, despite his claims that he is not a striker, he certainly finishes like one. Germany’s real lack of and world class striker means Muller’s role means he has to be as effective getting on the end of opportunities as much as he contributes to the teams build up in attack.
WATCH OUT FOR...
Timo Werner (12 caps / 7 goals) Age 22
Still such a young player but is quickly establishing himself as a potential world class striker through this form at RB Leipzig and with Germany. Signed from VFB Stuttgart where he made 95 appearances and score 13 goals he has gone on to become the youngest player to reach 100 and 150 Bundesliga appearances, and has a remarkable international scoring record of seven goals in 12 games going into Russia 2018. He offers something different to other striking options in Sandro Wagner and Mario Gomez who are seen as more target men, whereas Werner is all about speed, add to that superb finishing and Germany could have another world class talent in their ranks.
For me, they are the team to beat. We can go on all day about the merits of the Brazil’s ‘Joga Bonito’ and why they looks odds on to lift the trophy come July but Germany are such a well-oiled machine it will take a lot for another side to outdo them. Filled with a mixture of youth and experience the 23-man squad selected could easily be different such is the pool of talent, coming out of the country, that can’t make it into the senior side. This was well demonstrated when what was considered to be a 2nd string German side comfortably won the Confederations Cup last summer. Nothing but at least a semi-final will do for the fans but I can see them making the final and are very likely to become only the second team to retain the World Cup since Brazil in Chile 1962.
MEXICO FIFA World Ranking: 15th FIFA World Cup Appearances: 15 Best Place: Quarter Finals in 1970 and 1986 both Mexico. Possible XI: (4-3-3) Ochoa (GK) Salcedo (RB) Araujo (CB) Moreno (CB) Layun (LB) Hererra (CM) D.Reyes (CM) Guardado (CM) Vela (RW) Lozano (LW) Chicharito Hernandez (ST)
Juan Carlo Osorio (COL) Age 56
The Colombian national takes 'El Tri' into this summer’s World Cup knowing that history could well be against them as Mexico have failed to get past the past 16 stage since they hosted the tournament in 1986. Osorio held various assistant coaching jobs before beginning his managerial career in 2006 with Bogota side Millonarios. The following year moving abroad to manage MLS teams Chicago Fire and New York RB, leading the Red Bull's to their first conference title ten years ago. He won the Colombian title with Once Caldas in 2010 and managed Atlético Nacional in 2012 and winning numerous championships. He was named as the new manager of the Mexican national team on October 2015. Mexico are the only team have failed to progress into the quarter finals stage in each of their last 6 finals going out in the Last-16. The draw for Russia hasn’t helped matters either as Osorio needs to find a way to manoeuvre out of group containing Germany, Sweden, and South Korea. He has a fractured relationship with the fans and some of the Mexican media as his unorthodox methods, and constant tinkering with the team has left some people bemused, a 7-0 defeat to Chile in the Copa American Centenario and 4-1 against Germany at last year’s Confederations Cup did not help matters but despite getting through top of the qualifying group losing once in 16 games.
WATCH OUT FOR…
Hirving Lozano (26 caps / 7 goals) Age 22 The 22-year old attacker has been making waves in his first season in the Eredivise with PSV in campaign where he showed his technique and pace, scoring 17 goals and laying up 11 assists for his team mates. A vital member of Osorio’s starting XI, a right footed player but he is usually deployed on the left wing where he can carry the ball to the by-line or cut inside, causing problems through the middle. In qualifying he contributed as the team’s top scorer with 4 goals and has a good understanding with Chicharito Hernandez when in attack. In his debut season in Europe he has caught the eyes of many big clubs and good performances at the 2018 World Cup will no doubt heighten expectation his departure from the Netherlands.
Mexico are the only team have failed to progress into the quarter finals stage in each of their last 6 finals going out in the Last-16. The draw for Russia hasn’t helped matters either as Osorio needs to find a way to manoeuvre out of group containing Germany, Sweden, and South Korea. Osorio will use his wide players, in particular Hirving Lozano, to start quick breaks in the hope of catching opposition defences with their speed, 'Chicharito' Hernandez waiting in the box for service to him, although there does feel like an over reliance with these two players at times. Andres Guardado, now going into his 4th World Cup is now playing in a more creative holding role in midfield, once a fleeting winger he has moved centrally in his later years to good effect especially when with the national side.They certainly have experience with the core of the side having played at previous World Cups but if they do progress out of the group they are likely to face Brazil in the net round as Germany remain favourite to top Group F. A last 16 place is as far as I can see them going, again.
Guillermo Ochoa (Standard Liege), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul).
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt), Diego Reyes (Porto), Hector Moreno (Real Sociedad), Hugo Ayala (Tigres), Edson Alvarez (America), Jesus Gallardo (Monterrey), Miguel Layun (Sevilla).
Rafael Marquez (Atlas), Hector Herrera (Porto), Jonathan dos Santos, Giovani dos Santos (both LA Galaxy), Andres Guardado (Real Betis), Javier Aquino (Tigres), Jesus Corona (Porto).
Javier Hernandez (West Ham), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Oribe Peralta (America), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC), Hirving Lozano (PSV Eindhoven), Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt).
FIFA World Rankings: 57
FIFA World Cup Appearances: 9
Best Place: 4th Place in South Korea / Japan.
Possible XI: (4-4-2) Kim Seung-gyu (GK) Choi Chul-soon (RB) Kim Young-gwan (CB) Jang Hyun-soo (CB) Kim Jin-su (LB) Kwan Chang-hon (RM) Ki Sung-yueng (CM) Koo Ja-cheol (CM) Lee Jae-sung (LM) Kim Shin-wook (ST) Son Heung-min
Shin Tae-yong (KOR) Age 49
South Korea had a tricky passage into the World Cup where they finished 2nd behind Iran accumulating 15 points from 10 matches. There were problems both defensively and in attack, they leaked 10 goals and only scored 11 which is not how South Korea make it to finals traditionally being the strongest Asian team, games were decided by no more than a single goal. Tae-Young is an Asian Champions League winner as a player and a manager, nicknamed the ‘Asian Mourinho’ by The Guardian writer John Duerden , Tae-yong is a calculated manager. He prefers a very attacking style of play making sure his team are on the front foot, this tactic works well as they usually the stronger sides when facing other teams from the same continent they will look at adjusting their style of play and play on the break. Prefers to play a
4-3-3 formation with Ki Sun-yueng siting deep in midfield and using Son Hueng-min as the main threat, wing backs Lee Yong and Park Joo-hoo will push forward, Kim Shin-Wook the Jeonbuk Motors striker will lead the line.
WATCH OUT FOR…
Son Heung-min (63 caps / 20 goals) Age 25
Son Heung-min is by far the star man for Korea, a Tottenham Hotspur player who lit up last season’s Champions League with good performances against Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid is going into Russia with more than just World Cup glory on his mind. As is law in South Korea men are asked to do military service for their country and this must be completed by the age of 28, Son does have a way of avoiding this if he and his team mates perform extraordinarily in Russia such as semi-final place and of course winning the trophy helps. He struggled, just like his team mates, in scoring or creating many goals netting just one goal with 2 assists but remains their best player. He spent 7 years in Germany with Hamburg and then Bayer Leverkusen before a £22m move to Tottenham upped his profile with impressive displays in the Premier League and Champions League.
It is hard to see how they can get out of the group, they have problems getting the ball into the net as it is and to go with that they are fragile in defence too, conceding too many goals during qualifying. This won’t be helped as their defence and goalkeeper currently still play within Asia; although there is some Bundesliga experience there it might be a disadvantage against players from the bigger leagues. The game against Sweden is one they will look to take three points from, and then target a result against Mexico but in all honesty it might be little too much for them and I don’t expect them to get out of the group.