football

Word Cup Preview: Group F

June 12, 2018

- Grant Whittington

 

Host nation Russia will kick-off the 21st World Cup against Saudi Arabia next Thursday, as they look to become the seventh nation to win the tournament on home soil. Russia is not the only side with designs on the FIFA World Cup Trophy, several countries are keen on ending Germany’s defence of the title that they won in 2014. The Germans have been drawn in Group F, dubbed the “group of death” by some pundits. But who will prevail here?

Germany
Let’s start with four-time World Cup winners Germany, who have appeared in 19 of 21 finals and also finished as runners-up on four occasions. As we’ve said, they’re also the defending champions, although Joachim Löw’s squad has changed significantly since beating Argentina 1-0 in the Estadio Maracana four years ago.

Despite the subsequent retirements of players such as captain Phillip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger however, the Germans qualified for Russia in superlative fashion, winning all 10 of their matches while plundering 43 goals in the process.

21 players also scored for Germany during these games, highlighting the sheer depth of the squad the emphasis on a strong team dynamic.

Germany will kick-off their campaign against Mexico in Moscow on June 17th, before travelling to Sochi to play European neighbours Sweden on June 23rd. They’ll finish Group F by taking on South Korea in Kazan on June 27th, and while they’d be expected to win all these games nothing can be taken for granted in such a challenging pool.

The quality of Löw’s squad is reflected by the fact that Leroy Sane was left at home, despite the youngster starring in Manchester City’s record breaking title winning side. The return of Manuel Neuer from injury also strengthens the manager’s options, with Arsenal’s playmaker Mesut Ozil and RB Leipzig’s talented striker Timo Werner likely to lead the attack.

Our Verdict: Although Germany face three exceptionally challenging Group F opponents, they’re overwhelming favourites to top the pool and progress to the knockout stages. In fact, it would hardly be a surprise if they became the third side in history to retain the World Cup, following in the footsteps of Italy in 1934 and Brazil in 1962.

 Mexico
Mexico are an interesting World Cup participant, and one that has often failed to translate its Central American success on the global stage.

Despite qualifying winning 10 CONCACAF titles and qualifying for 16 out of 21 World Cup finals (including the last six), for example, Mexico have only ever reached the quarter-finals twice in 1970 and 1986.

Typically, the Mexicans qualified for the tournament by topping their group, remaining unbeaten and conceding just a single goal in six matches. Even this was a penalty by El Salvador’s Alexander Larin, so they’re resolute and tough to beat.

This should stand them in good stead when tackling the might of Germany on matchday one, while Mexico will face South Korea in Rostov on June 23rd before doing battle with Sweden at the Ekaterinburg Arena on June 27th.

The talismanic Javier Hernandez will lead the line once again in Russia, having emerged as his nation’s all-time leading goal-scorer after netting against Croatia in a friendly last year (he has 49 goals in 100 caps overall). Hernandez also need two goals to become Mexico’s leading scorer at the World Cup finals, while he’ll be ably supported by LA Galaxy star and former Real Sociedad winger Carlos Vela.

Our Verdict: Mexico are 80/1 to win the World Cup, and this seems only fair given their tournament history. However, they’ve also progressed beyond the group stage at every World Cup since 1986, and along with Hernandez’s goals this makes them our pick to qualify in second from Group F.

Sweden
Sweden are already the ultimate party-poopers, after Jakob Johansson’s goal eliminated Italy during the play-offs and denied Gianluigi Buffon the opportunity to appear at one more World Cup before his retirement.

This followed a second-place finish in qualifying Group A, as they trailed behind France and pipped the Netherlands on goal difference.

They’ll be hoping to enhance this reputation in Group F, by upsetting the odds and overcoming Germany when they meet on matchday two on the June 23rd. This will follow the Swede’s opening game against South Korea in Nizhny Novgorod on June 18th, before they conclude their campaign against Mexico.

To achieve this, however, Sweden will need to improve on their recent World Cup record, as this is their first appearance since 2006 while they’ve also failed to progress beyond the last 16 since finishing third in 1994. This is their 12th finals appearance overall, with their best performance coming in 1958 when they were runners-up as the host nation.

Sweden’s key men include predatory striker Marcus Berg, who has assumed Zlatan Ibrahimović’s mantle as the side’s talisman. Berg also scored eight goals in qualification, more than double the tally of any other player in the team.

RB Leipzig’s skilful winger Emil Forsberg is also a handful in attack, while the stylish centre half Victor Lindelöf remains a key performer despite enduring a difficult first season at Manchester United.

Our Verdict: Sweden are used to upsetting the odds, while they’re victories over Italy and France during qualification highlighting their defensive strength and threat on the break. However, they’ll probably need to win their opening game against South Korea to stand a chance, while Mexico will provide a formidable obstacle on the final matchday.

South Korea
South Korea have become a common feature of the World Cup finals, as despite qualifying for just 10 of 21 tournaments they’ll make their ninth consecutive appearance in Russia. They famously finished fourth in 2002, eliminating Italy in a controversial and thrilling second round encounter.

Korea’s road to Russia was littered with potholes, however, as they only qualified from their group in second place behind Iran and dropped a huge number of points away from home. Goals were a significant issue were the side during this time, with 0-0 draws in Syria and Uzbekistan extremely disappointing.

Still, they have several talented Premier League players in their midst, including Tottenham’s outstanding forward Heung-Min Son. Although he only scored one goal during qualification, he averages a strike every three games for his country and will lead the line with distinction in Russia.

Swansea’s Ki Sung-yueng is also an EPL veteran who adds guile and dynamism in midfield, while Crystal Palace star Lee Chung-Yong has enjoyed a relatively successful season under the management for Roy Hodgson.

Our Verdict: While South Korea may be appearing in their ninth consecutive World Cup finals, they struggled immensely during qualifying and have been drawn in a particularly difficult group. So, while they’re sure to be competitive it would be a huge surprise if they reached the knockout stages.

 

 

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