2018 FIFA World Cup: Group F
The Teams: Germany, Mexico, South Korea, Sweden
Group F of the 2018 World Cup contains a major powerhouse of the international football scene, accompanied by three other nations who could turn out to be incredibly difficult to separate.
The main contender of Group F is of course the reigning champions Germany, who will be looking to navigate the opposition and progress to the knockout stage with ease. The teams who will be closely fighting amongst each other for second place are Mexico, South Korea and Sweden. Having said this, as recent group stages have demonstrated, there’s nothing to say that one of these teams can’t rise up and grab the top spot from the strong favourites.
Odds of winning the World Cup: 9/2
Method of qualification: UEFA Group C winners
The alphabet dictates that we begin with the big boys of group F. The Germans lifted the trophy four years ago, but most bookies are finding it hard to decide whether they are more likely than previous hosts Brazil to be victorious this time around. What they can say with almost absolute certainty though, is that Germany should have no trouble getting through their group. The Germans breezed through the qualifiers, being the only European team to win all ten games. Even more impressive, they scored an astounding 43 goals, while only conceding four themselves.
Joachim Löw announced his 27-man provisional squad midway through May, and the absence of a couple of players in particular caused the main talking points of the announcement. Mario Götze scored the extra time clincher in 2014’s final in Brazil, and yet finds himself missing from the squad. The 25-year-old has had trouble reaching top form ever since and, with Germany housing such a talented selection of midfielders, the decision to leave Götze out seems reasonable.
Among the four players cut from the provisional squad were Leroy Sané, who was recently told he would not be joining Manchester City teammate Ilkay Gundogan in a somewhat surprising decision by Löw. After being almost untouchable in City’s Premier League winning campaign, this decision seems considerably less reasonable and maybe one Löw lives to regret.
A huge boost to the current champions is the inclusion of 32-year-old Manuel Neuer. The keeper has been out with an injury since last September, and may not be back to full fitness, this may result in Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen being the man to step up for Germany between the posts, following an excellent season with the Spanish champions. Other big names to make an appearance at the World Cup include Dortmund’s Marco Reus, Munich’s Thomas Müller, Leipzig’s Timo Werner and the Premier League’s very own Mesut Ozil.
We can expect crisp, free flowing football from this line-up, and with such a large group of talented players, Germany are one of the top favourites to win the World Cup. It would be the first time a nation has won the tournament consecutively since Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
Odds of winning the World Cup: 100/1
Method of qualification: CONCACAF Fifth Round winners
In 2014, Mexico impressed in the group stage and will be looking to do the same this time around, with some tough opposition on the cards nonetheless. It was the Netherlands who halted any further progress four years ago, but with the Dutch not making the flight to Russia, Mexico will be hoping for a more forgiving opponent if they are to progress to the knockouts. Much like Germany, Mexico dominated the qualifiers, topping both their round 4 group and the final round 5 group, losing just one game in the process.
Juan Carlos Osorio certainly has a grand selection of talented players in his squad. One such player is PSV Eindhoven’s Hirving Lozano, who grabbed 17 goals and 8 assists in the Eredivisie this season. The young winger has blistering pace and will no doubt spark fear in the eyes of his opponents if he even hints at a run down the wing.
The Premier League is certainly familiar with Mexican striker Javier Hernández, who’s time at Manchester United and West Ham never really hit the heights expected of him. However, a first season at Bayer Leverkusen allowed Hernández to really show his worth, and he scored 28 goals throughout his time in Germany. At 30 years old, this could be his last chance for the Mexican to perform in a World Cup.
Other notable players in the squad include Carlos Vela from Los Angeles FC and Real Sociedad’s Hector Moreno.
Odds of winning the World Cup: 250/1
Method of qualification: AFC Third Round Group B runners-up
South Korea are not one to miss out on a World Cup. In fact, it has been 36 years since the last time they didn’t qualify for the tournament. Despite a ropey qualifying campaign, four wins out of ten in the 3rd round of the qualifiers was enough to secure them a spot in Russia. The poor performances in the qualifiers led to the sacking of the coach Uli Stielike, and Shin Tae-yong will take his place at the in Russia.
A lot of faith will be put in Son Heung-min, who has excelled at Tottenham Hotspur and will no doubt look to use his pace and skill to counter against some difficult opponents. Since making his international debut at the age of 18 in 2010, Son has made 65 appearances and scored 21 goals for his country. Now nearly 26-years-old, he looks to be hitting his peak, but there’s every chance he has his best years ahead of him. If South Korea are to progress past the group stage, they may need Son to make the most of the chances he gets, and finishing is an area he is naturally skilful in.
Another player who has spent a lot of time in the Premier League is Ki Sung-yueng, who will be captaining South Korea in the tournament. The 29-year-old midfielder announced he would be leaving Swansea as the Welsh outfit were relegated into the Championship. Ki should be the main distributor in the Korean team, looking to play the piercing pass towards Son and his fellow attackers.
As well as having great ball control, Lee Jae Sung is another good passer in the team, and should compliment Ki in the midfield role. The 25-year old impressed domestically this season in his own nation, playing for Jeonbuk in the K League.
A weakness of this South Korean side is certainly its defence, meaning it will be interesting to see whether they will try their even harder to halt the opposition, or just use the philosophy that attack is the best form of defence.
Odds of winning the World Cup: 100/1
Method of qualification: UEFA Second Round Winners
Sweden will be without Zlatan Ibrahimović in an international tournament for the first time since 2000. Arguably the greatest Swedish player of all time. Ibrahimović announced his retirement from international football after the 2016 Euros, but currently still plays in America for LA Galaxy. It’s fair to say it’s almost impossible for anyone to fill the legend’s boots.
However, Sweden do have a whole host of top quality players at their disposal, spread out across all areas of the pitch. Emil Forsberg will play a key role as an attacking midfielder and should be the at the centre of Sweden’s breaks. Forsberg plays in Germany for RB Leipzig and scored the Bundesliga outfit’s first ever goal in the Champions League.
As for the defence, all bases seem to be covered as far as Sweden are concerned. A solid back four of Martin Olsson, Andreas Granqvist, Victor Lindelof and Mikael Lustig looks like Sweden’s preferable back line, with Pontus Jansson keen to take part as well. Andreas Granqvist in particular has had a startling season and will feel right at home in Russia being a centre-back for Russian club Krasnodar. Granqvist was awarded Swedish player of the year 2017 – the first time someone who is not Zlatan Ibrahimović has won the award since 2006.
Isaac Kiese Thelin and Ola Toivonen will probably play together up front, meaning that the predictable 4-4-2 formation will probably be on display. This could be Sweden’s downfall, and some creative flair will definitely be needed to navigate group F. However, with such talent in all areas, Sweden should be battling hard for second place. You get the feeling that whoever wins between Sweden and Mexico will progress through the group.
I don’t think anyone is expecting Germany to finish anywhere except top of the group. We can sometimes see shock early exits however, and there’s nothing to say that the other teams of group F won’t give it their absolute all when faced with the Germans. Having said that, it would be an almighty shock if Germany didn’t progress, and Mexico, South Korea and Sweden all have their work cut out for them.
The battle for second place will be a very interesting one, with Mexico and Sweden having more or less equal odds to reach the knockout stage. I can see Mexico having the edge over the Swedes. The exciting final matches of group F include a clash between the two, meaning this game could be all or nothing for the two teams. We can expect a grand group stage finale between these two.
And finally, there’s South Korea, who could count themselves a tad unlucky to be drawn into a difficult group. Nevertheless, they still have every chance of reaching the knockout stage, with some quality players of their own. A potential dark horse, South Korea will need to hit the ground running, with Germany being their final game of the group stage.
Group F could be one of the most exciting groups of the tournament. No single team stands out as being an absolute underdog, and all four teams have strength in attack. Let’s hope they go all out against each other and produce a spectacle for all of us watching.