The most important part of the season is approaching, but all football stars will have their sights set for the biggest footballing occasion during the summer – the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. Some of the biggest favorites clashed between in each other in what might be considered boring international fixtures by some fans, but players and coaches will definitely look to them as much important preparation for the tournament. We will take a look what we’ve learned during the past week from the performance of the biggest footballing nations.
The shock defeat in Madrid 1-6 against Spain will definitely add more pressure to the squad. Having enjoyed a difficult campaign in which saw the two-time champions almost failed to qualify. Leo Messi will be at his peak at the Tournament, aged 30, and is to be seen whether he will feature on the next World Cup after 4 years. The Barcelona start missed out due to injury the demolition and is key to Argentines success. Jorge Sampaoli is famous with his attacking play and will have plenty of options to choose from – Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi and even West Ham Manuel Lanzzinni, who scored in the unimpressive win against Italy. Sampaoli says “this is going to be Messi’s team” but conceded that failure to win the Cup and Messi will retire from international football. Argentina, unlike most other World Cup teams, is only expected to play once more before the tournament – away to Israel on 9 June, so the verdict is still out how the will line up and fare in Russia.
Despite being written off by many and having to cope with the injury of their biggest star, Celestial reminded that what they’re made of by winning both their games against Russia and Germany. The big question is about the availability of Neymar, who Brazil are hopeful will make the World Cup. Their fourth top scorer of all time, despite only being 26, is recovering from successful surgery on a broken foot and might not return for Paris St-Germain this season. In February, boss Tite revealed the names of 15 players who were guaranteed a place in his squad, injuries aside. Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino are enjoying good seasons in England so they are also certain of their places. Manchester City’s Ederson will be back-up for the in-form Roma keeper Alisson.
The Red Devils have never made a big impact on a major tournament except for a 1986 semi-final spot, so their most talented squad of all time will be hoping to have more to cheer on. Their squad filled with English Premier League stars were criticized for playing just 1 game during the international break – 4-0 win against Saudi Arabia. The idea was not to get too many games during a short period of time and add to the hectic club football season. Different year, different manager, same story. Marc Wilmots’ tactics were criticised after last-eight exits at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016. Roberto Martinez replaced him before 2018 World Cup qualification, and they are now unbeaten in 16 games. It’s widely discussed whether side with De Bruyne, Kompany, Lukaku and other stars can deliver under pressure and will they be again tactically exposed.
France golden generation won consecutive World Cup and European championships in 1998 and 2000 with the likes of Blanc, Zidane, Henry, Trezeguet, and co. stole the show and ruled the footballing world, now Mbappe, Lloris, Pogba, and Griezmann will want to follow those famous footsteps. Les Blues topped their group, winning 7 out of 10 and leaving behind strong sides like Sweden and the Netherlands. Now they continued their recovery from the heartache of losing their home European championships in 2016 at the hands of Portugal. Late collapse against Colombia at home raised questions about the tactical flexibility of Didier Deschamps and can he choose the right starting XI given the big competition in places. Les Bleus were error prone at the back in the loss to Colombia at Stade de France. Samuel Umtiti, Raphael Varane or Laurent Koscielny at the back? And, while a nice problem to have, who misses out from Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Lemar, Kingsley Coman, Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette and Olivier Giroud?
The current holders will want to add their 5th World Cup which will equal Brazil’s record. They are on a right track of doing so and are in fine form – winning 10 out of 10 in their qualification group. The Germans were even in a better form if the friendlies were counted too – unbeaten in 22 games following friendly draws against England, France and, on Friday, Spain – but then lost 1-0 to Brazil on Tuesday. The game in Berlin was bringing memories from the 7-1 win at the ½-Final at the World Cup in 2014. One of the main topics before the friendlies was if Manuel Neuer will be fit for the tournament or someone between Bernd Leno, Marc-Andre ter Stegen or Trapp will fill in the void. Mario Gotze, who scored the winner in 2014 final, might not even go to Russia because of his poor form, while Marco Reus was not in their most recent squad. Fresh faces like Timo Werner, Leon Goretzka, Leroy Sane and others will be hoping to impress Joachim Löw till the end of the season to be on the plane for Russia.
Current European champions will be hoping to use the fine form of their talismanic captain Cristiano Ronaldo who had scored in 9 games in a row for club and country, only to draw blank in the disappointing loss 0-3 against the Netherlands. Despite a dip in form and not so fruitful beginning of the season for Ronaldo, mixed with a fall from grace of Renato Sanches and other heroes from Euro 2016, means that Portugal really must improve if they to make their mark on the World Cup 2018. Andre Gomes is finding his form at Milan and had a good record in the qualifiers, but must finish the season on high if he wants to force himself into the squad. Let’s remember how Portugal got to the final of the European Championship and won it. It wasn’t just Ronaldo and they shared the goals around the team, so Portugal must not be written off just yet.
Spain is again one of the dark horses to win the cup and demonstrated this by trumping Argentina 6-1. The 2010 champions were disappointing last time around, going out after group stage defeats at the hands of Netherlands and Chile (both now miss out) and will need to improve. They are yet to lose in 18 games under boss Julen Lopetegui, scoring in each of them and La Furia Roja was really impressive in the qualifying stage – winning 9 out of 10. Quality is in all areas with David De Gea in goal, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique with a wealth of experience at the back, David Silva, Andres Iniesta and Isco pulling the strings in midfield. The only main question is who will lead the attack as the main striker Alvaro Morata is in a difficult situation at his club Chelsea, Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid and Rodrigo from Valencia starting in the last 2 games, with both of them scoring when given the chance. Spain will play 2 final games before the tournament – against Switzerland and Tunisia.
The Three Lions are once again one of the main talking sides, despite their last major impact on World Cup being ½-Final in Italy’90 and last cup win in 1966.Gareth Southgate and his players had good qualifiers and above average performance in the friendlies but are to be seen whether they will disappoint at a major tournament. Harry Kane is recovering from an ankle injury and some from the Marcus Rashford or Jamie Vardy must be at their best in order to seize their chance. Raheem Sterling played a major role during the qualifiers and Southgate is giving plenty of free space to the Man City winger, so Sterling’s performance form is key. In defense – Kyle Walker and John Stones seem to earn enough to get starting roles in 3-player central partnership. The other spot will be decided by Chris Smalling, Phill Jones, Harry McGuire, James Tarkowski, Michael Keane or even fell out Gary Cahill. In goal, Jack Butland or Joe Hart will fight for the #1 jersey. England will begin with relatively easy games – Tunisia and Panama, so most importantly will be how will England play.