Impact Sports’ preview of the 2018 World Cup continues with Group F. A preview of Group E can be found here.
Group F has a favorite to win the competition, a staple of the tournament, a surprise team and a wild card. Add all of that up and it should be a great group. Germany is one of the favorites to win and go back-to-back. Mexico has become part of the furniture when it comes to World Cups. Sweden surprised the world after they beat Italy in a two-legged playoff to advance. Finally there is the relative unknown in South Korea, who are lead by star player Heung-Min Son. Germany and Mexico start off the group when the two teams clash on June 17.
Germany (FIFA ranking: 1)
Overview: The 2014 World Cup winners are bringing another strong squad to this year’s installment. Their squad is so talented – strong enough to leave Premier League winner Leroy Sane, 2014 World Cup hero Mario Götze and young stars Jonathan Tah and Bernd Leno at home. Among the 23 players who did make the squad are familiar faces. Mesut Özil, Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira make up a midfield that could be the best in the tournament. Bayern Munich teammates Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels will start in the center of defence.
However, what makes Germany so good is that they are not scared to bring new talent. Striker Timo Werner and winger Julian Brandt will be making their World Cup debuts after both had strong seasons with their clubs. With talent and depth at every position, Germany have to be favorites to win the World Cup.
Star player: Attacking midfielder Thomas Müller, Bayern Munich (Germany)
Germany has so many stars it is unfair. There are very few teams who can match the talent Germany has brought to Russia. So why Müller? Simple, Müller scores at the World Cup. Müller has been to two World Cups and scored 10 goals. If he keeps scoring at that rate then he will tie countryman Miroslav Klose for the most World Cup goals scored (15).
Müller is a fox in the box. His great finishing is matched with impeccable positioning and awareness. But, Müller does more than score goals. In 2010 he had three assists to go along with five goals. The goals for Müller are great, but the assists only add to his overall versatility and importance to the German national team.
Biggest question: How will Manuel Neuer play after missing the entire 2017-18 season because of injury?
When healthy, Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world. However, he missed a majority of the 2017-18 season because of a foot injury. He was cleared to play for the World Cup, and will likely be the No. 1 keeper for Germany when they open against Mexico. These will be Neuer’s first meaningful games in a while. Neuer is notorious for playing outside of his box as a “sweeper keeper”. There is a lot of risk to playing this way, but when done correctly, Neuer stops any opposition counterattacks. This foot injury could completely change how Neuer plays in the World Cup.
Best-case scenario: Germany lifts their fifth World Cup, tying them with Brazil for most and becoming the third team to win back-to-back World Cups.
Mexico (FIFA ranking: 15)
Overview: Mexico are a staple of the World Cup. They have only missed five World Cups in their history. The only issue is Mexico have failed to make it past the round of 16 since the 1986 World Cup. Historically, Mexico is a buccaneering team that loves to attack. This team is no different. Mexico feature a wealth of exciting attacking options lead by Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, and fellow attackers Hirving Lozano (more on him later), Carlos Vela and Jesus Corona should not be overlooked.
Even Mexico’s midfield is attacking-inclined. Hector Herrera and brothers Jonathan and Giovani Dos Santos love to join in the attack. However, this does mean Mexico is a top-heavy team. Their defence is not the best and all the attacking leaves them isolated. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa might have to replicate his otherworldly 2014 World Cup if Mexico want to advance out of the group.
Star player: Winger Hirving Lozano, PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands)
The 22-year-old is a highly-touted winger who spent last season in the Netherlands with PSV. Lozano had an incredible inaugural season in Europe. He had 19 goals and eight assists for PSV across all competitions last year. Having a season like that has linked Lozano with transfers to some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Lozano’s best quality is his dribbling. He has the ability to unlock any opposition defence with his dribbling. The ball seems to stick to his feet when taking on defenders. The goals for Lozano are great, but having those eight assists shows that he is unselfish. With the talent that Mexico has in the attack, an unselfish Lozano might be the key for the Mexicans.
Biggest question: How much can Rafa Marquez contribute?
Marquez is a seasoned veteran and vital player to Mexico. His leadership and tactical knowledge is what organizes Mexico’s defence. However, he is 39 years old. So Mexico need to use him sparingly. They can not risk overworking Marquez. He likely will not last the full 90 minutes, so maybe Mexico can use him as a sub. If Mexico have a one-goal lead with 15 or 20 minutes left, do not be surprised if Marquez comes on to calm any nerves and close up shop.
Best-case scenario: Mexico finally make it past the round of 16 for the first time since 1986.
South Korea (FIFA ranking: 57)
Overview: Likely the least talented team in the group, there are likely few people who have picked South Korea to advance. The two stars on this team are Tottenham winger Heung-Min Son and Swansea City center midfielder Sung-Yeung Ki. However, what South Korea lack in talent they try to make up for in organization. A defensively-organized team can be difficult to break down. If South Korea can grind out a win and a draw, then that will likely find themselves in the knockout stages for the first time since 2002.
Star player: Winger Heung-Min Son, Tottenham (England)
Son scored 12 goals and had six assists in the Premier League last season. He will need to be just as productive for South Korea if they want to get out of the group stage. Son is a pacey, direct winger. However, what makes Son so good is his willingness to run in behind opposing defenses and his tireless work rate. It will be interesting to see if Son plays as a winger, which is where he plays for Tottenham, or if South Korea deploy him as a striker. Either way, Son is the key to South Korea’s success.
Biggest question: Are South Korea going to be able to out-work their opponents?
South Korea are probably the least talented team in the group. Aside from Son and Ki, they do not have a lot of players in Europe. The Koreans will have to stay disciplined in defense and outwork their opponents in every phase of the game if they want to win. There is no room for mistakes in defence and when South Korea gets a scoring chance, they have to convert. An area of the field that will be key for South Korea is the midfield. Whoever plays there cannot afford to give the ball away. If that happens then South Korea’s stay in Russia will be a short one.
Best-case scenario: The South Koreans reach the knockout stage for the first time since the hosted the World Cup in 2002, however are beaten in the round of 16.
Sweden (FIFA ranking: 24)
Overview: Sweden shocked Italy over two legs in the European playoff to qualify for the tournament. The Swedes have a stout defence led by centerback Victor Lindelof and technically strong midfield with Sebastian Larsson and Emil Forsberg. With the top spot in the group likely going to Germany, Sweden will try to advance by securing second place. However, being strong in defence is only half the battle. Sweden must score goals and use whatever advantage they can.
One advantage that should not be overlooked is how close Sweden is geographically to Russia. This means that the stadiums will likely be filled with Swedes wherever the national team plays. What made Sweden so good in qualification for the World Cup was their home form. If the fans can make it feel like a home game, then that might be enough to help Sweden advance.
Star player: Center midfielder Emil Forsberg, Red Bull Leipzig (Germany)
Emil Forsberg is an up-and-coming player for Sweden and plays the same position for Sweden that he does for Leipzig. He scored five goals and had four assists for Leipzig in all competitions last season. Forsberg is an excellent passer and will be tasked with setting up scoring chances for Swedish strikers. He can even chip in with a goal from a free kick if need be. Forsberg has all the tools to become a world-class midfielder. Those tools will be on show the World Cup, and if he performs, then Forsberg could find himself playing for a bigger team come the start of next season.
Biggest question: With Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired, who scores the goals for Sweden?
Unfortunately for everyone, and especially Sweden, living legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic did not come out of retirement to play for Sweden in the 2018 World Cup. This means Sweden will be relying on Marcus Berg, Ola Toivonen and John Guidetti to score the goals. That is concerning. Berg plays club soccer in Dubai, while Toivonen and Guidetti only scored three goals for their respective teams last season. The three other teams in this group have go-to goal scorers. Someone for Sweden must score goals if they plan to make it out of this group.
Best-case scenario: Sweden squeak into the round of 16 where their run comes to a quick end.
Germany 9 pts
Mexico 4 pts
South Korea 2 pts
Sweden 1 pt