Philly Football Daily will be covering the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia in its entirety, this summer. In the lead-up to kickoff in Moscow, PFD will be releasing previews of all eight groups.
Editor’s Note: Philly Football Daily contributor Diego Sanchez is the author of this Group Preview.
Germany, the four-time reigning World Cup Champions, are back again, and again the Germans rank among the favorites to win the competition. Again, Germany is bringing a team with immense depth, something that is crucial in an international tournament like the World Cup.
In football today, injuries are more common and possible then ever, as the pace of the game and intensity has increased ten-fold over the last few years, and German manager Joachim Low knows that better than anyone.
Although criticized for leaving English Premier League star Leroy Sane out of the side, there are still no shortage of players in the side who are good enough to start on nearly any National Team. Sane combined for 14 goals and 19 assists for Manchester City last campaign.
Players like Arsenal maestro Mesut Ozil, the dynamic Marco Reus, Bavarian hitman Thomas Muller, as well as budding stars Timo Werner and Julian Draxler are some of the best players in the world, and all of them joining in the German attack make Low’s team lethal against any defense that dare stands in its way.
Not to mention, Muller is only a few goals away from breaking the World Cup goals record, so you know this German side will do everything in their power to get the Munich man involved in the attack.
Ozil will create ample space and time, and the Arsenal man will control the tempo of the game with his elusiveness and grandiose vision when passing the football.
Werner is another player who is expected to make an impact for this German side, after his standout showing in the FIFA Confederations Cup, along with Germany’s other young players who were named to the squad, including the highly-rated Leon Goretzka.
Werner is a player who possesses lightning pace along with top-class finishing in front of goal, as it was displayed at the Confederations Cup where he finished top scorer, and all season with RB Leipzig, as he was their main man and top scorer.
In the defensive third, veteran players Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos will anchor the midfield, with the more defensive minded Khedira dropping a little deeper to allow Kroos more freedom to swing the ball around and find key passes between the lines to his attacking players.
Coming off another magnificent season at Real Madrid, Kroos is regarded as arguably one of the best central midfielders in the world, as his simplicity takes care of problems on the field. Linking with Khedira in the midfield will cause problems for every team in the tournament.
On the back end, defenders Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels are expected to pair up in the middle, with Bayern Munich starlet Joshua Kimmich on the right and JonasHector on the left.
It’s the three Munich stars who will anchor this defense, and their size and presence will prove yet again to be almost impenetrable.
FC Barcelona shot-stopper Marc Andre Ter Stegen arguably received the short-end of the stick, as he is coming off his best season yet for the Catalans, proving his doubters that he is a world class keeper.
Last season in La Liga, Ter Stegen had the most clean sheets of any keeper and was nearly perfect all season. However, he will take a back seat to captain Manuel Neuer, who has returned from injury, and has been given the nod by Low to start in the Germans first game against Mexico.
For the first time since the early 2000’s, the Swedish National Team is without Zlatan Ibrahimovic for a major tournament.
Nevertheless, Sweden, with its considerably younger team, finished second to France in Qualifying Group A of Europe, bumping the Netherlands out of the World Cup for the first time in a long time.
Sweden has several players who scored more than three goals in the Qualifying Rounds, so it is still unclear who is going to be the main provider for the team. Sweden is an organized unit, who play free-flowing football.
Emil Forsberg is one of the players who stood out in the Qualifying Rounds, as the attacking midfielder who plays for Leipzig will look to make his mark on the biggest stage.
It looks like it will be Forsberg who pairs with Marcus Berg up top, as the two looked in-sync in the qualifiers, and did most of the offensive damage for the Swedes.
In the back, it will be Victor Lindelof who garners the most attention.
Since his move to Manchester United, “The Ice Man” has looked nothing but rattled since he started playing for the red half of Manchester. Although Lindelof netted a goal in the qualifiers, his performance in defense will be what Jose Mourinho and United fans will be looking at.
Still young, Lindelof has a lot of time to improve, and he’ll definitely want to remind the world of his talent at the competition.
I do not see Sweden making it out of Group F, as the legs of Germany, Mexico and South Korea all look stronger than Sweden at the moment. Swedish fans will hope it will change for their side once the tournament begins with the opening match against South Korea.
I have stressed before how important opening games of World Cups are. Momentum, grit and confidence can sometimes overtake ability, so it is pivotal for Sweden to win that opening match.
El Tri has yet again punched its ticket to a World Cup, and the Mexican National Team continues to dominate CONCACAF.
Qualifying first for yet another campaign, the Mexican National Team is looking as strong as ever. In 2017, the Mexicans delivered an impressive display in the Confederations Cup, scoring a ton of goals and showcasing a harmonious unity in defense and in the midfield.
Merits are due to Hector Herrera and Jonathan Dos Santos, players who have continuously proven themselves to be untouchable in the midfield.
Starting almost every game, Herrera and Dos Santos provide discipline in the middle, and are reliable when passing around teams and keeping possession. Both players have a nose for goal, too, scoring a few in the qualifiers.
Both the FC Porto and LA Galaxy men will be looking to bring some more of the above to Russia, and a considerably tough group.
In the attack, it will be pivotal for the Mexican players to come in and play with desire, because the Mexicans will need be firing at full cylinders if they want to beat Korea, who is an extremely physical and hard working team, Germany, for obvious reasons, and Sweden, who will provide an extra spark at this tournament.
However, with the talent Mexico possesses in young Hirving Lozano, JesusCorona, CarlosVela, GiovaniDos Santos, RaulJimenez, and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, there is no doubting the threat the Mexicans pose going forward.
But it is going to take a lot more than just talent to bag two wins in this group and qualify for the Knockout Rounds.
It’s in defense where Mexico is perhaps most vulnerable, as the Mexicans don’t have any “big names” as their media likes to point out. However, the system Mexico deploy is absolutely perfect for what they are trying to do.
Like Costa Rica, Mexico plays with three central defenders, two wing backs, and two central midfielders in front of the backline, with more freedom of position up front. Sometimes, Mexico elects to play with an attacking mid and two strikers, while at other times rolling out two more wingers and a striker.
Both systems benefit the high press that Mexico constantly applies, and even when the lines are broken, Mexico still has three, four or five defenders, in addition to the two central midfielders, tracking back.
Mexico is a team that is hard to break down, and it takes a really organized and collective team effort or a magical individualistic performance to score against Mexico.
I believe Mexico will be strong in this tournament, and I think the Mexicans have a very sure chance of finishing second in Group F, or even first if they manage to shock Germany.
South Korea has qualified for their ninth consecutive World Cup, as they gear up to travel to Russia.
South Korea has a team brimming with hard working players who compliment a few gifted ones, which is the perfect recipe for another team that will prove difficult to beat in Group F.
Son Heung-min, the jewel of this team, was involved in 20 goals, scoring 18 for his club, Tottenham Hotspur in all competitions last season. Tottenham finished another season of excitement, but with no trophies to show for. Thus Son will surely be hungry to capture silverware at this World Cup.
Playing alongside veteran goal scorer Shin-Wook and emerging talent Seung-Woo, who looked promising in the Asian Qualifiers, Son will look to compliment both players while taking charge in South Korea’s attack.
No, they are not Harry Kane and Dele Alli, but Son still seems to combine in a similar way with his international teammates, so I doubt his performance in Russia will vary too much from special ones he has shown with Spurs.
South Korea typically line up in a 4-5-1 formation, and the Koreans did so throughout the Asian Qualifiers. It is a formation you want to deploy when going up against Mexico’s 5-3-2 formation, as you overcrowd the midfield and disallow their players to spread to the wings, where your wide midfielders will be covering.
South Korea is also a team that thrives on high pressure, due to their abundance of hard working players. It is a team filled with surprises, and I believe that if South Korea shows up and performs, they will find a way to shock everyone and qualify for the Knockout Rounds.
Germany vs Mexico
Germany vs Mexico will be an anticipated rematch of the 2017 Confederations Cup Final.
It seems that, no matter how hard Mexico plays, beating Germany is all but out of the equation. Germany always finds a way to beat the Mexicans, even without their First Team as they showed in the Confederations Cup Final.
So what does Mexico need to do differently? Stayfocused. Stay focused throughout every second of the game.
It seems that Mexico always gets stabbed in the back, due to what appears to be a lack of concentration from one or two players on a set piece, or a break away. Germany, on the other hand, seems to always carry out their job perfectly.
Hector Herrera and Jonathan Dos Santos must be on their toes for 90 minutes to contain the ever-elusive Mesut Ozil, Leon Goretzka and Toni Kroos. Not to mention, with İlkayGündoğan, Sami Khedira, and Timo Werner popping up on occasions.
Germany’s 4-5-1 system is the near-perfect system to overpower a 5-3-2 team, and the Germans know this. And, when you add the individual quality of the German players, it is almost impossible to beat Germany.
I believe Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng won’t have to do too much work defensively, but they will certainly be pressed, and caught on some counters on a few occasions. German center halves must still be at the top of their game.
I have stressed the importance of opening games for all teams, so if Mexico starts this World Cup with a loss to the Germans, games two and three will prove to be must-wins for Mexico.
Because beating the cumbersome Swedes, and the three-lunged South Koreans isn’t a breeze by any means. Mexico is going to have to put on an amazing performance in their World Cup opener.
For this game, I predict Germany winning by either a 2-0 or 3-1 margin.
South Korea vs Sweden
South Korea vs Sweden is going to be a tight game, and in all aspects and areas of the field. Every loose ball will be fought over, every tackle will be felt, and every will be crucial, as well as every mistake.
All groups, including Group F, have three teams that are relatively similar in talent, so having the right attitude and showing the willingness to get stuck in will ultimately determine who will qualify for the Knockout Rounds.
I don’t believe any of these three teams will have enough in them to beat Germany. Maybe Sweden or Mexico will come out with a draw, but I nevertheless see it very difficult to beat this German side.
South Korea and Sweden both have the advantage of facing each other first, so the winner of this game will have the head-to-head advantage, which could prove to be crucial after the final game in the Group Stages.
South Korea is not heavily reliant on its stars, which is good for a team that only has one international superstar.
South Korea attacks and defends well as a unit, which will cause problem for its opposition, because the Koreans always seem to have numbers on both sides of the ball. And, whether it is on a counter, or in build up play, South Korea always sends numbers up, and it’s a big reason South Korea was so effective in the Qualifying Rounds.
Heung-Ming Son is the star man for Korea, and if they can hold up in the back, make no mistake, Son can punish Sweden.
Sweden has a good defensive shape, so we will see how much Emil Forsberg can do picking up the ball in the middle and trying to thread passes to Berg who has enough pace to race past South Korean defenders.
Forsberg is arguably one of the most technical attacking midfielders in the game, and he has proven that with RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga. Now, on the biggest stage, fans and scouts will see how Forsberg performs and reacts against the best of the best.
I believe the winner of South Korea vs Sweden could very well qualify second in Group F, so the stakes are high.