There are no clear-cut “groups of death” in this edition of the greatest show on Earth, and this is exactly the way FIFA wants it. For once, we can all congratulate FIFA for doing something positive for the game. (Too soon?)
If there is any sort of consensus on the toughest group in the media and among fans, it is Group F with Germany, Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea. Even still, this group is no real head-turner. Group B arguably poses a more evenly distributed wealth of world-class talent.
The big teams in this division are the Iberian giants Spain and current European champions Portugal. Portugal are also ranked third in the FIFA rankings and are a deeper club than they were in Brazil. In a head-to-head comparison, I don’t think Portugal have the defensive quality or organization to best La Roja. While Cristiano Ronaldo and his nation certainly have the offensive firepower to cause real damage, I’m not convinced they can keep the Spaniards at bay.
The Selecao das Quinas probably won’t top the group, but they and their Spanish neighbors got the best draws of any pair of top-10 teams in the entire draw. Group A is easily the weakest bunch of them all, without a team in the top 30. The host nation got an extremely favorable group, and Group A’s collective weakness will pay dividends for Spain and Portugal both.
Elsewhere in Group F, Germany probably aren’t too excited about having to face Mexico, Italy-slayers Sweden, and perhaps even Korea. Mexico are playing their best footbol of the last 4 or 5 years, and are currently ranked 16th overall. Andres Guardado, Ochoa, and Hector Herrera are in their prime, and El Tri’s Colombian manager Juan Carlos Osorio has this Mexican side playing in a 4-3-3 and the formation is playing to their strengths. Mexico drew Belgium 3-3 in a recent friendly, shocking the top-5 Belgian side and the football world.
Contrary to the initial reaction of English fans, the Three Lions actually ended up with a pretty favorable set of opponents. The aforementioned Belgian side are the team standing in the way of England potentially winning that group, with their only other realistic option to finish second and advance nonetheless. However, after England’s recent disappointments and their egregious showings in Brazil and France in 2014 and 2016, respectively, their assumed advancement is by no means a forgone conclusion. That being said, the only time Belgium have defeated England in their all-time 21 meetings was in 1936.
I think this Belgian side are criminally underrated. England supporters are no strangers to the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne or Romelu Lukaku and their lethal potential. They might have the most deep and talented midfield of any side in the world, most of them starters for Europe’s top clubs. Shockingly, they currently have just the sixth best odds to win the World Cup at 12/1.
The odds opened with France as favorites to win it all. Now they sit third at 11/2, behind Brazil and Germany. They are the deepest and most frightening side in the world, and I think some 2014 nostalgia has settled in with the bookies and their decision to move the lines towards Germany over France. I can’t see another logical reason the current German side should be put above Les Bleus. Maybe Mats Hummels? Again, just nostalgia.
In a surprise to virtually no one, Brazil are the current odds-on favorites at 5/1. Not only do they have the team, but the illustrious history and track-record to compel bettors around the world to risk their financial well-being and futures on the canarinho.
An extremely egalitarian group draw should make for an extremely entertaining and competitive group stage. Is it June yet?
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: AJITH KUMAR/CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)