World Cup Group F preview – Back to back for Die Mannschaft?

World Cup Group F preview – Back to back for Die Mannschaft?

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Germany start their bid to become just the third nation ever to win consecutive World Cups in a group against Mexico, South Korea and Sweden .

World Cup History

Die Mannschaft won the 2014 World Cup after substitute Mario Gotze – who did not make the squad this term – fired home the only goal in extra time against Argentina. It was their third title, but only their first as a unified country, with their 1954 and 1974 triumphs being achieved as West Germany.

Mexico have never gone further than the quarter-finals, which they reached in 1970 and 1986 – both tournaments where they were the host. They have reached, but not progressed further than, the round of 16 for six consecutive World Cups, dating back to the 1990 iteration that they were banned for – after hosting an ineligible player in the 1988 Olympics. They dramatically bowed out of the 2014 tournament, conceding two goals in the last five minutes against the Netherlands – losing 2-1 in a match marred by Arjen Robben’s infamous stoppage time dive that earned the winning penalty.

South Korea partake in their ninth World Cup and are hoping to proceed out of the group for just the third time. In 2002 – a tournament in which they co-hosted with Japan – they infamously finished fourth as refereeing blunders shrouded the knockout match between South Korea and Italy in controversy. Fourth is comfortably the nation’s highest finish, with the round of 16 not being surpassed otherwise.

Sweden have a somewhat successful record in the World Cup historically, finishing among the top four on four occasions, and most notably second in 1958. But, since their 1994 third place finish, they have qualified just twice –  bowing out in the round of 16 both times. 2006 was their last appearance, after missing out on both South Africa and Brazil.

The Managers

Joachim Low – The decorated 58-year-old is arguably the most successful manager at this tournament – averaging 2.18 points per game since his 2006 appointment. He boasts a record of 108 wins, 29 draws and just 25 losses, along with the 2014 World Cup title. A traditional 4-2-3-1 is Low’s go-to formation, and his utilisation of technical, intelligent players – such as Thomas Muller and Miroslav Klose most notably – as opposed to speedy, skilful names has proved his biggest success tactically, with Klose the highest scoring player in World Cup history (16) and Muller just six behind.

Juan Carlos Osorio – The Colombian has been very successful with Mexico since his 2015 arrival, winning 31 out of the 48 matches he has been at the helm for. ‘The Recreationist’ – his nickname due to eccentric training methods – is a fiery character who has seen the ups of a 22 match unbeaten streak, and also the downs of a six-match touchline ban for insulting officials after Mexico’s fourth placed finish in the Confederations Cup. Mexico often deploys his preferred 4-3-3, which he has also carried through his club career.

Shin Tae-Yong – Some may remember the 47-year-old-  who played a single match for Queensland Roar in 2005 – that leads South Korea into Russia with five wins, six draws and five losses to his name since taking over the role in 2017 during qualifying. He has never coached outside of the Korea though, except for an assistant role at Queensland from 2005-2008. Yong is known for using a double pivoted 4-4-2, and his defensive mindset is likely to be necessary, with the Koreans predicted to be up against the wall in all three group matches.

Janne Andersson – 55-year-old Andersson made the gutsy move to not call upon retired, but keen talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, trusting the players who got Sweden to the finals stage instead. Since his 2015 appointment, he has won 11, while drawing and losing six each. He has had three other managerial jobs, all at clubs sides within Sweden. He also prefers a two-man defensive-midfield 4-4-2.

Will Low further cement his legacy as one of football’s greatest managers?

The Stars

Germany – Thomas Muller

Muller is notorious for being an elite player, without possessing any noticeable elite attributes other than his incredible footballing intelligence. He is best deployed as a shadow striker, or partnering another centre-forward, but he has proved to be useful wide as a No.10 or even as a sole No.9. The 28-year-old’s versatility is also among his best traits, making him the perfect player for any coach to have. He has turned more of a provider than scorer ever since Robert Lewandowski arrived at Bayern, and notched up 16 league assists to complement his eight goals this season in 29 matches. For Germany, he has 38 goals in 91 caps and sits pretty among total World Cup goal scorers, with 10.

Mexico – Hirving Lozano

The PSV starlet, who was heavily-courted by Manchester United last summer, had a stellar season in the Eredivise. Scoring 17 goals and accumulating 11 assists in 29 matches, the 22-year-old recorded was involved in nearly a goal per match, indicating his significance to the side’s championship. He already has 26 Mexico caps, and has seven goals to his name. Many eyes will be watching the electrifying and nimble winger, as his stock will be sure to rise drastically should he perform to expectations.

South Korea – Heung-min Son

No shock here as the Premier League and Tottenham star has proven his ability and become a very accomplished player over the last two seasons. The 25-year-old notched up 12 goals last campaign domestically, as well as four efforts in the Champions League. He displayed his best performances on the left-wing where he was predominately utilised, although he can play on the other side, or through the middle. He is similarly successful for the national team, scoring 21 goals in 67 caps, while also being named in the 2015 Asian Cup Team of the Tournament.

Sweden – Emil Forsberg

The Leipzig playmaker most notably broke out three seasons ago, when he won Bundesliga 2 Player of the Season in Leipzig’s promotion. He also boasts the accolade of being the club’s first ever Champions League goal scorer, and was courted by Liverpool last summer. 2017-18 was not quite his season, (scoring and assisting just two goals respectively) but the campaign prior saw him score eight and assist 22 in the league. For the national team, he has had 35 caps since his 2014 debut – scoring on six occasions.

Is this the tournament we will see Lozano steal the spotlight?

Expectations

Dramatic upsets aside, Germany should breeze through three weaker opposition teams, but the battle for second place is much more of a toss up. All other sides have claim to be the next best, being considered as middle-of-the-road nations – not weak but not strong.

Mexico boast experience as frequent participants on the big stage, as well as captain Rafael Marquez being the only player to feature in five World Cups – should he make an appearance. They also possess the best record of the three lately, and are arguably the strongest squad on paper.

South Korea will bank heavily on the form of Son, but have a very quick, tricky side which could unsettle the more technical opponents. An uninspiring qualification has expectations low, but they have the potential to qualify if they fire on all cylinders.

Sweden have a balanced team but lack flair in abundance. Their conservative players and style has its benefits and hindrances, but in a tournament where conservatism usually reigns supreme, it could work in their favour.

Prediction

  1. Germany
  2. Mexico
  3. Sweden
  4. South Korea

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