By Lucien Betancourt
After four years, it is finally that time again. 32 of the best football countries from around the world will participate in the prestigious World Cup. This year, the Cup will take place in Qatar from November 21st to December 18th, with the tournament kicking off with a match between Ecuador and Qatar. The 32 teams are split into eight groups, but there are three groups that you really have to watch. Let’s talk about them.
First up, Group B, the group where the United States will make their return to the Cup. They’ll be facing off against England, Iran, and Wales. In this group, there is one clear favorite, and that is England. Even though they are possibly in their worst form in history, they will pull through and top this group, since the other three teams are not close to challenging them. That leaves only one spot left for the knockout rounds. Iran has a solid team, with lots of star players such as Azmoun, Taremi, and Jahanbakhsh. Although their chances are slim, they can play the role of a potential spoiler to an undefeated England run. The United States are a middle of the road team. They have good players, many of whom start for European club teams,but they’re held back by one of the worst national team coaches. It will take a lot of luck for the US to make it through. Wales are the favorites to finish second, being the only other European team and having world-class players in many positions, especially international star Gareth Bale. The group will be close but it should be England and Wales going to the Round of 16 and the USA in third, with Iran in last.
Next, the host country’s group: Group A. This group features football powerhouses Netherlands and Senegal and solid squad Ecuador alongside Qatar. Qatar’s team isn’t that impressive but being at home and participating in five major international tournaments in the last two years has improved the team massively and prepared them for this level of play. Still Senegal and Netherlands should top this group. Senegal have one of the best teams in the tournament, with a solid level of talent and coaching, and are this tournament’s dark horse to win it all. Netherlands are one of the favorites to win the group, though, as their star power and recent international record make them arguably the best team in Europe right now. Ecuador is a middle of the road team, kind of like the US. They won’t be enough to seriously challenge Senegal and Netherlands for the knockout rounds but they could make the battle for second place interesting.
Last is the Group of Death, this description changes to fit the group with the most consistent level of solid talent. This time around, that title has to belong to Group F, composed of Belgium, Canada, Croatia, and Morocco. None of these teams are real powerhouses, but are good enough to form a truly unpredictable group. Belgium still has some of their team (including stars like De Bruyne and Lukaku) from the last tournament, but have reloaded with new talents like De Ketelaere. However, their defense often lets them down, and most of the returning players aren’t consistently playing well. They will be in big trouble since they are in a group with other teams with nuclear attacks, but their head coach, Roberto Martinez, could pull a rabbit from a hat and make it through the group. It will be tough, but certainly possible. Canada is the weakest of the 4 teams, having a young and inexperienced team, but with a few stars and an elite attack, they have the potential to do real damage against these underpowered teams. Next is Croatia, who are the defending runner-ups of the Cup. They are the best in this group, boasting several star players and a well-balanced defense and attack alike. They are capable of beating any team in this group, and probably will do so– not to mention their potential to win the whole tournament. Next is one of the most underrated teams this year: Morocco. They did really poorly in 2018, finishing last in an even tougher group. This time, they should have it slightly easier and have improved to boot, so they should do better. They have done well with their new coach, Walid Regragui, and have a good blend of attack and defense. If they play their cards right, they could sneak into the knockout rounds. But I predict that Croatia will win this group, and Belgium will barely edge out Morocco for second place, eliminating them and Canada.
Now, let’s talk about the favorites to win the whole Cup. As previously mentioned, Netherlands are favorites to win, being the only team in Europe in top form, and Germany match their level of star power. France are obvious favorites as defending champions, boasting star players like Mbappe, and Benzema, all who are fit with the rest of the squad and arrive to this Cup in good form. Portugal are also pretty good, and they’ve still got Ronaldo, but aren’t as good on defense as the other teams. Spain, on the other hand, are strong defensively but lack offensive firepower, and Argentina are a well rounded and experienced team. However, one team stands above the rest as the superior team, and the clear favorites to win the tournament. And that team is…
Brazil. Here’s why.
In my last article, I discussed five key points that are needed to win the World Cup: coaching, team chemistry, home field advantage, player versatility, and a balance of youth and experience. Brazil checks a lot of those boxes.
Brazil’s head coach since 2016 has been Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, also known as “Tite.” He hasn’t been the greatest coach recently, but he has done pretty well with such a limited squad and is rapidly improving due to the new tactics he’s developed.
As for team chemistry, the Brazilian national team is a mess of players playing domestically or in Europe. However, most of the players play in England or Spain, and thus play against each other regularly. Looking at their last games before the tournament, the team has worked pretty well together recently, and everyone looks like they are on the same page. This was an issue in 2018, where the national team was a complete mess, with many of the players acting very selfish.
On the talent front, Brazil have improved massively since 2018, with a good all-around team and decent goalkeeper. On defense, they are much better, but still lack a lot of help on the wings. In midfield, Brazil have many options that all offer speed and capabilities both on the attack and defense. Finally, they have a solid front led by arguably the best best player in the world right now, Neymar.
On the matter of youth vs. experience, Brazil has a bit of both, with a 38 year-old captain and leaders in the lineup, but half of their team is at or below the age of 25. This team has a perfect blend of young players that have played at least some international football and veterans who have played in multiple tournaments. Their present and future are in safe hands.
Lastly, home field advantage. Brazil is 7,500 miles from Qatar, which poses a big problem for fans traveling. That said, since Brazil is south of the equator, their summer break is during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter break, November through January. Brazil can count on many of their fans traveling during this casual season to support their team, and this will provide a huge morale boost for the national team.
As things currently look, Brazil seems to be the team most capable of going all the way. While they aren’t the best in all of these categories, they have little to no weaknesses, and have the ability to exploit other teams weaknesses. Still, only time will tell if they can win it all, or if they will fall apart, opening the door for another squad.