There is always a little bit of magic in the air every four years when the World Cup rolls around. This year, thousands of crazed fans will alter their lives in order to travel to the middle of Russia for roughly a month, just for this event.
It’s The Cup, where some of the brightest stars shine, and other aging talents fail to produce anything.
So the question always becomes, who has a shot at emerging victorious?
Five favorites and a dark horse
Of the 32 teams in the competition, there are essentially five favorites and a dark horse. That might be a little bit of a surprise to many. Out of these teams, I’ll make a compelling case that the Germans will emerge as champions again this summer.
While they are firmly above the rest of the competition, the four other favorites are, in the following order: France, Brazil, Argentina, and Spain. My dark horse to win the whole tournament is surprisingly, of all countries, Senegal.
This Senegal squad may be somewhat reminiscent of the Ghanaian team from the 2010 World Cup.
The squad has the player quality in key positions. Sadio Mane will, of course, be the talisman of the team. If he does not perform, Senegal does not have a chance. He does seem up for the task, however, with a goal and another shot that rattled off the post in the Champions League final this year against a quality Real Madrid Defense.
On the other wing, Monaco’s Balde Keita will also wreak havoc. The midfielder will have this freedom because of the solid defensive and physical capabilities of West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate and Everton’s Idrissa Gueye. There will be very little that can break through that pair, and what does will have to meet Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Hanover’s Salif Sane, who both are coming off stellar seasons.
They are also fortunate to be in a group with no real favorites, so they could very well win the group. If that were the case, they would play either Belgium or England in the round of 16, both of whom seem beatable. England, because they always seem to underperform and lack a distinct style, and Belgium, because they seem to be unable to use their talent to their full potential, as seen by their defeat to Wales in 2016.
If Senegal were to win this, they would likely play the tournament favorites, Germany. If they somehow pull off a Leicester City-esque miracle, and beat the current World Champions, they have a very high chance of winning it all. Senegal is facing, of course, very long odds, but they are the dark horse. Now, onto the real favorites, Die Mannschaft.
These are just the predictions of an unbiased American, who has football (or soccer as we call it on our side of The Pond) ingrained in his brain. I have been playing since I could stand and watching intently for as long as I can remember.
So it is safe to say that each of these selections is backed with quantitative and qualitative evidence, with little-to-no bias.
Senegal aside, Germany is the best
Regardless, there is one reason why Germany should come out victorious this summer – they are simply the best at the sport currently.
Many believe that it is almost impossible to repeat as champions of the World Cup. This is because there have only been two repeat winners of the World Cup: Italy, and, the most recent was a Brazil squad that included Pele, in 1958 and 1962.
So why will this almost 60-year streak be broken?
The Germans. The 2017 Confederations Cup champions have several players coming off club seasons in top form, including Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich, and Toni Kroos.
These Germans also have the advantage of the cup being held in venues in (or close to) Europe. Knowing this, the only time a non-European team won the Cup in Europe was when Pele led Brazil in Sweden in 1958. On the other hand, of the eight World Cups held in the Americas, only one European Champion has emerged … the Germans in 2014.
The similarities are evident, because if a team is able to win on another continent, then surely they are talented enough to win again, closer to home, four measly years later.
This team has lost key players such as Miroslav Klose, Philipp Lahm, and Bastian Schweinsteiger to retirement. But the loss of these players has not stopped the Germans from retaking and holding the number one sports power index ranking.
This is due to the class that replaced these retiring players, such as previously mentioned Joshua Kimmich. The current German Player of the Year seems to have done a very nice job replacing the former captain. He is also coming off an incredible season, acting as one of the most productive defenders in the world, with six goals and 13 assists. The 23-year-old is – and will be – a solid option at the back for years to come.
Up top, there is an enormous, Miroslav Klose-sized hole to fill. The top scorer is not easy to replace, but the Germans don’t need to: Having Thomas Müller and Marco Reus on the wings relieves the striker from being relied on for most of Germany’s goals.
This opinion is shared by my informed friends, who tend to believe that Müller will continue his habit of scoring in big tournaments and overtake Klose as top scorer in competition history.
I’ll let the stats do the talking
Because all of this analysis may be difficult to process, I will leave you with two statistics that make my case for me.
• The first being that Germany is ranked first in the world by the sports power index, and no one questions they are a talented side.
• The second is their record in World Cup qualifying, 10-0-0. Ten wins, zero draws, zero losses.
The only other time a team has accomplished that goal in world cup qualifying was Spain leading up to 2010, and we all know what happened then ….
About the author:
W. Thomas (Tommy) Halbleib III is a long-time football fan who plays for Kentucky Country Day School in Louisville, Ky.
Tommy has played football since elementary school and is a student of the game. He’s in Belgium this summer for a study abroad program in Brussels … and he’ll be following closely the action on the pitch.