Germany always seem to be among the World Cup favorites and 2018 is no different.
In qualifying, the World Cup holders were typically ruthless, cruising into the finals with a 100% record – 10 wins from 10. A handful of players who started the 2014 final will feature, joined by some hugely impressive youngsters like Leroy Sané and Joshua Kimmich.
Mexico also comfortably won their North, Central America and Caribbean group, losing once. Their expectation will be to get out of the group – which they have done for the past six tournaments – but they haven’t got further since they hosted in 1986.
Sweden will likely be their biggest challengers for second spot. The team lacks stars, particularly following the international retirement of the larger-than-life Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but is disciplined and, after sensationally knocking out Italy in a play-off, won’t fear anyone.
South Korea will be depending on skillful attacker Heung-min Son to perform at his best, but even then it would be a surprise if they reach the knock-out stage.
Check out previews for Group A, Group B, Group C, Group D and Group E.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER?
Leroy Sané (Germany): €154.2m* ($180.6m)
*According to CIES Football Observatory
ONE TO WATCH?
Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
In his first season with Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, Lozano helped his new club win the Eredivisie title with 17 goals and eight assists. Known as ‘Chucky’, the terrifying character from the Child’s Play horror movies because he used to enjoy scaring teammates, Lozano is a winger with electric pace and an eye for goal. Comfortable on either flank, the 22-year-old may be deployed on the left, where he enjoys cutting inside and firing powerful shots at goal. PSV will do everything they can to keep hold of Chucky, but a strong showing for Mexico could bring the biggest clubs calling.
COACH TO KEEP AN EYE ON?
Joachim Löw (Germany)
Involved with the national team since 2004 (first as assistant and then head coach) Löw is tasked with defending the 2014 title. If he is successful, Die Mannschaftwill be just the third team to win consecutive tournaments, joining Italy (1934, 1938) and Brazil (1958, 1962). After a disappointing semi-final defeat in Euro 2016, Löw’s Germany won the 2017 Confederations Cup with an experimental squad. Then, after their easy qualifying, Löw was handed an extended contract until 2022 last month. He has faced pressure before, but with expectations high and perhaps the strongest squad in the tournament, Löw must deliver once more.
All quite chummy between four of the world’s largest economies. Germany and Mexico have been friends for a while and have made even more effort since the election of US President Donald Trump. The relationship has come a long way since 1917, when at the height of World War I, Germany tried to entice Mexico into the conflict by offering to return Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, via the Zimmermann Telegram.
Adidas have come up with two inventive kits for Mexico’s campaign. The home shirt is a smart dark green with flashes of lighter green, while the away jersey also has a retro look with horizontal stripes representing the green, white and red of Mexico’s flag on a white background.
MATCH ADVERTISERS WILL BE SCRAMBLING FOR?
Germany’s matches against Mexico (June 17) and Sweden (June 23) stand out, but the most exciting could be the third and final round of group matches. On June 27 Mexico play Sweden in what could be a straight shootout for second place.
WORLD CUP NERDS ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO…
Mexican defender Rafael Márquez becoming just the fourth man to feature at five World Cups. The 39-year-old is without a club but was named in Mexico’s preliminary squad and, if selected, will join countryman Antonio Carbajal, Germany’s Lothar Matthäus and Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon in the record books. He could also become the first man to captain his country at five World Cups and almost certainly the first man to captain his country at the World Cup after being accused of having links to drug trafficking. Márquez denied any involvement.
Italians to still watch the World Cup. Sweden knocking Italy out in a qualifying play-off broke the nation’s heart but plenty will still tune in even without the Azzurri to cheer on.
The team that finishes second to go too far (unless it’s Germany). They will play the winners of Group E, likely to be Brazil.
WILL ANY OF THEM WIN IT?
The Germans are joint tournament favorites for good reason. They have squad depth other teams can only dream of and an experienced coach to lead them. The first 11 will have a heavy Bayern Munich influence, including perhaps the tournament’s best centre-back partnership in Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels. In attack, there will be an expectation on Thomas Müller to score but, with 10 goals in his first two World Cups, that shouldn’t be a problem.