Germany understandably are one of the favourites to win the World Cup and will head to Russia looking to retain the title they clinched in Brazil four years ago. While Germany’s place in the knock-out phase would appear to be a formality, the other qualification spot looks less clear in what looks to be an intriguing Group F. Let’s take a look.
17th June v Germany – Luzhniki stadium, Moscow
23rd June v South Korea – Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
27th June v Sweden – Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg
FIFA Ranking: 15
Mexico will be not only look to progress from the group stages in this tournament but will be looking to reach a World Cup quarter-final, something that they have achieved on just two occasions, both when hosting the tournament. El Tri have been eliminated at the round-of-16 stage in the last six tournaments. Getting to the ‘quinto partido’ (the fifth match) would represent progress but will be challenging. Their coach, Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio has stated recently that “For me, reaching the quarter-final, hopefully the semi-final; that is our objective.”
He is a man under undoubted pressure to achieve this for such a passionate and demanding nation when it comes to football. As Tom Marshall explained: “Osorio’s reign since October 2015 has been punctuated by a rotation policy that has been criticised by pundits and former players.” He is not hugely popular with the fans either and there were calls for him to go during their recent game against Scotland, even though they won the game 1-0. They go into their opening game against the world champions off the back of a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Denmark.
Their 23-man squad contains two Bundesliga players, young defender Carlos Salcedo and midfielder Marco Fabian, both of whom ply their trade for DFB Pokal holders Eintracht Frankfurt. Rafael Marquez will be hoping to appear in his fifth world cup at the age of 39, remarkable not only due to his age but also because of recent allegations by the US Treasury he had links with a drugs trafficking organisation – something he has strenuously denied.
Mexico’s better-known players, Marquez aside, are found in the attacking areas. The Dos Santos brothers have made Osario’s squad, as well as Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela. The man who is tipped to make the biggest impact in Russia however is Hirving Lozano.
Key Player – Hirving Lozano
At just 22 years of age, the tricky winger, known as “Chucky” has already played over 180 career games which includes 28 international caps. He is known for his searing pace and the accuracy of his finishing – he has a better than one goal to every three games in his club career. His performances for Pachuca, for whom he made his debut at just 18 quickly brought him to the attention of European clubs. PSV Eindhoven paid €8 million to take him to the Netherlands, where he finished with an Eredivisie winning medal and was the club’s top scorer with 17 goals in 29 games.
He is a player clearly possessed with a lot of talent, however there is a question mark around the players temperament as Manuel Portillo who works for Televisa explained: “He was sent off twice for reacting when provoked and has found himself involved in other incidents, in which he set about defenders for little provocation, for which he has earned comparisons to a young Luis Suarez.”
Despite this, Portillo added that: “these issues should be ironed out with added maturity.” If Lozano can control his temperament, he can make a big impact this summer, which could earn him a move to a bigger league.
18th June v South Korea – Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
23rd June v Germany – Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
27th June v Mexico – Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg
FIFA Ranking: 24
Sweden go into the World Cup with little expectation to go beyond the last-16 of the tournament. They secured qualification for Russia via the play-offs and by doing so, knocked out 2006 winners Italy. It was the first campaign in which they competed without the legendary Zlatan Ibrahimović, following his retirement after Euro 2016.
His tweet ‘We are Zweden’ following their qualification, clearly irked manager Janne Andersson when asked about the prospect of him Ibrahimović appearing at this summer’s finals: “This is incredible! This player has just stopped to play with Sweden one year and a half ago and we are still here talking about him. Gosh we need to talk about the great players in this team I believe.”
Sweden’s 23-man squad contains three Bundesliga-based players, defender Ludwig Augustinsson who plays for Werder Bremen, midfielder Albin Ekdal from relegated Hamburger SV and star-man Emil Forsberg who is profiled in greater detail below.
In years gone by, Sweden could count upon star attacking players such as Ibrahimović, Freddie Ljungberg and Henrik Larsson. Now that these players have retired, Sweden need to find new ways to achieve success.
Andersson explained that: “We have a philosophy that we are working with the players on and that does not change depending on who we are playing. Basically, we need to prepare well, be well organised and have a bloody good attitude in Russia.”
This familiarity, Sweden will hope, can translate into success on the pitch. The team is settled, as is the 4-4-2 formation that coach Janne Andersson deploys.
Get German Football News’ very own Axel Falk says that: “we’ve fielded a fierce 4-4-2 (Olsen, -Lustig, -Lindelöf, -Granqvist, -Augustinsson, – Claesson, – Exdal, -Larsson, – Forsberg, – Berg, – Toivinen) in our last ten games basically, so it should be that. The defence has worked so well but our attack is a bit mediocre at times, Both Forsberg and Claesson need to be on form for us.”
Viktor Claesson should feel completely at home in Russia as he plays for Russian Premier League side Krasnodar. He operates as a left winger, known for his passing and ability taking set pieces. On the other wing will be Sweden’s star man, Emil Forsberg.
Key Player – Emil Forsberg:
The 26-year-old winger will be very familiar to Bundesliga fans as he stars for RB Leipzig, whom he joined in January 2015 whilst they were in 2. Bundesliga. After helping Leipzig to promotion, he has played an integral part in their recent success, including their first appearance in the Champions League last season.
His performances have led to him being recently linked with Arsenal, although RB sporting director Ralf Rangnick has said that he won’t be leaving: “For me, Emil Forsberg is one of the top performers, so I don’t think for a second Emil could leave the club. You can ask me 10 more times but my answer will always be the same.”
His pace, skill, vision and ability to find space mean that he can operate in any of the forward positions. In relation to his uncanny ability to find space, the player himself explained to Swedish publication, Expressen: “I have not trained for it. This is more instinctive and it comes automatically as I play. You have to look at how to get around defences, then you will find the door, it need not be large.”
Forsberg is a huge component to this Sweden side, and they will be hoping that he can deliver on the biggest stage of all.
18th June v Sweden – Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
23rd June v Mexico – Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
27th June v Germany – Kazan Arena, Kazan
FIFA Ranking: 57
South Korean coach Shin Tae Yong is putting the finishing touches to his side’s preparations as they take part in their 10thWorld Cup finals appearance. It is “the Reds” ninth consecutive appearance in the World Cup finals.
Their best finish in the World Cup came in 2002 when they co-hosted the tournament with Japan, reaching the semi-final stage. Sadly, for South Korea, they have only progressed from the group stage once since that famous run, when they reached the round-of-16 in South Africa in 2010.
In such a tough group, it would be a great achievement to reach the knock out stages this time around. Their cause is not helped by the coach not having settled on a preferred formation.
As Seo Hyung-Wook of Footballist explains: “Shin Tae Yong has been tinkering with the system for the finals. He prefers a fluid back three with two strikers in attack but has struggled to find the players for the roles, leading to an unsettled look for the team.”
The hopes for South Korea will undoubtedly lie with the more familiar names such as Premier league duo Ki Sung-Yeung of Swansea City, who is the captain, and Tottenham’s Son Heung-Ming who played in the Bundesliga prior to his move to North London.
The problem facing the coach is where best to utilise the players.
Seo Hyng-Wook stated that: “the biggest problem is where to play Ki Sung-Yeung. Play him deep, and he can help Korea retain possession but is vulnerable defensively, but push him further up and his passing can create chances.”
Son Heung-Ming enters this tournament off the back of a fantastic season with Tottenham. His energy, awareness, ability to find space as well as his goalscoring ability ensures that he will have to be closely monitored at all times. Another player who has a key role for South Korea is Koo Ja-Cheol who is featured below.
Key Player – Koo Ja-Cheol
The 29-year-old midfielder has played in the Bundesliga since 2011 when VfL Wolfsburg brought him to Germany from Jeju United in his home country. A successful loan spell with Augsburg followed a year later and his goals ensured that the Bavarian club survived in the top flight that season.
In 2014, the player moved to Mainz 05 and after 18 months he returned to Augsburg where he remains contracted until the end of next season. He clearly feels at home in Germany and hope that they, along with his own country prosper in the finals.
He has been quoted as saying in a Bundesliga feature that: “Since Germany is a team who is hoping to win the world cup, I also hope that Germany wins the world cup. I hope South Korea makes it to the quarter-finals or, perhaps even the semi-finals. No matter how far we go, I want to be able to say that we gave everything.”
The 6-foot-tall playmaker has great technique, vision, as well as that priceless ability of putting the ball in the net. In such a tough group, Koo Ja-Cheol with 19 goals for his country, will be one of the players the South Korean fans will be looking to, in the hope that they can make it into the last 16 and possibly beyond. That however looks to be a tough ask.
By Jonathan Shelley.