These previews will be as free from well-trodden ‘narratives’ as is possible. There are a plethora of other ones out there – some well-informed, some… not so much. I have opted for brevity over bells and whistles, but I still think they provide a fresh take on the most highly anticipated tournament.
Head Coach: Joachim Löw
Odds to Win: 5-1
Tactics & Players to Watch: With Manuel Neuer behind them, the entire back four push up to compress the space in front of them. Both centre backs are very good on the ball, so they have every confidence in passing between each other and the double pivot in midfield. Joshua Kimmich is very similar in style to legend Philip Lahm but with a greater propensity to shoot. Thomas Müller will do as he always has for Germany, making intelligent runs from wide into the area to finish off chances created by his teammates and he will be ably assisted by Kimmich. Toni Kroos and Mesut Özil will hog possession and look for the direct running and pace of Timo Werner to play him through the defence. He stays on the shoulder of the last defender and is a different kind of threat to what they have had in recent tournaments.
Prediction: Collectively, they have less experience than the winning side of 2014 but look ominously strong across the board. Their ambition is to retain the World Cup, which would be no mean feat, given the quality of opposition this time around. There might be an issue if either Kimmich or Sami Khedira are unavailable in the latter stages, as there are no obvious replacements for their roles. I think they’ll reach the semi-final stage and bow out there, winning third place.
Head Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio
Odds to Win: 80-1
Tactics & Players to Watch: Probably a one-of-a-kind formation at the finals, the 3-1-3-3 will see the wider centre backs split and play long balls down the flanks to the wingers. Captain Andrés Guardado will sit in front of the defence and spray balls forward to Marco Fabián. He will use his positioning and playmaking skills to ensure that Javier Hernández isn’t isolated up top. On the right, Hirving Lozano is a very exciting prospect. He should take some of the burden away from the ‘Little Pea’ and conjure up something on his own to help Mexico.
Prediction: Osorio is deeply disliked by El Tri supporters. They also have a real battle on their hands to maintain their consecutive record of qualifying for the last 16. Germany are everyone’s favourites to top the group with ease, so it’s imperative they beat Sweden in the likely decider. I honestly don’t see them doing that against a side that bested Italy to make it to Russia 2018, which would constitute a dismal failure.
Head Coach: Janne Andersson
Odds to Win: 150-1
Tactics & Players to Watch: Conservatively set up, the first and second considerations will be to keep their shape (two banks of four) and not concede, respectively. The full-backs will push up, whilst the wide midfielders will tuck inside. Emil Forsberg will operate in a similar role to that with his club RB Leipzig. He’s the one player in the XI really capable of creating something and shooting from distance. In defence, Viktor Lindelof, having endured a torrid season with Manchester United, will need to put that behind him and show his class and covering ability.
Prediction: I believe they’ll be able to shut out both Korea Republic and Mexico, which will stand them in great stead to be runners-up in the group. Germany will be a different matter entirely, but passage to the last 16 will be something akin to success for this group, reliant as they are on Forsberg, Seb Larsson’s set pieces and on shutting down attacks in mid-block.
Head Coach: Shin Tae-yong
Odds to Win: 500-1
Tactics & Players to Watch: The wide midfielders will tuck inside, allowing both full-backs, especially one-time Bundesliga player Park Joo-ho, to bomb forwards. When pressing, the shape will look more like a 4-3-3, with Ki Seung-yeung’s central midfield partner joining the attack. Hwang Hee-chan has had a decent campaign for RB Salzburg in Austria; he needs to take some of the inevitable flak away from Son Heung-min, Korea Republic’s only elite player on paper. Ki will be an avenue for goals from dead balls. A quick, tidy, technical side, they will need Son to be on top form to carve out chances in open play.
Prediction: As much as I’d like to see them make it out of the group, I can’t foresee a method for them. Germany will likely captialise on a mediocre defence whilst thwarting Son. A similar story could be told in the Sweden game, unless someone else can take up the cudgels. There may more space to work with in the Mexico encounter. Win that crucial second game and they might stand a chance of escaping if Die Mannschaft are already assured of first and choose to rest some of their personnel.