The World Cup is getting underway, and we’ve already provided you with a guide to the best matches to watch in the group stage (which includes 48 matches but will be over before we know it!). Looking a little further into the event though, it’s now time to think about which countries have a legitimate shot to win the whole thing.
These are some of the teams you might want to keep a close eye on if you want to have a feel for the nations that will be battling it out in the later stages.
Brazil has always been an obvious pick at World Cup tournaments, but some may hesitate to pick the world’s greatest football country this time around. That’s because the Brazilians were handily thrashed on their own turf in 2014, losing a memorable 7-1 disaster to Germany. This team, however, is different and better. There’s been significant (and beneficial) roster turnover, and as noted by analyst Liam Canning, there’s a sense of ruthlessness that was missing before. Simply put, Brazil has all the talent in the world and a massive chip on its shoulder.
Having said all of that about Brazil, there’s definitely something to be said for the team that won in Rio in 2014 as well. Germany once again looks capable of out-classing the world if it plays to its potential, and still boasts one of the most fluid and effective attacks in Europe. Germany is as good a bet to win as anyone, though its success may ultimately depend on how well young striker Timo Werner carries the torch. Werner is expected to have something of a coming out party, but he’s only 22 years old, so we’ll have to wait and see what he’s got on this kind of stage.
Spain arguably boasts as much talent as Brazil or Germany from back to front and also has the best goalkeeper in the world in David de Gea. This team will be looking to reassert itself as an international juggernaut the likes of which it was for an incredible stretch from 2006 to 2010. The only problem might be that Spain has just replaced its manager, and did so just two days before the Cup started. Perhaps this is something the team is mature enough to overcome, but it’s definitely not an ideal start to a World Cup campaign.
France might be the most interesting team at the 2018 World Cup. Basically, the French have so much talent they might not know what to do with it all. The only sure thing appears to be that 27-year-old midfielder N’Golo Kanté will be asked to engineer things in the middle of the field. Elsewhere, however, we don’t know if Paul Pogba will be his primary midfield partner or if he might come off the bench; we don’t know if veterans like Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann will lead the attack, or if 19-year-old no. 10 Kylian Mbappé will. But make no mistake, if this team clicks, it can go all the way.
Argentina always enters international competitions as a favourite and often comes up just a little bit short in a big moment. But there’s no reason to think this team doesn’t have a chance to win. Lionel Messi still leads one of the most impressive attacks in the world, and if they get into a rhythm, Argentina can simply outpace everyone. It just feels like Messi has a magical World Cup run in him that we haven’t seen yet, and this is probably his last chance. Bet against him at your own peril.
Depending on where you look, Belgium might not be considered a true Cup contender. The five teams listed above are definitely on a sort of tier of their own. However, as one ranking of 12 teams capable of winning it all put it, Belgium can match up with virtually anyone from a pure talent perspective, particularly on offence. This team has a ton of firepower and has been waiting for its moment for a few international cycles now. It isn’t quite the favourite the teams above are, but if Belgium wins this summer it won’t be a major surprise.