The 2016 Euro and the Copa America Centenario featured some big surprises. The 2018 World Cup is still a couple years away, but we’re seeing definite trends emerge in the soccer world. Brazil hasn’t looked like a dominant squad in years; Spain aren’t the world-beaters they once were; meanwhile, tiny nations like Wales and Iceland are proving they can be competitive on the biggest stages.
For the two best players in the world, those tournaments could not have ended more disparately. Lionel Messi shed tears and then promptly retired from the international team following Argentina’s loss to Chile in the Copa finale; Cristiano Ronaldo, on the other hand, saw his Portugal team hoist the Euro trophy even though he was forced from the championship game with an injury.
Given all of the above, the most predictable thing about Russia 2018 at this point is that it is sure to be an unpredictable affair!
But let’s take a look at the current odds and scrutinize a few of the favorites.
After seeing Germany get eliminated by France in the Euro 2016 semifinals, you get the feeling the Germans missed a tremendous opportunity. They outplayed the French during the entire game, but two critical mistakes on defense stopped them from getting to the final.
The core of the team will be the same two years from now, and there is a good chance Thomas Muller won’t show the same mediocre (at best) form he showed at the Euro. Marco Reus should be back in top form, as well. The reigning World Cup champs really missed his creativeness and playmaking abilities in the Euro.
While it’s clear that Germany are no longer head and shoulders above their rivals, they still have the best team on paper when fully healthy and boast a ton of chemistry and experience. They’re deserving favorites.
Will Lionel Messi ever win anything wearing the Argentina jersey? He has now lost four finals, including two Copa America finals in the last two years and the World Cup final in 2014. The pressure on Messi appeared to be too much following this year’s setback to Chile in the Copa title game. He declared his retirement from the Argentinean national team, but no one is actually expecting him to stay retired. Expect him back in the next few months, and expect Argentina to be the class of South America when 2018 rolls around. (Messi will be 31 years old at that time.)
France were deserving Euro favorites, but that was only because they were playing on home soil. The team didn’t really look dominant, except in a 5-2 stomping of Iceland in the quarters. That said, the young core acquitted itself nicely and, with two more years to grow, France should be a force come 2018. Look for Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet to emerge as the squad’s bona fide leaders in World Cup qualification.
After dominating the soccer world from 2008 to 2012, Spain need to regroup. They were eliminated in the Group Stage at the 2014 World Cup and were thoroughly outplayed by Italy in the Round of 16 at the 2016 Euro. In reality, the team has lost too many players from its once dominant roster and don’t have the youngsters to replace them. They’ll be contenders in 2018, but with the likes of Andres Iniesta now getting on in age, too – he’ll be 34 in 2018 – Spain could be on the decline.
Brazil is still trying to rebuild after getting crushed by Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals. Like Spain, the Selecao aren’t the force they once were. The good news for Brazil is that Neymar should be in his prime when the next World Cup rolls around. The bad news is that they have massive issues in midfield and on defense, and no firm plans to fix them. New manager Dunga, who was supposed to turn the team into a more defensively responsible unit, hasn’t been able to successfully implement his plans in two years at the helm. There’s not much reason to think another couple years will do the trick.
(Photo Credit: Fanny Schertzer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)
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