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5 World Cup Favorites

by Rob Joyce

June 12, 2018 - 2:12 pm

With the U.S. not having qualified for the World Cup, last week we ran through some of the teams for whom you should potentially root, based on your desires. But as fun and easy as it is to root for Iceland (population: 334,000), Mo Salah and Egypt, or any other underdog, they aren’t winning the whole thing. There’s a reason that, since 1970 the 12 tournaments have been won by six countries, all of whom are favorites again in 2018, except for Italy.

Thus, as play in Russia begins on Thursday, here are the five teams likeliest to win the biggest sporting event in the world:

5) Belgium:

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There’s good and bad with this roster. The good news is that Belgium has never had more talent, led by Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, and won nine of 10 qualifying matches, playing to a scoreless draw in the other. The bad news is that recent history in major tournaments has seen disappointment, with a 1-0 loss to Argentina in the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup, followed by a seventh place finish at Euro 2016.

Advancing out of the group stage shouldn’t be difficult for the Belgians, who open with two of the weaker teams in the tournament in Panama and Tunisia. Their final game against England will likely determine the group winner and runner-up. Either way, Belgium has the tools to go all the way.

4) France:

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This could be the beginning of a French domination over the next few years, with the combination of youth and talent this squad boasts. Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann was the top goal scorer in La Liga this past season, and was the Player of the Tournament at Euro 2016, where France finished second. Joining him offensively are mainstays Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba. On the other end, Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris is normally one of the best in the world, despite recent struggles in friendlies against Italy and the U.S.

Within their group, Peru and Denmark are both threats, but one win (plus taking care of business against Australia) should make the knockout round a near-certainty for Les Bleus.

3) Spain:

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The 2010 champions have one final run in them with the old core. Andres Iniesta (34 years old), David Silva (32), Sergio Ramos (32) and Gerard Pique (31) are all either in their final international tournament, or won’t be a major player for Euro 2020 or the 2022 World Cup.

La Roja disappointed at both the 2014 World Cup (didn’t reach the knockout stage) and at Euro 2016 (lost in the Round of 16). That shouldn’t be an issue in Russia, with the only question being whether they finish first or second alongside Portugal. However, a loss to Cristiano Ronald and company in Friday’s opener could put a lot of pressure onto Spain against Iran and Morocco.

2) Brazil:

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The five-time winners have some unfinished business from four years ago, when a Neymar-less squad was horribly embarrassed on its home turf in a 7-1 disaster against Germany in the semifinals. The 2018 edition heads to Russia as strong up front as anyone in the world, with Neymar, Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho and Man City’s Gabriel Jesus. Real Madrid’s Casemiro is the glue in the midfield, and Marcelo is a thrilling left back, even if he’s too risk-prone.

The creativity and talent are both enough to win it all. If they win Group E, it would likely set the course for a potential final against…

1) Germany:

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The defending champions have a difficult group, with Mexico, Sweden and South Korea, but by no means should it stop them from advancing. Gone are old mainstays Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose, among a few others. Stepping in is a flurry of players, led by Bayern Munich’s duo of Thomas Müller and Sandro Wagner, who combined for 10 goals in qualifying. Not to mention, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is on the short list for best of all-time status.

The Germans won the 2017 Confederations Cup with mostly reserves, proving that not only are they talented, they are deep, which could be the difference as Germany looks to become the third team ever to repeat. At the very least, expect them to at least reach the semis, which they’ve done at every major tournament since 2006.