Fools, they say, rush in where angels fear to tread. Let me be that fool today. As the 32-team FIFA World Cup gets ready for kick-off on Thursday, 14 June, here are my choices for the eight teams that will make it to the quarter-finals of this edition.
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The golden generation. It’s a term often used to describe the current French team. And don’t be mistaken, they’re not the country’s first, with the likes of Zidane, Veira and Thuram leading France to glory in 1998. And this year, it could be the same.
They have a truly terrifying and young team with the Barcelona-Real Madrid pairing of Umtiti and Varane at the back, United and Chelsea’s Pogba and Kante in the middle and Griezzman and Paris’ Mpabbe up front. They are bursting with options all over the pitch with the likes of Thomas Lemar, Dmitri Payet likely to sit out despite being truly brilliant. Many young players, such as fullbacks Pavard and Mendy, will be looking to prove their worth. A viewer’s dream, a coach’s headache.
- Star: Antoinne Griezzman
- Player to watch: Benjamin Pavard
- Fun Fact: The French XI has an average age of only 25!
Despite reaching the finals in 2014, Argentina required a Messi miracle to scrape through qualification. However, they are a thoroughly sound team. They have Ever Banega to man the midfield alongside Mascherano, and they’ll enjoy the creative spark of Messi and Di Maria.
However, Coach Jorge Sampaoli will have a problem up front with the likes of Messi, Man City’s Aguero and Juventus’ strike pair of Dybala and Higuan. While Messi is undroppable, each of the other three also seem too precious not to play. My suggestion, play a front three with Messi and Dybala playing on the wings with either Aguero or Higuan leading the line. Despite a problem of plenty up front, Argentina’s defence can look shaky at times with Otamendi the only truly world class defender in their ranks.
- Star: Lionel Messi
- One to Watch: Paulo Dybala
- Fun Fact: Despite coming third in their group in qualifying rounds, Argentina tied with rock bottom Venezuela for goals, as they both scored only 19 goals in 18 matches.
Adding England to this list was always going to be tricky. On paper, they easily look like one of the top 5 teams, but a mixture of previous failure and inexperience has already made English fans give up. But not me. While I agree that inexperience is an issue, I feel that it is made up in the form of great friendships and bonds in the team like the Tottenham pair of Alli and Kane , United’s Rashford and Lingard and City’s Stones and Walker.
Their team is supremely talented and the likes of Stones and Walker at the back, Henderson and Alli in the middle as well as Kane up front will be a hard team to beat so this year, expect them to cause a major upset instead of being on the receiving end of one. Moreover, their pace on the flanks in the form of Trippier and Rose, as well as great options like Vardy and Lingard off the bench, will split teams and stretch defences like never before.
- Star: Harry Kane
- One to watch: Raheem Sterling
- Fun Fact: In their likely starting XI, England have only 11 years of combined experience of playing abroad – all 11 coming from Eric Dier’s years in Sporting Lisbon
Looking at the Belgium team line up, it looks like a Premeir League all-star team that Lukaku so wanted, with the Manchester United man lining up with premier league giants like Chelsea winger Eden Hazard, Man City assist man Kevin De Bruyne, and Chelsea Goalie Thibaut Courtois.
Their defence has a spurs duo, Jan Vetronghen and Toby Alderweireld, along with Man City captain Vincent Kompany to hold the back line and they are equipped with a perfect defensive midfielder in the form of Mousa Dembele. A ridiculous team that has superstars in every corner, Belgium will give opponents many sleepless nights and will be a tough team to crack.
- Star: Kevin De Bruyne
- One to Watch: Dries Mertens
- Fun Fact: In this team, only two of the likely XI play outside of England.
As Germany lifted the World Cup in 2014, many though that it had reached the pinnacle of its success. However, four years later, pundits are still lauding Germany with a second string team that could rival any other teams’ first eleven. While the core players from 2014 remain the same, there are some wonderful additions in the form of right back Kimmich, pacy winger Brandt and striker Timo Werner.
They will be the perfect blend of experience and youth as Ozil and Kroos man the midfield, Boateng and Hummels handle things at the back, Nuer to take care between the sticks and players like Rues, Werner and Mueller handle things up front. As always, expect the Germans to be the most hardworking on the pitch with the creative spark plenty.
- Star: Toni Kroos
- One to Watch: Joshua Kimmich
- Fun Fact: At the club level, a little under half of the team, that is 5 players, play for one German giant – Bayern Munich.
At the Euro in 2016, no one expected Portugal to reach the final, forget beating a supremely talented French squad. However, after their gritty performance, they needed to be heard.
Though they are drawn in a tough group with Spain, do not be surprised if they go far in this tournament with the experience of Pepe at the back, Moutinho in mid-field, and AC Milan’s Andre Silva and the giant Cristiano Ronaldo up front. Even if they do not go far, they will be creative and exciting nonetheless with Ronaldo’s skills, Quaresma’s trivelas and Pepe’s antics. Sure to be a fun show.
- Star: Cristiano Ronaldo
- One to Watch: Ricardo Pereira
- Fun Fact: The likelihood of Portugal winning Euro 2016 was initially little, with standard odds being 20/1!
Over the past decade, Spain have won three of the six tournaments they have taken part in. While their two European Cups and a World Cup was a while ago, they have never stopped producing stars and remain at the highest level of the game. Much like Germany, Spain have picked plenty from the fountain of youth, while soaking themselves with experience.
With David de Gea in goal, they can expect minimal mistakes. In midfield, we have the fantastic trio of Silva, Isco and Iniesta – who ages like fine wine. And to bang in the goals, we have Costa and Aspas – both forwards in form. The only problem will be that Pique and Ramos have lost their pace and they work in their systems in Barcelona and Real Madrid as they are accompanied by a pacy centre back. Without one, opponents will look to exploit them through the middle.
- Star: Andres Iniesta
- One to Watch: Isco
- Fun Fact: Of the likely XI, seven players either play in Barcelona or Real Madrid.
The only team to reach the world cup every time. The only team to win it five times. The only team to lose by a six-goal deficit in a semi-final. These are just a few of the tags Brazil carries. Despite winning the Olympic gold, Brazil will be looking to avenge their hometown embarrassment and with their kind of team, expect them to be able to do it.
Their experienced back line with the likes of Silva, Miranda and Marcelo will be supplemented with possibly the most in-demand goalkeeper in the world right now, Alisson. They will have a tireless midfield with the likes of Casemiro and Paulinho. Their front three will be terrifying with wingers like Barcelona’s Coutinho and their former employee Neymar along with Man City’s predator, Gabriel Jesus. Together, they have cost their respective clubs a whopping $590 million dollars.
Expect them to go far and feature heavily in the top 10 goals of the tournament. The only niggling concern will be an injury to right back Alves as Coach Tite will have to look for a suitable replacement.
- Star: Neymar
- One to Watch: Gabriel Jesus
- Fun Fact: The Brazil XI is extremely diverse with its players playing in up to five different leagues.
(The author is a school student who follows football, when he’s not finishing his homework. On a side note, he also answers to the name ‘Pele’ after his mother nicknamed him that for troubling her a bit much from the womb.)
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