It is unlikely that Germany could have asked for a better group in the 2018 World Cup. The top-rated team in the FIFA World Rankings and reigning World Champions will be red-hot favourites to stroll past their opponents in Group F: Sweden, Mexico, and South Korea.
Beyond the group stage, it is a bit more difficult to gauge how Joachim Low’s side will get on in Russia as ties against England and Brazil are realistic possibilities depending on how those teams get on in their respective groups.
In truth, this is a German team in transition since becoming world champions in 2014. Toni Kroos and Manuel Neuer remain, while Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, and Miroslav Klose have all departed since 2014. In their place come exciting young talents such as Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Timo Werner; who scored 23 goals for RB Leipzig last season.
There are also some notable absentees from the German squad, the most significant of whom being Leroy Sané.
The Germans’ transitional status is there to be seen in their turbulent fortunes since galloping through qualifying. While they picked up maximum points to get to the World Cup, they have picked up just one win since then. In the other five games since qualifying, Germany have lost twice (Austria and Brazil), and drawn thrice (Spain, France, and England).
Despite their recent hiccup, Germany will still be likely to romp through what looks like a straightforward group.
Mexico are likely to be Germany’s closest competitors. The Central Americans finished top of their group in qualifying with 21 points, with their only defeat coming against Honduras after they had already qualified. Along the way, they picked up six wins and three draws.
Since then, ‘El Tri’ have had mixed fortunes. They pulled off a 3-3 draw against one of the tournament favourites Belgium, while also beating Poland, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Iceland, and Scotland.
On the other hand, Mexico most recently lost to Denmark and previously lost to Croatia. Goals have also been at a premium for Mexico recently, with only five goals scored in the six games that ‘El Tri’ have played so far this year. It is no surprise, therefore, that their top scorer during qualifying was Hirving Lozano who scored just three goals.
What this indicates is that their rearguard will be key in Russia as they have conceded just three goals from six games so far this year.
Sweden, meanwhile, have not had a good time of things since qualifying. Swedish footballing icon, and former striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s exploits in the press have distracted from their poor form since making it to the World Cup via an impressive victory over Italy in the play-offs.
In the six games since qualifying, Sweden have managed just the one victory – against Denmark – whilst losing twice (vs Chile and Romania), and drawing three times (vs Denmark, Peru, and Estonia).
Like Mexico, goals have been at a premium. The Swedish have scored just three times in those six games since qualification while conceding four. Their last two games, against Peru and Denmark, have ended 0-0.
That just leaves us with South Korea. The Asian side had a far more successful qualifying than that of Mexico and Sweden, as they won all eight of their games without conceding a goal. On top of that, the South Koreans beat Japan 4-1 in December to win their fourth East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) E-1 Championship.
They have also been the most active since qualification. Including the EAFF Championship, South Korea have played 12 games, nine of which in 2018. They have won five of those 12, losing four and drawing twice.
While those numbers are nothing to be sneezed at, and South Korea are certainly the dark horses of the group, their recent form is a concern having lost two of their last three – including a 2-0 defeat against Senegal in their most recent match in June.
South Korea’s hopes will likely hinge on the performances of Tottenham Hotspur’s Heung-Min Son, who was the Asian side’s top scorer in qualifying with six goals.
Group Standing Predictions:
3. South Korea