Rus­sia 2018 pow­erlist

Champions top the 23 qual­i­fiers

The Guardian - Sport - - Football World Cup -

Coach Joachim Löw has a glit­ter­ing ca­reer ahead at just 21, and the in-form Isco, who scored twice against the Ital­ians, has been given room to ex­press him­self by Julen Lopetegui. Spain have emerged from their rough pe­riod to look a ma­jor force once again. Silva and An­dré Silva to per­form on the high­est stage, and whether Cris­tiano Ron­aldo – who will be 33 when Rus­sia 2018 comes around – can han­dle a game ev­ery three or four days for, po­ten­tially, a month. Should San­tos suc­ceed then Por­tu­gal ought to be more fluid than the team that did not win too many friends in tak­ing the Euro­pean ti­tle.

There is a strut to Poland un­der Adam Nawalka and they fit neatly into any “dark horse” as­sess­ment – not least be­cause the world’s sixth-ranked side will be one of the eight seeded teams in Rus­sia. That is al­most en­tirely down to their out­stand­ing form dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing, marred only by a puz­zling 4-0 de­feat in Den­mark. Goals are not usu­ally a prob­lem and es­pe­cially not for Robert Le­wandowski, who scored 16 of their 28 in Group E. They are fast and as­sertive at their best but the worry would be that, as seemed to be the case at Euro 2016, Le­wandowski may try to do too much and blunt his own ef­fec­tive­ness in the penalty area.

Coach Juan Car­los Oso­rio

The ur­bane Juan Car­los Oso­rio may not be uni­ver­sally pop­u­lar in Mex­ico but his team barely had to break sweat in a poor qual­i­fy­ing group, an ir­rel­e­vant (to them) late de­feat away to Hon­duras notwith­stand­ing. The Colom­bian Oso­rio has been crit­i­cised for his ro­ta­tion of play­ers, among other things, but play with clar­ity and, with Car­los Vela and Javier Hernán­dez, pic­tured, both in their prime, carry a se­ri­ous threat. It is still hard to see them mus­ter­ing a per­for­mance that can over­throw one or more of the favourites, though.

Nige­ria have started to get their house in or­der and there is dis­tinct op­ti­mism around a gen­er­a­tion of play­ers that looks their best hope of a last-eight spot in some years. Vic­tor Moses, Wil­fred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheana­cho and Alex Iwobi add Pre­mier League qual­ity and the coach, the Ger­man Ger­not Rohr, has moulded a bal­anced and or­gan­ised side that can be lethal on the coun­ter­at­tack and maybe, after a se­ries of non­de­script World Cup ap­pear­ances, Nige­ria are now equipped for some­thing more.

The one guar­an­tee with Uruguay is that they will al­ways hang in there and sec­ond place in the South Amer­i­can qual­i­fiers was a pleas­ant tonic after a run of three con­sec­u­tive de­feats ei­ther side of Christ­mas. Luis Suárez and Edin­son Ca­vani al­ways give you a de­cent chance and they have an ex­cep­tional mid­field tal­ent com­ing through be­hind them in Fed­erico Valverde. They fin­ished up in good form with a 4-2 win over Bo­livia al­though, with 20 goals con­ceded, Ós­car Tabárez, pic­tured, may be con­cerned that some of their time-hon­oured so­lid­ity needs re­cap­tur­ing.

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