Daily Nation Newspaper - - SPORTS FEATURE -

ENG­LAND are pre­par­ing to take on the top two sides in the FIFA rank­ings at Wem­b­ley Ger­many and Brazil - but who do you rate as the best in­ter­na­tional team in the world?

With the 32 teams for next sum­mer's World Cup al­most fi­nalised, we take a closer look at the five favourites to win the tour­na­ment and ask you to have your say...

De­spite suf­fer­ing heartache in the semi-fi­nals of Euro 2016, you could say Ger­many have got even bet­ter since win­ning their first World Cup as a uni­fied coun­try in Brazil in 2014.

Not only did their 10 wins in a six-team group equal the UEFA record, but their tally of 43 goals is the most in Euro­pean Qual­i­fy­ing ever for either the World Cup or a Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships [a mark also achieved in 2018 qual­i­fy­ing by Bel­gium]. It is Ger­many’s third per­fect run to a World Cup - no other Euro­pean na­tion has done it more than once. No side even came close to match­ing Ger­many’s av­er­age pos­ses­sion per­cent­age of a colos­sal 73.63, or their 449 touches in their op­po­nents’ box, but their dis­ci­plinary record could be a prob­lem - no Euro­pean side con­ceded more fouls in UEFA qual­i­fy­ing. They will take some beat­ing in Rus­sia.

“I do think the Euro­pean teams are slightly stronger than the best South Amer­i­can sides right now,” says Soc­cer Sat­ur­day’s Char­lie Ni­cholas. “And I’d prob­a­bly edge to­wards Ger­many with their young tal­ent look­ing ready to pounce at the right time this sum­mer.”

Key player - Toni Kroos

The joint-favourites for next sum­mer’s tour­na­ments have a plethora of tal­ent in the ranks, but in Toni Kroos, they have the or­ches­tra­tor-in-chief, happy to sit deep and al­low the more cre­ative play­ers to work their magic.

The joint favourites will still be smart­ing from their Euro 2016 fi­nal heartache against Por­tu­gal, hav­ing been so heav­ily fan­cied to se­cure an­other piece of sil­ver­ware from a home tour­na­ment. Qual­i­fi­ca­tion for Rus­sia 2018 was no easy ride, with huge ques­tion marks raised as Lux­em­bourg held Les Bleus to a shock 0-0 draw in Toulouse in Septem­ber.

Yet, top spot was se­cured in Group A, and with an em­bar­rass­ment of riches, es­pe­cially in the striker depart­ment, ex­pect a wounded an­i­mal to bite back in Rus­sia.

Key man - Paul Pogba

With so many op­tions at his dis­posal, coach Di­dier Deschamps has chopped and changed his line-up on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, but one player who more of­ten than not starts, when fit, is Pogba. Whether it be on the left or cen­trally, Deschamps of­ten works his sys­tem around Pogba, and with so much tal­ent at the feet of the Manch­ester United mid­fielder, why not?

Back to their best. Af­ter fal­ter­ing un­der pre­vi­ous coach Dunga, the ar­rival of Tite in June 2016 saw the five-time world cham­pi­ons com­pletely trans­formed as they went on to win eight con­sec­u­tive matches and se­cure their berth in Rus­sia.

They have re­dis­cov­ered their ruth­less­ness of old. De­spite hav­ing be­come the first na­tion to qual­ify for the fi­nals in Rus­sia, they put Chile to the sword in their fi­nal qual­i­fier, en­sur­ing Los Che missed out. How­ever, un­der Tite, they are still an un­known en­tity in tour­na­ment foot­ball, which sees them sit be­hind Ger­many and France in the bet­ting.

“Brazil are the team you’d least like to face right now,” says Soc­cer Sat­ur­day’s Paul Mer­son. “The way they went through their group was very im­pres­sive, es­pe­cially the way you con­sider the way Ar­gentina strug­gled. I’ve never seen any­thing like the re­sult they had against Ger­many, in front of a foot­ball-lov­ing na­tion of fans - you wouldn’t wish that on any­body. They’ll cer­tainly be even more des­per­ate to put things right come this sum­mer.” Key man - Gabriel Je­sus

Brazil­ians love their No 9s. Jogo Bonito hasn’t quite been the same with Ron­aldo lead­ing the line, but in Gabriel Je­sus, fans crav­ing a re­turn to the glory days have a bea­con of hope.

Seven goals flowed for the Manch­ester City teenager in qual­i­fi­ca­tion, but it is his re­la­tion­ship with close friend Ney­mar that is whet­ting the ap­petite of fans back home.

Group G was al­ways go­ing to be a straight shootout be­tween Spain and Italy, with La Roja com­fort­ably seal­ing top spot by five points. They may have a new coach at the helm af­ter the eight-year ten­ure of Vin­cente del Bosque, but lit­tle has changed. Julen Lopetegui’s men com­pleted 333 passes more than any­one else in UEFA qual­i­fy­ing, and were the only side to fin­ish the cam­paign with a pass com­ple­tion rate of over 90 per cent. Yet, de­spite climb­ing back up to eight in the lat­est FIFA rank­ings, Spain’s poor show­ing at last sum­mer’s Euro­pean cham­pi­onships, when they crashed out in the round of 16, means they lag be­hind in the bet­ting.

Key man - Isco

Hav­ing been very much on the pe­riph­ery for both club and coun­try, the Real Madrid for­ward has stepped up his game this sea­son, and is Spain’s joint-top goalscorer in qual­i­fi­ca­tion. His per­for­mance against Italy in the 3-0 win at the Bern­abeu.

A look at the favourites to win next sum­mer's World Cup

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Zambia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.