Germany – 9/2 Various Bookies (NAP)
Captain: Manuel Neuer
Manager: Joachim Löw
Nickname: Die Mannschaft
FIFA Rank: 1
Die Mannschaft are the masters of putting together the pieces required to dominate international competition. Since 1954, Germany has made it beyond round 2 on all but one occasion (Argentina, 1978). Since 2002 they have finished as runners-up, two third-place finishes, and of course, they were crowned as the world champions four years ago. Germany’s qualification record for Russia 2018 reads played 10, won 10.
Joachim Löw guided Germany to Confederations Cup success in 2017. The 58-year-old has extended his contract with Germany until 2022. Low has got an incredibly rich talent pool at his disposal. Skipper Manuel Neuer has been handed the Number 1 jersey despite being injured. If Neuer loses his fitness battle Barcelona’s Marc-André ter Stegen has the quality to deputise. Mario Götze scored the winner in the 2014 World Cup final but he misses out this time around. The Borussia Dortmund striker has struggled to maintain his fitness.
It’s difficult to pick out ‘the’ stand out player for Germany. Chelsea’s Antonio Rüdiger picked up the man-of-the-match award in this year’s FA Cup Final. Thomas Müller has scored 8 times and had a hand in 16 goals for Bayern Munich this season. He will be looking to add to his 10 goal tally in the World Cup finals. Winger Leroy Sane has grown in stature. The 22-year-old has flourished under the guidance of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. 15 assists and 10 goals were a valuable contribution to City’s Premier League title. The German’s have plenty of talent in defence. Mats Hummels is regarded as one of the best defenders in the world.
Any nation fancying their chances to win this year’s World Cup will have to beat Germany somewhere along the way. Back Die Mannschaft before the bookies slash the odds.
South Korea 750/1 Various bookies
Captain: Ki Sung-Yeung
Manager: Shin Tae-Yong
Nickname: Various (Red Devils)
FIFA Rank: 61
South Korea made hard work of qualification and they have also lost their last two games against Poland and Northern Ireland. Nobody will give the Red Devils a chance but the experience of playing at the World Cup will be valuable. The players will have the opportunity to gain experience in four pre-tournament friendlies, they will face Honduras, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bolivia and Senegal.
Head Coach Shin Tae-Yong must do without a number of his key players. Dijon winger Kwon Chang-hoon is set to miss the World Cup. The 23-year-old suffered an injury to his achilles during the final game of the season in Ligue 1. Another doubt for the finals is Salzburg’s Hwang Hee-chan (thigh). Keep an eye on Lee Seung-woo. The former Barcelona B player plays for Italian side Hellas Verona.
Lee is an agile and fast player who can cause problems and get behind opposing defences (Shin Tae-yong, FIFA.com).
Tottenham’s Son Heung-min has been in good form this season. Sonny scored 12 goals and had 13 assists in 37 appearances for Spurs in the Premier League. Skipper Ki Sung-Yueng is a good influence in the dressing room. The former Celtic player will provide the South Koreans will plenty of energy in midfield.
Expect a goal-fest for the opposition. It’s difficult to see where South Korea will pick up points against superior opposition, anyone that has them in a sweepstake will hoping to avoid the ‘wooden spoon’.
Mexico 125/1 Sporting Bet
Manager: Juan Carlos Osorio
Nickname: El Tri
FIFA Rank: 15
Mexico didn’t have much difficulty qualifying for Russia 2018. El Tri has been consistent at the World Cup finals, reaching the last 16 on six consecutive occasions. A 3-0 victory over Iceland in March was followed by a 1-0 defeat to Croatia. Mexico will face Wales and Scotland in their preparations for the acid test against Germany. Head Coach, Juan Carlos Osorio worked under Stuart Pearce at Manchester City.
Rafa Marquez is a veteran of the Mexican national team but his participation is in doubt over allegations that he had links to a drug trafficking organisation. Javier Hernandez is arguably Mexico’s most familiar player. Chicharito didn’t have the best seasons for West Ham United. Marco Fabián had to watch from the bench as his Eintracht Frankfurt teammates beat Bayern Munich in the German Cup. Carlos Salcedo did play in that German Cup victory. Salcedo came through the ranks at Real Salt Lake and made a name for himself in the MLS. The 24-year-old also had a spell in Serie A with Fiorentina. Hirving Lozano is one to watch. The 22-year-old winger had a great season for PSV Eindhoven where he scored 17 goals and had 11 assists in 27 league games.
Mexico has arguably the toughest start to the World Cup against Germany. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t make it out of the group stages, especially if they can keep it tight at the back.
Sweden 200/1 Spread Ex
Captain: Andreas Granqvist
Manager: Janne Andersson
Nickname: The Blue-Yellow
FIFA Rank: 23
Sweden qualified for the World Cup at the expense of Italy in the playoffs. They also handed France their only defeat of the qualifying campaign. This is their first appearance at the finals since 2006. World Cup preparations haven’t been great, Sweden suffered defeats against Chile and Romania. Friendlies against Denmark and Peru will allow Janne Andersson to prepare his squad for the game against South Korea.
Jakob Johansson will not make the finals. He scored the winner in the playoffs against Italy, however, he picked up a knee injury in that game. Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg has gained lots of experience playing in the Bundesliga, Champions League and Europa League. Striker Marcus Berg is scoring for fun, all be it in Abu Dhabi. Pontus Jansson was ever present for Leeds United this season. The 27-year-old defender will compete for a place against Andreas Granqvist and Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof.
Sweden’s head coach has not managed outside of Scandinavia, that could be a significant disadvantage for the Blue-Yellow. Group F is a tough one. Andersson motivated his players to beat Italy in the playoffs, don’t write them off.
*Odds correct at the time of writing