Connor's Corner: Is it too early to back the World Cup winner?
With the World Cup qualifiers thankfully over for another few months and while gambling addictions around football are being criticised heavily in the media currently, now seems the perfect time for me to write a piece on who I feel will secure the ultimate glory in an event that doesn’t take place for another 9 months: The FIFA World Cup.
With the unbelievable conveyor belt of talent that the French seem to be churning out, they should be winning this tournament. However, with Didier Deschamps in charge I’m not sure he has what it takes to lead them to glory. The favourites Germany are always fantastic when it comes to tournament games, but I feel they don’t have the quality that was there back in 2014 (they’re also very short at a best price of 11/2). I’m going to offer 2 picks that I think will genuinely go and win the tournament and one team who could mount a serious challenge.
My first pick takes me across to South America; The South American teams had a fantastic display back in the 2014 Brazil World Cup, with the majority of the 9 teams who qualified to getting past their groups and reaching the knockout stage. It brought an army of new followers to South American football and their lavish celebrations, passion and hot women were a spectacle to behold throughout the tournament; Teams like Costa Rica, Chile and especially my favourite team of the tournament, Colombia, broke so many hearts when they were defeated in the quarter finals by the hosts Brazil.
My feeling is that with four automatic places going to South America and the fifth in a playoff, the strength of the countries involved will mean there will be five teams coming over to Russia in 2018. My first pick to win the tournament will be the previous hosts Brazil. With their famous 6-1 demolition at the hands of Germany in the semi-finals last time out, it will be hard for many to forget that when it comes to betting this time around. However, the Brazilians have changed their manager and their team around in the years since. Brazil brought in native Tite to lead the team into Russia and the former Corinthians manager has led the team to the top of the South American table and has confirmed their position in Russia already with only 1 defeat.
Brazil were famed in the past for their trickery and attacking prowess and it felt like at the last World Cup they were so heavily reliant on Neymar. However, since then an array of talent has come to the forefront of Brazilian football and the samba football that we know, will sure be back. With the likes of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Willian, Douglas Costa, Firminho, Coutinho, Lucas Moura, Oscar and Felipe Anderson going forward, for me they are on par with France and Belgium as the best attacking team in the tournament, especially with this depth.
Defensive frailties have always been the issue with Brazil, however they now have a lot more defenders playing at a higher level and some would argue that Brazil may have the best defenders individually when you break it down. Thiago Silva is probably up there with the best defender in the world, Marcelo is the best left back in the world, Dani Alves is arguably the best right back and if David Luiz plays like he did last year for Chelsea, he is a world class defender on his day. Even their backup options are strong - Marquinhos can easily step in to replace either of the centre backs, they have Danilo, Felipe Luiz and Fabinho can play right back or central midfield. Midfield-wise they have a lot more depth than previously and I feel the defensive mindedness of Casemiro and Fernandinho could really hold this Brazil team together and let that array of scary attacking talent loose. As mentioned with one loss in the whole of qualifying in a tough South American group since that Germany defeat, the Brazilians for me will be back to diminish the ghost of 4 years ago come Russia 2018 and are my hot tip to win the tournament.
My next prediction is recent World Cup winners Spain; after winning Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and the Euros again in 2012 it seemed like this dominating era of international football was never going to end. It did however, come crashing down last year in Brazil and after a crushing defeat to the well organised Italians, it seemed like the golden era was over and many Spanish legends would retire. Spain, like Brazil, changed their manager since the world cup and from a team looking like an old frail dog in 2014, Julen Lopetegui has bought in some younger pups around the camp and it now feels like the Spanish have a new lease of life. The golden generation which won all those tournaments may never be matched, however, the new golden generation, matched with a few of the older golden generation could well be a match made in heaven.
With the likes of Pique, Iniesta, Ramos, Busquests, Pedro and David Silva still in the team and even bringing in legend and all-time record scorer David Villa back in for the recent games despite a 3 year absence, the experience they have will be vital in the big games come next year. Add in to the mix a young and hungry Marcos Asensio, Lucas Vasquez, David De Gea, Saul Niguez, Alvaro Morata, Thiago Alacantra and for me the superstar of world football at the moment and for years to come, Isco. This Spain team has that perfect blend of youth, experience, hunger, technical ability, pace, leadership and will be no doubt knocking on that door to be back at the pinnacle of world football come Russia 2018.
The final pick was a hard choice between my two outside picks for the previous tournament, Colombia and Belgium. I’ve gone for Belgium however as I feel they’re main talent was very young at the previous world cup and after another four years playing together they could be overpriced and could come in and shock a few. Roberto Martinez has come in to take the Red Devils to Russia and despite his final year at Everton being one to forget, he made them into a very good team during his previous years and is clearly a manager who can get a team to play. The spine of the team is now settled and has a lot more experience and with Martinez maybe surprising by switching the Belgians to a 3-5-2/3-4-3 formation despite the array of attacking talent out wide for them; the switch has clearly worked with no losses and only one draw in their group. Eden Hazard, Dres Mertens, Kevin De Bruyne and Atleti man Yannick Carrasco are four of the most threatening forward players in the game and with Premier League record signing Romelu Lukaku between them, and backup including Michy Batshuayi, Kevin Mirallas and Benteke they could really be a handful going forward. Backed up behind them with two of the toughest players in world football in Moussa Dembele and Marouane Fellaini, they have the option to also switch that up with Witsel and future superstar Youri Tielemans. Behind them sits a solid defence with plenty of experience in Vertonghen, Vermaelen, Alderweireld and Courtois. They’ve been known as the dark horses of the last two tournaments but have stayed in the shadows, Russia 2018 however, could be their time for the limelight.
In Summary -
WIN – BRAZIL – 15/2 William Hill
WIN - SPAIN – 17/2 Marathon bet/888 sport
WIN- BELGIUM – 16/1 Bet 365/Paddy Power