We continue our 2018 World Cup group previews with Group F today, where Germany starts its title defense in a tough group that features giant slayers Sweden and Mexico, which always seems to come out of the group stage with success only to falter at the next step.
Previous 2018 World Cup Group Breakdowns:
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH
TONI KROOS, GERMANY
It’s Toni Kroos’ time. The star midfielder and orchestrator for Real Madrid should be the centerpiece of the German attack as they try to defend their title. Kroos has developed into one of the best all-around players in the game and is at the heart of Real Madrid’s attack. He should soon be in the conversation for one of the best footballers in the word (a position which seems to have been held in perpetuity by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi).
EMIL FORSBERG, SWEDEN
Emil Forsberg is the face of Swedish soccer in the post-Zlatan world, and Sweden has obtained its greatest international success in over a generation by eliminating both the Netherlands and Italy in reaching the World Cup. The 26-year-old Forsberg starred for RB Liepzig and is an all-around player on the wing who can facilitate teammates and score goals. He will be a hot target on the transfer market and could increase that demand with a great tournament (could Arsenal be interested?)
HIRVING LOZANO, MEXICO
Yes, there are perhaps bigger names on the Mexico roster, but the 22-year-old Hirving Lozano may prove to be the biggest star over the next few years, and could have his breakout at the World Cup. The winger moved from the Mexican League to PSV Eindhoven last year and scored 17 goals, and now he is a target of bigger clubs in England. He’s been linked to both Everton and Chelsea in the EPL and will have an opportunity to introduce himself to a larger audience if he can get into the lineup and become an X-factor.
World Cup Finals Appearances: 18
Best Finishes: Champions in 1954, 1974, 1990, 2014
FIFA World Rank: 1
There are nations with more individual stars playing at the highest levels in Europe entering this World Cup, but it’s always foolhardy to rule out the German squad in the World Cup. They won their fourth title in Brazil four years ago, and have reached the World Cup Final in exactly half of the World Cups they have entered post-World War II. They rely on the collective spirit and teamwork and will be one of the favorites again in Russia.
In a shock move, Joachim Low left out one of the brightest young players, Leroy Sané of Manchester City, from his final World Cup roster. The attacking group will largely feature veterans of international play, from Toni Kroos to World Cup veterans like Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has been sidelined for eight months with injury but was added and expected to be part of the title defense. The defensive back line will have a few more new faces joining Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng. Joshua Kimmich of Bayern Munich is the biggest new star at right back, and looks like this generation’s heir apparent to Philip Lahm.
Previous World Cup Finals Appearances: 15
Best Finish: Quarterfinals in 1970 and 1986 (both played in Mexico)
FIFA World Rank: 15
Optimism is high for El Tri, as they try to advance past the Round of 16 for the first time since 1986, after six straight knockout round defeats. The group, though, presents a hard road to get to the next round, as Sweden and South Korea are both capable of advancement, and Germany has not failed to advance in any World Cup with a group stage. Getting Germany in the opener means a tough start and a possible uphill climb to advance over the last two matches.
For the first time, a majority of Mexican players in the World Cup play professionally outside Mexico. Javier Hernandez (Chicarito) paces the attack, along with other veterans Andres Guardado, Giovani Dos Santos, and Carlos Vela. Rafa Marquez, at age 39, is back on the roster for one last time on defense. Guillermo Ochoa, who was fantastic in the last World Cup, will be back in goal.
Previous World Cup Finals Appearances: 11
Best Finish: Finalists in 1958, Semifinalists in 1938, 1950, and 1994
FIFA World Rank: 23
Sweden were giant killers in qualifying, first knocking out the Netherlands by finishing 2nd behind France in European Qualifying. Then, they took out Italy in the playoff to advance to the World Cup Finals. Sweden last reached the World Cup in 2006 where they lost in the Round of 16 to Germany.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not be part of the World Cup squad, just as he was not part of the qualifying run. In a European version of the Ewing Theory, Sweden finally broke through without the aging star. Sweden is now led by Emil Forsberg, who plays for RB Liepzig in the Bundesliga, and has been named Swedish midfielder of the year each of the last two seasons. Marcus Berg led the team in goals during the qualifying campaign, with eight. Manchester United’s Victor Lindelöf will anchor the back line, and the defensive cohesion and teamwork is what got them here after consecutive clean sheets against Italy to pull the stunner.
Previous World Cup Finals Appearances: 9
Best Finishes: Semifinalists in 2002
FIFA World Rank: 61
South Korea has now advanced to their ninth straight World Cup Finals appearance, last missing in 1982. The greatest success came on home soil when they stunned Spain and Italy on the way to the semifinals before losing to Germany. The only other time they advanced out of the group stage was 2010, and they will be decided underdogs in coming out of this group.
The team will be led by captain Ki Sung-yueng (of Swansea) and forward Sun Heung-min of Tottenham. They were underwhelming in World Cup qualifying, coming out of the easier of the two Asian groups, and finishing 2nd behind Iran by 9 points. The Taegeuk Warriors will have pace and some attacking ability up front and can be dangerous in space; the questions will come on the back end and defending against opponent set pieces.
June 17: Germany vs. Mexico (Moscow), 11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT
June 18: Sweden vs. South Korea (Nizhny Novgorod), 8 a.m. ET/5 a.m. PT
June 23: Mexico vs. South Korea (Rostov-on-Don), 11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT
June 23: Germany vs. Sweden (Sochi), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT
June 27: Germany vs. South Korea (Kazan), 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT
June 27: Mexico vs. Sweden (Yekaterinburg), 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT
ALL ODDS TO WIN GROUP VIA ODDSCHECKER (PERCENTAGE CHANCE TO ADVANCE IN PARENTHESES)
GERMANY 4/9 (91%)
MEXICO 13/2 (48%)
SWEDEN 42/5 (43%)
SOUTH KOREA 20/1 (18%)