We’re less than a week away from the 2018 World Cup and I figured it’s a good time to take a quick look at the CONCACAF teams involved.
Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama are the regions attendees this go round, down from the quartet of Mexico, Costa Rica, USA and Honduras in 2014. Three of those teams got to the Round of 16 with Costa Rica, surprisingly, making it to the quarterfinals. That’s highly unlikely this time around.
I really can’t say much about Panama. Its their first ever World Cup so all the best to them. Hopefully they do better than Honduras and come away with at least one point. In a group featuring England, Tunisia and Belgium its possible. With Roman Torres at the back they will definitely give a good defensive effort and maybe the wily oldies in attack, Luis Tejada and Blas Perez, can cause some discomfort.
Their reception will be much different from the one Costa Rica receives.
Los Ticos will be treated with respect by their group opponents, Serbia, Brazil and Switzerland. It’s really hard to tell if this team will make it to the Round of 16. A lot of the key players from four years ago return to the fold. The side will look to be as solid defensively as they were in 2014 with Keylor Navas marshaling his troops from between the posts. The trio of Bryan Ruiz, Marco Urena and Joel Campbell up top can cause some damage on the counter and will have to be as efficient as they were four years ago. Should they make it out of their group it will likely be in second place. That would be the end of their run as their opponents would be Germany, the likely Group F winner.
Mexico is the most talented of this trio and, as the ever-present CONCACAF representative, there will be some expectation again.
They should get out of their group behind Germany given their talent but it won’t be easy. Sweden will be tough to break down and South Korea has the attacking weapons to punish them if they aren’t careful defensively. If Juan Carlos Osorio’s rotates as he usually does that will affect his key players. That, along with the teams profligacy in front of goal, might undo them. The likes of Carlos Vela, Giovani dos Santos, Javier Hernandez, Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera have the experience and talent to make a difference when it matters. I still hope to see the Santos brothers play significant time together but that’s unlikely. Their trip, like Costa Rica’s, would end at the Round of 16 stage as they would face Brazil if they advance.
It wouldn’t surprise me if neither Costa Rica or Mexico made it out of the group stages nor would it surprise me if they both did. A bit of a cop-out there I guess. I expect that Mexico will make it and I give Switzerland the edge over Costa Rica. Hopefully Panama does well. It will be an interesting World Cup for CONCACAF teams but I don’t think it will be a particularly lengthy one.
Okay, so, just wait a second. You’re probably wondering why Argentina is up there and not the reigning champions, Germany, or European champions Portugal or even Brazil, who are always favorites.
Simply put, I’m just contemplating how three of the teams I’m cheering for will fare in the World Cup.
I say three of the teams because as I mentioned during the 2014 World Cup I had a certain hierarchy when it came to teams on the international stage. That hierarchy hasn’t changed and Argentina is really there only because I want Lionel Messi to win, as I did in 2014. I’d be remiss to say I usually add the African teams, whoever they may be, to my list of teams to cheer for when World Cup time comes around.
I’ll probably do a predictions piece closer to the tournament itself after a look at the CONCACAF teams. On to real business then.
The big question with Spain is whether the Diego Costa trick will finally pay off.
The disappointment in 2014 can probably be written off because he wasn’t fully fit or integrated into the side and in Euro 2016 they came up against an impressive Italy side. Still, they will be legitimate favourites for a reason. Few teams can match the mixture of experience and talent in this squad. They wont have the same expectations as 2014 and the loss in 2016 will have them even more determined to prove themselves. I think most folks will have them as a semifinalist.
It won’t be an easy road, with the possibility of facing either Argentina or France as early as the quarterfinals. It will probably be Argentina as I don’t see France finishing second in their group. Still, this Spain side shouldn’t fear anyone once they reach that stage and if things click in the attacking third they will be tough to beat, as you expect them to control the midfield regardless of the opponent.
France is coming of a tough loss in Euro 2016 and a solid qualification run. It’s an exciting group but there’s still a feeling they lack enough experience to go all the way.
As mentioned before, I expect they will be on the other side of the bracket from Spain and Argentina. That’s likely to lead to an interesting rematch with Portugal in the quarterfinals, or even worse, a feisty Uruguay side. There’s also Brazil to worry about on that side. I still don’t fully trust Didier Deschamps as I feel he hasn’t gotten the best out of Paul Pogba though only Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri have so far. The balance in midfield will be key. The best choice would be to start Steven N’zonzi to control things in midfield with N’golo Kante and Pogba but we’ll see. There’s also the hope that the youngsters up to Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele, with 25 caps between them, don’t falter on the big stage.
I’ll probably still blame Deschamps if it falls apart. Arsene Wenger next up on the plate perhaps?
Ah, Argentina. There really isn’t much to say about them is there?
It’s baffling that a side with this attacking quality has relied on one alien to win something, anything, in the last decade. There’s only so many times one can ponder why Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain can’t/won’t step up to the plate. True, the rest of the team, minus Javier Mascherano and an improved Nicolas Otamendi, is average but that doesn’t stop Messi playing his part. If Messi drags this side to a title as Diego Maradona did in ’86 it would shut a lot of mouths. Possibly. Maradona had one finals loss and one win sooo….. Even if he doesn’t win, Messi is still arguably the best ever.
Also, with Jorge Sampaoli, Argentina has possibly the best coach in the tournament. He hasn’t been able to get it all together for the Albiceleste just yet but you can’t sleep on him in this tournament.
As an aside, I’ll say I always have a soft spot for England. Not sure why. Interested to see how this group does. And, again, let’s not forget Germany. One of these teams will have to play them at some point in the tournament. I’d bet if that team gets past them they’ll win it all.