With six months to go before the World Cup, the current international break has been a great opportunity to see how the teams are looking ahead of the tournament.
In Europe, we saw several Nations League games and the last of the World Cup qualifiers, which saw Wales qualify for the tournament. For South America, they had friendlies and Argentina played Italy in the “Finalissima” at Wembley. African nations had friendlies and AFCON qualifiers as well.
When you talk about potential favorites in the tournament, you hear Brazil, France, England, Argentina, Spain, and Germany. That is four European countries and two South American tyrants. If history repeats itself, it is possible that the European country will win as the continent has already produced the last winners.
But if you look at the recent international holiday, that may not be the case. European heavyweights have borne the brunt of the new UEFA Nations League season. There is a debate to be made about fatigue and the lack of the best players available, but a judgment can still be made.
France have not won a single game in four of this past month. England did not score an open goal in five hours and Spain and Germany had not changed. As mentioned earlier, fatigue can play a large role in this as players play soon after finishing their home season. But the concerns of many of these groups are legitimate and can be traced back to past breaks abroad.
While European countries are struggling to find a compromise and a plan to go to the game, the two South American countries look ready to take advantage and lift the prestigious team trophy in every game. Those countries are Brazil and Argentina.
Brazil and the jogo bonito
The Selecao are ready to take the World Cup home after not winning it 20 years ago. Since the disappointing 2018 campaign, Brazil took the Copa America in 2019 and settled for runner-up to Argentina last summer.
If there was one significant difference between this Brazilian team and that from the 2018 World Cup, apart from the players, the vibrations and the feeling around the team.
The repetition of the national team over the past decade has come under pressure to play for Brazil, especially in the 2014 World Cup. No player feels that better than Neymar.
The gold medalist, who will become the leading scorer in Brazilian history in Qatar, has already felt the pressure to win the trophy. All the great men who preceded him did so and strengthened themselves in the history books. Neymar’s case is that he has never had their team before him.
Now he did with the rise of Vinicius Jr., Lucas Paqueta, Raphinha, and Eder Militao to name a few. Along with the increase in talent, team harmony is good and players like to play alone. You see it on the field with a nice flick and play with one-touch – a good game – and off the field with team activities.
As Neymar suggests that this is his last World Cup, that is an additional motivation although it is not necessary. With a simple team in Cameroon, Serbia, and Switzerland, Brazil should be confident of entering the playoffs. From there you ride your luck.
With their only weakness being a full-back, if other parts of the team go up, Brazil should feel confident about their chances. They have world-class players in all other areas on the field and that should be enough to win.
Attack will be the X factor as captain Tite has his allies in defense. So the attackers will need to show their ingenuity and create a lot of chances to take it to win. With players like Neymar and Vinicius, that look is very likely.
Can Argentina ride Messi to a World Cup title?
Although Brazil is ranked among the top three favorites, the current Copa America winners are not in that category despite their recent success.
After reaching the final in 2014 and losing to Germany, Argentina had a rough 2018 campaign losing to eventual winners France in the Round of 16. The run was doomed from the start as the cohesion within the squad was poor and there were issues on and off the field.
Four years later and Argentina are more like the 2014 team than the 2018 side. The names are not so great but their play on the field goes hand in hand with them and the head of it all is Lionel Messi.
This will be Messi’s last World Cup tournament, and he is looking forward to it. After winning his first trophy last summer the No. 10 player is looking for more success. That and the fact that every “goat” seen in the game has won the World Cup, stop him and Cristiano Ronaldo. Although his legacy has already been consolidated, there is one thing missing from his good work.
Argentina is not limited to Messi as they have many other players helping him. The other is Angel Di Maria who scored in that Copa America. The striker missed the final in 2014, and if he had been healthy, it would have been a different outcome. There is also Rodrigo De Paul who is the engine of that player who was last year. In defense, they have Cristian Romero and goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
All in all, it is not a glamorous team but a team of players who can play together and get the results they need. The key to tournament football is something that manager Lionel Scaloni has put into them.