Cope: Storylines and predictions for World Cup 2018 (column)
Editor’s note: This is the second part in a two-part column.
On to the games, Russia 2018 has begun, let’s talk about the favorites and the underdogs.
The great stories at most World Cups are written in the early stages, where there are upsets, surprises, atmosphere and passionate fans from all over the world. (I almost typed “atomsphere” there but Chernobyl isn’t hosting any games.) For example, who would have predicted in 2014 that a group with Italy, England and Uruguay would be won by … Costa Rica. There will no doubt be a similar story in this World Cup. How about Peru, Iceland or Morocco?
As far as the favorites, France and Germany look fearsome as they launch their campaigns into Russia, however, so did Napoleon and Hitler. History aside, this is an incredibly difficult trophy to hold onto. It has no handles and is not actually a cup. The last team to retain the trophy was the great Brazil team in 1958 and 1962. France failed to convince in their recent 1-1 draw against a very young U.S. team in their final warm up match. Germany and France are certainly favorites on paper, but will run into trouble in Russia.
LOOK FOR BRAZIL
Another great storyline in this tournament is the quest to win a World Cup by the great Lionel Messi, who has won everything in sight with his club team, Barcelona, but whose Argentine team often stumbles at the final hurdle. Can this team lift Messi in this final World Cup at the peak of his powers?
What about Brazil? This might be the finest collection of Brazilian talent since the 1970 dream team that won it in Mexico, giving Pele three World Cups, a feat that may never be matched. That’s a big statement, considering they did win it in both 1994 and 2002. This team could remind us of why the world loves Brazil. They have a Faberge Egg-like collection of stars, that includes Neymar (Paris St. Germain), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Willian (Chelsea), Coutinho (formerly of Liverpool, currently Barcelona) and Firmino (Liverpool.) The main question will be how much of this attacking talent can they fit on the field at the same time? This team is loaded and ready to light up the tournament. They also carry a chip on their shoulder after suffering a humiliating 1-7 defeat at the hands of Germany while hosting the tournament. Look for Brazil in the final.
Our friends from Mexico dominated a qualifying group with the United States and Costa Rica in it. They are on a quest to play an elusive fifth game at the World Cup. Mexico has advanced out of their group, six tournaments in a row now before being sent home in their first knockout game. Finish second in that group and they will play the winner of Brazil’s group. Another Round of 16 exit is quite likely.
MORE THAN THE PLAY
Hipsters will tell you that the best level of football in the world is played, not at the World Cup, but in the Champions League. Whilst true in terms of the technical level of the players, the World Cup features so much more than just the actual play on the field. There is the pageantry of the tournament taking place over the course of one month with multiple games nearly everyday, the nationalism of fans and media following their teams, the history of a quadrennial tournament and the scarcity or abundance of talent from each country, making the selection of players more interesting. While Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Manchester City can simply buy a player for any position where they are lacking in depth, a national team manager has to make do with what he has. This leads to fascinating tactical match ups and an interesting recent trend of winning teams being based around a successful club team.
The last three World Cup Champions have followed a plan of basing their team around one dominant club team and a squad of mostly domestic players. The 2006 Italians were largely built around Juventus. In 2010, Spain was built around the dominant Barcelona team of the era. In 2014, Germany won while featuring many Bayern Munich players. So who does this theory favor in 2018? One team is obvious and one is not, this theory may also rule out a few of the dark horses lurking around the track. Belgium, in particular, looks like a European all-star team with fantastic players at every position, but will they lack the cohesion needed to go deep? According to this theory, they will.
Spain looked to be the beneficiaries of Real Madrid winning the Champions League with six Real Madrid players on their team until they, shockingly, fired their manager this week. This team could have gone deep into the tournament, but their reaction to losing the coach that many of them have known since their days on youth national teams will be one of the storylines heading into this weekend.
The next team to base its squad around domestic-based players and one powerful club? England features an entirely domestic-based team of players, and the heart of that team is the captain Harry Kane and his Tottenham Hotspur team which, incidentally, beat Real Madrid in the group stage of the Champions League. England in the final against Brazil? It’s a long shot but that’s the romance of the World Cup.
It could happen and that could force a generation of English fans to change their computer passwords, forgive FIFA for awarding the 2022 tournament to Qatar and place Russia 2018 in their collective memory forever.
David Cope teaches social studies and coaches the boys and girls soccer teams at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards. Follow him on twitter at @huskynationcope.