Great Debate: Who will win the 2018 SWC?
SWC Great Debate (File)
Cape Town - The 2018 Soccer World Cup - hopefully corruption free - roars into action on Thursday throughout Russia.
One thing is for sure, the hosts won't win, but who will ... ?
That's the million dollar question, and because the contenders are plentiful, the odds on offer are attractive.
Sport24's soccer crowd - as well as some who think they know - have weighed into the debate.
BRAZIL - 4/1
Brazil will win the 2018 Soccer World Cup... with ease, believes Craig Taylor.
Why? Well, it's simple, really.
They have the most talented squad out of all the nations that will appear at the global showpiece.
Their attacking talents include Gabriel Jesus, Willian, Philippe Coutinho, Douglas Costa and perhaps the most complete No 9 in the world, Roberto Firmino... who probably will only start off the bench.
Defensively, they can call on the likes of Thiago Silva, Marcelo and Marquinhos.
Even in the goal, they possess two incredible shot-stoppers in Ederson and Allison.
But it is the mercurial Neymar that will drive them to global glory.
Now fully recovered from a foot injury that had the whole of the South American nation praying for his recovery, Neymar has been in imperious form in World Cup warm-up matches, scoring a goal in each of the wins over Croatia and Austria.
He now has 55 goals in just 85 appearances for his country.
Expect him to add to that at the tournament as Brazil go in search of their first World Cup since 2002 and their sixth overall.
GERMANY - 9/2
World Cup champions Germany head into the 2018 Soccer World Cup in Russia rightly as one of the favourites to defend their title this June/July, says Baden Gillion.
Manager Joachim Loew boasts one of, if not the best, squad in the tournament filled with talented players matched by the renowned German mentality.
Germany became only the second team in history - behind Spain’s 2010 side - to qualify for the finals in Russia with a perfect record of 10 wins from 10 in UEFA Group C.
Loew will likely select a 4-2-3-1 line-up having used it on seven occasions out of their 10 wins in qualifying.
Die Mannschaft will be led by captain Manuel Neuer who has revolutionised the goalkeeping position and will go down as one of the greatest in his position. To go along with a settled back-four the Germans could choose two different players in each position going forward and still be in with a shout of being competitive.
A midfield axis will likely be filled by Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira who were starters back in Brazil 2014. One of the most intelligent players in football, Thomas Muller, will likely fill the right-sided attacking position. Alongside five-time German Player of the Year Mesut Ozil who is a different specimen when playing for his national team. Marco Reus who cruelly missed out through injury on their 2014 World Cup and 2012 European successes should take up the left attacking position and will be raring to shine on the big stage.
Why Germany will be hard to stop from defending their crown is that in Timo Werner they finally have a striker to trouble the best defences in Russia. The RB Leipzig frontman fired the Germans to Confederations Cup glory with a tournament-high three goals. He has also scored eight goals in 14 full international appearances.
The Germans therefore boast possibly the most talented squad who finally possess a proven goal scorer. That is also superbly coached and being typically German seem to handle the biggest occasions better than any other nation.
SPAIN - 6/1
Trust the Spanish! On the eve of the tournament they go and sack their coach. Shooting oneself in the foot, much, asks Garrin Lambley.
But luckily for Spanish fans, the tournament shall not be won in the coaches' box, but rather out on the field.
And that's where Spain excel.
In David de Gea in goal, no country will boast a better shot-stopper, while in defence they also appear rock-solid with the Barcelona-Real Madrid combination of Dani Carvajal, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Jordi Alba.
Sergio Busquets is likely to start as a defensive midfielder with Saul Niguez and Thiago Alcantara taking central midfield roles, for the 2010 World Cup champions.
Spain don't have proper recognised pacy wingers, but we can expect Isco and Koke to start on either side of the flanks with Diego Costa the likely lone striker up front.
Spain open their campaign against near-neighbours Portugal, after which Group B looks fair straight-forward with matches against Morocco and Iran.
FRANCE - 13/2
The tournament champions of 1998 are always in the conversation when talking about teams that can go the distance at a FIFA World Cup, and things are no different this year, writes Lloyd Burnard.
There are at least three teams - Brazil, Germany and Spain - who are considered more likely to win in Russia, but France can never be counted out.
Les Bleus have been gifted a relatively easy group with fixtures against Australia, Peru and Denmark blocking their path to the Round of 16, but with the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba pulling the strings, they could also do damage in the playoffs.
Once the World Cup reaches the knockout stages, anything can happen, and France are a hard team to knock over and break down in high-pressure situations.
There squad is littered with superstars from all over Europe, and given the fact that they have been under the guidance of Didier Deschamps for six years now, I’m backing them to make it count when it matters most and go the distance.
ARGENTINA - 9/1
A certain Lionel Messi soon (June 24) turns 31 ... that means he’d probably be 35 when the 2022 World Cup comes along in Qatar. A fifth appearance in the finals then? Possible ... rather than especially likely, believes Rob Houwing.
So expect the global megastar goal-scorer and playmaker extraordinaire to put special energy into his fourth premier-tier tournament for Argentina in Russia over the next few weeks.
He will very much remain the focal point of his country’s quest to register a first World Cup conquest since 1986 (and third of all time) and powered also by a huge desire to go that one step further than runners-up - something he experienced in 2014 with the German triumph in Brazil.
Third best and often strangely fragile in the qualifying stage behind Brazil and Uruguay, yes, the Argentineans don’t seem an automatic menace in Russia.
But they have an historical knack of being thereabouts, and with their offensive threat - ace poacher Sergio Aguero just one to add to the Messi factor - I have a tangible gut feel Argentina may go all the way in an increasingly open, hard-to-tip event where the host nation, for example, doesn’t look too flash.
Reservations? Well, they may not look quite so smart going backwards, and there is that tendency to implode discipline-wise when things are beginning to go against them ...
BELGIUM - 11/1
The Belgium squad looks immense on paper and certainly have the talent to do so on the field, says a confident Tashreeq Vardien.
What separates the Red Devils from the other nations, is that they have a strong and experienced spine (goalkeeper, central defence, midfield and striker) in their starting XI. If you want to win competitions, having capable players in these positions will take you far in a tournament.
With Belgium, Thibaut Courtois is one of the best ‘keepers in the world while the combination of Tottenham pairing, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, will come in handy in the heart of defence.
Belgium also have veterans Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen to rely on.
The in-form Kevin de Bruyne, Mousa Dembele and Alex Witsel will control and dictate play in the middle of the park, making way for the dazzling Eden Hazard and the powerful Romelu Lukaku to cause havoc upfront.
ENGLAND - 17/1
Ever since winning the Soccer World Cup on home soil in 1966, it’s fair to say that England have underachieved in the tournament, writes an honest Herman Mostert.
The Three Lions haven’t returned to a World Cup final, with their best effort being a losing semi-final in 1990.
So, no-one really expects much from England ahead of this year’s showpiece event in Russia. But without the added burden of expectation, England may spring a surprise.
In Group G, they should fend off the challenge of lowly Panama and Tunisia and will also back their chances against tricky Belgium - several of Belgium’s superstars play in England’s Premier League and are familiar foes for many of England’s players.
That “familiarity” could come in handy for England and if they can emerge unscathed and top their group, it could provide a springboard to finally make a deep run at a World Cup.
In Harry Kane, England have a world class striker and the recent good form of Raheem Sterling will prove equally pivotal on the attacking front.
England manager Gareth Southgate has picked a youthful side, but one which boasts plenty of potential and Premier League experience. He’s got a good knowledge of many of the players, having also coached England’s under-21 side and knows the strengths and weaknesses of his squad, while his experience of playing for England at major events could also come in handy.
For all you Portugal, Uruguay, Croatia etc etc fans out there, we haven't completely written off your country's chances!
Be sure to head on over to BET.co.za to lay a bet if you feel there's an upset waiting to happen over the course of the next few weeks.