All eyes will be on World Cup Group F as it features the defending champions and tournament co-favorites Germany. They will joust with the always intriguing Mexico, the belligerent Sweden and bustling South Korea. The contrasting styles and relative strength of the teams in the this group should present highly watchable encounters. On paper, Germany will be expected to progress comfortably from this group, but as I will cover in this preview, there could be some surprises.
FIFA Ranking - 1
Ahead of the tournament, Germany has been installed, along with Brazil, as co-favorites to win it all. They possess one of the strongest records in World Cup history, having missed the Quarterfinals only once in 1938. They enter as the defending champs, having defeated Argentina in the final of the Brazil 2014 edition. Since then, their player pool has continued to grow, and they even won the 2016 Confederations Cup fielding a team of non-regulars. So powerful that there was no room in the 23 for the likes of Leroy Sane, Die Mannschaft will arrive in Russia with a squad that boasts the perfect balance of youth and experience. The Germans are here to win!
Coach Joachim Loew has had a difficult time trimming his squad down to the final 23, such is the vast amount of resources available to him. The one major question mark was in goal — long term Germany and Bayern Munich #1 Manuel Neuer has been out injured for the majority of the club season. Despite not playing any competitive football since 2017, he has been named as his country’s captain. Should he fail to prove his fitness, Germany will have an able deputy in Barcelona shot stopper Marc Andre Stegen.
The defense should be anchored around the Bayern Munich twin towers, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels. FC Koln’s Jonas Hector was an excellent fantasy punt in 2014, but it will be interesting to see whether the World Cup Fantasy Game lists Bayern Munich youngster Joshua Kimmich as a defender. If so, he could be a key out of position prospect.
In the midfield positions, Germany will lend on the experience of their veteran performers like Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos and Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller. Manchester City’s Leroy Sane is a shock omission following his sterling season, with Loew opting for Dortmund’s Marco Reus, PSG’s Julian Draxler and Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt in the wing positions. Up front, it’s RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner who should lead the line.
FIFA Ranking - 15
CONCACAF’s finest boast a strong World Cup pedigree, having not missed out on a finals tournament since 1966. They have never progressed beyond the Quarterfinal stage, even though many would argue that they were cheated of a semi final berth in 2014 by Arjen Robben’s Olympic Diving theatrics. Nevertheless, the Mexicans are always an entertaining outfit capable of beating any team on their day and have matched up well with group rivals Germany in recent tournament history.
Mexico coach, Juan Carlos Osorio has named a 28 man squad set to be trimmed before the June 4th deadline. In goal, Mexico will rely on Standard Liege goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa who was amazing in Brazil 2014. Elsewhere in defense, believe it or not, Rafael Marquez is set to participate in a record 5th World Cup at the ripe old age of 39. Porto’s Miguel Layun, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Carlos Salcedo, and Real Sociedad’s Hector Moreno also present interesting options.
The El Tri attack can always be relied on for goals, and they boast a number of quality options. Porto duo Hector Herrera and Jesus Corona will join PSV’s Andres Guardado and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Marco Fabian as the standout midfield prospects. Out wide, the ever present Carlos Vela and Giovani Dos Santos will raid from the wings. Up front, the main man is Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, but there are other solid options such as PSV’s Hirving Lozano, Club America veteran Oribe Peralta, and Raul Jimenez of Benfica.
FIFA Ranking - 23
That the plucky Swedes qualified for this World Cup at all speaks volumes. They finished second in a tough UEFA Group A, edging out tournament regulars Holland on goal difference in the process. They then produced a huge upset by eliminating Italy in the playoffs to book their place in Russia. They are not to be underestimated.
Most of the build up to this tournament for Sweden has been about the absence of veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which doesn’t do them justice. Coach Janne Anderson has turned this Sweden team into a solid and composed unit that are very difficult to beat. They play a direct 4-4-2 and depend heavily on organization and hard graft.
FC Copenhagen goalkeeper Robin Olsen should be first choice between the sticks, and the Swedish defense also boast a number of very good fantasy prospects such as Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof, Celtic’s Mikel Lustig and Swansea’s Martin Olsson.
On the attacking side, the Swedish midfield is a bit short with only Hull’s Sebastian Larsson probably worth a look. However, there is value to be found up front with RB Leipzig’s Emile Forsberg and Al Ain’s Marcus Berg set to lead the charge.
Fifa Ranking - 61
The Koreans are always an intriguing prospect with their busy, energetic approach to the game able to cause problems. Who can forget their memorable 4th place finish in World Cup 2002, with stars such as Ji-Sung Park, Ahn Jung-Hwan and Seol Ki-Hyun. This time around, Korea will field some household names that have the pedigree to trouble their Group F counterparts.
South Korea endured a rocky qualification campaign, finishing second in their qualification group behind Iran. Disappointing draws against teams like Syria and Uzbekistan saw them sack their coach Uli Stielike and replace him with Shin Tae-Yong. It’s left to be seen if he can engineer a turn in fortunes.
Vissel Kobe’s Kim Seung-Gyu should start in goal, and the surprising omission of Crystal Palace veteran Lee Chung-Yong leaves me without a defensive recommendation. In the midfield, the most familiar face is Swansea’s maestro Ki Sung-Yeung who will captain the team. But keep an eye on Augsburg’s Koo Ja-Cheol and the exciting 20 year old Hellas Verona winger Lee Seung-Woo who was selected after just one friendly appearance.
The most notable fantasy prospect on this roster is none other than Heung Min Son. The Tottenham striker is the one world class player on the team, so he will be relied on to get the goals if the unfancied Koreans are to stand any chance in Group F.
I expect Germany to finish top of this group (my fantasy team will definitely have a few white shirts), but this will be no cakewalk. I’m looking forward to the opening group game between Mexico and Germany. In previous tournaments, Germany have looked vulnerable to the Mexicans’ attacking style and neat possession brand.
Sweden will also be difficult to break down, so have the potential to spring an upset or two. South Korea as well could find an upset if Son finds his best form. Nevertheless, I’m betting on Germany and Mexico to progress to the Round of 16.
Who will progress from Group F? Who are your main fantasy prospects in this group? Who will you be picking for your teams?