It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Germany will top this group. The question then becomes, which team will take the 2nd spot to make it to the Round of 16. Korea Republic, currently 56th in the FIFA World Rankings, are faced with seemingly impossible odds. Rankings-wise, even the closest to Korea in the group – Sweden – are currently ranked 24th. Now, without taking Korea for granted, the last match in this group will be a do or die between Sweden and Mexico for 2nd place. All this, of course, assumes Germany don’t slip.
2014 World Cup winners, 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup champions, 1st in FIFA World Rankings; Germany are as technical and talented as they come. Winning 10 of 10 in the qualifying games, scoring 43 and conceding just 4, there is almost no reason to think they wouldn’t make it out of this round – except maybe for their recent performances in friendlies where they haven’t won any of their 5 games. Or maybe they’re just being “friendly.”
Mexico have consistently made it to the Round of 16 in all six World Cups since 1994. It will be a difficult first round to go through, but Mexico have arguably faced similar odds before: Group A with Brazil, Croatia, and Cameroon in 2014; Group A with France, Uruguay and South Africa in 2010; Group D with Portugal, Angola, and Iran. They progressed with Brazil in 2014, with Uruguay in 2010, and with Portugal in 2006 – perhaps with a bit of luck on their side as well. History would suggest that their chances are good.
Sweden kicked the Netherlands and Italy out of the 2018 World Cup. Let’s let that sink in for a moment. True that Italy haven’t been their best since their 2006 World Cup win, but, at the very least, they’ve never failed to qualify since 1962. The Netherlands, though not as consistent as Italy in qualifying and also not in top form, finished 2nd and 3rd in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, respectively. But giving more credit to Sweden where due – 7th best team in the world, France’s sole defeat in the qualifying was from Sweden. And to think Sweden are without their all-time top goalscorer, Zlatan Ibrahimović.
The Republic of Korea should’ve found their soul by the time they face Sweden. Korea’s entry to the World Cup has been less than convincing, placing 2nd in their AFC Third Round qualifying group with only 4 wins, 3 draws and 3 losses. Korea will need to dig real deep especially with all other teams looking to secure their 3 points from them. Still, anything could happen. Who knows, maybe they can reach the semi-finals again as they did in 2002.
Germany has been under the direct tutelage of Joachim Low for close to 12 years now. Chosen by Jürgen Klinsmann to be his assistant coach in 2004, Low and Klinsmann revolutionized Germany’s game to what it is now: organized, disciplined, efficient, forward moving and fast-paced. After Klinsmann resigned in 2006, Low was appointed head coach and is only the 3rd head coach to never have represented Germany as a player. Low holds the record of having the best managerial start with the German national team: 5 successive wins with 0 goals conceded in the first 4 games. To date Low’s Germany has only lost 25 of 161 games, winning 106 and drawing 30 with a goal difference of +239.
If Germany have put their faith in Low for close to 12 years now, Mexico have had 12 coaches in the same period. Juan Carlos Osorio is the latest on that list since October of 2015. Immediately after his appointment, Osorio led Mexico to an unbeaten streak of 10 games. He then led the team to the Copa America quarterfinals and the Confederations Cup semi-finals, and ended the 2018 World Cup qualifiers at the top of their group (both 4th and 5th rounds). Despite these achievements for El Tri, this year’s World Cup may be Osorio’s last with Mexico. Constant criticism from fans and the press may have taken its toll.
Bouncing back up to the Allsvenskan (the top flight of Swedish football), Janne Andersson rallied IFK Norrkoping back to its glory days. Once nicknamed Guldkoping (golden town) because of their trophy haul back in the 40s, 50s, and early 60s, Norrkoping’s next league win would be in 1989. In 2002, they were relegated to Tier 2 Superettan. After climbing back up to the Allsvenskan in 2010, Andersson kept Norrkoping in the League for 5 straight years and led them to a championship in 2015 – their first in 26 years. Andersson was then appointed Sweden’s head coach in June 2016.
Shin Tae-Yong Shin was appointed in July 2017 following the dismissal of Uli Stielike and led Korea Republic through a difficult campaign to qualify for a tenth World Cup. A former midfielder for the Taeguk Warriors, he had previously coached the national U-20 team and won the AFC Champions League with Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in 2010.
As a player, Shin Tae-Yong was an attacking midfielder for K League club Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma and Australian A-League Queensland Roar before being forced to retire in 2005 due to an ankle problem. Shin then took a post as assistant manager to Miron Bleiberg for Queensland Roar from 2005-2008 and later on returned to Korea to coach Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. Shin led Seongnam to an AFC Champions League title in 2010, an FA Cup win in 2011, and the Lunar New Year Cup in 2012. In 2017, Shin was appointed South Korea head coach and won the EAFF East Asian Cup for his first piece of silverware for his country.
Who to watch out for in Germany? The answer: Germany. Watching them as a whole is just a sight to behold. Still, expect Toni Kroos to make amazing plays for the team. With 1 World Cup win, 3 league titles with Bayern, 1 with Madrid and 4 Champions League titles, Kroos is one of the best in the world in his position. On the receiving end of Kroos’ pass, be on the lookout for Timo Werner. Scoring 21 goals in his debut season (2016-17) with RB Leipzig, 13 this season, and with 7 goals in 13 appearances for Germany, the 22-year-old striker should produce some astonishing displays.
For Mexico, all-time leading goal scorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez should still be adding to his goal count. He’s one goal shy of making 50 in a little over 100 caps for country – practically one goal for every 2 appearances. Hirving Lozano should also be bursting on to the scene. Lozano was 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League Golden Boot and League Best Player, and Eredivisie 2017–18 winner with PSV Eindhoven.
Emil Forsberg is to Sweden as Kroos is to Germany. Forsberg was voted the Swedish Midfielder of the Year in 2014, 2016 and 2017, and was the Bundesliga Assist Leader in 2016–17 while playing for RB Leipzig. Forsberg also has an eye for goal. He currently has 6 goals in 34 appearances for Sweden. Victor Lindelöf’s positional sense at the back will also be a great asset for Sweden in helping the goalie keep clean sheets.
All eyes will be on Korea’s Son Heung-Min. Son has been a revelation for the English Premier League side’s Tottenham Hotspur. Son’s debut season in 2015 may not have been spectacular but more playing time in the last two seasons gave him the chance to showcase his capabilities. Playing up front for the Spurs, Son scored 14 goals in 34 appearances in ‘16-17 and 12 in 37 in the recently concluded season. Korea will hope his good form continues in the 2018 games if they have any chance of making it out of the group stage. Son has 21 goals in 66 caps for Korea.
On the rise for Korea is Hwang Hee-chan. Hwang (22) currently plays his professional football with Austrian Red Bull Salzburg and has a tally of 17 goals in 59 games for the club. He has 2 goals for country in 14 caps.
Germany vs Mexico
Germany. Osorio will have a few Surprises for Low but Germany’s precision and efficiency should pull them through.
Sweden vs Korea Republic
Sweden. After France, Italy, and the Netherlands, Sweden will not concede to Korea.
Korea Republic vs Mexico
Mexico. It will be a tight game and Korea’s last chance but Mexico are still likely to win this.
Germany vs Sweden
Germany. But, an inspired Sweden may just produce something extraordinary.
Korea Republic vs Germany
Germany. I’m sorry Korea…
Mexico vs Sweden
Sweden. While Osorio will look to go out with a bang, Sweden have a lot riding on this.
Germany and Sweden will progress.