With the World Cup less than six months away, the current international break was a good opportunity to see how teams are looking before 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 discussing possible favorites for the tournament, you hear Brazil, France, England, Argentina, Spain and Germany. That’s four European nations and the two South American giants. If history is to repeat itself, the likelihood is a European country will win as the continent has produced the last four winners.
Yet when looking at the recent international break, that might not be the case. The European heavyweights struggled in the new Nations League season. There is an argument to be made about fatigue and not having the best players available, but judgements can still be made.
France did not win any of their four games this past month. England haven’t scored an open play goal in five hours and Spain and Germany have been inconsistent. As stated earlier, fatigue could play a huge part in this as players are playing right after finishing their domestic season. But the concerns for most of these teams are legitimate and can be traced back to previous international breaks.
While the European nations are struggling to find consistency and a go to game plan, two countries in South America look ready to take advantage and hoist the most prestigious team trophy in all of sports. Those countries are Brazil and Argentina.
Brazil and the jogo bonito
The Seleçao are poised to bring the World Cup back home after not winning it the past two decades. Since a disappointing 2018 campaign, Brazil claimed the Copa America in 2019 and settled for runner-up to Argentina last summer.
If there was one key difference between this Brazilian team and the one from the 2018 World Cup, other than players, it’s the vibes and feeling around the squad.
The past decade’s iterations of the national team have succumbed to the pressure that comes with playing for Brazil, especially in the 2014 World Cup. No player felt that more than Neymar.
The golden boy of Brazil, who will become the all-time leading goal scorer in Brazil history in Qatar, has felt the pressure of winning that trophy. All the great predecessors before him have done it and cemented themselves in the history books. The case for Neymar is he has never had the squad those before him had.
Now he does with the rise of Vinicius Jr, Lucas Paqueta, Raphinha and Eder Militao to name a few. Along with the increase in talent, the squad harmony is perfect and the players love playing with each other. You see it on the pitch with the nice flicks and one-touch play – the beautiful game – and off the pitch with squad activities.
With Neymar suggesting this is his last World Cup, that’s extra motivation though it is not needed. With an easy group in Cameroon, Serbia and Switzerland, Brazil should feel confident going into the knockout stages. From there you ride your luck.
With their only weakness being at fullback, should the other parts of the team step up, Brazil should feel confident in their chances. They have world class players in every other position on the pitch and that should be enough to win.
The attack will be the X factor as manager Tite has them compact in defense. Therefore the attackers will need to show their brilliance and create the multitude of chances it will take to win. With players like Neymar and Vinicius, that looks very likely.
Can Argentina ride Messi to a World Cup title?
While Brazil is considered 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 resemble the 2014 squad much more than the 2018 side. The names are not as big but their play on the pitch matches it and at the head of it all is Lionel Messi.
This will more than likely be Messi’s last run at the World Cup, and he is certainly itching for it. After getting his first trophy last summer the legendary No. 10 is itching for more success. That and the fact that every “GOAT” the sport has seen has won the World Cup, bar him and Cristiano Ronaldo. While his legacy is already solidified, it is the one thing missing from his illustrious career.
Argentina is not just about Messi as there are many other players that help him. One is Angel Di Maria who scored the winner in that Copa America. The forward missed the final in 2014, and if he were healthy, it might have been a different outcome. There’s also Rodrigo De Paul who is the engine of that midfield and was superb last year. In the defense, they have Cristian Romero alongside goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
All in all, not a flashy squad but it’s a squad of players that know how to play together and get the results they need to. Which is key in tournament football and it’s something manager Lionel Scaloni has instilled into them.
The “Finalissima” was a good example of how good Argentina can play as they beat Italy convincingly, and if they play like that in Qatar, there is no one stopping them.