The picture remains unclear. Established favorites faltered. The two winners, Portugal and Chile, will be long shots entering the World Cup. We project our five favorites and offer some teams to be skeptical about.
Favorites To Win in 2018
France: France did not come through on home soil. Still, this was a young team. They have two more years to mature. Griezmann and Pogba will be 27 and 25 respectively. They are stocked with young defensive talent. Twenty-year-olds Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial have two more years to mature. Maybe N’Golo Kanté, who will be 27, gets a game next time around. Fullbacks Patrice Evra (37 in 2018) and Bacary Sagna (35 in 2018) are the only parts that need replacing.
Germany: The Mannschaft never found their form. Perhaps there are questions to ask about whether Joachim Low has gotten the most out of his teams. Still, the Germans may have cruised at Euro 2016 if Thomas Mueller had been plugged in. Of their first choice XI, only Howedes (30) and Khedira (31) will be north of 30 heading into the 2018 World Cup. Finding a lead striker would be helpful, but Germany will be among the favorites (if not the outright favorite).
Argentina: The Albiceleste have a little under two years to convince Lionel Messi to return. We suspect he will. This team should still be the best contender outside Europe. But, the window may be closing. Messi, Higuain, Aguero, and Di Maria will be 30 or older in 2018. Javier Mascherano, who has been a rock in midfield, will be 34. Though, a wrinkled, creaking Portugal team won Euro 2016, so don’t count them out.
Brazil: Brazil went out in the group stage at Copa America Centenario. They also sent a B-team, shelving veterans and reserving Neymar for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Neymar proved himself as a leader before being injured in 2014. He should be in his prime at 26 heading to Russia. Brazil have the dynamic star. They have the raw material to put around him. We’ll see what materializes under new coach Tite.
Spain: Things have become calcified. Spain need fresh ideas from a new coach. They must find a striker. Andres Iniesta, who will be 34, will be gone or in the backseat. That said, Spanish clubs are dominating European club football. Even this underwhelming Spain team had enough talent to leave Isco, who played in the Champions League final for Real Madrid, on the tarmac. There’s work to be done, but there’s the potential for it to pay dividends.
Teams To Be Skeptical About
Portugal: Three draws in the group stage and a third place finish? That gets you eliminated from a World Cup. At Euro 2016 Portugal were veteran and savvy. At the 2018 World Cup, they will be geriatric. Five of the seven defenders at the Euros, including starting CBs Pepe and Jose Fonte, will be 34 or older. Ronaldo will be 33 and have one foot in MLS. Quaresma will be 34. Even if Renato Sanches is the next CR7, he won’t be ready to carry Portugal to glory yet.
Italy: Never count out the Italians. This team outperformed expectations and took the Germans to penalties. But, Antonio Conte leaves to coach Chelsea. Almost every key player from Euro 2016 will be in their 30s (if not already). Italy should get Verratti and Marchisio back. Still, there is a major talent dearth. The Italians don’t have a single player under 29 with 30 caps for the national team.
Chile: Chile have won the last two Copas. Fair play to them. But, this team’s core will be rounding the corner by 2018. The Chileans are thin with top level talent. Losing Arturo Vidal or Alexis Sanchez would devastate this team. They thrive on being organized and aggressive. But, that won’t carry them as far in a longer tournament against better opposition in Russia.
Russia: The host team gets a boost. The Russian team needs to be strapped to a rocket. Russia may have been the worst participant at Euro 2016. They were slow, lumbering, poorly organized, and devoid of invention. They weren’t young either. Just one man in the 23-man squad was under 25. It’s hard to see what this team can do, legally, to reboot in two years with no competitive matches.
England: Squad talent will put them among the Top 10 favorites. They could not get a win against the aforementioned Russia team. We’re skeptical about Jurgen Klinsmann being the savior.