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With the 2018 World Cup in Russia starting in a month, AFP Sport takes a look at how the biggest names—who between them have won 13 of the last 20 tournaments—are shaping up: Germany
Germany’s build-up has been marred by uncertainty as to the fitness of first-choice goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. The 32-year-old Bayern Munich man has been on the sidelines since suffering a fractured foot in September.
His natural replacement is the excellent Marc-Andre ter Stegen of Barcelona. Low has a core of the team that won the 2014 title, and can also call on the likes of Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Timo Werner. Marco Reus will hope to be fit this time too.
In 2014, Brazil’s hopes rested on the shoulders of Neymar, and the back injury he suffered in the quarter-final win over Colombia sparked the meltdown which led to the 7-1 humiliation against Germany in the semis. Fast forward four years and the nation is again sweating on his fitness.
The world’s most expensive player is recovering from a foot injury suffered playing for Paris Saint-Germain in February. The absence of his PSG colleague Dani Alves with a knee injury is a huge blow too, but Brazil still look far better now under Tite than they did in 2014.
After poor showings in their last two major tournaments under Vicente del Bosque, Spain are on the up again under his successor Julen Lopetegui. The former goalkeeper has yet to lose a game in charge, with Spain dropping just two points in qualifying and recently destroying Argentina 6-1 in a friendly.
With Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique still there in front of David de Gea, they have one of the best defences in the business. Further forward, it will be difficult to stop the likes of David Silva and Isco in full flow, and then there is Andres Iniesta.
France fell short on home soil at Euro 2016, losing in extra time to Portugal in the final. That increases the pressure on coach Didier Deschamps to deliver this time with a gifted squad.
To silence his critics, he needs to find the right system to bring the best out of his squad, especially in attack, where Antoine Griezmann is the main man but teen sensation Kylian Mbappe will be one to watch too. This is also surely the stage for Paul Pogba to really step up.
After their defeat in the 2014 final, this is Lionel Messi’s big chance to finally get his hands on the trophy. -AFP