Group F: History and form favour Germany

While Germany will be the favourites to go through to the knockout stages, Sweden's match against Mexico will effectively decide second place in the group.

Toni Kroos will hold the strings in the German midfield   -  Getty Images

 

Group F is relatively strong, featuring four-time champion and holder Germany, Sweden, Mexico and South Korea, but history and form make Germany the obvious favourite to top the group. Die Mannschaft under coach Joachim Loew has not exited from a major international competition before semifinals. But the curse of the World Cup winner will haunt Germany, which is hoping to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to defend the title.

 

Sweden, which famously knocked out Italy from the World Cup in qualifying, is making an appearance at the showpiece event after 12 years, and its match against Mexico will be crucial, effectively deciding second place in the group.

The Mexicans making their ninth consecutive appearance in the World Cup can still be the dark horse in the group and has the wherewithal to be a thorn in the flesh of Germany and Sweden, while South Korea looks the weakest of the lot, and with a patchy show in the qualifiers, the team doesn’t inspire much confidence.

Germany

Ranked No.1 in the world, Germany breezed through the qualifiers, winning all 10 matches and hammering in an astonishing 43 goals scored by 21 different players, giving Loew a few selection headaches before he finalised his squad.

Germany, despite the loss of several veterans, has enough depth, as shown recently in the qualifiers and in the FIFA Confederations Cup triumph in Russia last year. Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil, Jerome Boetang and Matt Hummels are still around and will form the core of the team. The Germans have not lost a World Cup match to any of their group rivals since 1958 and are favourites to top the group.

Key player

Toni Kroos

The Real Madrid player will hold the strings in the German midfield. An intelligent player known for his precision and clever distribution, Kroos will be playing his third World Cup and will inspire his forwards.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Kevin Trapp.

Defenders: Matthias Ginter, Jonas Hector, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Niklas Sule, Joshua Kimmich, Marvin Plattenhardt, Antonio Rudiger.

Midfielders/forwards: Julian Brandt, Julian Draxler, Mario Gomez, Leon Goretzka, Ilkay Gundogan, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, Sebastien Rudy, Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus, Timo Werner.

World Cup record

18 appearances

Champions in 1954, 1974, 1990, 2014

Sweden

The Swedes have learnt to win without their best ever player Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who retired from international football two years ago. The team showed a lot of character in the qualifying campaign and shocked Italy in the play-offs. Sweden is effective without being spectacular and can ace its rivals with the high-ball game. But the lack of a big star and the relative inexperience of its players can hurt the side.

Sweden will be making its first appearance in the finals since 2006   -  Getty Images

 

Key player

Marcus Berg

Marcus Berg has stepped up and filled Ibrahimovic’s boots admirably. He is lethal with high balls and scored eight goals in the qualifiers. Berg will be Sweden’s trump card in Russia.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Robin Olsen, Kristoffer Nordfeldt, Karl-Johan Johnsson.

Defenders: Andreas Granqvist, Victor Lindelöf, Mikael Lustig, Ludwig Augustinsson, Pontus Jansson, Emil Krafth, Filip Helander, Martin Olsson.

Midfielders: Sebastian Larsson, Gustav Svensson, Albin Ekdal, Emil Forsberg, Viktor Claesson, Jimmy Durmaz, Marcus Rohden, Oscar Hiljemark.

Forwards: Marcus Berg, John Guidetti, Isaac Kiese-Thelin, Ola Toivonen.

World Cup record

11 appearances

Runner-up in 1958

Mexico

Mexico has not been able to overcome the curse of the fifth match since 1994. The Mexicans play their own brand of pleasing, attacking football, but they have underachieved despite having a posse of talented footballers in the past. Ranked 16th, Mexico breezed through the qualifiers. Its Europe-based players hold the key in Russia, but the team has never beaten Sweden or Germany in the World Cup.

It was during the World Cup in 2010 where Javier Hernandez announced himself on the scene   -  Getty Images

 

The young German side decimated Mexico in the Confederations cup semifinals last year, and the loss will weigh heavily against the North American side when the two meet in the first match of the group.

Key player

Javier Hernandez

Javier Hernandez is Mexico’s all-time highest goalscorer. A clinical finisher, Hernandez is known for his prowess to score from close range. Mexico will look up to his finishing skills again in Russia.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa, Alfredo Talavera, Jesus Corona.

Defenders: Diego Reyes, Carlos Salcedo, Hector Moreno, Miguel Layun, Jesus Gallardo, Hugo Ayala, Edson Alvarez.

Midfielders: Hector Herrera, Andres Guardado, Rafa Marquez, Jonathan dos Santos, Marco Fabian, Giovani dos Santos.

Forwards: Javier Aquino, Jesus ‘Tecatito’ Corona, Raul Jimenez, Oribe Peralta, Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Hirving Lozano.

World Cup record

15 appearances

Quarterfinals in 1970, 1986

South Korea

South Korea will need a miracle to qualify for the knockout stage. The country scraped through the qualifiers, struggling with its leaky defence, and a lot will depends on its Europe-based players. South Korea has never won a match in the World Cup against its group rivals, and a repeat show of 2002 looks unlikely.

Key player

Son Heung-min

South Korea’s chances of creating an upset ride on the Tottenham star. Son Heung-min has been in fine form for his club, scoring 16 goals this season. Nicknamed Sonaldo, he has the pace and finishing skills to be a headache for even the best defence.

South Korea will hope that Son Heung-min (C) replicates his Tottenham Hotspur form at the World Cup   -  Getty Images

 

Squad

Goalkeepers: Kim Seung-gyu, Kim Jin-hyeon, Cho Hyun-woo.

Defenders: Kim Young-gwon, Jang Hyun-soo, Jung Seung-hyun, Yun Yong-sun, Oh Ban-suk, Kim Min-woo, Park Joo-ho, Hong Chul, Go Yo-han, Lee Yong .

Midfielders: Ki Sung-yueng, Jung Woo-young, Ju Se-jong, Koo Ja-cheolm Lee Jae-sung, Lee Seung-woo, Moon Seon-min.

Forwards: Kim Shin-wook, Son Heung-min, Hwang Hee-chan.

World Cup record

9 appearances

Fourth in 2002