MOSCOW — Guide to the teams in Group F at the World Cup:
The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after being unbeaten in all games in 2017.
They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl.
World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals.
KEY PLAYER: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) — Germany’s new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires teammates going forward.
COACH: Joachim Loew — Juergen Klinsmann’s assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Loew took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title.
Mexico has been a regular at the World Cup, but always comes up just short. It has played in the last six World Cups, and was knocked out each time in the round of 16.
Reaching the quarterfinals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice — 1970 and 1986 when they were host.
Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and was impressive in qualifying this time, doing it with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Archrival the United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this.
KEY PLAYER: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) — Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano.
COACH: Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio — Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer’s Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup.
Sweden had just stunned Italy in the playoffs to qualify for its first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country’s best player: “We are Zweden.”
The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team.
The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year’s European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back?
Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seems more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can.
Watch this space.
KEY PLAYER: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) — Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden’s inspiration in attack.
COACH: Janne Andersson — Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic.
Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014’s meek group-stage exit than 2002’s swashbuckling run to the semifinals.
Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contender Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria’s failure to beat Iran.
Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players — Tottenham’s Son Heung-min, Swansea’s Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace’s Lee Chung-yong — who bring valuable experience of top-level football.
KEY PLAYER: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) — The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history.
COACH: Shin Tae-yong — When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea’s qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former under-23s team coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia.
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