Qatar World Cup and a small-time punter’s voluntary disclosures

Lionel Messi
Argentina's Lionel Messi during a training session. File photo: Reuters/Amr Alfiky

As punters dabble with probability theories ahead of the football World  Cup in Qatar, usual suspects in world football are again emerging as their objects of fancy.

The favourites tag stick to these squads like a glue as these powerhouses are factories that churn out football talent in hordes.

In 21 editions of the World Cup so far, 13 of the Golden trophies have gone to just four nations.

Brazil and Germany have won five and four World Cups respectively while Argentina and France have won twice. 

European champions Italy, which would have been in this list with the glow of four world cups it won, hasn’t qualified this time, for the second time in a row.  

Added to that, Latin American champions Argentina handed over a 3-0 drubbing to them in Finalissima  -- a marquee clash of European and South American champions.

So, let us latch on to a punter’s mindset to figure out which teams will stand out. At least on paper. This is a subjective journey to the core.

A peek into the fortunes of any of these fabulous teams should delve into the production line of talent.

We are assuming local leagues are the reservoirs churning out footballing talent en masse in these nations. 

More importantly, we are leaving out a handful of teams – Spain, England, Denmark, Holland & Belgium –  that could clinch the issue any day.   

Brazil are seeking a record-extending sixth title. File photo: AFP/Charly Triballeau

Brazil’s swag

Five-time champions Brazil have shown their intent by naming nine forwards in their 26-man squad. An obvious reading of coach Tite’s fancied team’s inclination would be biased towards an attacking playing eleven.

The attacking game has always been Brazil’s coveted swag. 

The Brazilians can never stop flaunting it, even if it means this obsession has paved the way for a wobbly defence at times. With this World Cup line up, Tite has made an effort to boost the pores in defence. Also, midfielders would not have second thoughts to step up a wave of attacks or drop back deep for defensive roles. Forwards of the calibre of Neymar won’t hesitate to drop anchor either. Punters would have a tough time to look at other favourites overlooking the five-time champs, the only team to have played in all editions of World Cup.

With seven appearances in World Cup finals and five trophies in those, why would you risk omitting the Selecao?

German players pose for a team group photo before the Nations League match against England. File photo: Reuters/Tony Obrien

Germany’s precision game

Die Mannschaft means The Team.  Make no mistake, it is the German Football team’s nickname. Germany is a production line of precision football. 

Which is why four World Cups adorn the black, red and gold tricolour of the Bundesflagge. Germans also have marked their presence in world cup finals eight times, a feat even Brazil hasn’t matched.

Germany’s production line approach is rooted in Bundesliga, the premier soccer league in the country.

Regardless of form or rankings, a moonshot thinking that propels Germany as an evergreen title contender is its indomitable trust in the German league.

Consider this:  Of the 26-man German squad for the world cup, only six play in foreign clubs.   

And seven, including three forwards, are from top domestic club Bayern Munich.

This essentially means they groove with each other phenomenally, a quality which none of the top contenders can claim.

Coach Hansi Flick, a former Bayern manager  himself, has probably spotted a talisman in Jamal Musiala, 19, again from Bayern.

Kylian Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe played a key role in France's triumph in the 2018 World Cup. File photo: AFP

Burden of Les Blues 

The burden of title holders will weigh on any world class team. The overwhelming challenge Les Blues face will be to tear apart the burden of expectations. 

The last time a team won two world cup’s in a  row was Brazil in 1958 and 62, after Italy’s 1934-1938 triumph.

After the emergence of various power houses, no team has been able to emulate this feat.

Unfortunately, Didier Deschamps’ France is still seen among teams that punters bet on to win in Qatar – Along with the aforementioned teams. Les Blues have a formidable forward line up spearheaded by Real Madrid's Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe, who plays alongside Leo Messi for PSG in Ligue 1.

But midfield, the fulcrum of play, would not have tried-and-tested feet to rely on.  This could turn out to be a problem area for reigning World Champs. 

No prizes for guessing punters can still bet for Les Blues, regardless of all its drawbacks.

La Albiceleste & mountain of hopes  

Like Les Blues, Argentina has carried a huge burden of expectations to Qatar.  Qatar will be Lionel Messi’s swansong world cup and La Albiceleste has to live up to the larger-than-life hopes of fans worldwide, not only back home.

Fans may seek the World Cup for Messi, if not for Argentina, but achieving the most coveted trophy in football is a gigantic task. Agreed, the team had an unbeaten run in 35 matches with the crowning glory of defeating European champs Italy 3-0  in Finalissima.

The 5-0 warmup friendly against UAE was Argentina’s 36th unbeaten match. 

The key issue with Argentina during the Messi era is its inability to break free if its talisman was tied down by opponents. 

Scaloni seems to have bet on weaving a team of other match winners, who can complement Messi, not just look up to his magic always.

Of the 26 man squad only Franco Armani is playing for an Argentine club – River Plate. But then, Argentines as a team have always been a conglomeration of high-skilled players dabbling in different European leagues. So it all boils down to how Argentines can gel. 

Game on

Punters can only skip the aforementioned teams at their peril. But that is what they do best: Expect the unexpected. Game on, punters,  but why is it that no one is betting for an Asian team? You may not need to check out the dashboards of history, form guides and individual stats to figure it out.

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