The defending champs have a tricky but not overpowering group and face Mexico right out of the gate in their first match. A result for Mexico in that game could take a lot of pressure off their remaining games but it will still take a lot to break down a tough defensive team like Sweden and avoid an upset against Korea.
Why do we call this a “primer” and not a preview? Because this is more a lot of key information in one place that I think is a handy reference for viewers rather than a ton of specific analysis on what each team can or could do at the World Cup.
Germany vs. Mexico, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow (11 am ET, FS1, Telemundo)
Sweden vs. South Korea, Nizhny Novgorod (8 am ET, FS1, Telemundo)
South Korea vs. Mexico, Rostov (11 am ET, Fox, Telemundo)
Germany vs. Sweden, Sochi (2 pm ET, Fox, Telemundo)
South Korea vs. Germany, Kazan (10 am ET, *FS1, Universo)
Mexico vs. Sweden, Ekaterinburg (10 am ET, *Fox, Telemundo)
Head Coach: Joachim Low (GER)
Rankings: FIFA 1 / ELO 1
Nickname: Die Mannschaft
Qualification: UEFA (Europe) Group C Winners
Appearance: 19th / Best Finish: Champions (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)
Players You Should Know: Everyone
Player You Should Watch: GK Manuel Neuer, Bayern Munich (GER), 76 caps - Neuer is a brilliant shot stopper, but you should watch him for the times he comes off his line and does amazing and often times absolutely filthy skill moves while on the ball away from goal.
Germany basically showed up last summer to the Confederations Cup with a “B” side and won that tournament handily. When this machine is running at anything close to peak effectiveness, which is most of the time, Germany are a dominant force. The group overall might be a bit tricky since they face Mexico first, but it’s a favorable draw at the bottom of the bracket if they win the group. Anything less than the semifinals would be a tremendous shock.
Head Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio (COL), shout out to a Southern Connecticut State Univ. graduate
Rankings: FIFA 15 / ELO 18
Nickname: El Tri
Qualification: CONCACAF (N America) “The Hex” Champions
Appearance: 16th / Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1970, 1986)
Player You Should Know: FW Javier Hernandez, West Ham Utd (ENG), 102 caps / 49 goals - Already Mexico’s all-time leading international scorer, Chicharito has a chance to become El Tri’s all-time World Cup scorer. He has three career goals at the tournament, one behind countryman Luis Hernandez, who scored four times in the 1998 edition.
Player You Should Watch: DF Miguel Layun, Sevilla (ESP), 64 caps / 6 goals - Had a breakout Gold Cup a few years ago and never looked back, an attack minded fullback/wingback who has bounced around in his club career recently.
Since 1994, Mexico has qualified for every World Cup and been eliminated in the Round of 16. Their only two previous appearances in the quarterfinals were as hosts and I don’t expect that to chance. They can make it out of the group, but it will likely be as runners up and that likely means Brazil in the knockout stages.
SOUTH KOREA [KOR/F4]
Head Coach: Shin Tae-Yong (KOR)
Rankings: FIFA 57 / ELO 39
Nickname: Taegeuk Warriors
Qualification: AFC (Asia) Third Round Group A Runners-up
Appearance: 10th / Best Finish: Fourth Place (2002)
Players You Should Know/Watch: MF Ki Sung-yueng and FW Son Heung-min, combined 169 caps / 31 goals - The EPL duo from Swansea (just relegated) and Tottenham are the stars on an otherwise largely domestic/regional roster. Son has scored double digit goals for Spurs in each of the last two seasons.
Their run to the semifinals as hosts in 2002 remains one of my fondest World Cup memories, but aside from qualifying for nine straight tournaments, they have only one other knockout stage appearance in 2010. They gave up 10 goals in their qualifying group enroute to a 4-3-3 record which seems very mediocre given the overall strength of the group. Son could be great and it might not be enough to get Korea out of the group.
Head Coach: Janne Andersson (SWE)
Rankings: FIFA 24/ ELO 21
Nickname: Blagult (The Blue-Yellow)
Qualification: UEFA (Europe) Aggregate Playoff Winners vs. Italy 1-0
Appearance: 12th / Best Finish: Runners-up (1958)
Roster Breakdown: 0 Domestic, 4 Italy, 3 France, 3 England, 3 Germany, 2 Wales, 2 Russia, 1 Denmark, 1 Scotland, 1 USA/MLS, 1 UAE, 1 Belgium, 1 Spain
Recent Results: June 2, vs. Denmark, D 0-0; June 9, vs Peru, D 0-0
Player You Should Know: MF Sebastian Larsson, Hull City (ENG), 100 caps / 6 goals - Only Swedish player on the roster with a century mark of international games, Larsson has been a solid holding mid in the English Championship mostly with Sunderland and Hull.
Players You Should Watch: FWs Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen, combined 116 caps / 31 goals - Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn’t walking through that door, which means these two are going to have to do some heavy lifting up top to get Sweden into the knockout rounds.
The mantra of defense wins championships is largely true, and it’s defense that got Sweden to the World Cup by shutting out Italy over two legs in the UEFA playoffs, I don’t know if they have enough attacking power to advance. They will absolutely be able to frustrate just about everyone in the group, including Germany, but we’ll have to see if there’s enough offense to steal a win in this group and get into the knockout stages.
I have hopes that a lot of these games will be entertaining, and not because Germany is in them. There’s a lot of good team soccer to be had in these games and that should make up for some of the lack in star power. It’s Germany’s group to lose but I see them going through but needing a result against Korea on the final day to clinch it. Mexico has the edge on second but it wouldn’t shock me to see Sweden there either.
1 - Germany (7 pts); 2 - Mexico (4 pts); 3 - Sweden (2 pts); 4 - South Korea (1 pt)