World Cup 2018: Why the Final will be France vs Germany
At the start of each football season, I always make a prediction of the winners of respective competitions including this year with the World Cup 2018 looming ever nearer. Back before the season began, I stated it would be either France or Germany winning the World Cup. The domestic season has passed, and my mind hasn't changed at all. This article will, hopefully, put across why I think it will be a France vs Germany final in Moscow.
The German Depth
As I am writing this, the French squad has not been announced yet, but yesterday the German provisional squad was announced. The biggest headline from that announcement is that the two players who set up and scored the World Cup Final winning goal in Brazil - Mario Götze and Andre Schürrle - both failed to make the squad.
Götze is the more surprising one because after all the promise he showed in 2014, to now, not even being in the squad in 2018. The reason is clearly the dip in his form with Götze only scoring 3 times and setting up 6 goals in 38 games for Borussia Dortmund. And with the depth that Germany possess, they can afford to not bring him to Russia.
The German squad is always going to be strong, possessing a midfield with the likes of Toni Kroos, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira, just to name a few. Despite possessing lethal finishers and a variety of options such as Timo Werner, Thomas Müller and Mario Gomez, their range of defensive and goalkeeping options is the thing that stands out.
Having arguably the strongest defence in the world, with FC Bayern's Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels in the centre, flanked by "Phillipp Lahm 2.0" in Joshua Kimmich and either the ever-reliable Jonas Hector or the free-kick specialist Marvin Plattenhardt, it would take something special to breach this defence.
Their backup options are not bad either with Antonio Rüdiger from Chelsea, the reliable Matthias Ginter from Borussia Mönchengladbach, and the two young CBs in Jonathan Tah from Bayer 04 and Niklas Süle, also from FC Bayern.
And even if you do breach that defence, you would have to beat the best keeper in the world, Manuel Neuer (if he is fit), but even if the captain isn't fit, then you have the more than capable Marc-Andre ter Stegen to beat. With the versailty and the Germans' ability to always perform on the big stage, I can't see why they cannot at least reach the final yet again.
The French Depth
France, however, can also argue that they possess a scary amount of depth in their squad. However, unlike the Germans, their goalkeeping depth is limited but they have Hugo Lloris, who is world-class, but this season has been prone to make errors. It is unlikely another keeper will displace Lloris, unless due to injury.
In defence, they received a huge blow when Laurent Koscielny was ruled out due to injury, who was almost a certainty to start in the heart of the defence for France but had been also quite error-prone for North London-based Arsenal this season.
The defence will certainly include Barcelona's Samuel Umtiti and Real Madrid's Raphael Varane but the debate still surrounds the likes of Djibril Sidibe from Monaco, Benjamin Mendy from Manchester City, Clement Lenglet from Sevilla and more, all vying to play in the French back four.
For me, the strength for France is in the midfield and up front. They possibly possess the most solid midfield you could have in Blaise Matiudi, N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba. However, you also have the likes of Moussa Sissoko, Corentin Tolisso from FC Bayern, Adrien Rabiot from PSG and Dimitri Payet.
On the wings, you have the likes of Thomas Lemar from Monaco, Florian Thauvin from Marseille, Ousmane Dembele from Barca or Kingsley Coman from FC Bayern. Then up front, there are almost too many options.
From Euro 2016, Deschamps enjoyed playing two strikers up front, using either Olivier Giroud or Andre-Pierre Gignac supporting the lethal Antoine Griezmann. Now Gignac had a very poor Euro for me, whilst Giroud played well and has continued his form, especially since his move to Chelsea from London rivals Arsenal.
With this system, Giroud gives France a different option so he will be on the plane. He's a different option because of his height and strength in aerial duels, compared to other strikers France has.
Antoine Griezmann will almost certainly start, however you have the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Nabil Fekir, Anthony Martial, Wissam Ben Yedder and Alexandre Lacazette, all desperate for a call-up.
What will worry Manchester United fans though, is the fact that Anthony Martial is the only one on that list who has not been in good form recently. So his place might under threat to play up front in the middle, but could still make it as a winger.
This attacking depth with a strong defence behind them again leaves me no choice but to believe that we will see them in their first World Cup final since 2006.
The other contenders just aren't strong enough
Now the first thoughts of people reading this, what about Brazil, Portugal, Argentina or even Spain?
Honestly, Brazil is the only team on this list that I can see come close. However, for me, their defence still need to answer questions. They might have stronger goalkeepers and a more bolstered midfield, but their defence isn't all that better than the one they had in 2014, and we all know what happened against Germany.
As well as that, if Neymar does not recover in time for the World Cup, I highly doubt they will challenge for the title, similar to what happened in 2014, but at least they have better quality behind him with Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho to name a few.
Personally, Portugal were quite fortunate that France did not play well in the final in Euro 2016 and I don't think they will get that lucky this time around. However, the factor of Cristiano Ronaldo cannot be ignored, especially on a world stage where he thrives.
Although, the lack of real cutting edge quality behind Ronaldo is the problem for Portugal and they certainly do not have a strong defence to help either, which is why I can see them struggling, but Ronaldo could prove me wrong.
Then comes Argentina. Attacking wise, they are even better than France with the names they possess, like Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria. However, in defence, they are very very weak.
Similar to Portugal, they will need to rely on one man to carry them through this tournament in Lionel Messi. Messi like Ronaldo, could do it, but his lack of success on the international stage could hinder him or yet spur him on.
Can Messi end the curse of Argentina? I don't think so, but I would love to see Argentina vs Portugal, the battle of Messi vs Ronaldo on an international stage.
Now the mysterious case of Spain. They have quality, that is not the issue. However, they don't stand out like they did in 2010 or 2012, when they were dominant. A lot of countries have worked out how to play them, as seen in the World Cup of 2014.
However with players such as Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva, they could go far, but for me, they lack the quality that they had before to really challenge for glory. It would take a massive defensive display, but they do possess arguably the most in-form goalkeeper in world football in David De Gea.
As for the other countries, I really cannot see how any of them could go on to win the World Cup. In this list I include Belgium as individually, they are very strong but seemingly cannot function collectively with all the stars in the team.
Whilst with England, I can hope, but I certainly won't believe even with Harry Kane leading the line.
Therefore, with the limitless depth of the French and the Germans, I cannot see any other result in this World Cup, but these two meeting in the Final, and as long as they play to their true potential, it is very much possible...