3 days to go until the balls are drawn at the World Cup draw, and the groups decided for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. As we did for the 2014 World Cup, the Taegukwarriors.com crew decided to rank teams in order of strength to see which countries we’d like to avoid, and which countries are within striking distance. First, Pot 1.
How does it work?
The basics of the World Cup Draw: 32 teams, divided into 4 pots of 8, and then drawn into 8 groups of 4. This year, the pots have been ordered by FIFA Ranking – Pot 1 being the highest-ranked teams, and Pot 4, the lowest. No points for guessing where Korea is ranked. The exception are the hosts Russia, who are automatically seeded in Pot 1 for the draw.
Russia will automatically go into Group A, in position 1, as hosts. The remaining 7 teams in Pot 1 will fill out Groups B-H, but will also all be allocated position 1 in the group. Pot 2, 3, and 4 are then drawn, with the positions in the group also being selected by lottery. No team from the same confederation can play each other, with the exception of European teams, on which there is a 2-per-group maximum.
Previewing Pot 1 of the World Cup Draw:
Seeded Teams – Russia, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, France
Jae Chee is our Paul the Octopus – we have been ferociously trying to persuade him to give his rankings. Hopefully he and other writers will join in, and I’ll edit this post if they do.
Russia welcome the world for the first time as hosts of the FIFA World Cup. Traditionally, home teams have more often than not succeeded on familiar terrain with home field advantage (see Korea 2002), and only once have the hosts not progressed past the Group Stage (South Africa 2010). This could be a major boost for a Russian side that otherwise has looked rather lacklustre despite ferociously trying to build a strong program ever since they won the bid. Though usually with the reputation of being a solid “mid-table” side, in this pot they are the dream draw.
Last Meeting: International Friendly (2017)
Result: South Korea 2 Russia 4
Writer Ranking: Jae (25), Jinseok (21), Michael (21), Nicole (23), Roy (28), Tim (20)
Germany are of course, defending World Champions, and a very scary side indeed. Though a few personnel changes have been made here and there since their 2014 triumph, quite impossibly the Germans only seem to have gotten scarier. They won the Confederations Cup with ease while playing a reserve side, and coasted unscathed through qualifying. Joachim Low’s group boasts a winning streak going back to Euro 2016, and if there were questions at striker in 2014, Timo Werner has emerged as the favorite to lead the line in 2018. The German Machine could well become the first side since Brazil 1958-1962 to repeat as champions.
Last meeting: International Friendly (2004)
Result: South Korea 3 Germany 1
Writer Ranking: Jae (2), Jinseok (1), Michael (1), Nicole (1), Roy (2), Tim (1)
After handily winning a scrappy CONMEBOL qualifying with games to spare, Brazil is a side really best avoided until the knockout stages. Neymar, of course, is the main threat, but it was Gabriel Jesus who led his side in goals during qualifying. Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, Barcelona’s Paulinho and Chelsea’s Willian will terrorize, while fullbacks such as Dani Alves and Marcelo, who may be playing in their last World Cup, will combine for a high-octane offensive display that could prove deadly. The key, of course, is providing that solid base for the creative stars to shine, and avoid the “too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen” syndrome that had stricken Brazil before.
Last meeting: International Friendly (2013)
Result: South Korea 0 Brazil 2
Writer Ranking: Jae (1), Jinseok (2), Michael (3), Nicole (2), Roy (1), Tim (3)
Portugal, as demonstrated by that infamous draw-fest to the European title, are a notoriously difficult side to beat, but not one to blow you away. In 2014, Tavern contributor Jae Chee said, “If there’s any team that is wholly reliant on one player, it’s Portugal.” Not too much has changed. Though other talents such as André Silva has emerged as Ronaldo’s heir apparent on the side, and there is good quality all around with Bernardo Silva and the ever-detestable Pepe, there is no disputing that the fates of this team hinge on how clinical Real Madrid’s superstar will be. He can carry them to the finals, or struggle and leave them in the Group Stage.
Last Meeting: 2002 World Cup
Result: South Korea 1 Portugal 0
Writer Ranking: Jae (8), Jinseok (7), Michael (7), Nicole (6), Roy (5), Tim (5)
Much like the French (discussed later) the Belgium side have a group of extremely talented, dynamic individuals, but questions remain about how they will play together on the pitch. Their reputation of being the “sneakily good team” has kind of morphed into being a “good team, but one that underwhelms on the big stage”. Roberto Martinez has been brought in to do the managerial job, but faced criticism recently for his tactical approach by Kevin de Bruyne. It is against the big teams that Belgium will face the greatest test, but against weaker opponents, Hazard, Lukaku, de Bruyne in a deeper role, and the Spurs duo of Vertonghen and Alderweireld should be more than enough.
Last Meeting: 2014 World Cup
Result: South Korea 0 Belgium 2
Writer Ranking: Jae (6), Jinseok (6), Michael (5), Nicole (4), Roy (7), Tim (6)
In a World Cup without the USA, Italy, Holland and Chile, how strange it would have been to see 2014’s runners-up Argentina not make the cut. 2017 has not been a good year for Jorge Sampaoli’s side – a loss to Bolivia, a draw with Venezuela at home – it took Lionel Messi’s individual heroics against Ecuador on the final matchday to hoist Argentina into the show. But the 4-2 loss to Nigeria earlier this month has shown that it’s not just about having the star quality, such as a loaded attack of Dybala, Higuain, Paredes, Di Maria, Lavezzi and Messi, but also the cohesive unit. Portugal have been grinding out results, and Argentina just aren’t there. Though you never want to draw Argentina, given you wouldn’t count them out to rise to the occasion at the tournament, they enter the home stretch in a worse state than 4 years prior.
Last meeting: 2010 World Cup
Result: South Korea 1 Argentina 4
Writer Ranking: Jae (5), Jinseok (5), Michael (6), Nicole (3), Roy (6), Tim (7)
Poland are probably the greatest one-man team in this group, even more so than Portugal and Argentina. One man comes to mind: Robert Lewandowski. But it remains infuriatingly difficult to read the tea leaves on this Polish side which, on paper, has mightily improved over the past few years, but on the pitch, avoided playing international friendlies all year to maintain their top 8 ranking. A spiritless draw against Uruguay and a 1-0 defeat to Mexico this month have revealed that the Euro 2016 dilemma may hold true for the Poles – Lewandowski score, you go far. Lewandowski miss, send bye-bye kiss. (I’m imaging that Polish people speak like this. Sorry.)
Last meeting: 2011 International Friendly
Result: South Korea 2 Poland 2
Writer Ranking: Jae (12), Jinseok (15), Michael (8), Nicole (12), Roy (14), Tim (13)
The darkhorse at this World Cup (among the contenders) are France. With a depth pool second only to Germany’s – Mbappe, Pogba, Payet, Gameiro, Dembele, Griezmann, Lacazette, Giroud, Matuidi, Sissoko, Kante, Coman, Benzema, Lemar, Bakayoko, Tolisso, Umtiti, Digne, Martial, Kurzawa, Varane, Koscielny, Lloris – I could go on – this is a scary French generation. However the fault is in their numbers – Didier Deschamps has yet to really demonstrate he knows how to make the French click. If they find the magic formula in the coming months, then there is no doubt the French can win it all, but so as long as their anemic and disjointed displays continue, France may struggle to go far. Nonetheless, a side best avoided for Korea.
Last Meeting: 2006 World Cup
Result: South Korea 1 France 1
Writer Ranking: Jae (4), Jinseok (3), Michael (2), Nicole (7), Roy (3), Tim (4)
Tavern Average Pot 1 preferences:
Easiest -> Hardest
Russia, Poland, Portugal, Belgium, Argentina, France, Brazil, Germany
Who would you rather avoid, and who would you rather get in this group?