For the true casual fan....Quick-twitch bits and opinions on the 32 teams, if you accidentally stumble upon soccer while watching TV this month! GROUP F edition.
SWEDEN: I can't wait to watch Sweden in the World Cup to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic....wait....HE'S NOT ON THE SQUAD?!?!?!?!?! He retired from international competition following Sweden's elimination in Euro 2016 and while there have been hints at him coming back to the national team, he has stuck with his decision. Sweden is the reason, by the way, that my favorite player of all time is not in the tournament(Italian goalkeeper Gigi Buffon). They needed to win a 2-leg playoff with Italy to qualify for the World Cup, and Sweden miraculously advanced. Emil Forsberg and Sebastian Larsson are two important difference makers on a team that lacks elite talent. This group is a two-horse race. Sweden is not one of those horses.
SOUTH KOREA: This country is playing in its 9th straight World Cup! They're not great, however. SK produced an incredible run in 2002 when it hosted the World Cup, making it to the semi-final before being eliminated by Germany(who beat USA in the quarterfinal). Otherwise, they've only made it out of the group stage once. They have a 25yr old named Son Heung-min. He's their best player, and you can watch him tear it up with Tottenham in the Premier League. Cheers to South Korea for making the trip to Russia, but they can confidently start booking the return flight for immediately after the group stage.
MEXICO: Out of the 20 World Cups, Mexico have played in 15 of them. This is their 7th consecutive campaign, and they made it out of their group is each of the last six. The problem is, they have eliminated in the round of 16 each of those six times(problem for THEM, I should say. I couldn't care less how Mexico performs in the World Cup. It's bad for business if our neighbors to the South hoist a major trophy before we do.). Their squad is cool, though. Some MLS representation with LAFC's Carlos Vela being the middle man to set up Chicharito(Mexico's best striker ever, probably?) in the attack. More MLS players with Giovani & Jonathan Dos Santos in the mix, although I'm unsure if they'll be in any starting lineups in Russia. Ochoa is great in net for El Tri. I also like Hirving "Chucky" Lozano because I like saying his name. Clearly the 2nd most talented squad in this group.
GERMANY: The defending champions!!! Brazil won back-to-back tournaments in 1958 & 62, and it hasn't happened since. The Germans are stacked. I love Thomas Muller. I love Draxler. The thing I'm interested in watching is how Muller may be taking a back seat to this 22yr old they love named Timo Werner. He'll play up top for the Germans and I love the move. The problem Spain had when they won in 2010 and embarrassed themselves in 2014 was that they didn't add enough fresh talent to the roster for the repeat. Germany and manager Joachim Loew appear more fearless in their effort to stay elite. From Neuer in net, to Kroos and Khedira patrolling the middle with Boateng and Hummels in the defense. This is as strong a defending champion as we've seen.
***Germany makes this group look silly, Mexico the clear Runner-Up.