With the 2018 World Cup countdown well and truly underway, there are several nations with their eyes on the famous trophy, perhaps none more so than two sides who have given so much to the beautiful game on the international stage throughout the decades: France and Brazil.
The daunting list of potential opponents for both France and Brazil on their way to a possible final includes Portugal, Belgium, England and Argentina among countless others, dependent of course on how their groups develop, but one somewhat unfortunate aspect prevails; Brazil and France CANNOT meet in the final. For those hoping and dreaming of a repeat of the 1998 World Cup final exactly 20 years on, that sadly will not be the case. Yet there may be a highly anticipated meeting of these two footballing goliaths in the semi-final, which will undeniably be just as appealing.
And even now that any wishes of the two facing each other in the final have been erased, there is a huge possibility that the other semi-final will comprise two other powerhouses of world football in Spain and Germany. So it’s safe to say that if all pans out as expected, the 2018 World Cup will be a thrilling event, and if it doesn’t go as we all thought, even better!
With both sides topping their respective qualifying campaigns, with France losing just once in their ten games, and Brazil losing only one of their 18 games in South American qualification, these two international football giants have certainly sent out a message to the other teams that they will meet next summer, but who will go further?
With five World Cup victories to their name – the most successful nation in the competition’s history – The Green and Yellow are once again hot favourites to at least reach the final in Russia next year, and if their dominance in qualifying is anything to go by, it would be extremely foolish to bet against them.
12 wins, 41 goals scored and just 11 goals conceded in their lengthy qualifying campaign was no easy feat, yet Brazil stormed through a group involving the tenacity of Colombia, the passion of Uruguay and even all the talent in the world of the Argentinians – who made qualification as hard for themselves as they possibly could, and relied heavily on their talisman Lionel Messi.
Brazil, while similarly comprising several world class stars in the likes of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus, somewhat differed through the reliance on their squad depth and ability to play as a team. The top performers did however show their class throughout the campaign, with Jesus bagging seven goals in qualifying, one more than the PSG star and three ahead of Liverpool’s little magician.
A true revelation was however the forgotten man Paulinho, who has reignited his career with Barcelona after a short spell in China, and is one of the major reasons that Brazil had so much success throughout their hugely successful journey to Russia. The former Spurs man chipped in with a remarkable six goals during their smooth ride to the top of South American qualifying, including a fantastic hat-trick in the 4-1 thrashing of Uruguay in March.
Manchester City man Jesus – who will incredibly only be 21 when the World Cup kicks off – will undoubtedly have a central role to play as Brazil look to win the competition for the first time since 2002, likewise will Neymar who, as the world’s most expensive player, will undeniably look to set the game alight on the international stage. Premier League talents like Roberto Firmino, Willian and Ederson combine with La Liga stars in Filipe Luis, Casemiro and Marcelo to generate a truly unstoppable force, one which will more than likely breeze past any opposition that dare stand in their way of a joint record eighth World Cup final.
‘Les Bleus’ topped Group A in European qualification with seven wins, 18 goals scored and just six conceded, and presented their youthful squad to the rest of the world with a frightening message. Teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe looks set to tear the tournament to shreds after an incredible start to his career in Ligue 1, while Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba among countless others will ensure their star status throughout the tournament.
Captain Hugo Lloris will lead this hugely talented squad in their search for only their second victory in the competition’s history, with names like N’Golo Kante, Dimitri Payet and Raphael Varane hugely popular in the eyes of the dedicated supporters. Yet in contrast to their Brazilian counterparts, Didier Deschamps’ squad consists of a handful of stars earning their trade in France itself. Ligue 1 is often overlooked in comparison to the other top European leagues, yet French national team regulars like Djibril Sidibé and Thomas Lemar continue to earn their trade in the country, and continue to shine on the international stage.
The French side did however hit several bumps in their qualifying campaign. But their journey to the top of a group including Sweden and the Netherlands was never in doubt, with their undoubtable strength-in-depth evident throughout their ten group games, an essential characteristic required for any nation aiming to go the distance in the demanding conditions of a gruelling month of world-class football.
With the experienced eyes of Blaise Matuidi, Alexandre Lacazette and indeed Raphael Varane – at the tender age of 24 – watching over the hugely exciting youthful contingent of Mbappe, Corentin Tolisso and Kingsley Coman, there genuinely is no telling just how much this electrifying squad can achieve.
Whatever happens at Russia 2018, expect both the French and Brazilian national teams to assert their dominance early on in their respective groups, but also expect fireworks should the sides meet once again on the international stage in the greatest football spectacle on earth.