Sweden v South Korea, Monday 18th June, 13:00
Opposing AFC teams in the FIFA World Cup is likely to be a popular strategy following Saudi Arabia’s 0-5 loss to Russia in the tournament opener and, while Sweden’s limitations are there for all to see, one suspects the Blue and Yellows have enough about them to get the better of Korea Republic.
One understands that it cannot be a FIFA World Cup without representation from all around the globe but that the AFC region has four and a half of the 32 spots – and Australia made it five AFC sides in Russia by sneaking past horrible Honduras – is a joke that is not funny anymore. There is plenty of money in AFC football – for example, the Chinese Super League is awash with cash – but the quality of the national teams in Asia is, arguably, getting worse rather than better. AFC Cup champion Australia’s side is its weakest in a generation and the area’s perennial powers, including Korea Republic, are heading backwards as well.
Korea Republic was uninspiring in qualifying for the FIFA World Cup, scoring just 11 goals in its 10 games against China, Iran, Qatar, Syria and Uzbekistan and only posting four wins. One cannot get out of one’s head that non-FIFA World Cup qualifier Wales thrashed China 6-0 in China three months ago and that any half-decent CONMEBOL or UEFA side would run up cricket scores versus the opponents that Korea Republic struggled to defeat in its preliminary program.
Since qualifying for the FIFA World Cup, Korea Republic’s friendly matches have included a draw with Bolivia and losses against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Ireland, Poland and Senegal. There is a mountain of evidence that Korea Republic is not very good and, ranked 20 places beneath Sweden on the World Football Elo Ratings, one wants to oppose the Taeguk Warriors in Nizhny Novgorod on Monday.
Sweden is one of those teams that is greater than the sum of its parts – its players work for each other, its coach has a system to which everyone adheres and the entire group has a strong mentality, which was evident in the 1-0 aggregate defeat of Italy that qualified the Blue and Yellows for the FIFA World Cup. Flattered by its 2-1 home win over France in UEFA Group A – Blues goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had a brain fade during stoppage time – Sweden lost its star quality when Zlatan Ibrahimovic pulled the pin after UEFA Euro 2016 and the Blue and Yellows failed to score in each of their last three friendly games before the FIFA World Cup began. One will be looking to back Germany and Mexico to get the better of Sweden in subsequent FIFA World Cup Group F rounds but Korea Republic is terrible and is in Russia to be beaten.
Form Lines Favour a German Victory vs Mexico
Germany v Mexico, Sunday 17th June, 16:00
Recent direct form lines are rare in international football so punters should relish the fact that Germany and Mexico met in last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup and the result was, to put it bluntly, one-sided in favour of the Germans. It took only six minutes for Germany to hit the front and Joachim Low’s side was 2-0 up inside eight minutes before eventually registering a 4-1 victory. Scarily for Mexico, Germany took a relatively inexperienced squad to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup – Low wanted to blood some of his country’s young players and allow their more heralded compatriots to have a rare summer off – so one expects the Germans to be even stronger in Russia this time around.
Germany’s FIFA World Cup lead-up form has not been great – for example, Russia’s 5-0 defeat of Saudi Arabia makes the 2-1 win that the Germans posted against the same opponent look decidedly average – but Low’s team has a history of coming alive on the big stage, the direct form line is compelling and Mexico has plenty of problems, not least scoring goals. Mexico failed to find the back of the net in three of its last four pre-FIFA World Cup friendly matches and one of El Tri’s stars, Javier Hernandez, did not start either of their most recent two games – a 1-0 win over Scotland and a 0-2 loss to Denmark. On paper, Mexico’s strength is its attack and its weakness is its defence so El Tri are opposable with Hernandez certainly not at his best and 39-year-old Rafael Marquez still getting airtime at the back – some of his colleagues were not even born when the Atlas stopper played his first match for his nation.
It has been the best part of two years since Germany lost a competitive game, it represents Europe’s strongest contender for a home continent title success and Mexico is not playing at the peak of its powers so back the Germans to kick off their FIFA World Cup Group F campaign with three points.