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Reports & Previews

2018 World Cup Group F preview

Defending champions Germany will be favourites in Group F of the 2018 World Cup finals, which also comprises Mexico, Sweden and South Korea.

The Germans, ranked number one in the world above Brazil and Belgium, approach the showcase in Russia with a squad packed full of experience and for the most part, unchanged from the group of players, and coach, who won in Brazil four years ago.

The one major talking point going into Russia has been the omission of Leroy Sane, who had an outstanding season for Manchester City, but was not chosen despite being fit.

While they have some of the best goalkeepers (Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen), defenders (Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels) and midfielders (Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil) in world football, there are perhaps question marks over their strike force.

Of the current squad, Ozil has 23 international goals in 90 matches, Mario Gomez has 31 in 75, and Thomas Muller has 38 in 91 games, Kroos in next with 12 goals.

Gomez though is 32-years-old and currently plays at VfB Stuttgart, not one of Europe's biggest clubs, while Muller had a quiet season at Bayern with just eight league goals scored. He was their top scorer in qualification, with five, along with Sandro Wagner, who never made the World Cup squad.

So unlike their main rivals, the likes of Brazil, Argentina, France, Spain and Belgium, the Germans do not have a prolific striker on form, although with that said, they managed a perfect record in qualifying, with 10 wins from 10 games in a group that included Northern Ireland, Czech Republic and Norway.

While Germany should be good enough to emerge as group winners, to pick which team will finish second and qualify for the next round, is a tough call.

Of the three other sides, Mexico are currently ranked highest, 15th, and this will be their seventh consecutive appearance at the finals. This after they topped their qualification group by five points over Costa Rica.

Key to their hopes will be West Ham striker Javier Hernandez, who has 49 international goals in 102 showings.

There is certainly no lack of experience in the Mexican ranks, with former Spurs attacker Giovani dos Santos on 105 caps, captain and Real Betis midfielder Andres Guardado on 145 caps, the same number of caps as former Barca defender Rafael Marquez - who is still going strong at 39.

Leading up to the finals, Mexico lost in friendly games to Denmark and Croatia, but beat Scotland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iceland and drew with Wales.

Sweden come in next best on the FIFA rankings in Group F, they're currently 24th.

With talisman and record goal-scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic left out the squad, the only really big-name player is Victor Lindelof, the Manchester United defender, with most of the rest of the squad made up of players at smaller clubs spread across Italy, the UK, France, Germany and other European nations.

Heading into the World Cup, Sweden have only managed two draws and two defeats in friendly games, scoring just once.

In qualification though, the Swedes finished just behind France in Group A and saw off the Netherlands on goal difference, so they cannot be taken lightly.

Meanwhile South Korea, who finished fourth when they hosted the World Cup 16 years ago, have fallen down to 57th on the FIFA standings.

They cruised through an easy group containing Lebanon, Kuwait, Myanmar and Laos to claim their spot in Russia, ending 13 points above Lebanon.

Captain Ki Sung-yueng, who plays for Swansea and has over 100 caps, together with Tottenham attacker Son Heung-min, who has 21 goals in 66 internationals, will be South Korea's best known players.
The rest of the squad is spread out playing for clubs at home in South Korea, as well as Japan and in Europe.

Their pre-World Cup form has also been patchy; while beating Honduras 2-0 and drawing 0-0 with Bolivia, they have lost to Poland, Northern Ireland and Bosnia-Herzegovina.