World Cup Candidates: Interviewing the Group F contenders

Each day we preview four new World Cup nations. Can they win the ultimate process and secure the role of reigning World champions?

Today, it's Group F.

Germany

Known as: Die Mannschaft (The Team).

Address: Various, Germany.

Best previous role: World Cup winners, 1954, 1974, 1990 (all as West Germany) and 2014.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

It is without a doubt that our strongest asset is just how much experience we can bring to the table. Just the midfield trio of Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos and Mesut Özil contribute over 200 caps to the national team, as well as the ever reliable forward that is Mario Gómez, who has tallied in excess of 30 goals for us.

Unfortunately, our largest weakness is the omission of Manchester City starlet Leroy Sané; a player who has shown much promise over the last twelve months at club level but his absence from the World Cup could prove detrimental for our quest to retain the title.

What happened last time out?

There really is not too much to mention about the last time we appeared at the World Cup other than that the Germany national team were victorious having overcome every hurdle to lift the infamous trophy in Brazil four years ago against Argentina - a moment we will cherish for years to come and one that can hopefully be repeated this summer.

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

We’ve just finished our preparations with an unconvincing victory against Saudi Arabia, and our first assignment is against Mexico in Moscow on the 17 June. We then have an all-European clash with Sweden in Sochi five days later before South Korea in Kazan on the 27 June. We should then have four further meetings to follow those, hopefully finishing back in Moscow on the 11 July.

What’s your strategy to beat those candidates?

We’ll play the way we always do – looking to control the game and use our immense quality and experience to break through their crowded defences, or at least have the patience to wait for their mistake, whilst we have plenty of pace on the bench to exploit tired legs late on. 4-2-3-1 remains our standard formation although we have experimented with three-at-the-back, with varying degrees of success.

Who are you relying on to help you secure the job?

It’s difficult to pick out just one, but Thomas Müller is our go-to guy in World Cups, with five in each of the last two, and he’s been back to somewhere near his best this season, scoring goals in ways only he can. At the other end, if the opposition close in on goal, Manuel Neuer will save the day. We’re sure he’ll show no ill effects of an injury-ravaged season.

Any wildcards that might help you out?

Whilst our team is full of exciting young talent, it's always good to mix experience with the youthful spark. Arguably a surprise inclusion to our squad was Gómez, however his career extending over ten years could be a useful tool to unlock opposition defences. The 32-year-old VfB Stuttgart striker bagged eight goals since his transfer back to VfB in January, proving himself as a mature addition to the German squad, with an eye for goal if called into action.

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years weeks?

The same place we found ourselves on the evening of 13 July 2014, lifting the trophy. We are a force to be reckoned with at major competitions, and under the attentive eye of Joachim Löw no detail will be left un-revised as we prepare for a summer of delight in Russia. On paper, some would argue that there are better squads, however a group of individuals cannot match the chemistry of a team that has been gelled together for years and years – and for that, we hope to make more history in Russia.

Sweden

Known as: Blagult (The Blue & Yellow).

Address: Friends Arena, Stockholm.

Best previous role: Runners-up, 1958.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

One of our biggest strengths is our ability to grind out results - and that was proven in qualifying as we managed to come through a group with France and the Netherlands in it. We have a great togetherness and our physicality is something other teams will have to try and deal with. We're good in the air and strong in the tackle but we lack stars and we could struggle to score goals without Zlatan Ibrahimović.

What happened last time out?

We haven't qualified since 2006 but last time we bowed out to the hosts, Germany, in the last 16. Joe Cole scored a stunner against us in the group stages but we did come through it unbeaten. We finished second in the group, holding England to a 2-2 draw, whilst beating Paraguay. However, we did draw rather disappointingly with Trinidad and Tobago 0-0.

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

Three for the time being, but we hope there will be more beyond that. First off we face South Korea on 18 June before playing one of the favourites in Germany on 23 June. We then come up against Mexico in our final group game on 27 June which could ultimately decide whether we go through.

What's your strategy to beat those candidates?

Play like we did in qualifying - set up in a compact and defensive manner, use our physicality and then try to grab a goal. If we can beat Italy as we did in the play-offs to reach the finals, then we have what it takes to match some of the very best at this World Cup.

Who are you relying on to help you secure the job?

Marcus Berg will be someone we need to deliver in Russia, and with Zlatan remaining in international retirement, the mantel will firmly be on the former to score the goals. He was our top scorer in qualifying and had a fantastic season with UAE Pro-League side Al Ain, bagging 34 in 31.

Emil Forsberg will of course also be crucial for us. He is well known around Europe, and a good tournament for the 26-year-old winger could see a top club finally come knocking.

Any wildcard' that might help you out?

Midfielder Viktor Claesson will be someone to keep tabs on. He plays his trade in Russia for Krasnodar and will therefore be no stranger to the surroundings - something which could benefit us. He meanwhile scored 12 goals and got six assists in all competitions this season so knows his way to goal. He's a player with terrific vision and isn't half bad from set pieces either.

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years weeks?

Thinking about how much better we are at winter sports! Anything more than a last-16 exit would be a surprise, but we'd do well to come through our group considering the teams we've been paired with.

Mexico

Known as: El Tri.

Address: Azteca, Mexico City.

Best previous role: Quarter-finals, 1970 and 1986.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

We are a vastly experienced squad with plenty of flair players and for the first time ever, our squad is predominantly made up of players playing outside of Liga MX. 17 members of our side have had spells in Europe at some point in their career, but despite some well-known faces we have struggled to break teams down recently. Our manager Juan Carlos Osario is yet to really discover his best team too.

However, we are tight at the back and have only conceded once in our past six games so we know how to defend. Plenty of our squad have been to major tournaments before and we hope to use that to equal or better our most successful finish.

What happened last time out?

Despite some impressive results, our 2014 World Cup campaign will be remembered for our manager at the time, Miguel Herrera, who quickly became an internet hero for his passionate displays on the touchline. He led us to wins over Cameroon and Croatia, whilst we also drew 0-0 with hosts Brazil. We were then knocked out in the last 16 by the Netherlands.

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

Of course, but our group will not be straight forward. We face Germany on June 17, before taking on South Korea on June 23. We then finish with a match against Sweden on the 27th.

What's your strategy to beat those candidates?

Set up tightly in defence and midfield, something we've been able to do of late. We'll have to be better in forward areas, but if we can use the ball well in midfield and bring our creative attackers into the game, we're very capable of scoring goals. In a group where second place could go to anyone, avoiding mistakes will be key.

Who are you relying on to help you secure the job?

Hirving Lozano. The winger scored 19 goals in all competitions for Dutch champions PSV last season and his presence in front of goal and out wide will be crucial. At 22 he is one of the youngest members of our squad and shows there is a future beyond our experienced players.

Record goal scorer Javier Hernández will also be important, as will Héctor Herrera who won Liga NOS with Porto. The ever reliable Rafael Márquez, now 39, could meanwhile play in a fifth World Cup for us.

Any wildcards that might help you out?

The youngest member of our squad is Edson Álvarez and after impressing in warm-up matches against Wales and Scotland, is one to look out for. The 20-year-old is extremely versatile, capable of playing at centre-back, right-back and even as a holding midfielder.

There may be room for him at the base of the midfield with Andrés Guardado's fitness being in doubt after undergoing surgery at the end of the season, but if he doesn't start, he offers excellent cover in a variety of positions.

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years weeks?

Considering we've never been beyond the last-16 in a World Cup outside of our own country, we'll likely be back on a beach in Cancún.

South Korea

Known as: 태극전사 (Taegeuk Warriors)

Address: Seoul World Cup Stadium, Seoul

Best previous role: Fourth, 2002

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

We are strong going forward, with plenty of pace on the wings and up front. We have quality in the middle as well with Ki Sung-Yueng and Lee Jae-sung, our best player still in the K League. However we do have critical weaknesses. We prefer to try to dominate and play attacking football, and we’re dangerously prone to making mistakes at the back, which could be suicidal against a team like Germany.

What happened last time out?

We finished second in our qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup. After that, we were placed in a very manageable group featuring Belgium, Algeria and Russia. Finishing dead last in a group we should have finished second in was disappointing to say the least.

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

With friendlies against Honduras, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Boliva out of the way, we will be playing Senegal in Austria as our last tune-up before the big event. We then open up a week after the Senegal match against Sweden in Nizhny Novgorod, a must-win affair should we want to advance another week. Five days later, we meet Mexico in Rostov-on-Don before facing the daunting task of World Cup favourites Germany in Kazan.

What’s your strategy to beat those candidates?

For the Swedes we are probably going to try playing 3-5-2 to overrun their 4-4-2 in midfield. We tried it against Bosnia and Herzegovina and, well, it can’t go any worse than it did then. Hopefully we’ll learn from that 4-1 defeat, a defensive horror show. Otherwise, we’ll be playing 4-4-2 and we like to attack and make the most of the pace we have. If that doesn’t work, we’ll just put on Kim Shin-wook, hit the ball into the box and hope ‘the Wookie’ can do the rest.

Who are you relying on to help you secure the job?

Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur. The winger, who can also play striker, scored 12 goals for the third-best team in all of England this season while also seeing consistent playing time once again. He only scored one goal last time out so he'll need to be firing on all cylinders to help us get through.

Any wildcards that might help you out?

We have Hwang Hee-chan, who impressed in the UEFA Europa League with Red Bull Salzburg, but our real wildcard could be Lee Seung-woo. He only made his debut at the end of May and he was part of Barcelona’s fabled La Masia academy and although he’s struggled to make it at club level – he’s playing in Italy at the moment – Shin Tae-yong clearly believes he could deliver something special given his chance on the big stage.

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years weeks?

Hopefully relaxing after an excellent tournament which sees us through to the last-16. The group is tricky but manageable. Three points against Sweden will be the most important thing to take care of to open the tournament up with confidence.

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