The FIFA World Cup in Qatar gets underway this month, with many of the top nations harbouring hopes of lifting the trophy in December. Argentina’s hopes are underpinned by Lionel Messi, while Brazil are reliant on Neymar Jr to build a World Cup legacy likened to stars of the past in order to guide his country to success.
In terms of South America’s main European opposition, France is undergoing an injury crisis with the likes of Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante currently injured, who were all key members of the 2018 World Cup-winning squad. Les Blues will perhaps have to rely on Karim Benzema, although that would put them in fairly safe hands as the Real Madrid star is the current Ballon d’Or holder.
For many, the cup is destined to finally return to South America this year, with many of the European nations not looking as strong at present. We will look at the leading candidate to provide a strong supporting cast to the likes of Messi and Neymar as they seek to become world champions in Qatar. Brazil are currently the outright favourite to win the tournament, but you should never count out Argentina.
Argentina: (Rodrigo de Paul)
Beginning with Messi’s Argentina, the Paris Saint Germain star has been short-changed by his teammates in past tournaments, especially in 2014, as in the final against Germany, he created an abundance of chances that the Argentinian attackers failed to take advantage of.
But this form of La Albiceleste is a totally different beast there are high-quality players all over the pitch and they are available in depth. Being the current holders of Copa America they have experience in winning and that could provide a huge boost at this year’s tournament.
Atletico Madrid’s Rodrigo de Paul is a player that could be vital to Argentina’s chances of lifting the greatest prize in football. de Paul is as reliable as a midfield technician comes, he possesses stunning technical ability to carve defences upon demand and he provides an impressive level of press resistance. His contributions will be required viewing for those who enjoy the World Cup odds and how team performance impacts them.
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But the midfielder’s most impactful properties come from the energy he provides on the pitch as he works absolutely tirelessly off the ball, which is not at all surprising for a regular in Diego Simeone’s Atletico system.
Argentina need to have control of their games at the World Cup if they are going to go all of the way and de Paul will be essential to that, as off the ball, his tenacity makes him an extremely efficient ball-winner, and his dribbling and close control means he will not often lose possession and will be able to supply Lionel Messi frequently.
Brazil: (Gabriel Jesus or Pedro)
For a long time, Brazil has been lacking a number nine to link up with the more creative players and provide goals for the side. Neymar is an exceptional playmaker, but he will need a consistent goalscorer to turn his big chances created into assists this winter.
There are a number of candidates to step up and be the complete forward that Brazil craves and which could be vital to their potential success at the World Cup. First of all, Gabriel Jesus has been in impressive form since his move to Arsenal and may not be the most prolific but he is certainly a keen goalscorer and is excellent at linking the forward line with the midfield, which could help Brazil sustain pressure on opposition defences.
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A wildcard option is Pedro of Flamengo, the 25-year-old has just won the Copa Libertadores with his club and is seen as a likely admission to Brazil’s squad for the tournament. He is a typical number nine that likes to get in behind defences and has the pace to be threatening and could certainly turn Neymar’s through balls into goals.
Brazil certainly needs one of their centre-forwards to step up in Qatar and if one does, they will certainly be the starman alongside Neymar in terms of their World Cup bid.