The eternal complaint against France is this: France is a team of underachieving divas who can’t play well together. That’s over. It has to be – the failure to win Euro 2016 at home, in the final against Portugal, has stung. Even supporters of the team have become blunt. A poorly performing Paul Pogba was booed in a pretournament game against Italy. Manager Didier Deschamps is tougher than his predecessors and has the best striker in Europe playing for him. That’s Antoine Griezmann, the leading scorer in Euro 2016 and in sublime form at Atletico Madrid in recent years. The front line of Griezmann with Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé can tear any opposing team apart. There is always a mercurial aspect to the dynamic in the France team but this one feels solid, young and ambitious.
Golden Boot: Neymar, Brazil
Neymar comes into this World Cup after an injury but in warmup games he looks fitter than ever. Given the quality of teams Brazil faces in the early going – Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia – the opportunity is there for Neymar to rack up multiple goals before Brazil even makes it to the later stages. He’s a goal-scoring machine against lesser opposition and even if Brazil doesn’t make the final, he will have scored enough to get the Golden Boot.
What do you call a team so stacked that it leaves Leroy Sané, the best young player in the Premier League, off its 27-man roster? The winner. Germany is the safe choice to win any World Cup because it is the most predictably talented, best organized and always fields a roster deep as an ocean trench. The defending champions haven’t finished this tournament worse than third in 20 years. The Germans won every game in qualifying, outscoring opponents at a ratio of 10 to 1. And that wasn’t their best team. Yes, it’s boring to pick Germany, but the boring choice is usually the right one.
Golden Boot: Timo Werner, Germany
Timo Werner is not one of the 10 (or 20, or …) best forwards in the world. He’s not especially big, or fast, or skilled. He plays on the wrong side of Germany, in Leipzig, and was bought for relative peanuts. What Werner has going for him is that he gets to stand in front of Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Marco Reus and tidy up their misses. It may not be an attractive way to lead the tournament in scoring, but it should be effective.