Over the many decades that the greatest sporting event in the world has taken place, a common trend has developed among the champions: the deployment of a stern defence. Germany and Italy have each won the World Cup four times, often built upon a staunch back line. Despite the praise often going to the flair-filled attackers, many of Brazil’s five World Cup wins have come from strong defending that allows the forwards to express themselves.
So now, with the 21st World Cup on the horizon, we take a look at the defences that impressed in qualifying and the star defenders to look out for.
Germany and Portugal only just missed the cut here. The two teams only conceded four goals each during qualifying. Portugal’s defence won them the 2016 Euros, and Germany may be the strongest all-around team coming to Russia this summer.
Iran, Group B
Source: Pasha Hajian, via Twitter
Goals Conceded in Qualifying: 2
Clean Sheets in Qualifying: 9
Qualifying Record: 6 wins, 4 draws, 0 losses
Most Notable Result: 1-0 win against the Korea Republic
With Sir Alex Ferguson’s old right-hand man as manager, Iran is always going to be a tricky team to defeat. In qualifying, solid team defending became Iran’s trademark strategy. Almost certainties in defence are left back Milad Mohammadi and centre back Morteza Pouraliganji. Carlos Queiroz’s Iran should not be underestimated, but are still 7/1 to escape Group B.
Morocco, Group B
Source: Bayern & Germany, via Twitter
Goals Conceded in Qualifying: 0
Clean Sheets in Qualifying: 6
Qualifying Record: 3 wins, 3 draws, 0 losses
Most Notable Result: 3-0 win against Gabon
Morocco boast two of the most exciting young full-backs in the world with Hamza Mendyl and Achraf Hakimi. But, the African team also boasts a strong set of centre-backs. In the African Cup of Nations, Morocco deployed Manuel da Costa, Medhi Benatia, and Romain Saiss in a back-three. Despite strong defenders, Morocco are at 3/1 to qualify from Group B.
Brazil, Group E
Source: SuperSport, via Twitter
Goals Conceded in Qualifying: 11
Clean Sheets in Qualifying: 10
Qualifying Record: 12 wins, 5 draws, 1 losses
Most Notable Result: 3-0 win against Argentina
Brazil dominated South American qualifying and are now 9/2 to win the World Cup. They scored far more goals than any other team and conceded far fewer. At the back, PSG right-back Dani Alves was effectively the first name on the team sheet. In the middle, while Thiago Silva has earned some game time for Brazil recently, Miranda and Marquinhos have been the primary pair. Felipe Luis looked to be the favoured left back for a while, but Marcelo and Alex Sandro have pinched starts.
Spain, Group B
Source: Eurosport UK, via Twitter
Goals Conceded in Qualifying: 3
Clean Sheets in Qualifying: 7
Qualifying Record: 9 wins, 1 draws, 0 losses
Most Notable Result: 3-0 win against Italy
Spain has gone through some changes since the Vicente del Bosque era, but they’ve sprung back from a disappointing Euro 2016 campaign to sit at 6/1 to win the World Cup. This can greatly be credited to the superstar defence that will sit in front of David de Gea. We expect to see Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, and Daniel Carvajal as Spain’s main back-four.
England, Group G
Source: Squawka Football, via Twitter
Goals Conceded in Qualifying: 3
Clean Sheets in Qualifying: 8
Qualifying Record: 8 wins, 2 draws, 0 losses
Most Notable Result: 1-0 win against Slovakia
The uncertainty surrounding who Gareth Southgate will take may be playing a hand in England squad’s 6/5 odds to win Group G. Kyle Walker is all but certainly going to start at right-back or right wing-back, with Ryan Bertrand or maybe even Ashley Young on the left. As for centre-backs, all of Harry Maguire, James Tarkowski, and Chris Smalling are strong options having played well recently and throughout the season. Gary Cahill has also snuck back into contention.
Snipers needed in Group B
Group B boasts two of the best defences in European qualifying as well as the best defence from Asian and African qualifying. It looked to be a goal-frenzy for Spain and Portugal, but Morocco and Iran may just do what they do best; defend. Nevertheless, the teams they played in qualifying often pale in comparison to these European giants – so the walls are expected to crumble.
When it comes down to it, Spain probably have the best defence and goalkeeper combination at this World Cup, with Germany close behind. Just one question remains: will the strongest defence win the World Cup in 2018?