The 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup is around the corner and the usual suspects are favourites to clinch the coveted crown. Yet, for Sebastien Frey such tournament always brings about a few surprises and that is what makes it the biggest sporting event on the planet. Gianluca Lia writes….
Sebastian Frey, the former Fiorentina and France goalkeeper, has identified traditional favourites Brazil and Germany for Cup glory, but still thinks there could be some surprise performers in the Russia 2018 tournament.
“I believe that Brazil, Germany, who I like a lot as a team, Spain and France can go all the way to lift the World Cup,” Frey said during a short visit in Malta to commemorate Viola Club Malta’s 50th anniversary.
“Nonetheless, I will be looking out for an outsider because this is what makes this tournament so special. In every edition there will be a nation which will defy the odds and become the favourite team of all neutral supporters.”
One of the teams Frey thinks they could be outsiders are Egypt, due to the presence of Mohammed Salah in their roster.
The Liverpool star netted 44 goals in 52 games in all competitions for the Merseyside club, but he is a doubt for the African side following his shoulder injury suffered in the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid.
“Egypt could be one of the outsiders, but it depend mostly on the fitness of Mohammed Salah,” Frey said.
“For me, Salah is the best player in European football at the moment and therefore, if he will be available to play, then I think Egypt can have their say in this tournament.”
Among the players who have been a revelation for their club during the 2017/2018 campaign, there was Sergej Milinkovic-Savic who is on the radar of every European top club at the moment after his stellar season with Lazio, in the Serie A.
For me, Salah is the best player in European football at the moment and therefore, if he will be available to play, then I think Egypt can have their say in this tournament
The young midfielder was named in Serbia’s 23-man list for the tournament where he will feature alongside Adem Ljajic, Frey’s former Fiorentina team-mate.
“Serbia is another interesting squad, however, similar to Argentina, they find it difficult to play as a team,” the 46-year old underlined.
“Nonetheless, I really believe that Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is a top player as he proved during his spell at Lazio and I am not surprised that he is already being compared to the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The World Cup will be an important platform for him.”
During his playing career, Frey appeared twice for the French national team and he is particularly keen on his Les Bleus’ chances to clinch the ultimate prize in Russia.
“There is a lot of expectation on numerous players such as Paul Pogba, who has not been performing very well in England, and Antoine Griezmann, who has been exceptional for Atletico Madrid,” Frey pointed out.
“However, one player who in my opinion should be a starter no matter what, is N’Golo Kante as he is that silent leader that helps the team to function well, despite not being maybe one of the outspoken members of the squad.
“There is a lot of talent in the French squad but I don’t believe we can really be successful this summer. I think that this tournament will help France to gain more experience which eventually will put us among the favourites for the next couple of major tournaments.”
If France do not live up to their expectations in Russia, Didier Deschamps’ position might be at risk, especially since there will be a certain Zinedine Zidane at the shopping window.
Zidane, winner of the 1998 World Cup with France, left Real Madrid late last month after winning a record third straight Champions League title with the Blancos. At the moment, he is not looking for another job but he is heavily linked with the French national team post.
“After reading several comments, I saw that Didier Deschamps had words of praise for Zinedine Zidane, almost endorsing him to be the France coach when the time is right,” the former France goalkeeper said.
“I am not surprised that he left and thanked everyone at Real Madrid, because he is both a special player/coach but also a special person and deserves to leave the club from the main door because what he has accomplished is beyond reach for anybody else.”
Meanwhile, Frey sees Germany, the defending champions, as trailblazers in European football due to their projects with youth players which eventually have put them on top of world football.
“Germany’s model should be emulated by the rest of Europe, because lately everyone has been putting youngsters aside and has been focusing on immediate results,” Frey said.
“For example Italy is facing this problem, which has gotten worse after failing to qualify to the World Cup and therefore they will need to restructure themselves with youth players in order to restore its identity.”
As usual, challenging the European teams there will be the South American powerhouses, in Brazil and Argentina.
Both nations are striving to cancel out their previous World Cup appearance as while the Albiceleste conceded a 1-0 defeat to Germany in the final, the Selecao were embarrassed by Germany 7-1 on home soil.
“For Brazil it will be important to restore pride after losing 7-1 in the previous edition. Obviously, there is a lot of pressure on Neymar to deliver, but nonetheless, they will still be one of the teams to beat in the competition,” Frey said.
“As for Argentina, they have a strong squad and they have an excellent player in Paolo Dybala, who although is not yet a proper star player, I think he is tipped to be the one to carry the team in the post-Lionel Messi era.
“Moreover, Argentina have a very strong offensive line and I think when it comes to trimming the squad, there were always going to be critics, in this case because Gonzalo Higuain remained in the team while Mauro Icardi was left out.
I think that this tournament will help France to gain more experience which eventually will put us among the favourites for the next couple of major tournaments
“While both players have had a great season, you cannot play with five players upfront so the coach had to opt for one type of player.”
One of the newest additions to this year’s World Cup will be the introduction of the VAR technology, which has been already applied in various leagues around the world.
“I agree with the use of the VAR because it creates a level playing field between the competitors,” Frey said.
“Nonetheless, if the referee does not want to view the VAR, then its existence becomes null and in this case, I think the two set of coaches should have at least two challenges to their favour which they can use whenever they deem necessary in order to keep the game as fair as possible.”
Throughout the years, the World Cup has never been immune to changes and while this year, it will open its doors for more technology, a bigger change is set to come in the coming editions as the tournament will increase from 32 teams to 48 participants.
“I am afraid I don’t agree with this decision because it is not fair to impose more challenges on a player who more or less would have played around 40 to 50 games in a season,” the former Parma goalkeeper underlined.
“After all, we are humans and we are not immune to injuries and this could mean that although there will be an increase in quantity, that would lead to a decrease in quality.
“The World Cup is a special competition, let’s leave it this way.”
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