STM's James Johnson picks his World Cup favorites

STM's James Johnson picks his World Cup favorites

At least according to James Johnson, who knows what it's like to win soccer matches. The St. Thomas More coach for both the boys' and girls' programs guided the Sabers to a combined 44-8-2 record this past school year. Before the 2018 World Cup starts at 10 a.m. Thursday between Saudi Arabia and host Russia, Johnson — who correctly predicted Germany would win the 2014 World Cup in these pages — offers up his top four teams that could hoist the top trophy come July 15 in Moscow:

1. Germany

The Germans are my No. 1 pick again because of their team defense, organized system of play, premier goal-keeping and set-piece dominance. Germany never beats itself, and goalie phenom Manuel Neuer is in net just in case. The Germans demonstrate what we often talk about at STM: team defense and attention to set pieces will always give you a chance against the best of teams.

2. Argentina

Argentina seems to be under the radar this year and doesn't have as much as pressure as other years when it was one of the clear favorites. In what could be Lionel Messi's last World Cup, look for him to try and prove himself on the largest international stage. Despite his spectacular goals in his pro career, placing second to Germany at the 2014 World Cup is surely still on his mind.

3. France

The United States earned an impressive 1-1 draw in France's final friendly last week before the World Cup. So if France wins the Cup, at least U.S. soccer has something to hang its hat on in the tough transition it is going through. In the end, France's offensive star power has historically disappointed in large tournaments. Defense wins championships, even on the international soccer stage.

4. Belgium

Flashy forwards aren't usually my favorite players, but this team is stacked with some incredible offensive skill that I'll be sure not to miss. Watching Eden Hazard (Chelsea) weave through English Premier League backlines is incredible. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) is fresh off a historic EPL season where he was a main offensive catalyst due to his playmaking ability and charging runs.

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