Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara has tipped Germany to defend their FIFA World Cup title this summer, and expects teammate James Rodriguez’s Colombia to also flourish.
Thiago is expected to be part of the Spain squad that will be among the most serious challengers to Germany, who head to Russia as the team to beat following their triumph in Brazil four years ago.
Though he told FIFA.com a dark horse can always emerge from the pack of 32 finalists, Thiago believes the usual suspects are most likely to make the strongest showing.
“There are some clear favourites, but luck always plays a big part. World Cups always come down to the little details. Turkey reached the semis a few years back and so did South Korea. Anything can happen,” Thiago explained, before jumping off the fence to name his favourites.
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“Right now, I’d go for Germany because they’re the defending champions, and Brazil, Argentina, and France. You can put Spain in there too, obviously.”
A pivotal part of Bayern’s Bundesliga title-winning squad, Thiago is just as integral to Spain. New boss Julen Lopetegui has played the artful 27-year-old in 15 of his 18 games in charge, and the former Barcelona schemer will be expected to underpin La Roja’s title tilt this summer.
Though Arturo Vidal’s Chile will not be at the tournament, James’ Colombia will, and with the in-form Bayern man coupled with the likes of Radamel Falcao, Thiago believes the South American nation will make an impact along with Belgium, inspired by Manchester City’s former Wolfsburg and Werder Bremen man Kevin De Bruyne.
“Belgium are a dark horse for me, not just for the players they’ve got, but because of the way they play as well. They play really good football and I think you can even include them among the favourites,” Thiago explained. “Colombia could do well too because they’ve got some great players.”
Spain may not quite be the side they were when they dominated world and European football, winning all major trophies between 2008 and 2012.
However, with Thiago at the forefront of a generation that also includes Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea, Real Madrid’s Isco and Atletico Madrid icon Koke, Lopetegui’s squad are heading east with belief.
“We’re excited about the way we’ve been playing and the wins we’ve had, and I think we can dream about big things,” said Thiago, part of a Spain side that finished ahead of Italy in qualifying.
“We’re dreaming about going as far as we can, competing at the highest level, and showing what we can do. We know where we are. We know we knocked out a team like Italy and we know that we’ve played some big teams in friendlies and beaten them in style. I think the results are going to come our way, though I don’t like to get ahead of myself and predict what’s going to happen.”
Injury meant Thiago watched the 2014 tournament from home, but with Bayern still on course to emulate the treble they achieved in 2012/13 — the season before Thiago left Spain to be reunited with Pep Guardiola at the Allianz Arena — there is no chance of the midfielder sacrificing the good of his club for the benefit of his country.
“That fear doesn’t exist because playing football is a natural thing that we do every day. If there’s anything that’s remotely reckless, you don’t do it, though you wouldn’t do it, in any case. You do compete to the limit, though,” he said.
“When all is said and done, a firefighter who’s about to retire isn’t going to go into a house that’s burning down on his last day at work. Most of us have got it into our heads that when the season ends, the World Cup starts. If you finish the season in top form, then you’re going to carry that into the World Cup.”