To be the best in the world, you have to beat the rest. Germany already are the best in the world, so the rest are coming for them. But who will Die Mannschaft likely have to face to defend their FIFA World Cup title in Russia? bundesliga.com explores the possibilities…

Germany’s journey four years ago took them from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro, with several stops in-between – including a historic night against Brazil in Belo Horizonte as they destroyed the hosts 7-1. But who will Joachim Löw’s side face this time on the road to Moscow and the final on 15 July?

Scenario 1: Win Group F

One thing is certain for the world champions. They will contest at least three games in Russia, starting at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow where the final will be held. That game against Mexico is followed by a trip to Sochi to play Sweden and then Kazan against South Korea.

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Assuming, as expected, Germany top Group F, who will then stand in their way on their march back to Moscow? To do this, we’ve assumed that all other teams will progress according to the FIFA rankings, which Germany naturally top.

Round of 16: Switzerland

By that logic, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller & Co. will set up a date with the runners-up of Group E – a tasty tie against their neighbours Switzerland on 3 July at the Saint Petersburg Stadium. Germany have faced the Swiss a record 51 times, boasting 36 wins. They haven’t met competitively, though, since the 1966 World Cup when West Germany won 5-0 in the group stage. The last encounter of any kind was over six years ago when Switzerland won 5-3 in Basel.

Quarter-finals: Poland

We don’t expect to see a repeat of that, though, so through go the Germans for another clash close to home. This time it’s the neighbours to the east: Poland, with the match being played in Samara on 7 July. Led by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, it would be a fourth World Cup meeting between the two European nations. They last met at a tournament just two years ago in Paris when they drew 0-0 in Group C of UEFA Euro 2016. Poland have only once beaten Germany in 21 meetings, and we don’t expect to see a second, so on we go to the last four…

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Semi-finals: Portugal

… For a clash between the reigning world champions and the current European champions. Based on world rankings, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal have just dumped out Lionel Messi’s Argentina to set up a semi-final clash with Germany in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on 11 July. Portugal may have won the Euros two years ago in France, but when they last faced Die Mannschaft four years ago in Brazil they were thrashed 4-0 in the group stage. The two nations have in fact met at four of the last five major international tournaments, with Germany winning all of them.

Final: Brazil

If results all go according to world rankings, then the world champions will meet Brazil in Moscow on 15 July. Amazingly, the teams have only ever met twice at a World Cup. The last, of course, a game that will never be forgotten as Germany savaged the hosts 7-1 at the Estadio Mineirao. It was the biggest winning margin in a World Cup semi-final, equalled Brazil’s largest defeat and was the most goals ever conceded by the Selecao. The largest margin of victory in a final is three goals, with Brazil being involved on all three occasions. Neymar & Co. will be out for revenge, so get that money on Germany setting another World Cup record with a 4-0 win.

Thomas Müller and Germany broke a number of records (and Brazilian hearts) when they thrashed the hosts 7-1 in the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup.
Thomas Müller and Germany broke a number of records (and Brazilian hearts) when they thrashed the hosts 7-1 in the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup. © gettyimages / Jamie McDonald

Scenario 2: Runner-up in Group F

Now for the almost unthinkable (besides actually failing to qualify from the group). In all six World Cups as a unified nation, Germany have finished top of their group. But let’s assume for a moment that run comes to an end and they qualify for the knock-out stage in second place (behind Mexico as the highest ranked of the remaining Group F teams). It is the less ideal scenario for Löw and his side as it involves more travelling away from their Moscow base, although they still avoid the furthest host cities of Yekaterinburg and a return to Sochi.

Round of 16: Brazil

And it’s possibly the biggest game of the tournament. Winners of Group E, Brazil, take on world champions Germany at the Samara Arena on 2 July. For many, the winner of this tie would be the favourites for the whole tournament. There will be little advantage for either side in terms of days to prepare for the game with both playing their final group matches on 27 June and both having a lengthy journey back to their respective base. Based on the principle of teams with the higher world ranking progressing, Brazil are the only non-European team Germany could face in the knock-out stage regardless of whether they finish first or second.

Quarter-finals: Belgium

Through to the last eight, the world champions would meet neighbours Belgium at the Kazan Arena on 6 July, assuming they top Group G ahead of England and beat James Rodriguez’s Colombia in the last 16. Germany and the Red Devils haven’t met at a World Cup since USA 1994 when Die Mannschaft progressed 3-2 from the round of 16. The world champions have in fact not lost to Belgium at all since 1954, and have won 15 of the last 16 meetings (plus one draw).

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Semi-finals: France

Final four and it’s another familiar foe in the form of France on 10 July in Saint Petersburg. Germany beat Les Bleus 1-0 in the quarter-finals four years ago thanks to Mats Hummels’ header, but since then France have held the upper hand with a 2-0 friendly win in Paris, victory by the same scoreline in the semi-final of Euro 2016 and then a 2-2 draw in Cologne when Lars Stindl netted a 93rd-minute equaliser in the friendly. France claimed a thrilling 6-3 win in the third place match of the 1958 World Cup, but since then Germany have progressed on all three occasions in the tournament.

Final: Portugal

Make that four in a row and it’s a second consecutive final for Germany on 15 July at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. But against who? Having put out Mo Salah’s Egypt, Messi’s Argentina and then the mighty Swiss in the semis, it’s Ronaldo and his European champions Portugal. Currently ranked fourth in the world, they failed to make it out of Germany’s group four years ago, but this time reach a first ever World Cup final. The Selecao came close to facing Die Mannschaft in last summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup final in Saint Petersburg, but were knocked out on penalties in the semi-final by Arturo Vidal and Charles Aranguiz’s Copa America champions Chile. As mentioned earlier, Germany and Portugal have met at four of the last five major international tournaments, so don’t be surprised should they meet again in Russia at some point.

It was Philipp Lahm lifting the World Cup in 2014. Will his successor at Bayern Munich, Neuer, follow him in that regard too? © gettyimages / Adrian Dennis

Regardless of how they get to Moscow, will we see Neuer lifting the World Cup trophy on 15 July 2018? It would be a fifth title for Germany, putting them level with record holders Brazil, and making Die Mannschaft only the second team after Pele’s Brazil to win back-to-back World Cups.

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