CAPE TOWN – Benni McCarthy has scored at two World Cup tournaments - and, with the 2018 edition getting under way in Russia tomorrow, the Cape Town City coach is perhaps the ideal man to point the way with regards to the eventual winner of this year’s tournament.
The 40-year-old McCarthy had a successful career in Europe - but his other claim to fame is that he scored Bafana Bafana’s first-ever goal at a World Cup: it came in the 1998 tournament in France, in South Africa’s game against Denmark, when McCarthy netted to level the score at 1-1. Four years later, when the event was co-hosted by Japan and South Korea, McCarthy scored again - this time in a 3-2 defeat to Spain.
Looking at this year’s World Cup, McCarthy suggested that the usual suspects, like Germany, Spain and Brazil, are in the running, but added that, if he was a gambling man, he’d put his money elsewhere.
“I think there are a few teams in the running to win this World Cup,” said McCarthy. “Spain obviously look to be firm favourites and you can’t rule out Germany because they are always challenging at events like this. Brazil are solid, they have Neymar back fit, and they always tend to light up the World Cup.
“But, to throw a spanner in the works, I think France will surprise. They have a young squad with some very good players - for me, I’m putting my money on France.”
France, with a talented-laden squad, including world-class names such as Antoine Griezmann, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Thomas Lemar, certainly are a team capable of going all the way.
In a poll of a few Cape Town football personalities, though, Germany emerged as the big favourites.
Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis is one of those firmly in the German camp.
“I think Germany will win the World Cup because they have their key player back in goalkeeper Manuel Neuer,” said Ellis. “And they also did so well with a young group at last year’s Confederations Cup. It’s going to be very difficult, though, because no country has won it back-to-back in quite a while.
The other one I’m really leaning towards is Brazil; they have two good goalkeepers in Man City’s Ederson and Roma’s Allison, but it’s their attack that is scary, with Neymar, (Roberto) Firmino, (Philippe) Coutinho and (Gabriel) Jesus.”
Ajax Cape Town chief executive Ari Efstathiou said: “I’ll stick with Germany because they have the most balanced squad and they get to keep the trophy if they win again. Belgium are my outsiders.”
Former Ajax players Lance Davids and Nathan Paulse, together with current stars like Roscoe Pietersen (Ajax) and Lyle Lakay (Cape Town City) are all backing the Germans.
“Germany,” said Davids, “because they are always consistent in tournaments and they have a balanced squad with a good mix of experience and talented young players.”
Paulse added: “German football is arguably the strongest in world football with their domestic league boasting depth in home-grown talent. The 2014 World Cup winning squad remains largely unchanged for Russia 2018 - and they will now be even more experienced, with many players still in their prime with regards to age.”
“Germany are my favourites to win it,” said Lakay. “If you look at the team that won the previous World Cup, they basically have the same team. The players who retired were replaced with similar quality, especially if you look at (Philipp) Lahm who was replaced by (Joshua) Kimmich.”
Pietersen said: “Germany, they are very patient in possession. They’ll try and tire teams out by shifting and moving the ball around with small passes and try to suck teams out of their defensive organisation, waiting for the right moment to go forward. They are very precise in what they do, be it defending, attacking, creating and scoring chances.
Also, because of the type of football they play, it also saves their stamina for the duration of the tournament, which is a key factor in the World Cup.”
Former Hellenic, Santos and Orlando Pirates striker Gerald Stober is also a German fan.
“I always back Germany when the World Cup is in Europe, and Argentina when the tournament is hosted elsewhere,” said Stober. “So I guess, with it being in Russia, it will be Germany for me. They have tremendous depth in the squad, which will allow various tactical approaches, and there is no reliance on any specific player. Add to that, their overall consistency in big tournaments and they could well be the team to be with.”
As for the old guard, whose memories go back a bit more, well, they suggest Brazil will win the World Cup.
“My heart says Brazil,” said former Santos coach Boebie Solomons. “They have quality. But my logical brain says Germany because of their precision and organisation. However, my gut feeling is Argentina: if (Lionel) Messi comes to the party, like he does at club level, then he can be the difference to win the World Cup, like other greats such as Pele and (Diego) Maradona did.”
For former Hellenic and Kaizer Chiefs coach Sergio dos Santos, it’s the Selecao: “Brazil are back to their best and looking and playing like the old days again, since coach Tite took charge - and, even more importantly, Neymar is back.”
Former Ajax and Bafana defender Matthew Booth, who spent many years playing in Russia, is siding with Messi’s Argentina.