Racing professionals on their country's chances of lifting the World Cup
With the World Cup kicking off on Thursday, the Racing Post canvassed views from racing professionals on how their teams might fare in Russia
ARGENTINA Alfredo Gaitan, trainer
We want to be champions. We know perfectly well that it's a long way to the top and if we couldn't reach our goal, then the semi-finals at least. We have powerful attacking players and obviously Leo Messi is our banner, but we're weak defensively and in midfield, and I think Mauro Icardi, who is an excellent striker, should have been picked. There are four or five powerful squads in contention to be champions, but I'd pick Germany and Spain if it's not Argentina.
AUSTRALIA Craig Williams, jockey
I'm really looking forward to the World Cup. It's the world's biggest football tournament and it's a great achievement for the Socceroos to be a part of it. There is a real sense of national pride when Australia play, and everyone gets around the team to watch them take on the world's best.
It would be terrific to see them advance past the group stage. It's an amazing effort for Tim Cahill to make it to his fourth World Cup. It will also be interesting to see how the team adapts to the coaching style of new manager Bert van Marwijk. It should be a great four weeks of football.
BELGIUM Gregory Benoist, jockey
This is a team that have grown up together and are now reaching maturity. They are ready to do something special. I remember Belgium being knocked out by Germany in the 1994 World Cup in the United States, and the last 16 is as far as they've gone since. I hope this is the year they can go much further. Obviously the big game in the group stages will be the final match against England and I think that, with players like Kevin De Bruyne at Man City and Eden Hazard at Chelsea, that is a real advantage. Coming second in the group will make things much harder down the line so for both sides a win will be vital. If I were to bet it would be on Belgium in that one!
BRAZIL Joao Moreira, jockey
My heart says Brazil, of course, but my head says they are only the fourth pick. If they get to the semi-finals anything can happen in a knockout game, but at the moment I think Germany are the favourites, with France and Belgium just behind.
DENMARK Niels Petersen, trainer
When I was a kid I actually played with Peter Schmeichel. Not in the same team, but the same tournaments and have always been interested in the sport. I support Liverpool, but have great memories of the Danish team of 1986 in Mexico and the side that won the Euros in 1992. I think the current team is talented and we've got Christian Eriksen, who is a major player for us. Denmark played a friendly against Sweden recently and he didn't play because his wife was expecting a child and they weren't the same without him. Him, Kasper Schmeichel and Andreas Christensen, who had a good season with Chelsea, are our best players. We have France, Australia and Peru in our group, and Australia and Peru are teams we should have good matches with. France are a good team, but second in the group should be possible, while Russia will be a bit easier for us as we're not far from Poland, the Czech Republic and other Eastern Bloc countries, as was. I think it's easier for them to adapt than for South American countries, for instance.
ENGLAND Mick Channon, trainer
We've got some good young players and they could easily come together – they did in '66. Gareth Southgate has done a good job and I think they'll go a lot better than everyone thinks they will. We'll get into the next stage and then it'll be tough, but I don't think there's an outstanding side out there. If England get a good team spirit, a settled side and believe in each other, it's amazing how far they could go.
FRANCE Stephane Pasquier, jockey
I'm confident in the team because as a group of players they seem very together and united. They didn't play all that well against the United States over the weekend and were maybe a little lacking technically, but that might have been down to trying to avoid any last-minute injuries. I think France are a very good side going forward and I'm pleased to see Deschamps giving every opportunity to the younger players coming through. They seem to have blended well, which adds to my confidence.
GERMANY Andrasch Starke, jockey
We've always had a very strong and competitive team in the past and now there is real excitement over some of the new players coming through. They need to improve and it will be tough against teams like France, Brazil and Argentina, but I’m quite confident Germany have a real chance. Joachim Low is an amazing coach and will make sure that even the younger players don't suffer from nerves. He'll give them confidence, and he has so much experience.
Of this new generation I'm really looking forward to watching Timo Werner, who scores a lot of goals. While he's not very tall he's so quick and is a fantastic player. And 22-year-old Leon Goretzka, who will be moving from Schalke to Bayern Munich next year. I'll have an eye on both of them.
JAPAN Yuga Kawada, jockey
I think we'll go out in the group stage. The players' attitude of being devoted to the team is a strength, but a weakness is lack of scoring ability. Our Keisuke Honda and Brazil's Neymar are the players I'll be watching, and I think Brazil will win it.
MEXICO Victor Espinoza, jockey
Mexicans are big fans when it comes to soccer – big, big fans. People go crazy for it. They'll camp out for the night before and take time off work to go to games. I love that emotion. When it gets to the World Cup I won't miss a game and I hope they can win it, but every country will be hoping the same. Nevertheless, it'll be fun to watch.
PANAMA Eduardo Pedroza, jockey
Football is very big in Panama – bigger than racing! And the people are very excited, but it's the first time we've been to the World Cup. There are many good youngsters, although it isn't the strongest team. We're okay, but I think we'll go back after the group stage. Luis Tejada would be our best player and we call him the Matador. I have it in mind to fly to Russia to see a game, but I have to check what I'm riding – I'd like to go though.
PERU Edgar Prado, jockey
It's the best I've seen Peru playing for the last ten years and now we can call it a team – it used to be individuals. With Paolo Guerrero, they've played much better. He's the captain and one of the best players. I think that, more than being a good player, he's a leader. He keeps the team together and tries his best; 100 per cent every time and everyone follows his example.
It's a wide-open World Cup and a lot of teams who haven't shown up often or at all are there, and teams who have been there before, like Italy and the USA, aren't there. I think Peru can make the second round and I'll watch as much as I can. If I'm riding I'll record it and watch it later.
RUSSIA Sergey Nozhnin, jockeys' agent
The Russians believe Saudi Arabia is the only team in the group we can confidently beat. The strength of our team? This is a military secret. I'm kidding, of course. Everything depends on the morale and support of the fans. Technically, the team is weak. Some say that a former goalkeeper cannot be a good manager, but Stanislav Cherchesov certainly has a strong character, will, charisma and is able to motivate. And, if necessary, explain to players using obscene expressions, which can often motivate a Russian.
SPAIN Carlos Laffon-Parias, trainer
I think this is a good team that have shown themselves capable of doing well in Russia, albeit some of the warm-up matches haven't been great. But they are just like prep races in our sport and Spain deserve to be among the favourites. I think Brazil will be very difficult to beat. My team Real Madrid will be represented by Sergio Ramos and Isco but it's a very cosmopolitan squad at the Bernabeu and there will be Real players in many of the other teams. Historically Spain are very slow starters in tournament football, so I wouldn't be surprised if we draw or even lose to Portugal in the opening match on Friday. The team often needs a game to shake the rust off, and Portugal are a very good side.
SWEDEN Mikael Magnusson, former trainer
I think Zlatan Ibrahimovic could have made a difference, but they chose not to take him, so I think they have absolutely no chance of winning it. I think they can qualify from the group, but then that's it.
TUNISIA Robert Nataf, bloodstock agent
I covered four World Cups as a journalist including the great Pele-inspired Brazil in 1970. Normally I would be a supporter of the French team but I am originally from Tunisian roots and there is always that little strain that lives in me. The first match is between Tunisia and England so that strain will be so much stronger. I say to all my English friends, like Anthony Stroud and Angus Gold, I hope Tunisia will get at least a draw out of that match.
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