With young stars like Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar and Paul Pogba, France have been widely tipped as the winners of the 2018 World Cup. The bookmakers' odds reflect that, with Didier Deschamps' side favourites to win the competition outright. Sunday's shock 0-0 draw with Luxembourg has seen the odds wobble slightly, as Germany come into contention in the betting market as one of the most likely to lift the trophy in Russia next summer.
France's young talent have broken transfer records the last couple of seasons, grabbing headlines and the attention of football fans and pundits in the process. While all this was going on, Joachim Low continued to develop his side, picking up the pieces after a disappointing semi-final exit at Euro 2016 to Les Bleus, turning them into football's most finely tuned international side.
Thanks to Monday night's commanding victory over Norway, Germany are just a point away from joining hosts Russia and Group H winners Belgium at the 2018 World Cup. Low's men have gotten this far in ruthless style, winning all eight of their qualifiers so far with 18 different players getting on the scoresheet throughout the campaign.
A late goal by defender Mats Hummels was needed to secure a win away to the Czech Republic on Friday, but that was the only time Germany failed to put their opponents to the sword after starting the campaign brilliantly with 3-0 wins over Norway and the Czechs to lay down a marker.
Whereas other teams have a core team of players, Germany's strength in depth is extraordinary. Low picked a host of fringe players and young talent for June's Confederations Cup, and many expected Die Mannschaft to do well but ultimately be undone by a lack of experience in the competition. Euro 2016 winners Portugal brought a strong roster, led by captain Cristiano Ronaldo, while Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal were included in Chile's squad.
Portugal's panel was full of international veterans, with Ronaldo and Nani both in the 100-cap club before the competition, while Joao Moutinho reached that landmark during the group stage. Similarly, Chile had four players with over 100 international appearances, and two more who had played 90 times for their country. By contrast, Germany's captain and most capped player was Julian Draxler, whose 30th cap came against San Marino just a week before the tournament kicked off.
Going into the tournament, Low even tempered expectations, saying that his hope was for the young players to get experience at the highest level and for a small handful of the squad to play themselves into contention for next year.
"The 2018 World Cup, and winning the title again, that is the vision," Low told reporters.
"A mission on the way is participating at the Confed Cup with the goal that three or four players will be able to put pressure on our established stars, when it comes to 2018. We want to lift players to a new level — achieving that is what matters to me. I already know I have 12, 13 World Cup winners with a lot of experience and class, but they need competition for their places."
Low's young squad did more than just impress themselves on the manager: They topped their group before smashing Mexico in the semi-final, and then lifted the trophy thanks to a 1-0 win against Chile in the final. All that without the vast majority of their key players.
Some of those names returned for this week's qualifying double-header, with 2010 World Cup Golden Boot winner Thomas Muller captaining the side due to Manuel Neuer's recent injury. The world's best goalkeeper was left out for the two international games, but Low has numerous capable deputies between the posts, including Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Bernd Leno of Bayer Leverkusen.
Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil was one of those experienced names returning to the team, and put in an excellent performance as Germany routed Norway with a goal and assist in the first 17 minutes. Captain Muller provided assists of his own with a clever flick and pinpoint cross for Timo Werner's two goals to help put Die Mannschaft further ahead. As he does so often for Real Madrid, Toni Kroos shone in the middle of the park with Low's mix of youth and experience blending perfectly.
RB Leipzig's pacy forward Werner was retained in attack and rewarded his manager with two well-taken goals, taking his international tally to seven goals in nine appearances. The 21-year-old is yet to play in the Champions League, but will get more practice against the best defenders in the world when Leipzig compete in Europe's elite competition for the first time. Germany looked so comfortable at half-time that Low was able to take off Muller and bring on Schalke's exciting 22-year-old Leon Goretzka, who made an immediate impact from the bench with the fifth goal.
At the back, Hummels partnered Chelsea's summer signing Antonio Rudiger, but Low's bench boasted an impressive array of defensive talent as Niklas Sule and Benjamin Henrichs watched an impressive rearguard showing. By completing another 90 minutes at right-back, Bayern Munich's versatile Joshua Kimmich has now played 21 complete games in a row for Die Mannschaft — only Berti Vogts has a longer streak. Germany's defence has conceded just two goals so far in qualifying, and this week did not have the experience of Juventus' Benedikt Howedes or Bayern's Jerome Boateng.
Germany still have to welcome back Neuer, Howedes, Mario Gotze, Ilkay Gundogan and Andre Schurrle, leaving Low with a whole host of selection headaches for his tournament squad. With qualification likely to be secured after the game with Northern Ireland in October, he can use the second match of the double-header against Azerbaijan to assess his fringe players further. But with such talent at their disposal, expect Germany to win both games with ease regardless of which XI takes to the field.
March's friendlies with Spain and Brazil will provide tougher tests as all three sides hone their squads in the months leading up to the World Cup. For Julen Lopetegui and Tite, it will help them decide on who to include in their final 23-man squads, but for Low, his decision is tougher: Which players does he want to pick up winners' medals next summer?