Brazil soccer star Neymar

World-class soccer player Neymar leads the Brazil team at the Olympics.

Your wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over at last. With each passing day we experience more and more teams getting their campaigns started. But who will each of them face in their groups? Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 Egypt 0 Uruguay 1 Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran Morocco 0 Iran 1 Portugal 3 Spain 3 Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018 groups: tables, latest standings, games and analysis
Your wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over at last. With each passing day we experience more and more teams getting their campaigns started. But who will each of them face in their groups? Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 Egypt 0 Uruguay 1 Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran Morocco 0 Iran 1 Portugal 3 Spain 3 Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Your wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over at last. With each passing day we experience more and more teams getting their campaigns started. But who will each of them face in their groups? Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 Egypt 0 Uruguay 1 Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran Morocco 0 Iran 1 Portugal 3 Spain 3 Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018 groups: tables, latest standings, games and analysis
Your wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over at last. With each passing day we experience more and more teams getting their campaigns started. But who will each of them face in their groups? Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 Egypt 0 Uruguay 1 Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran Morocco 0 Iran 1 Portugal 3 Spain 3 Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Your wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over at last. With each passing day we experience more and more teams getting their campaigns started. But who will each of them face in their groups? Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 Egypt 0 Uruguay 1 Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran Morocco 0 Iran 1 Portugal 3 Spain 3 Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018 groups: tables, latest standings, games and analysis
Your wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over at last. With each passing day we experience more and more teams getting their campaigns started. But who will each of them face in their groups? Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 Egypt 0 Uruguay 1 Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran Morocco 0 Iran 1 Portugal 3 Spain 3 Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Your wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over at last. With each passing day we experience more and more teams getting their campaigns started. But who will each of them face in their groups? Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 Egypt 0 Uruguay 1 Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran Morocco 0 Iran 1 Portugal 3 Spain 3 Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018 groups: tables, latest standings, games and analysis
Your wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over at last. With each passing day we experience more and more teams getting their campaigns started. But who will each of them face in their groups? Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 Egypt 0 Uruguay 1 Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran Morocco 0 Iran 1 Portugal 3 Spain 3 Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Your wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over at last. With each passing day we experience more and more teams getting their campaigns started. But who will each of them face in their groups? Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 Egypt 0 Uruguay 1 Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran Morocco 0 Iran 1 Portugal 3 Spain 3 Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018 groups: tables, latest standings, games and analysis
Your wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over at last. With each passing day we experience more and more teams getting their campaigns started. But who will each of them face in their groups? Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 Egypt 0 Uruguay 1 Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran Morocco 0 Iran 1 Portugal 3 Spain 3 Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Your wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over at last. With each passing day we experience more and more teams getting their campaigns started. But who will each of them face in their groups? Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 Egypt 0 Uruguay 1 Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran Morocco 0 Iran 1 Portugal 3 Spain 3 Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018 groups: tables, latest standings, games and analysis
Your wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over at last. With each passing day we experience more and more teams getting their campaigns started. But who will each of them face in their groups? Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 Egypt 0 Uruguay 1 Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran Morocco 0 Iran 1 Portugal 3 Spain 3 Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Neymar talks with Thiago Silva, his close friend and PSG teammate, at Brazil training in Sochi (AFP Photo/NELSON ALMEIDA)
Neymar talks with Thiago Silva, his close friend and PSG teammate, at Brazil training in Sochi
Neymar talks with Thiago Silva, his close friend and PSG teammate, at Brazil training in Sochi (AFP Photo/NELSON ALMEIDA)
Neymar is ready to lead Brazil's bid for glory in Russia (AFP Photo/NELSON ALMEIDA)
Neymar is ready to lead Brazil's bid for glory in Russia
Neymar is ready to lead Brazil's bid for glory in Russia (AFP Photo/NELSON ALMEIDA)
France vs Australia: live score updates Unlike many of his team-mates in the Queens Park Rangers dressing room, Massimo Luongo usually resists the temptation to grab his phone before a game and watch the highlights of his best performances. Some players download their showreels as a reminder to themselves of what they can do, while others use the footage as a timely boost of confidence. The more adventurous, meanwhile, will hunt down clips of the likes of Neymar or Ronaldinho to provide pre-match inspiration. As they lock into their screens, Luongo tends to leave them to it. That was the plan, at least, until a few weeks ago, when a message arrived from a friend containing a video of his performances for Australia at the 2015 Asian Cup. Glancing at the headline, he simply could not help himself. “I thought ‘Phwoar, I look a good player there!’” Luongo laughs. “It’s the highlight of my career. It was in Australia and I had everything going for me at the time. I had the flair, I had everything. If I was to put myself in that position now, I probably wouldn’t be as showy.” World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Luongo’s all-action performances that year resulted in him being crowned the Asian Cup’s most valuable player and then, shortly after moving from Swindon Town to QPR, seeing his name alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the longlist for the Ballon d’Or. “I thought it was someone trying to be funny,” he said at the time. “It’s a bit random.” He may not have achieved such glamorous accolades in the three years that have followed, but Luongo, now 25, will arrive at this summer’s World Cup hoping to create a new favourite memory in Australian gold. He feels ready to do so, and performed so well for QPR last season (he was named player of the year) that Ian Holloway, his departed manager, even said the midfielder was good enough to play for Barcelona. “It has probably been my best season,” Luongo says. “Off the ball, on the ball, scoring goals and making things happen. I am more defined than I was a few years ago. I am becoming more of a complete player, in a box-to-box role.” Australia’s target in Russia is to make it out of a group containing France – whom they face on Saturday – Denmark and Peru. “The goal is to qualify for the knockout stages,” Luongo says, before quickly correcting himself. “The expectation is to qualify.” World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game To do so, he knows they will have to adjust quickly to the methods of Bert van Marwijk, the Dutch coach appointed as manager in January after the resignation of Ange Postecoglou, who stepped down just six days after Australia had completed the most gruelling of qualification campaigns. “When we qualified it was such a high,” Luongo says. “And then Ange left. I couldn’t believe he had actually done it. He brought me in from nothing, came to watch me at Swindon, gave me a chance and picked me for the World Cup. “If we had him for the World Cup it would have made things a lot easier. We had established the way we played under him and we knew how he wanted it. It’s disappointing we couldn’t do it with him.” In an emotional farewell speech in November, Postecoglou spoke of the toll that the job had taken on him “both personally and professionally”. Australia had defeated Honduras to guarantee a spot at their fourth consecutive World Cup, but had earlier played the global villains by ending war-torn Syria’s qualification dream with a dramatic 3-2 aggregate victory in a play-off. “Syria played with their hearts,” Luongo remembers. “I realised how tough qualifying for the World Cup is and why it means so much. When we won, the media was reporting it as the end of the fairy tale for Syria and you could feel that on the pitch. They were putting everything on the line. “It was more than a cup final for them. It was everything. When we won, a lot of us were not celebrating, just trying to show a bit of sympathy. We could see how much it meant to them.” Ranking World Cup opening matches from bottom to top International football, though, pays no heed to romance. They know this well in Australia, where the memory of their 2006 misfortune still rankles. In the first knockout round of the World Cup in Germany, Australia’s beloved “golden generation” were beaten by a controversial 95th-minute penalty by Italy’s Francesco Totti. It was an agonising moment, but a revolutionary tournament Down Under. “After the 2006 World Cup, football skyrocketed,” Luongo says. “Everyone was talking about it at school, participation levels went up, the crowds went up. It flew. That just shows how important the national team is to the country.” That side, in short, helped to bring football into the mainstream after years of operating on the outskirts, where it was generally played by the children of immigrants. Luongo, born to an Italian father and an Indonesian mother (his grandfather was an Indonesian sultan), was the outsider at his rugby-dominant private school in Sydney, but he found common ground with the other players at his local football club. “I had Portuguese friends, Czech friends, loads of Greek friends, Italians, Lebanese,” he says. “It was like High School Musical. That was normal for us because our parents would push us into football. You wouldn’t find many full-on Aussies playing. If you chose football, you were going against everyone. I remember one stage when it was it was full-on Baltic, with lots of Croats and Serbs.” World Cup 2018: how fans are watching around the world gallery The briefest of glances at the names in Van Marwijk’s World Cup squad provides further evidence of the multicultural nature of the sport in Australia, yet times are slowly changing. “When we do well, football skyrockets,” Luongo says. “That’s so important because we compete with rugby league, cricket and rugby union. Football does have its drops but there’s always an event like the World Cup to get it going again. We’ve come a long way. It’s growing and I think we, as a national team, help it massively.” Under Van Marwijk, who guided Holland to the 2010 World Cup final, Australia are attempting to become a more organised side after years of aggressive pressing. “He wants us to be a little more secure,” Luongo says. “To have a good shape.” Luongo was a junior member of the squad at the 2014 World Cup, where he did not make it onto the pitch. Four years older and four years better, he now sees Russia as an opportunity to prove his ability on the biggest stage and, he hopes, to create some new footage for the highlights reel. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Australia midfielder Massimo Luongo hoping to hit heights of 2015 at World Cup and ‘skyrocket’ sport Down Under
France vs Australia: live score updates Unlike many of his team-mates in the Queens Park Rangers dressing room, Massimo Luongo usually resists the temptation to grab his phone before a game and watch the highlights of his best performances. Some players download their showreels as a reminder to themselves of what they can do, while others use the footage as a timely boost of confidence. The more adventurous, meanwhile, will hunt down clips of the likes of Neymar or Ronaldinho to provide pre-match inspiration. As they lock into their screens, Luongo tends to leave them to it. That was the plan, at least, until a few weeks ago, when a message arrived from a friend containing a video of his performances for Australia at the 2015 Asian Cup. Glancing at the headline, he simply could not help himself. “I thought ‘Phwoar, I look a good player there!’” Luongo laughs. “It’s the highlight of my career. It was in Australia and I had everything going for me at the time. I had the flair, I had everything. If I was to put myself in that position now, I probably wouldn’t be as showy.” World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Luongo’s all-action performances that year resulted in him being crowned the Asian Cup’s most valuable player and then, shortly after moving from Swindon Town to QPR, seeing his name alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the longlist for the Ballon d’Or. “I thought it was someone trying to be funny,” he said at the time. “It’s a bit random.” He may not have achieved such glamorous accolades in the three years that have followed, but Luongo, now 25, will arrive at this summer’s World Cup hoping to create a new favourite memory in Australian gold. He feels ready to do so, and performed so well for QPR last season (he was named player of the year) that Ian Holloway, his departed manager, even said the midfielder was good enough to play for Barcelona. “It has probably been my best season,” Luongo says. “Off the ball, on the ball, scoring goals and making things happen. I am more defined than I was a few years ago. I am becoming more of a complete player, in a box-to-box role.” Australia’s target in Russia is to make it out of a group containing France – whom they face on Saturday – Denmark and Peru. “The goal is to qualify for the knockout stages,” Luongo says, before quickly correcting himself. “The expectation is to qualify.” World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game To do so, he knows they will have to adjust quickly to the methods of Bert van Marwijk, the Dutch coach appointed as manager in January after the resignation of Ange Postecoglou, who stepped down just six days after Australia had completed the most gruelling of qualification campaigns. “When we qualified it was such a high,” Luongo says. “And then Ange left. I couldn’t believe he had actually done it. He brought me in from nothing, came to watch me at Swindon, gave me a chance and picked me for the World Cup. “If we had him for the World Cup it would have made things a lot easier. We had established the way we played under him and we knew how he wanted it. It’s disappointing we couldn’t do it with him.” In an emotional farewell speech in November, Postecoglou spoke of the toll that the job had taken on him “both personally and professionally”. Australia had defeated Honduras to guarantee a spot at their fourth consecutive World Cup, but had earlier played the global villains by ending war-torn Syria’s qualification dream with a dramatic 3-2 aggregate victory in a play-off. “Syria played with their hearts,” Luongo remembers. “I realised how tough qualifying for the World Cup is and why it means so much. When we won, the media was reporting it as the end of the fairy tale for Syria and you could feel that on the pitch. They were putting everything on the line. “It was more than a cup final for them. It was everything. When we won, a lot of us were not celebrating, just trying to show a bit of sympathy. We could see how much it meant to them.” Ranking World Cup opening matches from bottom to top International football, though, pays no heed to romance. They know this well in Australia, where the memory of their 2006 misfortune still rankles. In the first knockout round of the World Cup in Germany, Australia’s beloved “golden generation” were beaten by a controversial 95th-minute penalty by Italy’s Francesco Totti. It was an agonising moment, but a revolutionary tournament Down Under. “After the 2006 World Cup, football skyrocketed,” Luongo says. “Everyone was talking about it at school, participation levels went up, the crowds went up. It flew. That just shows how important the national team is to the country.” That side, in short, helped to bring football into the mainstream after years of operating on the outskirts, where it was generally played by the children of immigrants. Luongo, born to an Italian father and an Indonesian mother (his grandfather was an Indonesian sultan), was the outsider at his rugby-dominant private school in Sydney, but he found common ground with the other players at his local football club. “I had Portuguese friends, Czech friends, loads of Greek friends, Italians, Lebanese,” he says. “It was like High School Musical. That was normal for us because our parents would push us into football. You wouldn’t find many full-on Aussies playing. If you chose football, you were going against everyone. I remember one stage when it was it was full-on Baltic, with lots of Croats and Serbs.” World Cup 2018: how fans are watching around the world gallery The briefest of glances at the names in Van Marwijk’s World Cup squad provides further evidence of the multicultural nature of the sport in Australia, yet times are slowly changing. “When we do well, football skyrockets,” Luongo says. “That’s so important because we compete with rugby league, cricket and rugby union. Football does have its drops but there’s always an event like the World Cup to get it going again. We’ve come a long way. It’s growing and I think we, as a national team, help it massively.” Under Van Marwijk, who guided Holland to the 2010 World Cup final, Australia are attempting to become a more organised side after years of aggressive pressing. “He wants us to be a little more secure,” Luongo says. “To have a good shape.” Luongo was a junior member of the squad at the 2014 World Cup, where he did not make it onto the pitch. Four years older and four years better, he now sees Russia as an opportunity to prove his ability on the biggest stage and, he hopes, to create some new footage for the highlights reel. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Soccer Football - World Cup - Brazil Training - Yug Sport Stadium, Sochi, Russia - June 13, 2018 Brazil's Neymar and team mates during training REUTERS/Hannah Mckay
World Cup - Brazil Training
Soccer Football - World Cup - Brazil Training - Yug Sport Stadium, Sochi, Russia - June 13, 2018 Brazil's Neymar and team mates during training REUTERS/Hannah Mckay
Soccer Football - World Cup - Brazil Training - Yug Sport Stadium, Sochi, Russia - June 13, 2018 Brazil's Neymar and team mates during training REUTERS/Hannah Mckay
World Cup - Brazil Training
Soccer Football - World Cup - Brazil Training - Yug Sport Stadium, Sochi, Russia - June 13, 2018 Brazil's Neymar and team mates during training REUTERS/Hannah Mckay
The Brazil international is happy to sit behind two remarkable talents in global pecking order, with his focus currently locked on collective honours
Neymar: I'm the best in the world - but Messi & Ronaldo are from another planet!
The Brazil international is happy to sit behind two remarkable talents in global pecking order, with his focus currently locked on collective honours
The Brazil international is happy to sit behind two remarkable talents in global pecking order, with his focus currently locked on collective honours
Neymar: I'm the best in the world - but Messi & Ronaldo are from another planet!
The Brazil international is happy to sit behind two remarkable talents in global pecking order, with his focus currently locked on collective honours
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are on another level, but Brazil star Neymar believes he is the best of the rest.
Neymar: I'm the best player in the world - Ronaldo and Messi are from another planet
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are on another level, but Brazil star Neymar believes he is the best of the rest.
Brazil's Neymar practices during a training session in Sochi, Russia, Thursday, June 14, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Switzerland-Brazil Preview
Brazil's Neymar practices during a training session in Sochi, Russia, Thursday, June 14, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Brazil's Neymar, right, talks with teammate Thiago Silva during a training session in Sochi, Russia, Thursday, June 14, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Switzerland-Brazil Preview
Brazil's Neymar, right, talks with teammate Thiago Silva during a training session in Sochi, Russia, Thursday, June 14, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
NFL Network's Nate Burleson compares Brazil's Neymar Jr. to Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
NFL-World Cup player comparison: Odell Beckham Jr. and Neymar Jr.
NFL Network's Nate Burleson compares Brazil's Neymar Jr. to Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
NFL Network's Nate Burleson compares Brazil's Neymar Jr. to Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
NFL-World Cup player comparison: Odell Beckham Jr. and Neymar Jr.
NFL Network's Nate Burleson compares Brazil's Neymar Jr. to Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
NFL Network's Nate Burleson compares Brazil's Neymar Jr. to Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
NFL-World Cup player comparison: Odell Beckham Jr. and Neymar Jr.
NFL Network's Nate Burleson compares Brazil's Neymar Jr. to Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
NFL Network's Nate Burleson compares Brazil's Neymar Jr. to Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
NFL-World Cup player comparison: Odell Beckham Jr. and Neymar Jr.
NFL Network's Nate Burleson compares Brazil's Neymar Jr. to Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Former France international Marcel Desailly believes that Brazil are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, with or without the talents of Neymar.
Desailly tips Brazil for World Cup glory
Former France international Marcel Desailly believes that Brazil are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, with or without the talents of Neymar.
Former France international Marcel Desailly believes that Brazil are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, with or without the talents of Neymar.
Desailly tips Brazil for World Cup glory
Former France international Marcel Desailly believes that Brazil are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, with or without the talents of Neymar.
Former France international Marcel Desailly believes that Brazil are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, with or without the talents of Neymar.
Desailly tips Brazil for World Cup glory
Former France international Marcel Desailly believes that Brazil are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, with or without the talents of Neymar.
Former France international Marcel Desailly believes that Brazil are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, with or without the talents of Neymar.
Desailly tips Brazil for World Cup glory
Former France international Marcel Desailly believes that Brazil are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, with or without the talents of Neymar.
Former France international Marcel Desailly believes that Brazil are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, with or without the talents of Neymar.
Desailly tips Brazil for World Cup glory
Former France international Marcel Desailly believes that Brazil are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, with or without the talents of Neymar.
Former France international Marcel Desailly believes that Brazil are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, with or without the talents of Neymar.
Desailly tips Brazil for World Cup glory
Former France international Marcel Desailly believes that Brazil are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, with or without the talents of Neymar.
The wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over. The opening ceremony is done. And Russia have collected the first points of the tournament. Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay RUSSIA Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 - Cheryshev's double hands hosts perfect start SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who took over the job in November, is tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Is coaching Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defence, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 33, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit: AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui was credited with reinvigorating a side that was in decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. But what happens next is anyone's guess following news that Lopetegui will be taking over at Real Madrid, announced 48 hours before the start of the World Cup. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but is now 34. Coach: With Lopetegui, who steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign, gone everything depends on how Fernando Hierro, who was serving as sporting director, fits into the role. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 23-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bringing in young players such as Azmoun. Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018 groups: Tables, standings, games and latest analysis
The wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over. The opening ceremony is done. And Russia have collected the first points of the tournament. Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay RUSSIA Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 - Cheryshev's double hands hosts perfect start SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who took over the job in November, is tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Is coaching Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defence, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 33, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit: AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui was credited with reinvigorating a side that was in decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. But what happens next is anyone's guess following news that Lopetegui will be taking over at Real Madrid, announced 48 hours before the start of the World Cup. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but is now 34. Coach: With Lopetegui, who steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign, gone everything depends on how Fernando Hierro, who was serving as sporting director, fits into the role. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 23-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bringing in young players such as Azmoun. Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
The wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over. The opening ceremony is done. And Russia have collected the first points of the tournament. Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay RUSSIA Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 - Cheryshev's double hands hosts perfect start SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who took over the job in November, is tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Is coaching Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defence, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 33, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit: AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui was credited with reinvigorating a side that was in decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. But what happens next is anyone's guess following news that Lopetegui will be taking over at Real Madrid, announced 48 hours before the start of the World Cup. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but is now 34. Coach: With Lopetegui, who steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign, gone everything depends on how Fernando Hierro, who was serving as sporting director, fits into the role. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 23-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bringing in young players such as Azmoun. Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018 groups: Tables, standings, games and latest analysis
The wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over. The opening ceremony is done. And Russia have collected the first points of the tournament. Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay RUSSIA Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 - Cheryshev's double hands hosts perfect start SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who took over the job in November, is tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Is coaching Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defence, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 33, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit: AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui was credited with reinvigorating a side that was in decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. But what happens next is anyone's guess following news that Lopetegui will be taking over at Real Madrid, announced 48 hours before the start of the World Cup. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but is now 34. Coach: With Lopetegui, who steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign, gone everything depends on how Fernando Hierro, who was serving as sporting director, fits into the role. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 23-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bringing in young players such as Azmoun. Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
The wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over. The opening ceremony is done. And Russia have collected the first points of the tournament. Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay RUSSIA Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 - Cheryshev's double hands hosts perfect start SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who took over the job in November, is tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Is coaching Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defence, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 33, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit: AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui was credited with reinvigorating a side that was in decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. But what happens next is anyone's guess following news that Lopetegui will be taking over at Real Madrid, announced 48 hours before the start of the World Cup. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but is now 34. Coach: With Lopetegui, who steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign, gone everything depends on how Fernando Hierro, who was serving as sporting director, fits into the role. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 23-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bringing in young players such as Azmoun. Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018 groups: Tables, standings, games and latest analysis
The wait for the 2018 Fifa World Cup is over. The opening ceremony is done. And Russia have collected the first points of the tournament. Last December's draw in Moscow saw England placed in Group E with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. The top two in the group will qualify for the knockout stages. You can find details about each team, the World Cup group they will be in and our prediction on who makes it through right here. World Cup Draw Live Widget 2018 Group A - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay RUSSIA Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0 - Cheryshev's double hands hosts perfect start SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who took over the job in November, is tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Is coaching Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Our group prediction: Uruguay and Egypt to go through Group B - Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defence, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 33, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit: AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui was credited with reinvigorating a side that was in decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. But what happens next is anyone's guess following news that Lopetegui will be taking over at Real Madrid, announced 48 hours before the start of the World Cup. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but is now 34. Coach: With Lopetegui, who steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign, gone everything depends on how Fernando Hierro, who was serving as sporting director, fits into the role. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 23-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bringing in young players such as Azmoun. Our group prediction: Portugal and Spain to go through Group C - France, Australia, Peru, Denmark FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: Bert van Marwijk - Guided Holland to the final of the 2010 World Cup but had been given only a short-term contract, which runs to the end of this tournament. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 34-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying and features after appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 13 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 58-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. The team's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved it wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. Our prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to go through John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris St-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign. Mladen Krstajic took over in a caretaker capacity before being given the job until the end of the World Cup. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: Mladen Krstajić - Unlike his predecessor has so far shown himself willing to follow orders and give youth a chance. Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship and much of the build-up this time around was whether he might be lured back for one last World Cup. Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but now they will find out just good they are without the force that made them tick for so long. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a due of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Our prediction: Germany and Mexico to go through Group G - Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But Belgium is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 13 goals in 24 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Sceptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Our prediction - Belgium and England to go through Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H - Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit: REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 92 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 66-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time. Our prediction: Poland and Colombia to go through World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
A former favourite at Camp Nou concedes that any deal taking a fellow Brazilian to the Santiago Bernabeu is unlikely to go down well in Catalunya
Neymar to complement or replace Ronaldo? Rivaldo unsure of Real's plans to annoy Barcelona
A former favourite at Camp Nou concedes that any deal taking a fellow Brazilian to the Santiago Bernabeu is unlikely to go down well in Catalunya
Before the World Cup in 2014, Neymar walked into an Italian watch shop in Tokyo and spent £140,000 on over a dozen timepieces. He returned three years later, not to buy more, but to launch his own design of his favourite brand - Gaga Milano. Then, the number 11 on the clock face was encrusted with diamonds, representing his shirt number at Barcelona. Now, the diamonds outline the number 10, and for £1,050 you can look like Neymar, too. But why stop at watches? Neymar is the face of Red Bull, Pilão coffee and Prohibida beer, so you can drink like him at any time of the day. You can dress like him in C&A underwear and Replay jeans, fly like him on Gol airlines, shave like him with Gillette, listen to music like him with Beats by Dre Headphones and play like him in Nike boots. And if you ever find yourself in Brazil with a flat car battery, there’s a Neymar brand for you too: Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car.’ Neymar's pursuit of football's biggest prize begins again on Sunday when Brazil make their bow at the 2018 World Cup, but when it comes to his work off the field, the Selecao's No 10 is already an emphatic winner. He may still only be 26 years old, but he is already the face of 27 companies in Brazil and beyond, and according to Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes in the world, the fifth biggest earner in sport. Neymar attends a fashion event for Replay, one of the brands he represents, in Shanghai last year Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP Last year, the Paris St Germain forward netted an eye-watering £54million from his club, including signing-on fees, and his basic wage is £600,000 a week - more than double any other player in the French league. On top of this, his endorsements last year brought in another £13million. In 2017, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi earned more money through endorsements (£35million and £20million respectively), but it is the sheer volume and acceleration of Neymar’s tie-ins that makes him stand out. According to Sportcal, a sports marketing intelligence company, since joining Manchester United in 2003, Ronaldo has signed sponsorship deals with 28 companies, and Messi 17. Neymar has worked with at least 38 companies so far in his career, and it is only a matter of time before his earning catch up. Big brand | Neymar's 27 official endorsements NR Sports, which manages Neymar’s commercial activity, shows that the Brazilian currently has 27 different ‘partners.’ He has previously represented at least eight more, including PokerStars, an online poker company which reportedly paid him £4m a year, and his recent twitter activity would indicate a new partnership with an online marketplace called ‘Wish’, as well as Quantum smartphones and NABUfit sports equipment. The biggest earners are Red Bull, Gillette and Beats Electronics (£3m a year each). And Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car’? £1m a year according to Sportcal. The other quirk of Neymar’s commercial partnerships is that until he signed for PSG, he was the only active footballer earning more money off the field than on. In 2016, his Barcelona salary was around £11m a year, but his off-field deals brought in £17m. Since joining PSG, Neymar's earnings have rocketed Credit: Paris Saint-Germain When PSG paid £198million to sign him last summer, their owner, Qatari billionaire Nasser Al-Khelaifi spoke about Neymar, not as a player, but as a commodity. "When you consider Neymar as a brand,” he said, “maybe it won't seem so expensive. I'm sure we'll make more money than we've paid. Before Neymar signed, the club was worth €1billion. Now it is worth €1.5billion. The best player in the world is here. With him our project will grow even stronger and the league will become more interesting to everyone." The Neymar 'project' has not been without its hiccups at PSG - there are persistent rumours that he is unhappy at the club, with Real Madrid having made little secret of their desire to sign him - but there is no question that his arrival sent their profile stratospheric. The question is whether he has already outgrown France. A mural in Kolkata, India shows Neymar (right) with Marcelo, ahead of the World Cup Credit: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri “For brands, Neymar is now seen as a ‘leader’ as opposed to being part of Messi’s Barca team," said Conrad Wiacek, head of sponsorship at Sportcal. "The only issue is the relative strength of the French league, which is a hindrance to Neymar’s personal brand unless PSG can win the Champions League." The other way for Neymar to boost his personal brand to giddy new heights is, of course, lifting that famous golden trophy in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium next month - something that neither Ronaldo or Messi have done, and the final frontier for a footballer whose CV is already groaning with honours. "His endorsements are based more around his profile in Brazil," Wiacek added. "So doing something significant at a global level, like winning the World Cup, will make him even more attractive to brands.” WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
From car batteries to banking: how Neymar became the world's most branded footballer
Before the World Cup in 2014, Neymar walked into an Italian watch shop in Tokyo and spent £140,000 on over a dozen timepieces. He returned three years later, not to buy more, but to launch his own design of his favourite brand - Gaga Milano. Then, the number 11 on the clock face was encrusted with diamonds, representing his shirt number at Barcelona. Now, the diamonds outline the number 10, and for £1,050 you can look like Neymar, too. But why stop at watches? Neymar is the face of Red Bull, Pilão coffee and Prohibida beer, so you can drink like him at any time of the day. You can dress like him in C&A underwear and Replay jeans, fly like him on Gol airlines, shave like him with Gillette, listen to music like him with Beats by Dre Headphones and play like him in Nike boots. And if you ever find yourself in Brazil with a flat car battery, there’s a Neymar brand for you too: Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car.’ Neymar's pursuit of football's biggest prize begins again on Sunday when Brazil make their bow at the 2018 World Cup, but when it comes to his work off the field, the Selecao's No 10 is already an emphatic winner. He may still only be 26 years old, but he is already the face of 27 companies in Brazil and beyond, and according to Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes in the world, the fifth biggest earner in sport. Neymar attends a fashion event for Replay, one of the brands he represents, in Shanghai last year Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP Last year, the Paris St Germain forward netted an eye-watering £54million from his club, including signing-on fees, and his basic wage is £600,000 a week - more than double any other player in the French league. On top of this, his endorsements last year brought in another £13million. In 2017, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi earned more money through endorsements (£35million and £20million respectively), but it is the sheer volume and acceleration of Neymar’s tie-ins that makes him stand out. According to Sportcal, a sports marketing intelligence company, since joining Manchester United in 2003, Ronaldo has signed sponsorship deals with 28 companies, and Messi 17. Neymar has worked with at least 38 companies so far in his career, and it is only a matter of time before his earning catch up. Big brand | Neymar's 27 official endorsements NR Sports, which manages Neymar’s commercial activity, shows that the Brazilian currently has 27 different ‘partners.’ He has previously represented at least eight more, including PokerStars, an online poker company which reportedly paid him £4m a year, and his recent twitter activity would indicate a new partnership with an online marketplace called ‘Wish’, as well as Quantum smartphones and NABUfit sports equipment. The biggest earners are Red Bull, Gillette and Beats Electronics (£3m a year each). And Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car’? £1m a year according to Sportcal. The other quirk of Neymar’s commercial partnerships is that until he signed for PSG, he was the only active footballer earning more money off the field than on. In 2016, his Barcelona salary was around £11m a year, but his off-field deals brought in £17m. Since joining PSG, Neymar's earnings have rocketed Credit: Paris Saint-Germain When PSG paid £198million to sign him last summer, their owner, Qatari billionaire Nasser Al-Khelaifi spoke about Neymar, not as a player, but as a commodity. "When you consider Neymar as a brand,” he said, “maybe it won't seem so expensive. I'm sure we'll make more money than we've paid. Before Neymar signed, the club was worth €1billion. Now it is worth €1.5billion. The best player in the world is here. With him our project will grow even stronger and the league will become more interesting to everyone." The Neymar 'project' has not been without its hiccups at PSG - there are persistent rumours that he is unhappy at the club, with Real Madrid having made little secret of their desire to sign him - but there is no question that his arrival sent their profile stratospheric. The question is whether he has already outgrown France. A mural in Kolkata, India shows Neymar (right) with Marcelo, ahead of the World Cup Credit: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri “For brands, Neymar is now seen as a ‘leader’ as opposed to being part of Messi’s Barca team," said Conrad Wiacek, head of sponsorship at Sportcal. "The only issue is the relative strength of the French league, which is a hindrance to Neymar’s personal brand unless PSG can win the Champions League." The other way for Neymar to boost his personal brand to giddy new heights is, of course, lifting that famous golden trophy in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium next month - something that neither Ronaldo or Messi have done, and the final frontier for a footballer whose CV is already groaning with honours. "His endorsements are based more around his profile in Brazil," Wiacek added. "So doing something significant at a global level, like winning the World Cup, will make him even more attractive to brands.” WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Before the World Cup in 2014, Neymar walked into an Italian watch shop in Tokyo and spent £140,000 on over a dozen timepieces. He returned three years later, not to buy more, but to launch his own design of his favourite brand - Gaga Milano. Then, the number 11 on the clock face was encrusted with diamonds, representing his shirt number at Barcelona. Now, the diamonds outline the number 10, and for £1,050 you can look like Neymar, too. But why stop at watches? Neymar is the face of Red Bull, Pilão coffee and Prohibida beer, so you can drink like him at any time of the day. You can dress like him in C&A underwear and Replay jeans, fly like him on Gol airlines, shave like him with Gillette, listen to music like him with Beats by Dre Headphones and play like him in Nike boots. And if you ever find yourself in Brazil with a flat car battery, there’s a Neymar brand for you too: Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car.’ Neymar's pursuit of football's biggest prize begins again on Sunday when Brazil make their bow at the 2018 World Cup, but when it comes to his work off the field, the Selecao's No 10 is already an emphatic winner. He may still only be 26 years old, but he is already the face of 27 companies in Brazil and beyond, and according to Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes in the world, the fifth biggest earner in sport. Neymar attends a fashion event for Replay, one of the brands he represents, in Shanghai last year Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP Last year, the Paris St Germain forward netted an eye-watering £54million from his club, including signing-on fees, and his basic wage is £600,000 a week - more than double any other player in the French league. On top of this, his endorsements last year brought in another £13million. In 2017, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi earned more money through endorsements (£35million and £20million respectively), but it is the sheer volume and acceleration of Neymar’s tie-ins that makes him stand out. According to Sportcal, a sports marketing intelligence company, since joining Manchester United in 2003, Ronaldo has signed sponsorship deals with 28 companies, and Messi 17. Neymar has worked with at least 38 companies so far in his career, and it is only a matter of time before his earning catch up. Big brand | Neymar's 27 official endorsements NR Sports, which manages Neymar’s commercial activity, shows that the Brazilian currently has 27 different ‘partners.’ He has previously represented at least eight more, including PokerStars, an online poker company which reportedly paid him £4m a year, and his recent twitter activity would indicate a new partnership with an online marketplace called ‘Wish’, as well as Quantum smartphones and NABUfit sports equipment. The biggest earners are Red Bull, Gillette and Beats Electronics (£3m a year each). And Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car’? £1m a year according to Sportcal. The other quirk of Neymar’s commercial partnerships is that until he signed for PSG, he was the only active footballer earning more money off the field than on. In 2016, his Barcelona salary was around £11m a year, but his off-field deals brought in £17m. Since joining PSG, Neymar's earnings have rocketed Credit: Paris Saint-Germain When PSG paid £198million to sign him last summer, their owner, Qatari billionaire Nasser Al-Khelaifi spoke about Neymar, not as a player, but as a commodity. "When you consider Neymar as a brand,” he said, “maybe it won't seem so expensive. I'm sure we'll make more money than we've paid. Before Neymar signed, the club was worth €1billion. Now it is worth €1.5billion. The best player in the world is here. With him our project will grow even stronger and the league will become more interesting to everyone." The Neymar 'project' has not been without its hiccups at PSG - there are persistent rumours that he is unhappy at the club, with Real Madrid having made little secret of their desire to sign him - but there is no question that his arrival sent their profile stratospheric. The question is whether he has already outgrown France. A mural in Kolkata, India shows Neymar (right) with Marcelo, ahead of the World Cup Credit: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri “For brands, Neymar is now seen as a ‘leader’ as opposed to being part of Messi’s Barca team," said Conrad Wiacek, head of sponsorship at Sportcal. "The only issue is the relative strength of the French league, which is a hindrance to Neymar’s personal brand unless PSG can win the Champions League." The other way for Neymar to boost his personal brand to giddy new heights is, of course, lifting that famous golden trophy in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium next month - something that neither Ronaldo or Messi have done, and the final frontier for a footballer whose CV is already groaning with honours. "His endorsements are based more around his profile in Brazil," Wiacek added. "So doing something significant at a global level, like winning the World Cup, will make him even more attractive to brands.” WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
From car batteries to banking: how Neymar became the world's most branded footballer
Before the World Cup in 2014, Neymar walked into an Italian watch shop in Tokyo and spent £140,000 on over a dozen timepieces. He returned three years later, not to buy more, but to launch his own design of his favourite brand - Gaga Milano. Then, the number 11 on the clock face was encrusted with diamonds, representing his shirt number at Barcelona. Now, the diamonds outline the number 10, and for £1,050 you can look like Neymar, too. But why stop at watches? Neymar is the face of Red Bull, Pilão coffee and Prohibida beer, so you can drink like him at any time of the day. You can dress like him in C&A underwear and Replay jeans, fly like him on Gol airlines, shave like him with Gillette, listen to music like him with Beats by Dre Headphones and play like him in Nike boots. And if you ever find yourself in Brazil with a flat car battery, there’s a Neymar brand for you too: Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car.’ Neymar's pursuit of football's biggest prize begins again on Sunday when Brazil make their bow at the 2018 World Cup, but when it comes to his work off the field, the Selecao's No 10 is already an emphatic winner. He may still only be 26 years old, but he is already the face of 27 companies in Brazil and beyond, and according to Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes in the world, the fifth biggest earner in sport. Neymar attends a fashion event for Replay, one of the brands he represents, in Shanghai last year Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP Last year, the Paris St Germain forward netted an eye-watering £54million from his club, including signing-on fees, and his basic wage is £600,000 a week - more than double any other player in the French league. On top of this, his endorsements last year brought in another £13million. In 2017, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi earned more money through endorsements (£35million and £20million respectively), but it is the sheer volume and acceleration of Neymar’s tie-ins that makes him stand out. According to Sportcal, a sports marketing intelligence company, since joining Manchester United in 2003, Ronaldo has signed sponsorship deals with 28 companies, and Messi 17. Neymar has worked with at least 38 companies so far in his career, and it is only a matter of time before his earning catch up. Big brand | Neymar's 27 official endorsements NR Sports, which manages Neymar’s commercial activity, shows that the Brazilian currently has 27 different ‘partners.’ He has previously represented at least eight more, including PokerStars, an online poker company which reportedly paid him £4m a year, and his recent twitter activity would indicate a new partnership with an online marketplace called ‘Wish’, as well as Quantum smartphones and NABUfit sports equipment. The biggest earners are Red Bull, Gillette and Beats Electronics (£3m a year each). And Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car’? £1m a year according to Sportcal. The other quirk of Neymar’s commercial partnerships is that until he signed for PSG, he was the only active footballer earning more money off the field than on. In 2016, his Barcelona salary was around £11m a year, but his off-field deals brought in £17m. Since joining PSG, Neymar's earnings have rocketed Credit: Paris Saint-Germain When PSG paid £198million to sign him last summer, their owner, Qatari billionaire Nasser Al-Khelaifi spoke about Neymar, not as a player, but as a commodity. "When you consider Neymar as a brand,” he said, “maybe it won't seem so expensive. I'm sure we'll make more money than we've paid. Before Neymar signed, the club was worth €1billion. Now it is worth €1.5billion. The best player in the world is here. With him our project will grow even stronger and the league will become more interesting to everyone." The Neymar 'project' has not been without its hiccups at PSG - there are persistent rumours that he is unhappy at the club, with Real Madrid having made little secret of their desire to sign him - but there is no question that his arrival sent their profile stratospheric. The question is whether he has already outgrown France. A mural in Kolkata, India shows Neymar (right) with Marcelo, ahead of the World Cup Credit: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri “For brands, Neymar is now seen as a ‘leader’ as opposed to being part of Messi’s Barca team," said Conrad Wiacek, head of sponsorship at Sportcal. "The only issue is the relative strength of the French league, which is a hindrance to Neymar’s personal brand unless PSG can win the Champions League." The other way for Neymar to boost his personal brand to giddy new heights is, of course, lifting that famous golden trophy in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium next month - something that neither Ronaldo or Messi have done, and the final frontier for a footballer whose CV is already groaning with honours. "His endorsements are based more around his profile in Brazil," Wiacek added. "So doing something significant at a global level, like winning the World Cup, will make him even more attractive to brands.” WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Before the World Cup in 2014, Neymar walked into an Italian watch shop in Tokyo and spent £140,000 on over a dozen timepieces. He returned three years later, not to buy more, but to launch his own design of his favourite brand - Gaga Milano. Then, the number 11 on the clock face was encrusted with diamonds, representing his shirt number at Barcelona. Now, the diamonds outline the number 10, and for £1,050 you can look like Neymar, too. But why stop at watches? Neymar is the face of Red Bull, Pilão coffee and Prohibida beer, so you can drink like him at any time of the day. You can dress like him in C&A underwear and Replay jeans, fly like him on Gol airlines, shave like him with Gillette, listen to music like him with Beats by Dre Headphones and play like him in Nike boots. And if you ever find yourself in Brazil with a flat car battery, there’s a Neymar brand for you too: Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car.’ Neymar's pursuit of football's biggest prize begins again on Sunday when Brazil make their bow at the 2018 World Cup, but when it comes to his work off the field, the Selecao's No 10 is already an emphatic winner. He may still only be 26 years old, but he is already the face of 27 companies in Brazil and beyond, and according to Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes in the world, the fifth biggest earner in sport. Neymar attends a fashion event for Replay, one of the brands he represents, in Shanghai last year Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP Last year, the Paris St Germain forward netted an eye-watering £54million from his club, including signing-on fees, and his basic wage is £600,000 a week - more than double any other player in the French league. On top of this, his endorsements last year brought in another £13million. In 2017, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi earned more money through endorsements (£35million and £20million respectively), but it is the sheer volume and acceleration of Neymar’s tie-ins that makes him stand out. According to Sportcal, a sports marketing intelligence company, since joining Manchester United in 2003, Ronaldo has signed sponsorship deals with 28 companies, and Messi 17. Neymar has worked with at least 38 companies so far in his career, and it is only a matter of time before his earning catch up. Big brand | Neymar's 27 official endorsements NR Sports, which manages Neymar’s commercial activity, shows that the Brazilian currently has 27 different ‘partners.’ He has previously represented at least eight more, including PokerStars, an online poker company which reportedly paid him £4m a year, and his recent twitter activity would indicate a new partnership with an online marketplace called ‘Wish’, as well as Quantum smartphones and NABUfit sports equipment. The biggest earners are Red Bull, Gillette and Beats Electronics (£3m a year each). And Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car’? £1m a year according to Sportcal. The other quirk of Neymar’s commercial partnerships is that until he signed for PSG, he was the only active footballer earning more money off the field than on. In 2016, his Barcelona salary was around £11m a year, but his off-field deals brought in £17m. Since joining PSG, Neymar's earnings have rocketed Credit: Paris Saint-Germain When PSG paid £198million to sign him last summer, their owner, Qatari billionaire Nasser Al-Khelaifi spoke about Neymar, not as a player, but as a commodity. "When you consider Neymar as a brand,” he said, “maybe it won't seem so expensive. I'm sure we'll make more money than we've paid. Before Neymar signed, the club was worth €1billion. Now it is worth €1.5billion. The best player in the world is here. With him our project will grow even stronger and the league will become more interesting to everyone." The Neymar 'project' has not been without its hiccups at PSG - there are persistent rumours that he is unhappy at the club, with Real Madrid having made little secret of their desire to sign him - but there is no question that his arrival sent their profile stratospheric. The question is whether he has already outgrown France. A mural in Kolkata, India shows Neymar (right) with Marcelo, ahead of the World Cup Credit: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri “For brands, Neymar is now seen as a ‘leader’ as opposed to being part of Messi’s Barca team," said Conrad Wiacek, head of sponsorship at Sportcal. "The only issue is the relative strength of the French league, which is a hindrance to Neymar’s personal brand unless PSG can win the Champions League." The other way for Neymar to boost his personal brand to giddy new heights is, of course, lifting that famous golden trophy in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium next month - something that neither Ronaldo or Messi have done, and the final frontier for a footballer whose CV is already groaning with honours. "His endorsements are based more around his profile in Brazil," Wiacek added. "So doing something significant at a global level, like winning the World Cup, will make him even more attractive to brands.” WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
From car batteries to banking: how Neymar became the world's most branded footballer
Before the World Cup in 2014, Neymar walked into an Italian watch shop in Tokyo and spent £140,000 on over a dozen timepieces. He returned three years later, not to buy more, but to launch his own design of his favourite brand - Gaga Milano. Then, the number 11 on the clock face was encrusted with diamonds, representing his shirt number at Barcelona. Now, the diamonds outline the number 10, and for £1,050 you can look like Neymar, too. But why stop at watches? Neymar is the face of Red Bull, Pilão coffee and Prohibida beer, so you can drink like him at any time of the day. You can dress like him in C&A underwear and Replay jeans, fly like him on Gol airlines, shave like him with Gillette, listen to music like him with Beats by Dre Headphones and play like him in Nike boots. And if you ever find yourself in Brazil with a flat car battery, there’s a Neymar brand for you too: Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car.’ Neymar's pursuit of football's biggest prize begins again on Sunday when Brazil make their bow at the 2018 World Cup, but when it comes to his work off the field, the Selecao's No 10 is already an emphatic winner. He may still only be 26 years old, but he is already the face of 27 companies in Brazil and beyond, and according to Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes in the world, the fifth biggest earner in sport. Neymar attends a fashion event for Replay, one of the brands he represents, in Shanghai last year Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP Last year, the Paris St Germain forward netted an eye-watering £54million from his club, including signing-on fees, and his basic wage is £600,000 a week - more than double any other player in the French league. On top of this, his endorsements last year brought in another £13million. In 2017, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi earned more money through endorsements (£35million and £20million respectively), but it is the sheer volume and acceleration of Neymar’s tie-ins that makes him stand out. According to Sportcal, a sports marketing intelligence company, since joining Manchester United in 2003, Ronaldo has signed sponsorship deals with 28 companies, and Messi 17. Neymar has worked with at least 38 companies so far in his career, and it is only a matter of time before his earning catch up. Big brand | Neymar's 27 official endorsements NR Sports, which manages Neymar’s commercial activity, shows that the Brazilian currently has 27 different ‘partners.’ He has previously represented at least eight more, including PokerStars, an online poker company which reportedly paid him £4m a year, and his recent twitter activity would indicate a new partnership with an online marketplace called ‘Wish’, as well as Quantum smartphones and NABUfit sports equipment. The biggest earners are Red Bull, Gillette and Beats Electronics (£3m a year each). And Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car’? £1m a year according to Sportcal. The other quirk of Neymar’s commercial partnerships is that until he signed for PSG, he was the only active footballer earning more money off the field than on. In 2016, his Barcelona salary was around £11m a year, but his off-field deals brought in £17m. Since joining PSG, Neymar's earnings have rocketed Credit: Paris Saint-Germain When PSG paid £198million to sign him last summer, their owner, Qatari billionaire Nasser Al-Khelaifi spoke about Neymar, not as a player, but as a commodity. "When you consider Neymar as a brand,” he said, “maybe it won't seem so expensive. I'm sure we'll make more money than we've paid. Before Neymar signed, the club was worth €1billion. Now it is worth €1.5billion. The best player in the world is here. With him our project will grow even stronger and the league will become more interesting to everyone." The Neymar 'project' has not been without its hiccups at PSG - there are persistent rumours that he is unhappy at the club, with Real Madrid having made little secret of their desire to sign him - but there is no question that his arrival sent their profile stratospheric. The question is whether he has already outgrown France. A mural in Kolkata, India shows Neymar (right) with Marcelo, ahead of the World Cup Credit: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri “For brands, Neymar is now seen as a ‘leader’ as opposed to being part of Messi’s Barca team," said Conrad Wiacek, head of sponsorship at Sportcal. "The only issue is the relative strength of the French league, which is a hindrance to Neymar’s personal brand unless PSG can win the Champions League." The other way for Neymar to boost his personal brand to giddy new heights is, of course, lifting that famous golden trophy in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium next month - something that neither Ronaldo or Messi have done, and the final frontier for a footballer whose CV is already groaning with honours. "His endorsements are based more around his profile in Brazil," Wiacek added. "So doing something significant at a global level, like winning the World Cup, will make him even more attractive to brands.” WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Before the World Cup in 2014, Neymar walked into an Italian watch shop in Tokyo and spent £140,000 on over a dozen timepieces. He returned three years later, not to buy more, but to launch his own design of his favourite brand - Gaga Milano. Then, the number 11 on the clock face was encrusted with diamonds, representing his shirt number at Barcelona. Now, the diamonds outline the number 10, and for £1,050 you can look like Neymar, too. But why stop at watches? Neymar is the face of Red Bull, Pilão coffee and Prohibida beer, so you can drink like him at any time of the day. You can dress like him in C&A underwear and Replay jeans, fly like him on Gol airlines, shave like him with Gillette, listen to music like him with Beats by Dre Headphones and play like him in Nike boots. And if you ever find yourself in Brazil with a flat car battery, there’s a Neymar brand for you too: Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car.’ Neymar's pursuit of football's biggest prize begins again on Sunday when Brazil make their bow at the 2018 World Cup, but when it comes to his work off the field, the Selecao's No 10 is already an emphatic winner. He may still only be 26 years old, but he is already the face of 27 companies in Brazil and beyond, and according to Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes in the world, the fifth biggest earner in sport. Neymar attends a fashion event for Replay, one of the brands he represents, in Shanghai last year Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP Last year, the Paris St Germain forward netted an eye-watering £54million from his club, including signing-on fees, and his basic wage is £600,000 a week - more than double any other player in the French league. On top of this, his endorsements last year brought in another £13million. In 2017, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi earned more money through endorsements (£35million and £20million respectively), but it is the sheer volume and acceleration of Neymar’s tie-ins that makes him stand out. According to Sportcal, a sports marketing intelligence company, since joining Manchester United in 2003, Ronaldo has signed sponsorship deals with 28 companies, and Messi 17. Neymar has worked with at least 38 companies so far in his career, and it is only a matter of time before his earning catch up. Big brand | Neymar's 27 official endorsements NR Sports, which manages Neymar’s commercial activity, shows that the Brazilian currently has 27 different ‘partners.’ He has previously represented at least eight more, including PokerStars, an online poker company which reportedly paid him £4m a year, and his recent twitter activity would indicate a new partnership with an online marketplace called ‘Wish’, as well as Quantum smartphones and NABUfit sports equipment. The biggest earners are Red Bull, Gillette and Beats Electronics (£3m a year each). And Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car’? £1m a year according to Sportcal. The other quirk of Neymar’s commercial partnerships is that until he signed for PSG, he was the only active footballer earning more money off the field than on. In 2016, his Barcelona salary was around £11m a year, but his off-field deals brought in £17m. Since joining PSG, Neymar's earnings have rocketed Credit: Paris Saint-Germain When PSG paid £198million to sign him last summer, their owner, Qatari billionaire Nasser Al-Khelaifi spoke about Neymar, not as a player, but as a commodity. "When you consider Neymar as a brand,” he said, “maybe it won't seem so expensive. I'm sure we'll make more money than we've paid. Before Neymar signed, the club was worth €1billion. Now it is worth €1.5billion. The best player in the world is here. With him our project will grow even stronger and the league will become more interesting to everyone." The Neymar 'project' has not been without its hiccups at PSG - there are persistent rumours that he is unhappy at the club, with Real Madrid having made little secret of their desire to sign him - but there is no question that his arrival sent their profile stratospheric. The question is whether he has already outgrown France. A mural in Kolkata, India shows Neymar (right) with Marcelo, ahead of the World Cup Credit: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri “For brands, Neymar is now seen as a ‘leader’ as opposed to being part of Messi’s Barca team," said Conrad Wiacek, head of sponsorship at Sportcal. "The only issue is the relative strength of the French league, which is a hindrance to Neymar’s personal brand unless PSG can win the Champions League." The other way for Neymar to boost his personal brand to giddy new heights is, of course, lifting that famous golden trophy in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium next month - something that neither Ronaldo or Messi have done, and the final frontier for a footballer whose CV is already groaning with honours. "His endorsements are based more around his profile in Brazil," Wiacek added. "So doing something significant at a global level, like winning the World Cup, will make him even more attractive to brands.” WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
From car batteries to banking: how Neymar became the world's most branded footballer
Before the World Cup in 2014, Neymar walked into an Italian watch shop in Tokyo and spent £140,000 on over a dozen timepieces. He returned three years later, not to buy more, but to launch his own design of his favourite brand - Gaga Milano. Then, the number 11 on the clock face was encrusted with diamonds, representing his shirt number at Barcelona. Now, the diamonds outline the number 10, and for £1,050 you can look like Neymar, too. But why stop at watches? Neymar is the face of Red Bull, Pilão coffee and Prohibida beer, so you can drink like him at any time of the day. You can dress like him in C&A underwear and Replay jeans, fly like him on Gol airlines, shave like him with Gillette, listen to music like him with Beats by Dre Headphones and play like him in Nike boots. And if you ever find yourself in Brazil with a flat car battery, there’s a Neymar brand for you too: Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car.’ Neymar's pursuit of football's biggest prize begins again on Sunday when Brazil make their bow at the 2018 World Cup, but when it comes to his work off the field, the Selecao's No 10 is already an emphatic winner. He may still only be 26 years old, but he is already the face of 27 companies in Brazil and beyond, and according to Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes in the world, the fifth biggest earner in sport. Neymar attends a fashion event for Replay, one of the brands he represents, in Shanghai last year Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP Last year, the Paris St Germain forward netted an eye-watering £54million from his club, including signing-on fees, and his basic wage is £600,000 a week - more than double any other player in the French league. On top of this, his endorsements last year brought in another £13million. In 2017, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi earned more money through endorsements (£35million and £20million respectively), but it is the sheer volume and acceleration of Neymar’s tie-ins that makes him stand out. According to Sportcal, a sports marketing intelligence company, since joining Manchester United in 2003, Ronaldo has signed sponsorship deals with 28 companies, and Messi 17. Neymar has worked with at least 38 companies so far in his career, and it is only a matter of time before his earning catch up. Big brand | Neymar's 27 official endorsements NR Sports, which manages Neymar’s commercial activity, shows that the Brazilian currently has 27 different ‘partners.’ He has previously represented at least eight more, including PokerStars, an online poker company which reportedly paid him £4m a year, and his recent twitter activity would indicate a new partnership with an online marketplace called ‘Wish’, as well as Quantum smartphones and NABUfit sports equipment. The biggest earners are Red Bull, Gillette and Beats Electronics (£3m a year each). And Baterias Heliar - ‘the best batteries for your car’? £1m a year according to Sportcal. The other quirk of Neymar’s commercial partnerships is that until he signed for PSG, he was the only active footballer earning more money off the field than on. In 2016, his Barcelona salary was around £11m a year, but his off-field deals brought in £17m. Since joining PSG, Neymar's earnings have rocketed Credit: Paris Saint-Germain When PSG paid £198million to sign him last summer, their owner, Qatari billionaire Nasser Al-Khelaifi spoke about Neymar, not as a player, but as a commodity. "When you consider Neymar as a brand,” he said, “maybe it won't seem so expensive. I'm sure we'll make more money than we've paid. Before Neymar signed, the club was worth €1billion. Now it is worth €1.5billion. The best player in the world is here. With him our project will grow even stronger and the league will become more interesting to everyone." The Neymar 'project' has not been without its hiccups at PSG - there are persistent rumours that he is unhappy at the club, with Real Madrid having made little secret of their desire to sign him - but there is no question that his arrival sent their profile stratospheric. The question is whether he has already outgrown France. A mural in Kolkata, India shows Neymar (right) with Marcelo, ahead of the World Cup Credit: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri “For brands, Neymar is now seen as a ‘leader’ as opposed to being part of Messi’s Barca team," said Conrad Wiacek, head of sponsorship at Sportcal. "The only issue is the relative strength of the French league, which is a hindrance to Neymar’s personal brand unless PSG can win the Champions League." The other way for Neymar to boost his personal brand to giddy new heights is, of course, lifting that famous golden trophy in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium next month - something that neither Ronaldo or Messi have done, and the final frontier for a footballer whose CV is already groaning with honours. "His endorsements are based more around his profile in Brazil," Wiacek added. "So doing something significant at a global level, like winning the World Cup, will make him even more attractive to brands.” WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
This year's World Cup kicked off in Russia on Thursday 14 June, and some familiar countries are among the teams most fancied to lift the trophy in Moscow. Five-time world champions Brazil are marginal favourites ahead of Germany and Spain, with France, Argentina and Belgium completing the front-runners. England fans looking to back Gareth Southgate's men will get healthy odds on a first tournament victory since 1966. A South American team has never won the World Cup in Europe, while Germany are aiming to be the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the trophy. This is who the experts are backing to prevail this summer. Who will win it? Paul Hayward (Chief sports writer) Brazil looked shot to bits four years ago, but have recovered and are blessed with match-winners. Jamie Carragher (Telegraph Sport columnist) Brazil. Ready to make amends for four years ago. Jason Burt (Chief football correspondent) There are favourites - including Germany, Spain, Argentina, Belgium and France - but Brazil have the strongest line-up and coach. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Sam Wallace (Chief football writer) Doubts remain over Didier Deschamps, but France have the players to go all the way. Alex Scott (Former England international and Telegraph Sport columnist) Germany. Their blend of experience and the youth coming through, I think they look frightening. Jeremy Wilson (Deputy football correspondent) Spain. Yes, they dipped after their golden era but the squad remains packed with vast quality in every position. Oliver Brown (Chief sport feature writer) France. Blessed with depth and youth in all departments. Matt Law (Football news correspondent) Spain. 2010 winners Spain are well-fancied again Credit: AFP Jim White (Telegraph Sport writer) France. Any side that is so endowed with attacking strength it can leave out Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette is on to something. James Ducker (Northern football correspondent) Spain. They probably have the most balances team and are back in form. Ben Rumsby (Sports news correspondent) Either Brazil or Germany, but I have a feeling it will be Brazil. World Cup winners England will reach the... Paul Hayward The second round, or quarter-finals if the draw works out well. Jamie Carragher Quarter-finals. That would be a good achievement. Jason Burt Quarter-finals. Getting out of the group is the minimum and getting through a knockout tie - at least one - would be one. Sam Wallace Quarter-finals, providing they can make use of their attacking attributes and compensate for defensive weakness. Gareth Southgate leads one of England's youngest tournament squads Credit: Getty Images Alex Scott Quarter-finals. But once they come up against a top side, I can't see them progressing. Jeremy Wilson Semi-finals. There is understandable pessimism, but the Champions League suggested that English players are better than we often think. Oliver Brown Quarter-finals. Even a runners-up finish in Group G likely to be rewarded with winnable second-round match against Colombia or Senegal. Matt Law Last-16. Quarter-finals would be seen as a successful tournament, but I suspect Gareth Southgate's team will fall just short of that goal. Jim White The quarter-finals, after an encouraging group stage and a fluky victory over Colombia in the last-16. How to predict a World Cup winner James Ducker Quarter-finals. And I'd say that would constitute a success. Ben Rumsby Quarter-finals. They should, anyway. The draw could hardly have been made easier for them. Which big team will flop? Paul Hayward France. Plenty of good players, but Didier Deschamps may be a handicap. Jamie Carragher Portugal. Euro 2016 winners but I can't see the same impact here. Jason Burt Portugal. They can never be ruled out with Cristiano Ronaldo, but the European champions do look limited. Can Didier Deschamps extract the most from France's talented squad. Credit: Getty Images Sam Wallace Belgium have the players, but of all the bug guns they seem the most dysfunctional. Alex Scott France. It will go one way or the other with the. But there is always a row in them. Jeremy Wilson Germany's World Cup record is extraordinary, but with doubts over Manuel Neuer's fitness, they are not the force they were four years ago. Oliver Brown Portugal. Far too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo. Matt Law Argentina. Unless Lionel Messi can carry the team on his own, then Jorge Sampaoli's team may struggle. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more Jim White Brazil. A surfeit of talent, for sure, but the risk is they will not cohere. James Ducker I'm not sure about flop, but something irrational is telling me France may disappoint. Ben Rumsby Doubt any will, but England are the most likely to. Who will win the Golden Boot? Paul Hayward Neymar has returned fresh and is a decent bet at 12-1. Jamie Carragher Neymar. Fit again and sure to be a star of the tournament. Jason Burt Lionel Messi. It's his last chance at a World Cup. Or Neymar. Outside bet? Timo Werner of Germany, or even Harry Kane. Sam Wallace Robert Lewandowski is a great striker in his prime and with tournament experience. Could Neymar lead Brazil to glory Credit: Reuters Alex Scott Thomas Muller. Germany didn't get the Golden Boot when they won it in 2014, but this time you can't dismiss what Muller can do. Jeremy Wilson France should go far into the tournament and Antoine Griezmann is among the most consistent forwards in the world. Oliver Brown Antoine Griezmann. The most coveted striker in Europe for a reason. Matt Law Romelu Lukaku. I expect Belgium to go far and and Lukaku to score a lot of goals. Jim White Sergio Aguero, with a couple of hat-tricks along the way. James Ducker Lionel Messi. Fourth time lucky. Ben Rumsby Neymar. Will be on a mission after the agony of four years ago. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018 predictions: Our experts pick their winner for the competition
This year's World Cup kicked off in Russia on Thursday 14 June, and some familiar countries are among the teams most fancied to lift the trophy in Moscow. Five-time world champions Brazil are marginal favourites ahead of Germany and Spain, with France, Argentina and Belgium completing the front-runners. England fans looking to back Gareth Southgate's men will get healthy odds on a first tournament victory since 1966. A South American team has never won the World Cup in Europe, while Germany are aiming to be the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the trophy. This is who the experts are backing to prevail this summer. Who will win it? Paul Hayward (Chief sports writer) Brazil looked shot to bits four years ago, but have recovered and are blessed with match-winners. Jamie Carragher (Telegraph Sport columnist) Brazil. Ready to make amends for four years ago. Jason Burt (Chief football correspondent) There are favourites - including Germany, Spain, Argentina, Belgium and France - but Brazil have the strongest line-up and coach. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Sam Wallace (Chief football writer) Doubts remain over Didier Deschamps, but France have the players to go all the way. Alex Scott (Former England international and Telegraph Sport columnist) Germany. Their blend of experience and the youth coming through, I think they look frightening. Jeremy Wilson (Deputy football correspondent) Spain. Yes, they dipped after their golden era but the squad remains packed with vast quality in every position. Oliver Brown (Chief sport feature writer) France. Blessed with depth and youth in all departments. Matt Law (Football news correspondent) Spain. 2010 winners Spain are well-fancied again Credit: AFP Jim White (Telegraph Sport writer) France. Any side that is so endowed with attacking strength it can leave out Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette is on to something. James Ducker (Northern football correspondent) Spain. They probably have the most balances team and are back in form. Ben Rumsby (Sports news correspondent) Either Brazil or Germany, but I have a feeling it will be Brazil. World Cup winners England will reach the... Paul Hayward The second round, or quarter-finals if the draw works out well. Jamie Carragher Quarter-finals. That would be a good achievement. Jason Burt Quarter-finals. Getting out of the group is the minimum and getting through a knockout tie - at least one - would be one. Sam Wallace Quarter-finals, providing they can make use of their attacking attributes and compensate for defensive weakness. Gareth Southgate leads one of England's youngest tournament squads Credit: Getty Images Alex Scott Quarter-finals. But once they come up against a top side, I can't see them progressing. Jeremy Wilson Semi-finals. There is understandable pessimism, but the Champions League suggested that English players are better than we often think. Oliver Brown Quarter-finals. Even a runners-up finish in Group G likely to be rewarded with winnable second-round match against Colombia or Senegal. Matt Law Last-16. Quarter-finals would be seen as a successful tournament, but I suspect Gareth Southgate's team will fall just short of that goal. Jim White The quarter-finals, after an encouraging group stage and a fluky victory over Colombia in the last-16. How to predict a World Cup winner James Ducker Quarter-finals. And I'd say that would constitute a success. Ben Rumsby Quarter-finals. They should, anyway. The draw could hardly have been made easier for them. Which big team will flop? Paul Hayward France. Plenty of good players, but Didier Deschamps may be a handicap. Jamie Carragher Portugal. Euro 2016 winners but I can't see the same impact here. Jason Burt Portugal. They can never be ruled out with Cristiano Ronaldo, but the European champions do look limited. Can Didier Deschamps extract the most from France's talented squad. Credit: Getty Images Sam Wallace Belgium have the players, but of all the bug guns they seem the most dysfunctional. Alex Scott France. It will go one way or the other with the. But there is always a row in them. Jeremy Wilson Germany's World Cup record is extraordinary, but with doubts over Manuel Neuer's fitness, they are not the force they were four years ago. Oliver Brown Portugal. Far too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo. Matt Law Argentina. Unless Lionel Messi can carry the team on his own, then Jorge Sampaoli's team may struggle. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more Jim White Brazil. A surfeit of talent, for sure, but the risk is they will not cohere. James Ducker I'm not sure about flop, but something irrational is telling me France may disappoint. Ben Rumsby Doubt any will, but England are the most likely to. Who will win the Golden Boot? Paul Hayward Neymar has returned fresh and is a decent bet at 12-1. Jamie Carragher Neymar. Fit again and sure to be a star of the tournament. Jason Burt Lionel Messi. It's his last chance at a World Cup. Or Neymar. Outside bet? Timo Werner of Germany, or even Harry Kane. Sam Wallace Robert Lewandowski is a great striker in his prime and with tournament experience. Could Neymar lead Brazil to glory Credit: Reuters Alex Scott Thomas Muller. Germany didn't get the Golden Boot when they won it in 2014, but this time you can't dismiss what Muller can do. Jeremy Wilson France should go far into the tournament and Antoine Griezmann is among the most consistent forwards in the world. Oliver Brown Antoine Griezmann. The most coveted striker in Europe for a reason. Matt Law Romelu Lukaku. I expect Belgium to go far and and Lukaku to score a lot of goals. Jim White Sergio Aguero, with a couple of hat-tricks along the way. James Ducker Lionel Messi. Fourth time lucky. Ben Rumsby Neymar. Will be on a mission after the agony of four years ago. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
This year's World Cup kicked off in Russia on Thursday 14 June, and some familiar countries are among the teams most fancied to lift the trophy in Moscow. Five-time world champions Brazil are marginal favourites ahead of Germany and Spain, with France, Argentina and Belgium completing the front-runners. England fans looking to back Gareth Southgate's men will get healthy odds on a first tournament victory since 1966. A South American team has never won the World Cup in Europe, while Germany are aiming to be the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the trophy. This is who the experts are backing to prevail this summer. Who will win it? Paul Hayward (Chief sports writer) Brazil looked shot to bits four years ago, but have recovered and are blessed with match-winners. Jamie Carragher (Telegraph Sport columnist) Brazil. Ready to make amends for four years ago. Jason Burt (Chief football correspondent) There are favourites - including Germany, Spain, Argentina, Belgium and France - but Brazil have the strongest line-up and coach. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Sam Wallace (Chief football writer) Doubts remain over Didier Deschamps, but France have the players to go all the way. Alex Scott (Former England international and Telegraph Sport columnist) Germany. Their blend of experience and the youth coming through, I think they look frightening. Jeremy Wilson (Deputy football correspondent) Spain. Yes, they dipped after their golden era but the squad remains packed with vast quality in every position. Oliver Brown (Chief sport feature writer) France. Blessed with depth and youth in all departments. Matt Law (Football news correspondent) Spain. 2010 winners Spain are well-fancied again Credit: AFP Jim White (Telegraph Sport writer) France. Any side that is so endowed with attacking strength it can leave out Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette is on to something. James Ducker (Northern football correspondent) Spain. They probably have the most balances team and are back in form. Ben Rumsby (Sports news correspondent) Either Brazil or Germany, but I have a feeling it will be Brazil. World Cup winners England will reach the... Paul Hayward The second round, or quarter-finals if the draw works out well. Jamie Carragher Quarter-finals. That would be a good achievement. Jason Burt Quarter-finals. Getting out of the group is the minimum and getting through a knockout tie - at least one - would be one. Sam Wallace Quarter-finals, providing they can make use of their attacking attributes and compensate for defensive weakness. Gareth Southgate leads one of England's youngest tournament squads Credit: Getty Images Alex Scott Quarter-finals. But once they come up against a top side, I can't see them progressing. Jeremy Wilson Semi-finals. There is understandable pessimism, but the Champions League suggested that English players are better than we often think. Oliver Brown Quarter-finals. Even a runners-up finish in Group G likely to be rewarded with winnable second-round match against Colombia or Senegal. Matt Law Last-16. Quarter-finals would be seen as a successful tournament, but I suspect Gareth Southgate's team will fall just short of that goal. Jim White The quarter-finals, after an encouraging group stage and a fluky victory over Colombia in the last-16. How to predict a World Cup winner James Ducker Quarter-finals. And I'd say that would constitute a success. Ben Rumsby Quarter-finals. They should, anyway. The draw could hardly have been made easier for them. Which big team will flop? Paul Hayward France. Plenty of good players, but Didier Deschamps may be a handicap. Jamie Carragher Portugal. Euro 2016 winners but I can't see the same impact here. Jason Burt Portugal. They can never be ruled out with Cristiano Ronaldo, but the European champions do look limited. Can Didier Deschamps extract the most from France's talented squad. Credit: Getty Images Sam Wallace Belgium have the players, but of all the bug guns they seem the most dysfunctional. Alex Scott France. It will go one way or the other with the. But there is always a row in them. Jeremy Wilson Germany's World Cup record is extraordinary, but with doubts over Manuel Neuer's fitness, they are not the force they were four years ago. Oliver Brown Portugal. Far too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo. Matt Law Argentina. Unless Lionel Messi can carry the team on his own, then Jorge Sampaoli's team may struggle. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more Jim White Brazil. A surfeit of talent, for sure, but the risk is they will not cohere. James Ducker I'm not sure about flop, but something irrational is telling me France may disappoint. Ben Rumsby Doubt any will, but England are the most likely to. Who will win the Golden Boot? Paul Hayward Neymar has returned fresh and is a decent bet at 12-1. Jamie Carragher Neymar. Fit again and sure to be a star of the tournament. Jason Burt Lionel Messi. It's his last chance at a World Cup. Or Neymar. Outside bet? Timo Werner of Germany, or even Harry Kane. Sam Wallace Robert Lewandowski is a great striker in his prime and with tournament experience. Could Neymar lead Brazil to glory Credit: Reuters Alex Scott Thomas Muller. Germany didn't get the Golden Boot when they won it in 2014, but this time you can't dismiss what Muller can do. Jeremy Wilson France should go far into the tournament and Antoine Griezmann is among the most consistent forwards in the world. Oliver Brown Antoine Griezmann. The most coveted striker in Europe for a reason. Matt Law Romelu Lukaku. I expect Belgium to go far and and Lukaku to score a lot of goals. Jim White Sergio Aguero, with a couple of hat-tricks along the way. James Ducker Lionel Messi. Fourth time lucky. Ben Rumsby Neymar. Will be on a mission after the agony of four years ago. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018 predictions: Our experts pick their winner for the competition
This year's World Cup kicked off in Russia on Thursday 14 June, and some familiar countries are among the teams most fancied to lift the trophy in Moscow. Five-time world champions Brazil are marginal favourites ahead of Germany and Spain, with France, Argentina and Belgium completing the front-runners. England fans looking to back Gareth Southgate's men will get healthy odds on a first tournament victory since 1966. A South American team has never won the World Cup in Europe, while Germany are aiming to be the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the trophy. This is who the experts are backing to prevail this summer. Who will win it? Paul Hayward (Chief sports writer) Brazil looked shot to bits four years ago, but have recovered and are blessed with match-winners. Jamie Carragher (Telegraph Sport columnist) Brazil. Ready to make amends for four years ago. Jason Burt (Chief football correspondent) There are favourites - including Germany, Spain, Argentina, Belgium and France - but Brazil have the strongest line-up and coach. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Sam Wallace (Chief football writer) Doubts remain over Didier Deschamps, but France have the players to go all the way. Alex Scott (Former England international and Telegraph Sport columnist) Germany. Their blend of experience and the youth coming through, I think they look frightening. Jeremy Wilson (Deputy football correspondent) Spain. Yes, they dipped after their golden era but the squad remains packed with vast quality in every position. Oliver Brown (Chief sport feature writer) France. Blessed with depth and youth in all departments. Matt Law (Football news correspondent) Spain. 2010 winners Spain are well-fancied again Credit: AFP Jim White (Telegraph Sport writer) France. Any side that is so endowed with attacking strength it can leave out Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette is on to something. James Ducker (Northern football correspondent) Spain. They probably have the most balances team and are back in form. Ben Rumsby (Sports news correspondent) Either Brazil or Germany, but I have a feeling it will be Brazil. World Cup winners England will reach the... Paul Hayward The second round, or quarter-finals if the draw works out well. Jamie Carragher Quarter-finals. That would be a good achievement. Jason Burt Quarter-finals. Getting out of the group is the minimum and getting through a knockout tie - at least one - would be one. Sam Wallace Quarter-finals, providing they can make use of their attacking attributes and compensate for defensive weakness. Gareth Southgate leads one of England's youngest tournament squads Credit: Getty Images Alex Scott Quarter-finals. But once they come up against a top side, I can't see them progressing. Jeremy Wilson Semi-finals. There is understandable pessimism, but the Champions League suggested that English players are better than we often think. Oliver Brown Quarter-finals. Even a runners-up finish in Group G likely to be rewarded with winnable second-round match against Colombia or Senegal. Matt Law Last-16. Quarter-finals would be seen as a successful tournament, but I suspect Gareth Southgate's team will fall just short of that goal. Jim White The quarter-finals, after an encouraging group stage and a fluky victory over Colombia in the last-16. How to predict a World Cup winner James Ducker Quarter-finals. And I'd say that would constitute a success. Ben Rumsby Quarter-finals. They should, anyway. The draw could hardly have been made easier for them. Which big team will flop? Paul Hayward France. Plenty of good players, but Didier Deschamps may be a handicap. Jamie Carragher Portugal. Euro 2016 winners but I can't see the same impact here. Jason Burt Portugal. They can never be ruled out with Cristiano Ronaldo, but the European champions do look limited. Can Didier Deschamps extract the most from France's talented squad. Credit: Getty Images Sam Wallace Belgium have the players, but of all the bug guns they seem the most dysfunctional. Alex Scott France. It will go one way or the other with the. But there is always a row in them. Jeremy Wilson Germany's World Cup record is extraordinary, but with doubts over Manuel Neuer's fitness, they are not the force they were four years ago. Oliver Brown Portugal. Far too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo. Matt Law Argentina. Unless Lionel Messi can carry the team on his own, then Jorge Sampaoli's team may struggle. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more Jim White Brazil. A surfeit of talent, for sure, but the risk is they will not cohere. James Ducker I'm not sure about flop, but something irrational is telling me France may disappoint. Ben Rumsby Doubt any will, but England are the most likely to. Who will win the Golden Boot? Paul Hayward Neymar has returned fresh and is a decent bet at 12-1. Jamie Carragher Neymar. Fit again and sure to be a star of the tournament. Jason Burt Lionel Messi. It's his last chance at a World Cup. Or Neymar. Outside bet? Timo Werner of Germany, or even Harry Kane. Sam Wallace Robert Lewandowski is a great striker in his prime and with tournament experience. Could Neymar lead Brazil to glory Credit: Reuters Alex Scott Thomas Muller. Germany didn't get the Golden Boot when they won it in 2014, but this time you can't dismiss what Muller can do. Jeremy Wilson France should go far into the tournament and Antoine Griezmann is among the most consistent forwards in the world. Oliver Brown Antoine Griezmann. The most coveted striker in Europe for a reason. Matt Law Romelu Lukaku. I expect Belgium to go far and and Lukaku to score a lot of goals. Jim White Sergio Aguero, with a couple of hat-tricks along the way. James Ducker Lionel Messi. Fourth time lucky. Ben Rumsby Neymar. Will be on a mission after the agony of four years ago. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
This year's World Cup kicked off in Russia on Thursday 14 June, and some familiar countries are among the teams most fancied to lift the trophy in Moscow. Five-time world champions Brazil are marginal favourites ahead of Germany and Spain, with France, Argentina and Belgium completing the front-runners. England fans looking to back Gareth Southgate's men will get healthy odds on a first tournament victory since 1966. A South American team has never won the World Cup in Europe, while Germany are aiming to be the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the trophy. This is who the experts are backing to prevail this summer. Who will win it? Paul Hayward (Chief sports writer) Brazil looked shot to bits four years ago, but have recovered and are blessed with match-winners. Jamie Carragher (Telegraph Sport columnist) Brazil. Ready to make amends for four years ago. Jason Burt (Chief football correspondent) There are favourites - including Germany, Spain, Argentina, Belgium and France - but Brazil have the strongest line-up and coach. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Sam Wallace (Chief football writer) Doubts remain over Didier Deschamps, but France have the players to go all the way. Alex Scott (Former England international and Telegraph Sport columnist) Germany. Their blend of experience and the youth coming through, I think they look frightening. Jeremy Wilson (Deputy football correspondent) Spain. Yes, they dipped after their golden era but the squad remains packed with vast quality in every position. Oliver Brown (Chief sport feature writer) France. Blessed with depth and youth in all departments. Matt Law (Football news correspondent) Spain. 2010 winners Spain are well-fancied again Credit: AFP Jim White (Telegraph Sport writer) France. Any side that is so endowed with attacking strength it can leave out Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette is on to something. James Ducker (Northern football correspondent) Spain. They probably have the most balances team and are back in form. Ben Rumsby (Sports news correspondent) Either Brazil or Germany, but I have a feeling it will be Brazil. World Cup winners England will reach the... Paul Hayward The second round, or quarter-finals if the draw works out well. Jamie Carragher Quarter-finals. That would be a good achievement. Jason Burt Quarter-finals. Getting out of the group is the minimum and getting through a knockout tie - at least one - would be one. Sam Wallace Quarter-finals, providing they can make use of their attacking attributes and compensate for defensive weakness. Gareth Southgate leads one of England's youngest tournament squads Credit: Getty Images Alex Scott Quarter-finals. But once they come up against a top side, I can't see them progressing. Jeremy Wilson Semi-finals. There is understandable pessimism, but the Champions League suggested that English players are better than we often think. Oliver Brown Quarter-finals. Even a runners-up finish in Group G likely to be rewarded with winnable second-round match against Colombia or Senegal. Matt Law Last-16. Quarter-finals would be seen as a successful tournament, but I suspect Gareth Southgate's team will fall just short of that goal. Jim White The quarter-finals, after an encouraging group stage and a fluky victory over Colombia in the last-16. How to predict a World Cup winner James Ducker Quarter-finals. And I'd say that would constitute a success. Ben Rumsby Quarter-finals. They should, anyway. The draw could hardly have been made easier for them. Which big team will flop? Paul Hayward France. Plenty of good players, but Didier Deschamps may be a handicap. Jamie Carragher Portugal. Euro 2016 winners but I can't see the same impact here. Jason Burt Portugal. They can never be ruled out with Cristiano Ronaldo, but the European champions do look limited. Can Didier Deschamps extract the most from France's talented squad. Credit: Getty Images Sam Wallace Belgium have the players, but of all the bug guns they seem the most dysfunctional. Alex Scott France. It will go one way or the other with the. But there is always a row in them. Jeremy Wilson Germany's World Cup record is extraordinary, but with doubts over Manuel Neuer's fitness, they are not the force they were four years ago. Oliver Brown Portugal. Far too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo. Matt Law Argentina. Unless Lionel Messi can carry the team on his own, then Jorge Sampaoli's team may struggle. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more Jim White Brazil. A surfeit of talent, for sure, but the risk is they will not cohere. James Ducker I'm not sure about flop, but something irrational is telling me France may disappoint. Ben Rumsby Doubt any will, but England are the most likely to. Who will win the Golden Boot? Paul Hayward Neymar has returned fresh and is a decent bet at 12-1. Jamie Carragher Neymar. Fit again and sure to be a star of the tournament. Jason Burt Lionel Messi. It's his last chance at a World Cup. Or Neymar. Outside bet? Timo Werner of Germany, or even Harry Kane. Sam Wallace Robert Lewandowski is a great striker in his prime and with tournament experience. Could Neymar lead Brazil to glory Credit: Reuters Alex Scott Thomas Muller. Germany didn't get the Golden Boot when they won it in 2014, but this time you can't dismiss what Muller can do. Jeremy Wilson France should go far into the tournament and Antoine Griezmann is among the most consistent forwards in the world. Oliver Brown Antoine Griezmann. The most coveted striker in Europe for a reason. Matt Law Romelu Lukaku. I expect Belgium to go far and and Lukaku to score a lot of goals. Jim White Sergio Aguero, with a couple of hat-tricks along the way. James Ducker Lionel Messi. Fourth time lucky. Ben Rumsby Neymar. Will be on a mission after the agony of four years ago. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018 predictions: Our experts pick their winner for the competition
This year's World Cup kicked off in Russia on Thursday 14 June, and some familiar countries are among the teams most fancied to lift the trophy in Moscow. Five-time world champions Brazil are marginal favourites ahead of Germany and Spain, with France, Argentina and Belgium completing the front-runners. England fans looking to back Gareth Southgate's men will get healthy odds on a first tournament victory since 1966. A South American team has never won the World Cup in Europe, while Germany are aiming to be the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the trophy. This is who the experts are backing to prevail this summer. Who will win it? Paul Hayward (Chief sports writer) Brazil looked shot to bits four years ago, but have recovered and are blessed with match-winners. Jamie Carragher (Telegraph Sport columnist) Brazil. Ready to make amends for four years ago. Jason Burt (Chief football correspondent) There are favourites - including Germany, Spain, Argentina, Belgium and France - but Brazil have the strongest line-up and coach. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Sam Wallace (Chief football writer) Doubts remain over Didier Deschamps, but France have the players to go all the way. Alex Scott (Former England international and Telegraph Sport columnist) Germany. Their blend of experience and the youth coming through, I think they look frightening. Jeremy Wilson (Deputy football correspondent) Spain. Yes, they dipped after their golden era but the squad remains packed with vast quality in every position. Oliver Brown (Chief sport feature writer) France. Blessed with depth and youth in all departments. Matt Law (Football news correspondent) Spain. 2010 winners Spain are well-fancied again Credit: AFP Jim White (Telegraph Sport writer) France. Any side that is so endowed with attacking strength it can leave out Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette is on to something. James Ducker (Northern football correspondent) Spain. They probably have the most balances team and are back in form. Ben Rumsby (Sports news correspondent) Either Brazil or Germany, but I have a feeling it will be Brazil. World Cup winners England will reach the... Paul Hayward The second round, or quarter-finals if the draw works out well. Jamie Carragher Quarter-finals. That would be a good achievement. Jason Burt Quarter-finals. Getting out of the group is the minimum and getting through a knockout tie - at least one - would be one. Sam Wallace Quarter-finals, providing they can make use of their attacking attributes and compensate for defensive weakness. Gareth Southgate leads one of England's youngest tournament squads Credit: Getty Images Alex Scott Quarter-finals. But once they come up against a top side, I can't see them progressing. Jeremy Wilson Semi-finals. There is understandable pessimism, but the Champions League suggested that English players are better than we often think. Oliver Brown Quarter-finals. Even a runners-up finish in Group G likely to be rewarded with winnable second-round match against Colombia or Senegal. Matt Law Last-16. Quarter-finals would be seen as a successful tournament, but I suspect Gareth Southgate's team will fall just short of that goal. Jim White The quarter-finals, after an encouraging group stage and a fluky victory over Colombia in the last-16. How to predict a World Cup winner James Ducker Quarter-finals. And I'd say that would constitute a success. Ben Rumsby Quarter-finals. They should, anyway. The draw could hardly have been made easier for them. Which big team will flop? Paul Hayward France. Plenty of good players, but Didier Deschamps may be a handicap. Jamie Carragher Portugal. Euro 2016 winners but I can't see the same impact here. Jason Burt Portugal. They can never be ruled out with Cristiano Ronaldo, but the European champions do look limited. Can Didier Deschamps extract the most from France's talented squad. Credit: Getty Images Sam Wallace Belgium have the players, but of all the bug guns they seem the most dysfunctional. Alex Scott France. It will go one way or the other with the. But there is always a row in them. Jeremy Wilson Germany's World Cup record is extraordinary, but with doubts over Manuel Neuer's fitness, they are not the force they were four years ago. Oliver Brown Portugal. Far too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo. Matt Law Argentina. Unless Lionel Messi can carry the team on his own, then Jorge Sampaoli's team may struggle. Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more Jim White Brazil. A surfeit of talent, for sure, but the risk is they will not cohere. James Ducker I'm not sure about flop, but something irrational is telling me France may disappoint. Ben Rumsby Doubt any will, but England are the most likely to. Who will win the Golden Boot? Paul Hayward Neymar has returned fresh and is a decent bet at 12-1. Jamie Carragher Neymar. Fit again and sure to be a star of the tournament. Jason Burt Lionel Messi. It's his last chance at a World Cup. Or Neymar. Outside bet? Timo Werner of Germany, or even Harry Kane. Sam Wallace Robert Lewandowski is a great striker in his prime and with tournament experience. Could Neymar lead Brazil to glory Credit: Reuters Alex Scott Thomas Muller. Germany didn't get the Golden Boot when they won it in 2014, but this time you can't dismiss what Muller can do. Jeremy Wilson France should go far into the tournament and Antoine Griezmann is among the most consistent forwards in the world. Oliver Brown Antoine Griezmann. The most coveted striker in Europe for a reason. Matt Law Romelu Lukaku. I expect Belgium to go far and and Lukaku to score a lot of goals. Jim White Sergio Aguero, with a couple of hat-tricks along the way. James Ducker Lionel Messi. Fourth time lucky. Ben Rumsby Neymar. Will be on a mission after the agony of four years ago. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
If Russia is to prove the scene of an exorcism for Brazil they will have to be better than this. A draw against Switzerland was no great calamity but this was an uneasy first examination for the Seleçao on the road to what they will hope will be redemption for the 7-1 humiliation by Germany on home soil in the World Cup semi-finals four years ago. Lionel Messi endured a misstep in his opening game with Argentina against Iceland and his former Barcelona team-mate, Neymar, experienced similar frustration on a night when Brazil had cause to bemoan a couple of costly decisions that went against them. The highlight of the game was an arresting 25 yard strike from Philippe Coutinho but the main talking points centred around a push on Miranda by Steven Zuber before he equalised for Switzerland early in the second half and the denial of a Brazil penalty late on. In truth, Brazil should probably not protest too loudly. On the balance of play, a draw was probably just about a fair result and Tite may be more concerned about a patchy performance when Brazil struggled with Swiss physicality and lost their way after an encouraging start. Coutinho’s goal was a moment of pure theatre but Brazil’s measure of control evaporated once Switzerland scored and the tide began to turn. Brazil finished the game looking the more likely winners, with substitute Roberto Firmino having a header pushed away, Neymar directing another straight at Yann Sommer, Miranda firing wide and Renato Augusto snatching at a volley, but this was no hard luck story. Sure, there was a touch of good fortune to Switzerland’s goal. Some referees would have penalised Zuber for a push on Miranda but even then the Brazil centre-back’s starting position looked suspect and the Switzerland winger could probably not believe quite how much space he had when he headed home unmarked in the middle of the six-yard box. World Cup whatsapp promo Similarly, Gabriel Jesus was unimpressed he was denied a penalty when he was man-handled by Manuel Akanji in the 74th minute but the Manchester City striker probably did not help his case with his theatrical fall. There was a lot of huff and puff from Jesus but not much else and he was by no means the only Brazilian to have an off night. Neymar had a more threatening final 20 minutes and there were moments when it looked like he and Coutinho would combine to hurt Switzerland but he spent a lot of time on the ground struggling to escape the close attentions of his opponents. The pressure on the Paris Saint-Germain forward to deliver at this World Cup is unremitting but he is not afraid to draw attention to himself. After all, it takes a brave man to model his latest alternative haircut on Alannah Currie from the Thompson Twins, the 80s British pop band. Like Brazil in general, though, he will have to offer more than this. There was a fine pass to Coutinho in the 69th minute that the Barcelona player took beautifully on his chest, pushing the ball inside Stephan Lichtsteiner to create the space to shoot only to shank his volley wide. There had, of course, been no misjudgement for the goal. It was just the shot of Jogo Bonito that gets Brazilian juices flowing, the frustration being that it would prove an isolated moment of inspiration. Zuber would have been better directing his clearing header from Neymar’s corner almost anywhere but the feet of Coutinho, who offered a fine illustration of what £142 million buys you. The former Liverpool playmaker had only one thing in mind when the ball hurtled towards him, controlling it with effortless ease before bending home his shot off the inside of the far post. And that, basically, was as good as it got for Brazil. Paulinho missed a good chance from close range but Brazil did not ask enough questions. Lichtsteiner had been booked for grabbing Neymar round the neck and throwing him to the ground but the Brazil No10 was unable to isolate Arsenal’s new signing much after that when attempting to draw a second caution from the veteran right-back seemed a logical move. Coutinho flayed in Brazil's opener Credit: AP Photo/Andre Penner Tite must have held his breath when Neymar smacked the right foot he had fractured in February against Lichtsteiner’s boot in the second half as he followed through on a shot and appeared to be hobbling for a while afterwards but he did not look in too much discomfort by the end. Marcelo, captain here, was the only survivor from the team that had started against Germany in Belo Horizonte but, whether that game was playing on too many minds, there was a curious inhibition to much of Brazil’s football. Coutinho looked dangerous at times in a deeper midfield role but even he began to fade as the game went on and Switzerland grew in confidence. They are a decent side but they did not seem to believe they could hurt Brazil for those opening 45 minutes before the goal changed their mindset. Costa Rica in St-Petersburg on Friday is the next stop for Brazil and it will not be unreasonable to expect a lot more. Match details Brazil (4-3-3) Alisson (Roma) 6; Danilo (Manchester City) 6, Thiago Silva (Paris St-Germain) 6, Miranda (Inter Milan) 6, Marcelo (Real Madrid) 6; Paulinho (Barcelona) 5 (Augusto, 67, Beijing Guoan), Casemiro (Real Madrid) 5 (Fernandinho, 60, Manchester City), Coutinho (Barcelona) 7; Willian (Chelsea) 5, Jesus (Manchester City) 6 (Firmino, 79, Liverpool), Neymar (Paris St-Germain) 6. Booked Casemiro Switzerland (4-2-3-1) Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach) 7; Lichtsteiner (Arsenal, Lang 87 (Basel)) 7, Schaer (Deportivo La Coruna) 6, Akanji (Borussia Dortmund) 6, Rodriguez (AC Milan) 7; Behrami (Udinese) 6 (Zakaria, 70, Borussia Monchengladbach), Xhaka (Arsenal) 7; Shaqiri (Stoke City) 6, Dzemaili (Bologna) 6, Zuber (Hoffenheim) 6; Seferovic (Benfica) (Embolo, 80, Schalke) 5. Booked Lichtsteiner, Schaer, Behrami Referee Cesar Ramos (Mexico) 9:16PM Some photos to peruse while you let that result sink in Russia World Cup in pictures: Best photos of teams, games and players 9:10PM Some stats for you Brazil failed to win their opening match at the World Cup for the first time since 1978, when they drew 1-1 with Sweden; they had won nine in a row between 1982 and 2014. Switzerland have lost only one of their last 23 matches (W16 D6), a 2-0 defeat to Portugal in October 2017. Brazil have failed to win any of their last three World Cup matches (D1 L2), their worst winless run since June 1978, when they went four games without a win. Switzerland haven’t lost their opening World Cup match in any of their last five tournaments (W2 D3). Five of Philippe Coutinho’s 11 goals for Brazil has been from outside the box. Brazil have conceded 10 goals from the last 13 shots on target they have faced at the World Cup. 9:09PM Profligate Brazil Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:08PM Tomorrow's the big one... A certain country called England play tomorrow. You may have heard about this. Here's some reading for you ahead of that game! World Cup 2018 tactics: England's experimental phase and how Gareth Southgate can bring football home 9:03PM Mark Clattenburg on the incident Credit: TASS "You can see the defender's got hold of his arm and hands on his back which stops his ability to defend the ball. "He's deemed that not a foul. OK but I'd rather go to the side of the pitch and have a look." 9:02PM VAR controversy Ian Wright and Gary Neville are convinced Switzerland's goal shouldn't have counted. "It's one of them..." says Slaven Bilic. Hmmm. The referees didn't think it was a foul. "To be fair, I don't care," says Bilic. 8:55PM FULL TIME - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Great result for Switzerland, a disappointing one for Brazil. That was a hard fought point and probably deserved too. 8:55PM 90 mins +7 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Neither! It's a cunning ruse and Neymar chips into the area, Miranda heads on... and Switzerland scramble it behind. There's a corner... and a foul in the box. That's a free-kick to the Swiss who have surely got their point now. 8:53PM 90 mins +5 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Another foul on Neymar. Neymar kisses the ball and lines up his free-kick 25 yards out. Will this be a Ronaldo top corner special? Or a Messi into the wall type effort? Now's your time, pal. Let's see what you've got. 8:52PM 90 mins +4 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 The state of this: Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal Switzerland deserve a point here if they can get it. Neymar's getting really wound up about being kicked off the park and you can sympathise really. 8:50PM 90 mins +2 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Neymar stands over a free-kick on the left and will cross into the box, if he manages to figure out a way to beat the first man. He does... and Firmino is there unmarked! WHAT A SAVE! Shocking defending gives Firmino a free header but he shoots straight at the goalkeeper. If that had been either side of him it was a goal! Attempt Saved: Brazil 1 - 1 Switzerland (Roberto Firmino, 90 min) It's a corner anyway. Crossed in, headed back and MIRANDA IS THERE! He smashes the shot at goal but hooks it left of the goal. That's really close and could have been the winner. Miss: Brazil 1 - 1 Switzerland (Miranda, 90 + 1 min) 8:47PM 90 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Shaqiri has space on the counter-attack! His first pass is awful... but it bounces and lands back at his feet. So then he goes for a volley from 30 yards and fires it - guess where? CAN YOU GUESS WHERE THE BALL GOES? MILES WIDE AND HIGH ARHGRHGRHGRHGHGRHG why can't they shoot on target? :-( 8:46PM 88 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Xhaka knocks Neymar over, it's a free-kick. Lichsteiner is sitting down waiting for treatment. Is that time wasting? Or is he very injured? Soon we will discover! Lang comes on as a substitute to replace him. Call me a sceptic but I suspect that may well have been choreographed. Look how many shots Brazil have had off target: Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal But wait - here's Neymar with a header from the penalty spot! Straight at the goalkeeper. It's either over the bar or straight at the goalie every time. 8:43PM 86 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 This is scrappy. Brazil's passing has not been good in this half and Switzerland are also determined to stop them getting forward. Neymar gets on it in the final third now though and is running at the box! He flicks it inside... and Firmino can't control. Grooooooan. 8:42PM 84 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Switzerland try to run through the middle of Brazil, Shaqiri then attempts a flip flap to go past Miranda... and Brazil survive. Switzerland work incredibly hard to win the ball back except for Shaqiri, who just wanders backwards. Alisson comes off his line to burst an inflatable ball which has landed on the pitch. 8:40PM 82 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Seferovic off, Embolo on. Brazil have a free-kick 35 yards from goal... and Switzerland defend it well. Off the ball, Lichsteiner is holding his face rolling around the floor. I wonder if he will survive the cruel injury he has sustained during that passage of play. Huzzah! He gets off the turf and is ready to play again. "They do hurt, those ones," says Dixon. And suddenly Firmino's in! A pass in behind the defence puts him wide of goal and he lines up the shot but blooters it - guess where? That's right! - miles over the bar. 8:37PM 80 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Jesus off, Firmino on. And he's involved immediately, dribbling around the right-back but losing the ball in the box. 8:36PM 78 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Fernandinho sets himself up for a 30 yard smash. And it's about a mile over. Miss: Brazil 1 - 1 Switzerland (Fernandinho, 77 min) Marcelo has taken it upon himself to get further up the pitch now and it;s really working. They're overloading that side of the pitch and Neymar is able to get a shot away... which the keeper saves easily. 8:34PM 76 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Switzerland are determined that even if nothing else goes their way, there's just no way Neymar is allowed to do any of his show pony tricks or even look like he might be Neymar. Every time he goes on a run he gets cut out, a slide tackle takes him down, a defender stands in his way. He can't get in the match at all. 8:32PM 74 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 PENALTY! Or is it? No! Augusto plays a reverse pass inside the box and Jesus goes down! The defender has his arms all over him, Akani is the culprit and stops him turning, then Jesus tumbles to the floor. It's a strange fall and the referee says play on. Will VAR review it? 8:31PM 73 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Marcelo moves inside the pitch and ghosts past Shaqiri... but Willian handballs the pass towards him. It's back with Shaqiri now on the right, he moves inside this time... and Dzemaili hits the most average shot of his life straight at the goalkeeper. These teams are really well matched. 8:29PM 71 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Credit: GETTY IMAGES Brazil attack down the right, it's switched to Coutinho who chests down inside the box and sits up perfectly to volley at goal. He gets it all wrong and shoots well wide. Switzerland take Behrami - now on a yellow card - for Zakaria. That's probably smart. They're similar players and Neymar is going to get him sent off. He's also been holding his hamstring. 8:27PM 69 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Behrami smiles and laughs as he is booked for cynically chopping him down, dragging studs on ankles. Neymar howls as he rolls along the floor. Fernandinho has a word with Behrami. 8:25PM 67 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Neymar hits the free-kick low into the area without power. It's pretty dreadful to be honest but Fernandinho has a hit at the ball and wins a corner. Willian follows up the move from the second ball of that and has a shot blocked... then Willian skies a shot somewhere in the upper stand of the stadium. Brazil sub: Paulinho off, Augusto on. 8:23PM 65 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Both teams are losing the ball in the opposition half with sloppy play, Switzerland perhaps the more comfortable in possession. Neymar is held back by Schar who is booked. That's about as clear a foul as you'll ever see and Neymar tries to get in on goal. The ref should allow play to continue... but blows for the free-kick. 8:21PM 63 mins -Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal Neymar tries to dribble between two players, which becomes three... and Switzerland win the ball. I think Neymar's trying a little too hard. It's gone a little quiet again in this game. Credit: REUTERS 8:18PM 61 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 The corner is well dealt with, Marcelo carries the ball forward and is fouled/ Brazil take it short... and Casemiro punts an effort wildly over the bar from about 30 yards. And that's his final involvement. Fernandinho replaces him. Brazil try to play their way out danger but the Switzerland press is causing them problems. 8:16PM 59 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Brazil move forward, the ball drops for Coutinho to smash from distance and he launches it at goal! Blocked. He gets a second chance... blocked! Neymar has kicked someone's foot while shooting inside the box and is wincing as he hobbles around now. He's only just recovered from a foot injury... but seems to be OK. Brazil corner. 8:15PM 57 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Behrami is back on though... and he's just easily won the ball from Neymar. There is no way past him today! Not even with an injury (if he has one). Coutinho passes into Shaqiri by accident and Switzerland move up the pitch. 8:13PM 55 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Behrami has just pulled up with an injury and he looks close to tears. Let's hope that's nothing too serious but it's either a muscle injury or something in his knee and he's having treatment now after over stretching to try and stop Jesus getting the ball. He's really not happy with things - and when you consider he's had Neymar in his pocket all game long, this could be big. 8:11PM 53 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Switzerland have the wind in their sails now and have the ball in the attacking third again... or they did until Lichtsteiner miscontrols on the line. How will Brazil react to that setback? Shaqiri outwits the defence - and his own teammates - with a clever little pass towards the goal line but it goes behind. 8:08PM GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL! ZUBER HEADS IT IN! The scores are level! Brazil just switched off! Dreadful defending in the area for the corner. Miranda insists he's been pushed but the VAR don't think so! Brazil 1 - 1 Switzerland (Steven Zuber, 50 min) 8:08PM 50 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Switzerland attack down the left and Marcelo comes across to stop a dangerous looking pass into the box. Switzerland get a corner out of it. 8:06PM 49 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Neymar considers taking on his man on the left wing and decides against it. Casemiro chops down Dzemaili to stop a counter-attack and is booked but that's Willian's fault for a poor pass selling him short. 8:04PM 47 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Dzemaili tries an effort from long range. Why not? Have fun, enjoy yourselves. 8:03PM KICK-OFF 2 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 We're back! Switzerland start the second half. More goals please. 7:58PM Both teams on the left Actually, it turns out they're both at it. Brazil is right (light blue) and Switzerland left (dark blue) 7:56PM Brazil focusing down the left Credit: GETTY IMAGES "I feel bad for Lichsteiner," says Gary Neville. "I remember playing against Arsenal with Henry, Pires and Cole and it was wave after wave of wave of attack." Average touch positions (45 min) You can sort of see it above. 7:54PM Analysis That went from potential Empire Strikes Back to Phantom Menace pretty quickly. Simpsons seasons 2-9 to 10-present. Brazil don't really seem to be trying now they're a goal up - I'm not sure they really fear Switzerland. "I think both teams will be happy," says Roy Keane, and I agree. Slaven Bilic has pointed out that Brazil are in control. "They are very organised team. What are your best chances against Brazil? Counter-attacks. They didn't give Switzerland one single chance to counter-attack. If it doesn't work they all go behind the ball." 7:51PM Gary Lineker Twitter update Watching the Brazil game where Neymar had his hair cut. pic.twitter.com/qzUjmmRL2D— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 17, 2018 7:48PM HALF TIME And that's it! Brazil haven't really had to do an awful lot here, Switzerland have been good but Coutinho pulled a goal rabbit out of his magic football hat and Brazil have the lead. That's soccerball for you. 7:47PM 45 mins +2 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 So close for Silva! He attacks a corner at the near post but heads over. Decent effort but not close enough! 7:44PM 45 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Behrami has been an absolute machine here. "He's going to need two sugars in his tea and an oxygen tank," says Dixon, accidentally revealing the controversial half time fluid intake that Arsene Wenger used to give Arsenal players. 7:43PM 44 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 That's now the worst pass of the game. Akonji punts the ball out for a goal kick for no apparent reason. There's a guy in the crowd dressed as a Panini sticker and I'm trying to find a photo of it for you. Excellent effort. 7:42PM 42 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Neymar is being bullied by Behrami. He can't get past him, is being muscled off it every single time and is now moping around the centre-circle. This is nice from Brazil now though and Jesus might be in! Well defended by the centre-backs and the move is shut down. 7:40PM 40 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Switzerland get in behind Marcelo on the right! The attack is on but Dzemaili's final pass is poor. Alisson plays a tidy little pass to the defender while being closed down and Brazil try to counter... but Switzerland are in control of possession again. Switzerland have a chance to shoot! Zuber swings a foot at it and my god that is the worst shot... I don't want to say ever... but that I've seen in a while. He hooks his leg at the thing and whacks it full power into Silva's face. He goes down but is OK. I bet that hurt. 7:37PM 38 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Credit: REUTERS That photograph more or less sums up the half so far. Except for Coutinho's rocket strike, of course. 7:35PM 36 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Behrami does really well to win the ball from Neymar as Marcelo chips it ahead of him. He's actually done really well so far to keep Neymar quiet and keep passing play going for Switzerland and is their best player by far at the moment. 7:33PM 34 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Marcelo takes the free-kick from wide left and Seferovic heads away. Corner. It's hit in with power from Neymar to the back post, Jesus heads it back but nobody reads it. He should maybe have done better there. "Sommer was away with the fairies there," says Dixon. 7:31PM 32 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Behrami slips and fouls Casemiro. The possession has been mostly Switzerland's for a little while now - Brazil poised to counter. Possession: Brazil vs Switzerland And there's a first yellow card. Lichsteiner is booked for pulling down Neymar, catching him from behind while running back into position. 7:29PM 30 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Neymar tries to run past Behrami but puts the ball out for a throw. I think Behrami has the job of centre-back protector and Neymar man marker when higher up the pitch. 7:28PM 28 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Credit: GETTY IMAGES That's the pose for his statue worked out. 7:26PM 26 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Switzerland win a corner, Rodriguez takes it as an outswinger. Schar clashes heads as Casemiro gets the thing cleared miles away before accidentally heading Schar's skull. 7:24PM 24 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Here's the Switzerland build-up. Rodriguez is playing wide left and Lichsteiner is more inside the pitch like an inverted wing-back while Shaqiri is wide right. Then when Switzerland get higher up the pitch they swap. None of it will matter if Brazil keep this up though. 7:22PM 23 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 It really feels like Brazil could blow Switzerland away here if they really turn it on. The boat is rocking and Switzerland need to ride out the wave! A Willian heel flick and pass outside nearly puts them in again straight away. 7:19PM GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL! Wow. Where did that come from? Coutinho has scored for Brazil! The goalkeeper looks stunned! Brazil 1 - 0 Switzerland (Coutinho, 20 min) What a hit. Coutinho picks up the ball 20 yards out, shifts it onto his right foot and bends the thing way outside the goal and it curls round into the top corner. Magic. Goal: Brazil ( 20 min ) 7:18PM 19 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Credit: AP Gabriel Jesus breaks down the left after another fantastic move through the lines but his cross is saved low by Sommer. Brazil are menacing in possession - it's so quick and clever. 7:16PM 17 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Neymar, Marcelo and Coutinho line up the kick but Neymar seems to have dibs. And he hits the wall. Possession: Brazil vs Switzerland 7:15PM 15 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Neymar loves keeping the ball and does so under close attentions of a couple of Swiss players. He faces up to Dzemaili and teases him a little. "I know what I would have done," says Lee Dixon. An advocate of violence! Controversial scenes. Maybe he meant he'd do a rainbow flick if in Neymar's shoes rather than go through him as a defender. We just can't ever know. Neymar is brought down 25 yards out by Behrami, having skinned him with a little flick. Behrami seems to be enjoying the game, laughing at being totally done there. 7:12PM 12 mins -Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 This is a nice move from Brazil. Willian gets a chance to cross from the right wing, it's blocked and then Willian has the ball in midfield. It's moved left, Coutinho twists and turns until Neymar passes into the six yard box.... and Paulinho shoots! The goalkeeper gets a decent save on it... but the referee thinks it's a goal kick. That's a great save. 7:09PM 10 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Neymar looks for a one-two to get in behind the last man but it's well read and defended. Pretty open so far. 7:08PM 8 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Paulinho runs from deep and takes the ball off Jesus but can't keep control while running at full pace and puts it out for a goal kick. Willian does so well to shield the ball at right-back and flick a pass inside to kick-start a counter-attack, Brazil in the Swiss half now. 7:06PM 6 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Neymar has come in fancy dress as a flamboyant disco scarecrow and gets annoyed by Behrami's attention while trying to dribble. Credit: REUTERS Brazil work the ball forward and Willian fizzes a cross into the area but hits it too hard for anyone to attack. Xhaka is lucky not to be booked for a clear shirt pull on Neymar. 7:03PM 4 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Switzerland have started well here! And there's an early chance for Dzemaili as passing down the right results in a cross hit into the area. He swings at the volley but launches it over the bar. Brazil give the ball away from the goal kick. 7:02PM 2 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Sure enough, Switzerland immediately focus their passing down the right after winning the ball from kick-off. Brazil chase the ball to try and win it back, Switzerland look comfortable on the ball but can't keep it in play and Brazil get a goal kick. 7:00PM KICK OFF Here we go! Brazil get us started. 6:57PM The teams again Right then. Marcelo's advanced positions and Neymar's non-defending on the left will mean Switzerland focus attacks down the left, Paulinho will attack from deep and try to get in the box and Casemiro is absolutely key to keeping things held together. Switzerland have a decent team here and Xhaka needs to stay disciplined. His range of passing could be how Switzerland get in behind the Brazil defence. 6:53PM National anthems Here come the players! "It's not a World Cup until we've seen Brazil," says Clive Tyldesley, and here they are. 6:51PM Gary Neville on Shaqiri "I'm not a fan to be honest." Short, sharp... fair? He's magic when he wants to be. Shaqiri I mean. Neville is always a solid base 8/10 no matter what he's doing. 6:51PM Gabriel Jesus How Gabriel Jesus rose from besotted teenager to part of Brazil's big World Cup picture 6:47PM What a sky in Rostov #beautiful Credit: GETTY IMAGES That's actually Gareth Southgate inside the mascot costume. He's scouting. True story. 6:44PM Neymar and Marcelo on the left wing I can see Switzerland targeting the Brazil left, especially if they put Xherdan Shaqiri on the right wing. Marcelo is one of the best left-backs in the world football but spends most of his time in an advanced role, taking on the responsibilities normally afforded to a left winger. He does actually defend from time to time and is an important part of build-up play too, seen below in Brazil's friendly with England, flicking the ball onto Fernandinho before sprinting up to the half way line. Advanced left wing positions are where he he is most dangerous and exactly where he assisted Gareth Bale from in the Champions League final for that stunning bicycle kick, chipping the ball at perfect height to him with a supposedly weaker right foot. Marcelo's attacking nature is worth the risk for Brazil but, as has often been pointed out, he does leave his teammates exposed when caught out of position. Marcelo is as good a winger as any at the World Cup and getting him high up the pitch gets him involved with attacking play. It also allows Neymar to roam from that wide left starting position and look to do damage in areas he sees fit. The problem is that if Brazil lose the ball in attacking positions, Marcelo leaves the rest of the team exposed. Here's this exact scenario happening to Real Madrid against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final. The Allianz erupts! Joshua Kimmich hammers Bayern into the lead! �� What an assist from James Rodriguez �� pic.twitter.com/DyoD0oYl2U— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 25, 2018 6:41PM Roy Keane looks furious for absolutely no reason He's in a typically angered pose, and has already challenged Neymar to go and prove he's one of the best in the world if he thinks he's so damn good. 6:39PM Where do Switzerland and Brazil's kits rank? World Cup kits ranked 6:34PM Marcelo is the only survivor from the 7-1 Nobody else is in that starting XI. Thiago Silva didn't play, Neymar was injured. "I think they are missing Dani Alves," says Slaven Bilic. "They used to have two playmakers, Marcelo and Alves. Now Danilo is playing he's more physical. And that's why Coutinho is there" 6:32PM Jesus is young 21 - Gabriel Jesus (21 years, 75 days) is set to become the youngest Brazilian player in a #WorldCup game since Kaká in 2002. Prodigy. pic.twitter.com/kNTxCbTfrh— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) June 17, 2018 �� | Gabriel Jesus painting the streets for the 2014 #WorldCup in Brazil. The boy who dreamed... pic.twitter.com/adrBJeEe2W— City Watch (@City_Watch) June 17, 2018 6:28PM It's filling up inside Credit: GETTY IMAGES A heap of Swiss fans have been going on a march to the stadium too apparently. Brazil fans are in all the photos from outside the stadium though, and it looks really fun. Credit: FIFA This is the other thing that makes international tournaments so great to be at: Credit: FIFA The fans can sit together without causing tribe related trouble. As soon as you start fencing off supporters from each other all the idiots come out. Not here! Imagine being able to enjoy games like this normally? There is something kinda funny about the battle between home and away fans but when it isn't that - fun - it's a really horrible thing at times. This is a bit more like rugby which is a good thing. 6:23PM Inside the dressing room Credit: FIFA That's not a bad little trio there. Brazil also have Roberto Firmino sitting on the bench if Jesus doesn't quite work out. 6:14PM Starting lineups Brazil (4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1) Alisson; Danilo, Silva, Miranda, Marcelo; Casemiro, Coutinho, Paulinho; Willian, Jesus, Neymar Switzerland (4-2-3-1) Sommer; Rodriguez, Akanji, Schar, Lichsteiner; Xhaka, Behrami, Zuber, Dzemaili, Shaqiri; Seferovic Think Brazil ���� are a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 type thing today. Nothing too fancy expected from Switzerland ���� although underrate then at your (mild) PERIL pic.twitter.com/fj0liCHPOU— JJ Bull (@jj_bull) June 17, 2018 6:05PM Switzerland's starting lineup #HoppSchwiiz#HopSuisse#ForzaSvizzera#HopSvizra ����⚽️��#BRASUI#WM2018#CM2018pic.twitter.com/P0SwDzoBcZ— nationalteams_SFVASF (@SFV_ASF) June 17, 2018 6:03PM Our new columnist Look who writes for the Telegraph now? Read his thoughts on England vs Tunisia right here: Cesc Fabregas column: England's Raheem Sterling can deliver on the biggest stage 5:52PM Shocks everywhere Germany have lost! This World Cup just got even more interesting! You can find out what happened in our liveblog over here, but come back quickly. 5:45PM Where is today's game? Well that would be the Rostov Arena of course! World Cup 2018 stadium: Rostov Arena And it looks like this: Credit: REUTERS Like some sort of background building in a sci-fi video game. It looks better inside: Credit: FIFA Oooooh it's nice. I want to play on that pitch. 5:37PM How Brazil play World Cup tactics: How Brazil are playing to their strengths with attacking setup 5:31PM It's Brazil! And Switzerland! The world's favourite (or second favourite anyway) football team vs Switzerland, the perennially underrated darlings of... Switzerland. Will we see Neymar today? Even if we don't, there are a plethora of stars to choose from and this game could and should be an entertaining spectacle. We've had some brilliant games so far in the early stages of this World Cup but as clear favourites, Brazil can add to the lovely football levels by giving us all some samba skill. Meanwhile, Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and presumably many other players who have an X in their name will be pulling the strings for the Swiss. Russia World Cup in pictures: Best photos of teams, games and players I'm expecting a slightly deeper, more compact and direct Brazil performance than most might think they're about to see and Switzerland will certainly look to frustrate and avoid being dragged into any one on one situations. That said, I was completely wrong about how Portugal vs Spain went so perhaps this will turn into a free for all, end-to-end play and plenty of goals for both teams. That's what we all really want isn't it? As for Neymar, there's a chance he'll play but Brazil coach Tite is just calming things down. "Neymar is still not 100 per cent, but he is very privileged physically," he told Fifa.com. "The level he has displayed in his sprints in high velocity has been impressive. But still he has something to gain. "It should happen sooner rather than later, hopefully." We'll get team news shortly and can start to figure out how this game might actually go but rest assured you can follow all the action, build-up and analysis with us right here.
Swiss hold out to neutralise Brazilian firepower and earn share of points
If Russia is to prove the scene of an exorcism for Brazil they will have to be better than this. A draw against Switzerland was no great calamity but this was an uneasy first examination for the Seleçao on the road to what they will hope will be redemption for the 7-1 humiliation by Germany on home soil in the World Cup semi-finals four years ago. Lionel Messi endured a misstep in his opening game with Argentina against Iceland and his former Barcelona team-mate, Neymar, experienced similar frustration on a night when Brazil had cause to bemoan a couple of costly decisions that went against them. The highlight of the game was an arresting 25 yard strike from Philippe Coutinho but the main talking points centred around a push on Miranda by Steven Zuber before he equalised for Switzerland early in the second half and the denial of a Brazil penalty late on. In truth, Brazil should probably not protest too loudly. On the balance of play, a draw was probably just about a fair result and Tite may be more concerned about a patchy performance when Brazil struggled with Swiss physicality and lost their way after an encouraging start. Coutinho’s goal was a moment of pure theatre but Brazil’s measure of control evaporated once Switzerland scored and the tide began to turn. Brazil finished the game looking the more likely winners, with substitute Roberto Firmino having a header pushed away, Neymar directing another straight at Yann Sommer, Miranda firing wide and Renato Augusto snatching at a volley, but this was no hard luck story. Sure, there was a touch of good fortune to Switzerland’s goal. Some referees would have penalised Zuber for a push on Miranda but even then the Brazil centre-back’s starting position looked suspect and the Switzerland winger could probably not believe quite how much space he had when he headed home unmarked in the middle of the six-yard box. World Cup whatsapp promo Similarly, Gabriel Jesus was unimpressed he was denied a penalty when he was man-handled by Manuel Akanji in the 74th minute but the Manchester City striker probably did not help his case with his theatrical fall. There was a lot of huff and puff from Jesus but not much else and he was by no means the only Brazilian to have an off night. Neymar had a more threatening final 20 minutes and there were moments when it looked like he and Coutinho would combine to hurt Switzerland but he spent a lot of time on the ground struggling to escape the close attentions of his opponents. The pressure on the Paris Saint-Germain forward to deliver at this World Cup is unremitting but he is not afraid to draw attention to himself. After all, it takes a brave man to model his latest alternative haircut on Alannah Currie from the Thompson Twins, the 80s British pop band. Like Brazil in general, though, he will have to offer more than this. There was a fine pass to Coutinho in the 69th minute that the Barcelona player took beautifully on his chest, pushing the ball inside Stephan Lichtsteiner to create the space to shoot only to shank his volley wide. There had, of course, been no misjudgement for the goal. It was just the shot of Jogo Bonito that gets Brazilian juices flowing, the frustration being that it would prove an isolated moment of inspiration. Zuber would have been better directing his clearing header from Neymar’s corner almost anywhere but the feet of Coutinho, who offered a fine illustration of what £142 million buys you. The former Liverpool playmaker had only one thing in mind when the ball hurtled towards him, controlling it with effortless ease before bending home his shot off the inside of the far post. And that, basically, was as good as it got for Brazil. Paulinho missed a good chance from close range but Brazil did not ask enough questions. Lichtsteiner had been booked for grabbing Neymar round the neck and throwing him to the ground but the Brazil No10 was unable to isolate Arsenal’s new signing much after that when attempting to draw a second caution from the veteran right-back seemed a logical move. Coutinho flayed in Brazil's opener Credit: AP Photo/Andre Penner Tite must have held his breath when Neymar smacked the right foot he had fractured in February against Lichtsteiner’s boot in the second half as he followed through on a shot and appeared to be hobbling for a while afterwards but he did not look in too much discomfort by the end. Marcelo, captain here, was the only survivor from the team that had started against Germany in Belo Horizonte but, whether that game was playing on too many minds, there was a curious inhibition to much of Brazil’s football. Coutinho looked dangerous at times in a deeper midfield role but even he began to fade as the game went on and Switzerland grew in confidence. They are a decent side but they did not seem to believe they could hurt Brazil for those opening 45 minutes before the goal changed their mindset. Costa Rica in St-Petersburg on Friday is the next stop for Brazil and it will not be unreasonable to expect a lot more. Match details Brazil (4-3-3) Alisson (Roma) 6; Danilo (Manchester City) 6, Thiago Silva (Paris St-Germain) 6, Miranda (Inter Milan) 6, Marcelo (Real Madrid) 6; Paulinho (Barcelona) 5 (Augusto, 67, Beijing Guoan), Casemiro (Real Madrid) 5 (Fernandinho, 60, Manchester City), Coutinho (Barcelona) 7; Willian (Chelsea) 5, Jesus (Manchester City) 6 (Firmino, 79, Liverpool), Neymar (Paris St-Germain) 6. Booked Casemiro Switzerland (4-2-3-1) Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach) 7; Lichtsteiner (Arsenal, Lang 87 (Basel)) 7, Schaer (Deportivo La Coruna) 6, Akanji (Borussia Dortmund) 6, Rodriguez (AC Milan) 7; Behrami (Udinese) 6 (Zakaria, 70, Borussia Monchengladbach), Xhaka (Arsenal) 7; Shaqiri (Stoke City) 6, Dzemaili (Bologna) 6, Zuber (Hoffenheim) 6; Seferovic (Benfica) (Embolo, 80, Schalke) 5. Booked Lichtsteiner, Schaer, Behrami Referee Cesar Ramos (Mexico) 9:16PM Some photos to peruse while you let that result sink in Russia World Cup in pictures: Best photos of teams, games and players 9:10PM Some stats for you Brazil failed to win their opening match at the World Cup for the first time since 1978, when they drew 1-1 with Sweden; they had won nine in a row between 1982 and 2014. Switzerland have lost only one of their last 23 matches (W16 D6), a 2-0 defeat to Portugal in October 2017. Brazil have failed to win any of their last three World Cup matches (D1 L2), their worst winless run since June 1978, when they went four games without a win. Switzerland haven’t lost their opening World Cup match in any of their last five tournaments (W2 D3). Five of Philippe Coutinho’s 11 goals for Brazil has been from outside the box. Brazil have conceded 10 goals from the last 13 shots on target they have faced at the World Cup. 9:09PM Profligate Brazil Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:08PM Tomorrow's the big one... A certain country called England play tomorrow. You may have heard about this. Here's some reading for you ahead of that game! World Cup 2018 tactics: England's experimental phase and how Gareth Southgate can bring football home 9:03PM Mark Clattenburg on the incident Credit: TASS "You can see the defender's got hold of his arm and hands on his back which stops his ability to defend the ball. "He's deemed that not a foul. OK but I'd rather go to the side of the pitch and have a look." 9:02PM VAR controversy Ian Wright and Gary Neville are convinced Switzerland's goal shouldn't have counted. "It's one of them..." says Slaven Bilic. Hmmm. The referees didn't think it was a foul. "To be fair, I don't care," says Bilic. 8:55PM FULL TIME - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Great result for Switzerland, a disappointing one for Brazil. That was a hard fought point and probably deserved too. 8:55PM 90 mins +7 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Neither! It's a cunning ruse and Neymar chips into the area, Miranda heads on... and Switzerland scramble it behind. There's a corner... and a foul in the box. That's a free-kick to the Swiss who have surely got their point now. 8:53PM 90 mins +5 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Another foul on Neymar. Neymar kisses the ball and lines up his free-kick 25 yards out. Will this be a Ronaldo top corner special? Or a Messi into the wall type effort? Now's your time, pal. Let's see what you've got. 8:52PM 90 mins +4 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 The state of this: Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal Switzerland deserve a point here if they can get it. Neymar's getting really wound up about being kicked off the park and you can sympathise really. 8:50PM 90 mins +2 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Neymar stands over a free-kick on the left and will cross into the box, if he manages to figure out a way to beat the first man. He does... and Firmino is there unmarked! WHAT A SAVE! Shocking defending gives Firmino a free header but he shoots straight at the goalkeeper. If that had been either side of him it was a goal! Attempt Saved: Brazil 1 - 1 Switzerland (Roberto Firmino, 90 min) It's a corner anyway. Crossed in, headed back and MIRANDA IS THERE! He smashes the shot at goal but hooks it left of the goal. That's really close and could have been the winner. Miss: Brazil 1 - 1 Switzerland (Miranda, 90 + 1 min) 8:47PM 90 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Shaqiri has space on the counter-attack! His first pass is awful... but it bounces and lands back at his feet. So then he goes for a volley from 30 yards and fires it - guess where? CAN YOU GUESS WHERE THE BALL GOES? MILES WIDE AND HIGH ARHGRHGRHGRHGHGRHG why can't they shoot on target? :-( 8:46PM 88 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Xhaka knocks Neymar over, it's a free-kick. Lichsteiner is sitting down waiting for treatment. Is that time wasting? Or is he very injured? Soon we will discover! Lang comes on as a substitute to replace him. Call me a sceptic but I suspect that may well have been choreographed. Look how many shots Brazil have had off target: Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal But wait - here's Neymar with a header from the penalty spot! Straight at the goalkeeper. It's either over the bar or straight at the goalie every time. 8:43PM 86 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 This is scrappy. Brazil's passing has not been good in this half and Switzerland are also determined to stop them getting forward. Neymar gets on it in the final third now though and is running at the box! He flicks it inside... and Firmino can't control. Grooooooan. 8:42PM 84 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Switzerland try to run through the middle of Brazil, Shaqiri then attempts a flip flap to go past Miranda... and Brazil survive. Switzerland work incredibly hard to win the ball back except for Shaqiri, who just wanders backwards. Alisson comes off his line to burst an inflatable ball which has landed on the pitch. 8:40PM 82 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Seferovic off, Embolo on. Brazil have a free-kick 35 yards from goal... and Switzerland defend it well. Off the ball, Lichsteiner is holding his face rolling around the floor. I wonder if he will survive the cruel injury he has sustained during that passage of play. Huzzah! He gets off the turf and is ready to play again. "They do hurt, those ones," says Dixon. And suddenly Firmino's in! A pass in behind the defence puts him wide of goal and he lines up the shot but blooters it - guess where? That's right! - miles over the bar. 8:37PM 80 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Jesus off, Firmino on. And he's involved immediately, dribbling around the right-back but losing the ball in the box. 8:36PM 78 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Fernandinho sets himself up for a 30 yard smash. And it's about a mile over. Miss: Brazil 1 - 1 Switzerland (Fernandinho, 77 min) Marcelo has taken it upon himself to get further up the pitch now and it;s really working. They're overloading that side of the pitch and Neymar is able to get a shot away... which the keeper saves easily. 8:34PM 76 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Switzerland are determined that even if nothing else goes their way, there's just no way Neymar is allowed to do any of his show pony tricks or even look like he might be Neymar. Every time he goes on a run he gets cut out, a slide tackle takes him down, a defender stands in his way. He can't get in the match at all. 8:32PM 74 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 PENALTY! Or is it? No! Augusto plays a reverse pass inside the box and Jesus goes down! The defender has his arms all over him, Akani is the culprit and stops him turning, then Jesus tumbles to the floor. It's a strange fall and the referee says play on. Will VAR review it? 8:31PM 73 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Marcelo moves inside the pitch and ghosts past Shaqiri... but Willian handballs the pass towards him. It's back with Shaqiri now on the right, he moves inside this time... and Dzemaili hits the most average shot of his life straight at the goalkeeper. These teams are really well matched. 8:29PM 71 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Credit: GETTY IMAGES Brazil attack down the right, it's switched to Coutinho who chests down inside the box and sits up perfectly to volley at goal. He gets it all wrong and shoots well wide. Switzerland take Behrami - now on a yellow card - for Zakaria. That's probably smart. They're similar players and Neymar is going to get him sent off. He's also been holding his hamstring. 8:27PM 69 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Behrami smiles and laughs as he is booked for cynically chopping him down, dragging studs on ankles. Neymar howls as he rolls along the floor. Fernandinho has a word with Behrami. 8:25PM 67 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Neymar hits the free-kick low into the area without power. It's pretty dreadful to be honest but Fernandinho has a hit at the ball and wins a corner. Willian follows up the move from the second ball of that and has a shot blocked... then Willian skies a shot somewhere in the upper stand of the stadium. Brazil sub: Paulinho off, Augusto on. 8:23PM 65 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Both teams are losing the ball in the opposition half with sloppy play, Switzerland perhaps the more comfortable in possession. Neymar is held back by Schar who is booked. That's about as clear a foul as you'll ever see and Neymar tries to get in on goal. The ref should allow play to continue... but blows for the free-kick. 8:21PM 63 mins -Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal Neymar tries to dribble between two players, which becomes three... and Switzerland win the ball. I think Neymar's trying a little too hard. It's gone a little quiet again in this game. Credit: REUTERS 8:18PM 61 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 The corner is well dealt with, Marcelo carries the ball forward and is fouled/ Brazil take it short... and Casemiro punts an effort wildly over the bar from about 30 yards. And that's his final involvement. Fernandinho replaces him. Brazil try to play their way out danger but the Switzerland press is causing them problems. 8:16PM 59 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Brazil move forward, the ball drops for Coutinho to smash from distance and he launches it at goal! Blocked. He gets a second chance... blocked! Neymar has kicked someone's foot while shooting inside the box and is wincing as he hobbles around now. He's only just recovered from a foot injury... but seems to be OK. Brazil corner. 8:15PM 57 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Behrami is back on though... and he's just easily won the ball from Neymar. There is no way past him today! Not even with an injury (if he has one). Coutinho passes into Shaqiri by accident and Switzerland move up the pitch. 8:13PM 55 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Behrami has just pulled up with an injury and he looks close to tears. Let's hope that's nothing too serious but it's either a muscle injury or something in his knee and he's having treatment now after over stretching to try and stop Jesus getting the ball. He's really not happy with things - and when you consider he's had Neymar in his pocket all game long, this could be big. 8:11PM 53 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Switzerland have the wind in their sails now and have the ball in the attacking third again... or they did until Lichtsteiner miscontrols on the line. How will Brazil react to that setback? Shaqiri outwits the defence - and his own teammates - with a clever little pass towards the goal line but it goes behind. 8:08PM GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL! ZUBER HEADS IT IN! The scores are level! Brazil just switched off! Dreadful defending in the area for the corner. Miranda insists he's been pushed but the VAR don't think so! Brazil 1 - 1 Switzerland (Steven Zuber, 50 min) 8:08PM 50 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Switzerland attack down the left and Marcelo comes across to stop a dangerous looking pass into the box. Switzerland get a corner out of it. 8:06PM 49 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Neymar considers taking on his man on the left wing and decides against it. Casemiro chops down Dzemaili to stop a counter-attack and is booked but that's Willian's fault for a poor pass selling him short. 8:04PM 47 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Dzemaili tries an effort from long range. Why not? Have fun, enjoy yourselves. 8:03PM KICK-OFF 2 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 We're back! Switzerland start the second half. More goals please. 7:58PM Both teams on the left Actually, it turns out they're both at it. Brazil is right (light blue) and Switzerland left (dark blue) 7:56PM Brazil focusing down the left Credit: GETTY IMAGES "I feel bad for Lichsteiner," says Gary Neville. "I remember playing against Arsenal with Henry, Pires and Cole and it was wave after wave of wave of attack." Average touch positions (45 min) You can sort of see it above. 7:54PM Analysis That went from potential Empire Strikes Back to Phantom Menace pretty quickly. Simpsons seasons 2-9 to 10-present. Brazil don't really seem to be trying now they're a goal up - I'm not sure they really fear Switzerland. "I think both teams will be happy," says Roy Keane, and I agree. Slaven Bilic has pointed out that Brazil are in control. "They are very organised team. What are your best chances against Brazil? Counter-attacks. They didn't give Switzerland one single chance to counter-attack. If it doesn't work they all go behind the ball." 7:51PM Gary Lineker Twitter update Watching the Brazil game where Neymar had his hair cut. pic.twitter.com/qzUjmmRL2D— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 17, 2018 7:48PM HALF TIME And that's it! Brazil haven't really had to do an awful lot here, Switzerland have been good but Coutinho pulled a goal rabbit out of his magic football hat and Brazil have the lead. That's soccerball for you. 7:47PM 45 mins +2 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 So close for Silva! He attacks a corner at the near post but heads over. Decent effort but not close enough! 7:44PM 45 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Behrami has been an absolute machine here. "He's going to need two sugars in his tea and an oxygen tank," says Dixon, accidentally revealing the controversial half time fluid intake that Arsene Wenger used to give Arsenal players. 7:43PM 44 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 That's now the worst pass of the game. Akonji punts the ball out for a goal kick for no apparent reason. There's a guy in the crowd dressed as a Panini sticker and I'm trying to find a photo of it for you. Excellent effort. 7:42PM 42 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Neymar is being bullied by Behrami. He can't get past him, is being muscled off it every single time and is now moping around the centre-circle. This is nice from Brazil now though and Jesus might be in! Well defended by the centre-backs and the move is shut down. 7:40PM 40 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Switzerland get in behind Marcelo on the right! The attack is on but Dzemaili's final pass is poor. Alisson plays a tidy little pass to the defender while being closed down and Brazil try to counter... but Switzerland are in control of possession again. Switzerland have a chance to shoot! Zuber swings a foot at it and my god that is the worst shot... I don't want to say ever... but that I've seen in a while. He hooks his leg at the thing and whacks it full power into Silva's face. He goes down but is OK. I bet that hurt. 7:37PM 38 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Credit: REUTERS That photograph more or less sums up the half so far. Except for Coutinho's rocket strike, of course. 7:35PM 36 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Behrami does really well to win the ball from Neymar as Marcelo chips it ahead of him. He's actually done really well so far to keep Neymar quiet and keep passing play going for Switzerland and is their best player by far at the moment. 7:33PM 34 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Marcelo takes the free-kick from wide left and Seferovic heads away. Corner. It's hit in with power from Neymar to the back post, Jesus heads it back but nobody reads it. He should maybe have done better there. "Sommer was away with the fairies there," says Dixon. 7:31PM 32 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Behrami slips and fouls Casemiro. The possession has been mostly Switzerland's for a little while now - Brazil poised to counter. Possession: Brazil vs Switzerland And there's a first yellow card. Lichsteiner is booked for pulling down Neymar, catching him from behind while running back into position. 7:29PM 30 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Neymar tries to run past Behrami but puts the ball out for a throw. I think Behrami has the job of centre-back protector and Neymar man marker when higher up the pitch. 7:28PM 28 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Credit: GETTY IMAGES That's the pose for his statue worked out. 7:26PM 26 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Switzerland win a corner, Rodriguez takes it as an outswinger. Schar clashes heads as Casemiro gets the thing cleared miles away before accidentally heading Schar's skull. 7:24PM 24 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Here's the Switzerland build-up. Rodriguez is playing wide left and Lichsteiner is more inside the pitch like an inverted wing-back while Shaqiri is wide right. Then when Switzerland get higher up the pitch they swap. None of it will matter if Brazil keep this up though. 7:22PM 23 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 It really feels like Brazil could blow Switzerland away here if they really turn it on. The boat is rocking and Switzerland need to ride out the wave! A Willian heel flick and pass outside nearly puts them in again straight away. 7:19PM GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL! Wow. Where did that come from? Coutinho has scored for Brazil! The goalkeeper looks stunned! Brazil 1 - 0 Switzerland (Coutinho, 20 min) What a hit. Coutinho picks up the ball 20 yards out, shifts it onto his right foot and bends the thing way outside the goal and it curls round into the top corner. Magic. Goal: Brazil ( 20 min ) 7:18PM 19 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Credit: AP Gabriel Jesus breaks down the left after another fantastic move through the lines but his cross is saved low by Sommer. Brazil are menacing in possession - it's so quick and clever. 7:16PM 17 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Neymar, Marcelo and Coutinho line up the kick but Neymar seems to have dibs. And he hits the wall. Possession: Brazil vs Switzerland 7:15PM 15 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Neymar loves keeping the ball and does so under close attentions of a couple of Swiss players. He faces up to Dzemaili and teases him a little. "I know what I would have done," says Lee Dixon. An advocate of violence! Controversial scenes. Maybe he meant he'd do a rainbow flick if in Neymar's shoes rather than go through him as a defender. We just can't ever know. Neymar is brought down 25 yards out by Behrami, having skinned him with a little flick. Behrami seems to be enjoying the game, laughing at being totally done there. 7:12PM 12 mins -Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 This is a nice move from Brazil. Willian gets a chance to cross from the right wing, it's blocked and then Willian has the ball in midfield. It's moved left, Coutinho twists and turns until Neymar passes into the six yard box.... and Paulinho shoots! The goalkeeper gets a decent save on it... but the referee thinks it's a goal kick. That's a great save. 7:09PM 10 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Neymar looks for a one-two to get in behind the last man but it's well read and defended. Pretty open so far. 7:08PM 8 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Paulinho runs from deep and takes the ball off Jesus but can't keep control while running at full pace and puts it out for a goal kick. Willian does so well to shield the ball at right-back and flick a pass inside to kick-start a counter-attack, Brazil in the Swiss half now. 7:06PM 6 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Neymar has come in fancy dress as a flamboyant disco scarecrow and gets annoyed by Behrami's attention while trying to dribble. Credit: REUTERS Brazil work the ball forward and Willian fizzes a cross into the area but hits it too hard for anyone to attack. Xhaka is lucky not to be booked for a clear shirt pull on Neymar. 7:03PM 4 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Switzerland have started well here! And there's an early chance for Dzemaili as passing down the right results in a cross hit into the area. He swings at the volley but launches it over the bar. Brazil give the ball away from the goal kick. 7:02PM 2 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Sure enough, Switzerland immediately focus their passing down the right after winning the ball from kick-off. Brazil chase the ball to try and win it back, Switzerland look comfortable on the ball but can't keep it in play and Brazil get a goal kick. 7:00PM KICK OFF Here we go! Brazil get us started. 6:57PM The teams again Right then. Marcelo's advanced positions and Neymar's non-defending on the left will mean Switzerland focus attacks down the left, Paulinho will attack from deep and try to get in the box and Casemiro is absolutely key to keeping things held together. Switzerland have a decent team here and Xhaka needs to stay disciplined. His range of passing could be how Switzerland get in behind the Brazil defence. 6:53PM National anthems Here come the players! "It's not a World Cup until we've seen Brazil," says Clive Tyldesley, and here they are. 6:51PM Gary Neville on Shaqiri "I'm not a fan to be honest." Short, sharp... fair? He's magic when he wants to be. Shaqiri I mean. Neville is always a solid base 8/10 no matter what he's doing. 6:51PM Gabriel Jesus How Gabriel Jesus rose from besotted teenager to part of Brazil's big World Cup picture 6:47PM What a sky in Rostov #beautiful Credit: GETTY IMAGES That's actually Gareth Southgate inside the mascot costume. He's scouting. True story. 6:44PM Neymar and Marcelo on the left wing I can see Switzerland targeting the Brazil left, especially if they put Xherdan Shaqiri on the right wing. Marcelo is one of the best left-backs in the world football but spends most of his time in an advanced role, taking on the responsibilities normally afforded to a left winger. He does actually defend from time to time and is an important part of build-up play too, seen below in Brazil's friendly with England, flicking the ball onto Fernandinho before sprinting up to the half way line. Advanced left wing positions are where he he is most dangerous and exactly where he assisted Gareth Bale from in the Champions League final for that stunning bicycle kick, chipping the ball at perfect height to him with a supposedly weaker right foot. Marcelo's attacking nature is worth the risk for Brazil but, as has often been pointed out, he does leave his teammates exposed when caught out of position. Marcelo is as good a winger as any at the World Cup and getting him high up the pitch gets him involved with attacking play. It also allows Neymar to roam from that wide left starting position and look to do damage in areas he sees fit. The problem is that if Brazil lose the ball in attacking positions, Marcelo leaves the rest of the team exposed. Here's this exact scenario happening to Real Madrid against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final. The Allianz erupts! Joshua Kimmich hammers Bayern into the lead! �� What an assist from James Rodriguez �� pic.twitter.com/DyoD0oYl2U— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 25, 2018 6:41PM Roy Keane looks furious for absolutely no reason He's in a typically angered pose, and has already challenged Neymar to go and prove he's one of the best in the world if he thinks he's so damn good. 6:39PM Where do Switzerland and Brazil's kits rank? World Cup kits ranked 6:34PM Marcelo is the only survivor from the 7-1 Nobody else is in that starting XI. Thiago Silva didn't play, Neymar was injured. "I think they are missing Dani Alves," says Slaven Bilic. "They used to have two playmakers, Marcelo and Alves. Now Danilo is playing he's more physical. And that's why Coutinho is there" 6:32PM Jesus is young 21 - Gabriel Jesus (21 years, 75 days) is set to become the youngest Brazilian player in a #WorldCup game since Kaká in 2002. Prodigy. pic.twitter.com/kNTxCbTfrh— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) June 17, 2018 �� | Gabriel Jesus painting the streets for the 2014 #WorldCup in Brazil. The boy who dreamed... pic.twitter.com/adrBJeEe2W— City Watch (@City_Watch) June 17, 2018 6:28PM It's filling up inside Credit: GETTY IMAGES A heap of Swiss fans have been going on a march to the stadium too apparently. Brazil fans are in all the photos from outside the stadium though, and it looks really fun. Credit: FIFA This is the other thing that makes international tournaments so great to be at: Credit: FIFA The fans can sit together without causing tribe related trouble. As soon as you start fencing off supporters from each other all the idiots come out. Not here! Imagine being able to enjoy games like this normally? There is something kinda funny about the battle between home and away fans but when it isn't that - fun - it's a really horrible thing at times. This is a bit more like rugby which is a good thing. 6:23PM Inside the dressing room Credit: FIFA That's not a bad little trio there. Brazil also have Roberto Firmino sitting on the bench if Jesus doesn't quite work out. 6:14PM Starting lineups Brazil (4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1) Alisson; Danilo, Silva, Miranda, Marcelo; Casemiro, Coutinho, Paulinho; Willian, Jesus, Neymar Switzerland (4-2-3-1) Sommer; Rodriguez, Akanji, Schar, Lichsteiner; Xhaka, Behrami, Zuber, Dzemaili, Shaqiri; Seferovic Think Brazil ���� are a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 type thing today. Nothing too fancy expected from Switzerland ���� although underrate then at your (mild) PERIL pic.twitter.com/fj0liCHPOU— JJ Bull (@jj_bull) June 17, 2018 6:05PM Switzerland's starting lineup #HoppSchwiiz#HopSuisse#ForzaSvizzera#HopSvizra ����⚽️��#BRASUI#WM2018#CM2018pic.twitter.com/P0SwDzoBcZ— nationalteams_SFVASF (@SFV_ASF) June 17, 2018 6:03PM Our new columnist Look who writes for the Telegraph now? Read his thoughts on England vs Tunisia right here: Cesc Fabregas column: England's Raheem Sterling can deliver on the biggest stage 5:52PM Shocks everywhere Germany have lost! This World Cup just got even more interesting! You can find out what happened in our liveblog over here, but come back quickly. 5:45PM Where is today's game? Well that would be the Rostov Arena of course! World Cup 2018 stadium: Rostov Arena And it looks like this: Credit: REUTERS Like some sort of background building in a sci-fi video game. It looks better inside: Credit: FIFA Oooooh it's nice. I want to play on that pitch. 5:37PM How Brazil play World Cup tactics: How Brazil are playing to their strengths with attacking setup 5:31PM It's Brazil! And Switzerland! The world's favourite (or second favourite anyway) football team vs Switzerland, the perennially underrated darlings of... Switzerland. Will we see Neymar today? Even if we don't, there are a plethora of stars to choose from and this game could and should be an entertaining spectacle. We've had some brilliant games so far in the early stages of this World Cup but as clear favourites, Brazil can add to the lovely football levels by giving us all some samba skill. Meanwhile, Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and presumably many other players who have an X in their name will be pulling the strings for the Swiss. Russia World Cup in pictures: Best photos of teams, games and players I'm expecting a slightly deeper, more compact and direct Brazil performance than most might think they're about to see and Switzerland will certainly look to frustrate and avoid being dragged into any one on one situations. That said, I was completely wrong about how Portugal vs Spain went so perhaps this will turn into a free for all, end-to-end play and plenty of goals for both teams. That's what we all really want isn't it? As for Neymar, there's a chance he'll play but Brazil coach Tite is just calming things down. "Neymar is still not 100 per cent, but he is very privileged physically," he told Fifa.com. "The level he has displayed in his sprints in high velocity has been impressive. But still he has something to gain. "It should happen sooner rather than later, hopefully." We'll get team news shortly and can start to figure out how this game might actually go but rest assured you can follow all the action, build-up and analysis with us right here.
If Russia is to prove the scene of an exorcism for Brazil they will have to be better than this. A draw against Switzerland was no great calamity but this was an uneasy first examination for the Seleçao on the road to what they will hope will be redemption for the 7-1 humiliation by Germany on home soil in the World Cup semi-finals four years ago. Lionel Messi endured a misstep in his opening game with Argentina against Iceland and his former Barcelona team-mate, Neymar, experienced similar frustration on a night when Brazil had cause to bemoan a couple of costly decisions that went against them. The highlight of the game was an arresting 25 yard strike from Philippe Coutinho but the main talking points centred around a push on Miranda by Steven Zuber before he equalised for Switzerland early in the second half and the denial of a Brazil penalty late on. In truth, Brazil should probably not protest too loudly. On the balance of play, a draw was probably just about a fair result and Tite may be more concerned about a patchy performance when Brazil struggled with Swiss physicality and lost their way after an encouraging start. Coutinho’s goal was a moment of pure theatre but Brazil’s measure of control evaporated once Switzerland scored and the tide began to turn. Brazil finished the game looking the more likely winners, with substitute Roberto Firmino having a header pushed away, Neymar directing another straight at Yann Sommer, Miranda firing wide and Renato Augusto snatching at a volley, but this was no hard luck story. Sure, there was a touch of good fortune to Switzerland’s goal. Some referees would have penalised Zuber for a push on Miranda but even then the Brazil centre-back’s starting position looked suspect and the Switzerland winger could probably not believe quite how much space he had when he headed home unmarked in the middle of the six-yard box. World Cup whatsapp promo Similarly, Gabriel Jesus was unimpressed he was denied a penalty when he was man-handled by Manuel Akanji in the 74th minute but the Manchester City striker probably did not help his case with his theatrical fall. There was a lot of huff and puff from Jesus but not much else and he was by no means the only Brazilian to have an off night. Neymar had a more threatening final 20 minutes and there were moments when it looked like he and Coutinho would combine to hurt Switzerland but he spent a lot of time on the ground struggling to escape the close attentions of his opponents. The pressure on the Paris Saint-Germain forward to deliver at this World Cup is unremitting but he is not afraid to draw attention to himself. After all, it takes a brave man to model his latest alternative haircut on Alannah Currie from the Thompson Twins, the 80s British pop band. Like Brazil in general, though, he will have to offer more than this. There was a fine pass to Coutinho in the 69th minute that the Barcelona player took beautifully on his chest, pushing the ball inside Stephan Lichtsteiner to create the space to shoot only to shank his volley wide. There had, of course, been no misjudgement for the goal. It was just the shot of Jogo Bonito that gets Brazilian juices flowing, the frustration being that it would prove an isolated moment of inspiration. Zuber would have been better directing his clearing header from Neymar’s corner almost anywhere but the feet of Coutinho, who offered a fine illustration of what £142 million buys you. The former Liverpool playmaker had only one thing in mind when the ball hurtled towards him, controlling it with effortless ease before bending home his shot off the inside of the far post. And that, basically, was as good as it got for Brazil. Paulinho missed a good chance from close range but Brazil did not ask enough questions. Lichtsteiner had been booked for grabbing Neymar round the neck and throwing him to the ground but the Brazil No10 was unable to isolate Arsenal’s new signing much after that when attempting to draw a second caution from the veteran right-back seemed a logical move. Coutinho flayed in Brazil's opener Credit: AP Photo/Andre Penner Tite must have held his breath when Neymar smacked the right foot he had fractured in February against Lichtsteiner’s boot in the second half as he followed through on a shot and appeared to be hobbling for a while afterwards but he did not look in too much discomfort by the end. Marcelo, captain here, was the only survivor from the team that had started against Germany in Belo Horizonte but, whether that game was playing on too many minds, there was a curious inhibition to much of Brazil’s football. Coutinho looked dangerous at times in a deeper midfield role but even he began to fade as the game went on and Switzerland grew in confidence. They are a decent side but they did not seem to believe they could hurt Brazil for those opening 45 minutes before the goal changed their mindset. Costa Rica in St-Petersburg on Friday is the next stop for Brazil and it will not be unreasonable to expect a lot more. Match details Brazil (4-3-3) Alisson (Roma) 6; Danilo (Manchester City) 6, Thiago Silva (Paris St-Germain) 6, Miranda (Inter Milan) 6, Marcelo (Real Madrid) 6; Paulinho (Barcelona) 5 (Augusto, 67, Beijing Guoan), Casemiro (Real Madrid) 5 (Fernandinho, 60, Manchester City), Coutinho (Barcelona) 7; Willian (Chelsea) 5, Jesus (Manchester City) 6 (Firmino, 79, Liverpool), Neymar (Paris St-Germain) 6. Booked Casemiro Switzerland (4-2-3-1) Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach) 7; Lichtsteiner (Arsenal, Lang 87 (Basel)) 7, Schaer (Deportivo La Coruna) 6, Akanji (Borussia Dortmund) 6, Rodriguez (AC Milan) 7; Behrami (Udinese) 6 (Zakaria, 70, Borussia Monchengladbach), Xhaka (Arsenal) 7; Shaqiri (Stoke City) 6, Dzemaili (Bologna) 6, Zuber (Hoffenheim) 6; Seferovic (Benfica) (Embolo, 80, Schalke) 5. Booked Lichtsteiner, Schaer, Behrami Referee Cesar Ramos (Mexico) 9:16PM Some photos to peruse while you let that result sink in Russia World Cup in pictures: Best photos of teams, games and players 9:10PM Some stats for you Brazil failed to win their opening match at the World Cup for the first time since 1978, when they drew 1-1 with Sweden; they had won nine in a row between 1982 and 2014. Switzerland have lost only one of their last 23 matches (W16 D6), a 2-0 defeat to Portugal in October 2017. Brazil have failed to win any of their last three World Cup matches (D1 L2), their worst winless run since June 1978, when they went four games without a win. Switzerland haven’t lost their opening World Cup match in any of their last five tournaments (W2 D3). Five of Philippe Coutinho’s 11 goals for Brazil has been from outside the box. Brazil have conceded 10 goals from the last 13 shots on target they have faced at the World Cup. 9:09PM Profligate Brazil Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:08PM Tomorrow's the big one... A certain country called England play tomorrow. You may have heard about this. Here's some reading for you ahead of that game! World Cup 2018 tactics: England's experimental phase and how Gareth Southgate can bring football home 9:03PM Mark Clattenburg on the incident Credit: TASS "You can see the defender's got hold of his arm and hands on his back which stops his ability to defend the ball. "He's deemed that not a foul. OK but I'd rather go to the side of the pitch and have a look." 9:02PM VAR controversy Ian Wright and Gary Neville are convinced Switzerland's goal shouldn't have counted. "It's one of them..." says Slaven Bilic. Hmmm. The referees didn't think it was a foul. "To be fair, I don't care," says Bilic. 8:55PM FULL TIME - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Great result for Switzerland, a disappointing one for Brazil. That was a hard fought point and probably deserved too. 8:55PM 90 mins +7 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Neither! It's a cunning ruse and Neymar chips into the area, Miranda heads on... and Switzerland scramble it behind. There's a corner... and a foul in the box. That's a free-kick to the Swiss who have surely got their point now. 8:53PM 90 mins +5 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Another foul on Neymar. Neymar kisses the ball and lines up his free-kick 25 yards out. Will this be a Ronaldo top corner special? Or a Messi into the wall type effort? Now's your time, pal. Let's see what you've got. 8:52PM 90 mins +4 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 The state of this: Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal Switzerland deserve a point here if they can get it. Neymar's getting really wound up about being kicked off the park and you can sympathise really. 8:50PM 90 mins +2 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Neymar stands over a free-kick on the left and will cross into the box, if he manages to figure out a way to beat the first man. He does... and Firmino is there unmarked! WHAT A SAVE! Shocking defending gives Firmino a free header but he shoots straight at the goalkeeper. If that had been either side of him it was a goal! Attempt Saved: Brazil 1 - 1 Switzerland (Roberto Firmino, 90 min) It's a corner anyway. Crossed in, headed back and MIRANDA IS THERE! He smashes the shot at goal but hooks it left of the goal. That's really close and could have been the winner. Miss: Brazil 1 - 1 Switzerland (Miranda, 90 + 1 min) 8:47PM 90 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Shaqiri has space on the counter-attack! His first pass is awful... but it bounces and lands back at his feet. So then he goes for a volley from 30 yards and fires it - guess where? CAN YOU GUESS WHERE THE BALL GOES? MILES WIDE AND HIGH ARHGRHGRHGRHGHGRHG why can't they shoot on target? :-( 8:46PM 88 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Xhaka knocks Neymar over, it's a free-kick. Lichsteiner is sitting down waiting for treatment. Is that time wasting? Or is he very injured? Soon we will discover! Lang comes on as a substitute to replace him. Call me a sceptic but I suspect that may well have been choreographed. Look how many shots Brazil have had off target: Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal But wait - here's Neymar with a header from the penalty spot! Straight at the goalkeeper. It's either over the bar or straight at the goalie every time. 8:43PM 86 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 This is scrappy. Brazil's passing has not been good in this half and Switzerland are also determined to stop them getting forward. Neymar gets on it in the final third now though and is running at the box! He flicks it inside... and Firmino can't control. Grooooooan. 8:42PM 84 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Switzerland try to run through the middle of Brazil, Shaqiri then attempts a flip flap to go past Miranda... and Brazil survive. Switzerland work incredibly hard to win the ball back except for Shaqiri, who just wanders backwards. Alisson comes off his line to burst an inflatable ball which has landed on the pitch. 8:40PM 82 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Seferovic off, Embolo on. Brazil have a free-kick 35 yards from goal... and Switzerland defend it well. Off the ball, Lichsteiner is holding his face rolling around the floor. I wonder if he will survive the cruel injury he has sustained during that passage of play. Huzzah! He gets off the turf and is ready to play again. "They do hurt, those ones," says Dixon. And suddenly Firmino's in! A pass in behind the defence puts him wide of goal and he lines up the shot but blooters it - guess where? That's right! - miles over the bar. 8:37PM 80 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Jesus off, Firmino on. And he's involved immediately, dribbling around the right-back but losing the ball in the box. 8:36PM 78 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Fernandinho sets himself up for a 30 yard smash. And it's about a mile over. Miss: Brazil 1 - 1 Switzerland (Fernandinho, 77 min) Marcelo has taken it upon himself to get further up the pitch now and it;s really working. They're overloading that side of the pitch and Neymar is able to get a shot away... which the keeper saves easily. 8:34PM 76 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Switzerland are determined that even if nothing else goes their way, there's just no way Neymar is allowed to do any of his show pony tricks or even look like he might be Neymar. Every time he goes on a run he gets cut out, a slide tackle takes him down, a defender stands in his way. He can't get in the match at all. 8:32PM 74 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 PENALTY! Or is it? No! Augusto plays a reverse pass inside the box and Jesus goes down! The defender has his arms all over him, Akani is the culprit and stops him turning, then Jesus tumbles to the floor. It's a strange fall and the referee says play on. Will VAR review it? 8:31PM 73 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Marcelo moves inside the pitch and ghosts past Shaqiri... but Willian handballs the pass towards him. It's back with Shaqiri now on the right, he moves inside this time... and Dzemaili hits the most average shot of his life straight at the goalkeeper. These teams are really well matched. 8:29PM 71 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Credit: GETTY IMAGES Brazil attack down the right, it's switched to Coutinho who chests down inside the box and sits up perfectly to volley at goal. He gets it all wrong and shoots well wide. Switzerland take Behrami - now on a yellow card - for Zakaria. That's probably smart. They're similar players and Neymar is going to get him sent off. He's also been holding his hamstring. 8:27PM 69 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Behrami smiles and laughs as he is booked for cynically chopping him down, dragging studs on ankles. Neymar howls as he rolls along the floor. Fernandinho has a word with Behrami. 8:25PM 67 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Neymar hits the free-kick low into the area without power. It's pretty dreadful to be honest but Fernandinho has a hit at the ball and wins a corner. Willian follows up the move from the second ball of that and has a shot blocked... then Willian skies a shot somewhere in the upper stand of the stadium. Brazil sub: Paulinho off, Augusto on. 8:23PM 65 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Both teams are losing the ball in the opposition half with sloppy play, Switzerland perhaps the more comfortable in possession. Neymar is held back by Schar who is booked. That's about as clear a foul as you'll ever see and Neymar tries to get in on goal. The ref should allow play to continue... but blows for the free-kick. 8:21PM 63 mins -Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal Neymar tries to dribble between two players, which becomes three... and Switzerland win the ball. I think Neymar's trying a little too hard. It's gone a little quiet again in this game. Credit: REUTERS 8:18PM 61 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 The corner is well dealt with, Marcelo carries the ball forward and is fouled/ Brazil take it short... and Casemiro punts an effort wildly over the bar from about 30 yards. And that's his final involvement. Fernandinho replaces him. Brazil try to play their way out danger but the Switzerland press is causing them problems. 8:16PM 59 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Brazil move forward, the ball drops for Coutinho to smash from distance and he launches it at goal! Blocked. He gets a second chance... blocked! Neymar has kicked someone's foot while shooting inside the box and is wincing as he hobbles around now. He's only just recovered from a foot injury... but seems to be OK. Brazil corner. 8:15PM 57 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Behrami is back on though... and he's just easily won the ball from Neymar. There is no way past him today! Not even with an injury (if he has one). Coutinho passes into Shaqiri by accident and Switzerland move up the pitch. 8:13PM 55 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Behrami has just pulled up with an injury and he looks close to tears. Let's hope that's nothing too serious but it's either a muscle injury or something in his knee and he's having treatment now after over stretching to try and stop Jesus getting the ball. He's really not happy with things - and when you consider he's had Neymar in his pocket all game long, this could be big. 8:11PM 53 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Switzerland have the wind in their sails now and have the ball in the attacking third again... or they did until Lichtsteiner miscontrols on the line. How will Brazil react to that setback? Shaqiri outwits the defence - and his own teammates - with a clever little pass towards the goal line but it goes behind. 8:08PM GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL! ZUBER HEADS IT IN! The scores are level! Brazil just switched off! Dreadful defending in the area for the corner. Miranda insists he's been pushed but the VAR don't think so! Brazil 1 - 1 Switzerland (Steven Zuber, 50 min) 8:08PM 50 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Switzerland attack down the left and Marcelo comes across to stop a dangerous looking pass into the box. Switzerland get a corner out of it. 8:06PM 49 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Neymar considers taking on his man on the left wing and decides against it. Casemiro chops down Dzemaili to stop a counter-attack and is booked but that's Willian's fault for a poor pass selling him short. 8:04PM 47 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Dzemaili tries an effort from long range. Why not? Have fun, enjoy yourselves. 8:03PM KICK-OFF 2 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 We're back! Switzerland start the second half. More goals please. 7:58PM Both teams on the left Actually, it turns out they're both at it. Brazil is right (light blue) and Switzerland left (dark blue) 7:56PM Brazil focusing down the left Credit: GETTY IMAGES "I feel bad for Lichsteiner," says Gary Neville. "I remember playing against Arsenal with Henry, Pires and Cole and it was wave after wave of wave of attack." Average touch positions (45 min) You can sort of see it above. 7:54PM Analysis That went from potential Empire Strikes Back to Phantom Menace pretty quickly. Simpsons seasons 2-9 to 10-present. Brazil don't really seem to be trying now they're a goal up - I'm not sure they really fear Switzerland. "I think both teams will be happy," says Roy Keane, and I agree. Slaven Bilic has pointed out that Brazil are in control. "They are very organised team. What are your best chances against Brazil? Counter-attacks. They didn't give Switzerland one single chance to counter-attack. If it doesn't work they all go behind the ball." 7:51PM Gary Lineker Twitter update Watching the Brazil game where Neymar had his hair cut. pic.twitter.com/qzUjmmRL2D— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 17, 2018 7:48PM HALF TIME And that's it! Brazil haven't really had to do an awful lot here, Switzerland have been good but Coutinho pulled a goal rabbit out of his magic football hat and Brazil have the lead. That's soccerball for you. 7:47PM 45 mins +2 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 So close for Silva! He attacks a corner at the near post but heads over. Decent effort but not close enough! 7:44PM 45 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Behrami has been an absolute machine here. "He's going to need two sugars in his tea and an oxygen tank," says Dixon, accidentally revealing the controversial half time fluid intake that Arsene Wenger used to give Arsenal players. 7:43PM 44 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 That's now the worst pass of the game. Akonji punts the ball out for a goal kick for no apparent reason. There's a guy in the crowd dressed as a Panini sticker and I'm trying to find a photo of it for you. Excellent effort. 7:42PM 42 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Neymar is being bullied by Behrami. He can't get past him, is being muscled off it every single time and is now moping around the centre-circle. This is nice from Brazil now though and Jesus might be in! Well defended by the centre-backs and the move is shut down. 7:40PM 40 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Switzerland get in behind Marcelo on the right! The attack is on but Dzemaili's final pass is poor. Alisson plays a tidy little pass to the defender while being closed down and Brazil try to counter... but Switzerland are in control of possession again. Switzerland have a chance to shoot! Zuber swings a foot at it and my god that is the worst shot... I don't want to say ever... but that I've seen in a while. He hooks his leg at the thing and whacks it full power into Silva's face. He goes down but is OK. I bet that hurt. 7:37PM 38 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Credit: REUTERS That photograph more or less sums up the half so far. Except for Coutinho's rocket strike, of course. 7:35PM 36 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Behrami does really well to win the ball from Neymar as Marcelo chips it ahead of him. He's actually done really well so far to keep Neymar quiet and keep passing play going for Switzerland and is their best player by far at the moment. 7:33PM 34 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Marcelo takes the free-kick from wide left and Seferovic heads away. Corner. It's hit in with power from Neymar to the back post, Jesus heads it back but nobody reads it. He should maybe have done better there. "Sommer was away with the fairies there," says Dixon. 7:31PM 32 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Behrami slips and fouls Casemiro. The possession has been mostly Switzerland's for a little while now - Brazil poised to counter. Possession: Brazil vs Switzerland And there's a first yellow card. Lichsteiner is booked for pulling down Neymar, catching him from behind while running back into position. 7:29PM 30 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Neymar tries to run past Behrami but puts the ball out for a throw. I think Behrami has the job of centre-back protector and Neymar man marker when higher up the pitch. 7:28PM 28 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Credit: GETTY IMAGES That's the pose for his statue worked out. 7:26PM 26 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Switzerland win a corner, Rodriguez takes it as an outswinger. Schar clashes heads as Casemiro gets the thing cleared miles away before accidentally heading Schar's skull. 7:24PM 24 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 Here's the Switzerland build-up. Rodriguez is playing wide left and Lichsteiner is more inside the pitch like an inverted wing-back while Shaqiri is wide right. Then when Switzerland get higher up the pitch they swap. None of it will matter if Brazil keep this up though. 7:22PM 23 mins - Brazil 1 Switzerland 0 It really feels like Brazil could blow Switzerland away here if they really turn it on. The boat is rocking and Switzerland need to ride out the wave! A Willian heel flick and pass outside nearly puts them in again straight away. 7:19PM GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL! Wow. Where did that come from? Coutinho has scored for Brazil! The goalkeeper looks stunned! Brazil 1 - 0 Switzerland (Coutinho, 20 min) What a hit. Coutinho picks up the ball 20 yards out, shifts it onto his right foot and bends the thing way outside the goal and it curls round into the top corner. Magic. Goal: Brazil ( 20 min ) 7:18PM 19 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Credit: AP Gabriel Jesus breaks down the left after another fantastic move through the lines but his cross is saved low by Sommer. Brazil are menacing in possession - it's so quick and clever. 7:16PM 17 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Neymar, Marcelo and Coutinho line up the kick but Neymar seems to have dibs. And he hits the wall. Possession: Brazil vs Switzerland 7:15PM 15 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Neymar loves keeping the ball and does so under close attentions of a couple of Swiss players. He faces up to Dzemaili and teases him a little. "I know what I would have done," says Lee Dixon. An advocate of violence! Controversial scenes. Maybe he meant he'd do a rainbow flick if in Neymar's shoes rather than go through him as a defender. We just can't ever know. Neymar is brought down 25 yards out by Behrami, having skinned him with a little flick. Behrami seems to be enjoying the game, laughing at being totally done there. 7:12PM 12 mins -Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 This is a nice move from Brazil. Willian gets a chance to cross from the right wing, it's blocked and then Willian has the ball in midfield. It's moved left, Coutinho twists and turns until Neymar passes into the six yard box.... and Paulinho shoots! The goalkeeper gets a decent save on it... but the referee thinks it's a goal kick. That's a great save. 7:09PM 10 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Neymar looks for a one-two to get in behind the last man but it's well read and defended. Pretty open so far. 7:08PM 8 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Paulinho runs from deep and takes the ball off Jesus but can't keep control while running at full pace and puts it out for a goal kick. Willian does so well to shield the ball at right-back and flick a pass inside to kick-start a counter-attack, Brazil in the Swiss half now. 7:06PM 6 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Neymar has come in fancy dress as a flamboyant disco scarecrow and gets annoyed by Behrami's attention while trying to dribble. Credit: REUTERS Brazil work the ball forward and Willian fizzes a cross into the area but hits it too hard for anyone to attack. Xhaka is lucky not to be booked for a clear shirt pull on Neymar. 7:03PM 4 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Switzerland have started well here! And there's an early chance for Dzemaili as passing down the right results in a cross hit into the area. He swings at the volley but launches it over the bar. Brazil give the ball away from the goal kick. 7:02PM 2 mins - Brazil 0 Switzerland 0 Sure enough, Switzerland immediately focus their passing down the right after winning the ball from kick-off. Brazil chase the ball to try and win it back, Switzerland look comfortable on the ball but can't keep it in play and Brazil get a goal kick. 7:00PM KICK OFF Here we go! Brazil get us started. 6:57PM The teams again Right then. Marcelo's advanced positions and Neymar's non-defending on the left will mean Switzerland focus attacks down the left, Paulinho will attack from deep and try to get in the box and Casemiro is absolutely key to keeping things held together. Switzerland have a decent team here and Xhaka needs to stay disciplined. His range of passing could be how Switzerland get in behind the Brazil defence. 6:53PM National anthems Here come the players! "It's not a World Cup until we've seen Brazil," says Clive Tyldesley, and here they are. 6:51PM Gary Neville on Shaqiri "I'm not a fan to be honest." Short, sharp... fair? He's magic when he wants to be. Shaqiri I mean. Neville is always a solid base 8/10 no matter what he's doing. 6:51PM Gabriel Jesus How Gabriel Jesus rose from besotted teenager to part of Brazil's big World Cup picture 6:47PM What a sky in Rostov #beautiful Credit: GETTY IMAGES That's actually Gareth Southgate inside the mascot costume. He's scouting. True story. 6:44PM Neymar and Marcelo on the left wing I can see Switzerland targeting the Brazil left, especially if they put Xherdan Shaqiri on the right wing. Marcelo is one of the best left-backs in the world football but spends most of his time in an advanced role, taking on the responsibilities normally afforded to a left winger. He does actually defend from time to time and is an important part of build-up play too, seen below in Brazil's friendly with England, flicking the ball onto Fernandinho before sprinting up to the half way line. Advanced left wing positions are where he he is most dangerous and exactly where he assisted Gareth Bale from in the Champions League final for that stunning bicycle kick, chipping the ball at perfect height to him with a supposedly weaker right foot. Marcelo's attacking nature is worth the risk for Brazil but, as has often been pointed out, he does leave his teammates exposed when caught out of position. Marcelo is as good a winger as any at the World Cup and getting him high up the pitch gets him involved with attacking play. It also allows Neymar to roam from that wide left starting position and look to do damage in areas he sees fit. The problem is that if Brazil lose the ball in attacking positions, Marcelo leaves the rest of the team exposed. Here's this exact scenario happening to Real Madrid against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final. The Allianz erupts! Joshua Kimmich hammers Bayern into the lead! �� What an assist from James Rodriguez �� pic.twitter.com/DyoD0oYl2U— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 25, 2018 6:41PM Roy Keane looks furious for absolutely no reason He's in a typically angered pose, and has already challenged Neymar to go and prove he's one of the best in the world if he thinks he's so damn good. 6:39PM Where do Switzerland and Brazil's kits rank? World Cup kits ranked 6:34PM Marcelo is the only survivor from the 7-1 Nobody else is in that starting XI. Thiago Silva didn't play, Neymar was injured. "I think they are missing Dani Alves," says Slaven Bilic. "They used to have two playmakers, Marcelo and Alves. Now Danilo is playing he's more physical. And that's why Coutinho is there" 6:32PM Jesus is young 21 - Gabriel Jesus (21 years, 75 days) is set to become the youngest Brazilian player in a #WorldCup game since Kaká in 2002. Prodigy. pic.twitter.com/kNTxCbTfrh— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) June 17, 2018 �� | Gabriel Jesus painting the streets for the 2014 #WorldCup in Brazil. The boy who dreamed... pic.twitter.com/adrBJeEe2W— City Watch (@City_Watch) June 17, 2018 6:28PM It's filling up inside Credit: GETTY IMAGES A heap of Swiss fans have been going on a march to the stadium too apparently. Brazil fans are in all the photos from outside the stadium though, and it looks really fun. Credit: FIFA This is the other thing that makes international tournaments so great to be at: Credit: FIFA The fans can sit together without causing tribe related trouble. As soon as you start fencing off supporters from each other all the idiots come out. Not here! Imagine being able to enjoy games like this normally? There is something kinda funny about the battle between home and away fans but when it isn't that - fun - it's a really horrible thing at times. This is a bit more like rugby which is a good thing. 6:23PM Inside the dressing room Credit: FIFA That's not a bad little trio there. Brazil also have Roberto Firmino sitting on the bench if Jesus doesn't quite work out. 6:14PM Starting lineups Brazil (4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1) Alisson; Danilo, Silva, Miranda, Marcelo; Casemiro, Coutinho, Paulinho; Willian, Jesus, Neymar Switzerland (4-2-3-1) Sommer; Rodriguez, Akanji, Schar, Lichsteiner; Xhaka, Behrami, Zuber, Dzemaili, Shaqiri; Seferovic Think Brazil ���� are a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 type thing today. Nothing too fancy expected from Switzerland ���� although underrate then at your (mild) PERIL pic.twitter.com/fj0liCHPOU— JJ Bull (@jj_bull) June 17, 2018 6:05PM Switzerland's starting lineup #HoppSchwiiz#HopSuisse#ForzaSvizzera#HopSvizra ����⚽️��#BRASUI#WM2018#CM2018pic.twitter.com/P0SwDzoBcZ— nationalteams_SFVASF (@SFV_ASF) June 17, 2018 6:03PM Our new columnist Look who writes for the Telegraph now? Read his thoughts on England vs Tunisia right here: Cesc Fabregas column: England's Raheem Sterling can deliver on the biggest stage 5:52PM Shocks everywhere Germany have lost! This World Cup just got even more interesting! You can find out what happened in our liveblog over here, but come back quickly. 5:45PM Where is today's game? Well that would be the Rostov Arena of course! World Cup 2018 stadium: Rostov Arena And it looks like this: Credit: REUTERS Like some sort of background building in a sci-fi video game. It looks better inside: Credit: FIFA Oooooh it's nice. I want to play on that pitch. 5:37PM How Brazil play World Cup tactics: How Brazil are playing to their strengths with attacking setup 5:31PM It's Brazil! And Switzerland! The world's favourite (or second favourite anyway) football team vs Switzerland, the perennially underrated darlings of... Switzerland. Will we see Neymar today? Even if we don't, there are a plethora of stars to choose from and this game could and should be an entertaining spectacle. We've had some brilliant games so far in the early stages of this World Cup but as clear favourites, Brazil can add to the lovely football levels by giving us all some samba skill. Meanwhile, Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and presumably many other players who have an X in their name will be pulling the strings for the Swiss. Russia World Cup in pictures: Best photos of teams, games and players I'm expecting a slightly deeper, more compact and direct Brazil performance than most might think they're about to see and Switzerland will certainly look to frustrate and avoid being dragged into any one on one situations. That said, I was completely wrong about how Portugal vs Spain went so perhaps this will turn into a free for all, end-to-end play and plenty of goals for both teams. That's what we all really want isn't it? As for Neymar, there's a chance he'll play but Brazil coach Tite is just calming things down. "Neymar is still not 100 per cent, but he is very privileged physically," he told Fifa.com. "The level he has displayed in his sprints in high velocity has been impressive. But still he has something to gain. "It should happen sooner rather than later, hopefully." We'll get team news shortly and can start to figure out how this game might actually go but rest assured you can follow all the action, build-up and analysis with us right here.
Swiss hold out to neutralise Brazilian firepower and earn share of points
If Russia is to prove the scene of an exorcism for Brazil they will have to be better than this. A draw against Switzerland was no great calamity but this was an uneasy first examination for the Seleçao on the road to what they will hope will be redemption for the 7-1 humiliation by Germany on home soil in the World Cup semi-finals four years ago. Lionel Messi endured a misstep in his opening game with Argentina against Iceland and his former Barcelona team-mate, Neymar, experienced similar frustration on a night when Brazil had cause to bemoan a couple of costly decisions that went against them. The highlight of the game was an arresting 25 yard strike from Philippe Coutinho but the main talking points centred around a push on Miranda by Steven Zuber before he equalised for Switzerland early in the second half and the denial of a Brazil penalty late on. In truth, Brazil should probably not protest too loudly. On the balance of play, a draw was probably just about a fair result and Tite may be more concerned about a patchy performance when Brazil struggled with Swiss physicality and lost their way after an encouraging start. Coutinho’s goal was a moment of pure theatre but Brazil’s measure of control evaporated once Switzerland scored and the tide began to turn. Brazil finished the game looking the more likely winners, with substitute Roberto Firmino having a header pushed away, Neymar directing another straight at Yann Sommer, Miranda firing wide and Renato Augusto snatching at a volley, but this was no hard luck story. Sure, there was a touch of good fortune to Switzerland’s goal. Some referees would have penalised Zuber for a push on Miranda but even then the Brazil centre-back’s starting position looked suspect and the Switzerland winger could probably not believe quite how much space he had when he headed home unmarked in the middle of the six-yard box. World Cup whatsapp promo Similarly, Gabriel Jesus was unimpressed he was denied a penalty when he was man-handled by Manuel Akanji in the 74th minute but the Manchester City striker probably did not help his case with his theatrical fall. There was a lot of huff and puff from Jesus but not much else and he was by no means the only Brazilian to have an off night. Neymar had a more threatening final 20 minutes and there were moments when it looked like he and Coutinho would combine to hurt Switzerland but he spent a lot of time on the ground struggling to escape the close attentions of his opponents. The pressure on the Paris Saint-Germain forward to deliver at this World Cup is unremitting but he is not afraid to draw attention to himself. After all, it takes a brave man to model his latest alternative haircut on Alannah Currie from the Thompson Twins, the 80s British pop band. Like Brazil in general, though, he will have to offer more than this. There was a fine pass to Coutinho in the 69th minute that the Barcelona player took beautifully on his chest, pushing the ball inside Stephan Lichtsteiner to create the space to shoot only to shank his volley wide. There had, of course, been no misjudgement for the goal. It was just the shot of Jogo Bonito that gets Brazilian juices flowing, the frustration being that it would prove an isolated moment of inspiration. Zuber would have been better directing his clearing header from Neymar’s corner almost anywhere but the feet of Coutinho, who offered a fine illustration of what £142 million buys you. The former Liverpool playmaker had only one thing in mind when the ball hurtled towards him, controlling it with effortless ease before bending home his shot off the inside of the far post. And that, basically, was as good as it got for Brazil. Paulinho missed a good chance from close range but Brazil did not ask enough questions. Lichtsteiner had been booked for grabbing Neymar round the neck and throwing him to the ground but the Brazil No10 was unable to isolate Arsenal’s new signing much after that when attempting to draw a second caution from the veteran right-back seemed a logical move. Coutinho flayed in Brazil's opener Credit: AP Photo/Andre Penner Tite must have held his breath when Neymar smacked the right foot he had fractured in February against Lichtsteiner’s boot in the second half as he followed through on a shot and appeared to be hobbling for a while afterwards but he did not look in too much discomfort by the end. Marcelo, captain here, was the only survivor from the team that had started against Germany in Belo Horizonte but, whether that game was playing on too many minds, there was a curious inhibition to much of Brazil’s football. Coutinho looked dangerous at times in a deeper midfield role but even he began to fade as the game went on and Switzerland grew in confidence. They are a decent side but they did not seem to believe they could hurt Brazil for those opening 45 minutes before the goal changed their mindset. Costa Rica in St-Petersburg on Friday is the next stop for Brazil and it will not be unreasonable to expect a lot more. Match details Brazil (4-3-3) Alisson (Roma) 6; Danilo (Manchester City) 6, Thiago Silva (Paris St-Germain) 6, Miranda (Inter Milan) 6, Marcelo (Real Madrid) 6; Paulinho (Barcelona) 5 (Augusto, 67, Beijing Guoan), Casemiro (Real Madrid) 5 (Fernandinho, 60, Manchester City), Coutinho (Barcelona) 7; Willian (Chelsea) 5, Jesus (Manchester City) 6 (Firmino, 79, Liverpool), Neymar (Paris St-Germain) 6. Booked Casemiro Switzerland (4-2-3-1) Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach) 7; Lichtsteiner (Arsenal, Lang 87 (Basel)) 7, Schaer (Deportivo La Coruna) 6, Akanji (Borussia Dortmund) 6, Rodriguez (AC Milan) 7; Behrami (Udinese) 6 (Zakaria, 70, Borussia Monchengladbach), Xhaka (Arsenal) 7; Shaqiri (Stoke City) 6, Dzemaili (Bologna) 6, Zuber (Hoffenheim) 6; Seferovic (Benfica) (Embolo, 80, Schalke) 5. Booked Lichtsteiner, Schaer, Behrami Referee Cesar Ramos (Mexico) 9:16PM Some photos to peruse while you let that result sink in Russia World Cup in pictures: Best photos of teams, games and players 9:10PM Some stats for you Brazil failed to win their opening match at the World Cup for the first time since 1978, when they drew 1-1 with Sweden; they had won nine in a row between 1982 and 2014. Switzerland have lost only one of their last 23 matches (W16 D6), a 2-0 defeat to Portugal in October 2017. Brazil have failed to win any of their last three World Cup matches (D1 L2), their worst winless run since June 1978, when they went four games without a win. Switzerland haven’t lost their opening World Cup match in any of their last five tournaments (W2 D3). Five of Philippe Coutinho’s 11 goals for Brazil has been from outside the box. Brazil have conceded 10 goals from the last 13 shots on target they have faced at the World Cup. 9:09PM Profligate Brazil Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal Brazil vs Switzerland shots on goal 9:08PM Tomorrow's the big one... A certain country called England play tomorrow. You may have heard about this. Here's some reading for you ahead of that game! World Cup 2018 tactics: England's experimental phase and how Gareth Southgate can bring football home 9:03PM Mark Clattenburg on the incident Credit: TASS "You can see the defender's got hold of his arm and hands on his back which stops his ability to defend the ball. "He's deemed that not a foul. OK but I'd rather go to the side of the pitch and have a look." 9:02PM VAR controversy Ian Wright and Gary Neville are convinced Switzerland's goal shouldn't have counted. "It's one of them..." says Slaven Bilic. Hmmm. The referees didn't think it was a foul. "To be fair, I don't care," says Bilic. 8:55PM FULL TIME - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Great result for Switzerland, a disappointing one for Brazil. That was a hard fought point and probably deserved too. 8:55PM 90 mins +7 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Neither! It's a cunning ruse and Neymar chips into the area, Miranda heads on... and Switzerland scramble it behind. There's a corner... and a foul in the box. That's a free-kick to the Swiss who have surely got their point now. 8:53PM 90 mins +5 - Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Another foul on Neymar. Neymar kisses the ball and lines up his free-kick 25 yards out. Will this be a Ronaldo top corner special? Or a Messi into the wall type effort? Now's your time, pal. Let's see what you've got. 8:5