The 2018 World Cup finals are approaching and the teams are finalising their squads. Who are the main contenders for World Cup glory? Which World Cup underdogs could cause a surprise? Pinnacle's World Cup 2018 Power rankings provide an overview of all 32 teams heading to Russia.
Can group form be used to make World Cup knockout stage predictions?
Outright odds: 3.000*
One to watch: Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona)
The French have one of the strongest squads in the tournament on paper. The likes of Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba certainly offer
A defence featuring Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti and Real Madrid’s Raphaël Varane is one of the most dynamic in the tournament and they can select from an embarrassment of riches in midfield.
There are question marks over France’s first choice left-back after Benjamin Mendy’s long injury lay off. Atletico Madrid’s uncapped Lucas Hernandez could provide an interesting option should Mendy fail to prove his fitness in the pre-tournament friendlies.
Didier Deschamps has so far failed to consistently select a settled team. The French have the talent to win the tournament but lack of a clear game plan may be detrimental to their World Cup chances. They will need to find a system that gets the most from their outstanding talents by the time they face more organised teams that can match their quality.
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Outright odds: 3.700*
One to watch: Thomas Meunier (PSG)
Belgium’s golden generation gets another crack at a major tournament in Russia. For the likes of Vincent Kompany and Thomas
The Belgian squad has a lot of individual quality with some of the best players from Europe’s major leagues. Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne provide creativity whilst Dries Mertens, Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi are golden boot candidates.
Manager Roberto Martinez has struggled to convince that he has the coaching skills to match the talent at his disposal. Belgium’s hopes will rest on him providing the right foundation for their stars to shine.
Outright odds: 3.700*
One to watch: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Despite possessing talented players England
Young talent is available to the English team in abundance but they do not possess experienced winners at this level, nor can they select from players used to
Outright odds: 5.500*
One to watch: Marco Pjaca (Schalke 04/Juventus)
The Croatians lack the defensive talent of the lead contenders and do not possess particularly exciting options from the bench. Marko Pjaca’s return to fitness on loan at Schalke could add much needed attacking threat as a substitute but most of the demands will fall upon Croatia’s first choice eleven which could lead to fatigue.
The Croatians were defeated by Portugal in extra time at Euro 2016 and will need to avoid overworking their star players.
One to watch: Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke)
Solid in defence and with the pace and menace of Mo Salah up front, the Egyptians could threaten Russia’s place in the round of 16. Salah's injury is a major cause for concern but they could be a surprise package if their talisman is fit enough to take part in the tournament.
One to watch: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al Nassr)
Saudi Arabia finished ahead of Australia on goal difference to qualify for the tournament automatically. Like the
One to watch: Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid)
One to watch: Renato Tapia (Feyenoord)
One to watch: Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United)
One to watch: Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier)
A tough group draw has made Tunisia big outsiders for the tournament despite possessing a squad with
One to watch: Ismael Díaz (Deportivo)
One to watch: Piotr Zieliński (Napoli)
Robert Lewandowski is the star name in the Polish squad but with Kamil Glik and Wojciech Szczesny also in the
One to watch: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar)
Potentially Asia’s best team, Carlos Queiroz’s side are always well organised. They have also added some extra quality to the side in the form of Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh so expect them to offer more threat on the counter-attack than they managed in 2014.
One to watch: Aziz Behich (Bursaspor)
It will be a surprise if Australia
One to watch: Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City)
One to watch: Timo Werner (RB Leipzig)
Reigning champions Germany are one of the leading contenders to win the World Cup and it’s easy to see why.
They have added some exciting young talent to their already impressive squad. RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner is likely to occupy a starting position whilst Julian Brandt and Leon Goretzka provide youthful midfield options. The best of the 2014 squad also remains with Manuel Neuer, Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller capable of dominating another World Cup.
If recent German sides have had a weakness it is that their full-backs can be a little uninspiring. The emergence of the dynamic Bayern Munich youngster Joshua Kimmich will strengthen them in this area and add extra attacking threat from wide positions.
The Germans will be formidable opponents and their previous tournament record speaks for itself. Germany
One to watch: Hee-Chan Hwang (Red Bull Salzburg)
South Korea struggled in Asian qualifying and have been handed a tough draw in Russia. Heung Min Son will need to be at his best if they are to progress from the group, especially with exciting attacker Kwan Chan-Hoon absent through injury.
One to watch: Albert Guðmundsson (PSV)
After being the surprise package of Euro 2016, Iceland
One to watch: Sergej Milinković-Savić (Lazio)
One to watch: Ismaïla Sarr (Rennes)
On paper Africa’s strongest side, Senegal can call upon the talent of Sadio Mané in attack and Kalidou Koulibaly in defence. The supporting cast is also strong with seasoned Premier League, Serie A and Ligue 1 regulars to select from in most positions. The Senegalese will cause problems for any side but will need to be at their very best to beat the strongest teams in the competition.
One to watch: Marco Asensio (Real Madrid)
2010 champions Spain
The Spanish are also strong in defence. Any side that gets beyond the dependable duo of Pique and Ramos will have to find a way past David De Gea in the Spain goal.
Centre forward has occasionally been a problem position for Spain. Álvaro Morata
Recently removed coach Julen Lopetegui added key players from his successful youth teams to the spine that won Euro 2012, adding a vital bit of extra
One to watch: Giovani Lo Celso (PSG)
Argentina struggled to qualify for the World Cup but you can never rule out a side containing Lionel Messi. With the talent of Messi, Agüero and Di Maria in
The Argentines struggle with team balance, however. Less than stellar options in goal
The emergence of Giovani Lo Celso at PSG offers Argentina the kind of ball playing midfielder they have lacked. The youngster has just two Argentina caps and struggled in the Parisians Champions League tie against Real Madrid but could make himself an integral part of the Argentine midfield by the time the World Cup begins. Playmaker Ever Banega's excellent season for Sevilla is also promising for Argentina's prospects in Russia.
If Messi performs as he can Argentina have a chance but an unbalanced attack supported by a relatively weak defence will be the Argentines undoing if their talisman is not able to dominate matches. A Messi-less Argentina fell to a 6-1 defeat to Spain in the March friendlies, demonstrating his importance to the team.
One to watch: Gonçalo Guedes (Valencia/PSG)
European champions Portugal can count on a talented and experienced team featuring superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo has had a difficult season by his high standards but still won the Champions League, however other key players from their Euro 2016 run such as Pepe and José Fonte have declined due to age. The rising star from that campaign, Renato Sanches, found himself occupying the bench at relegated Swansea City.
It is also worth remembering that Portugal actually finished third in their Euro 2016 group, a position that would see them eliminated from the World Cup at the group stage.
The Portuguese do have other talented young attacking players coming through. Gonçalo Guedes is enjoying a strong season on loan at Valencia whilst Cristiano Ronaldo has a good supporting cast in attack with Guedes added to Andre Silva, Gelson Martins and Bernardo Silva.
One to watch:
The Danes are dependable but can be too dependent on the quality of Cristian Eriksen to dictate their attacking play. Other teams will be aware of this so the likes of
One to watch: Takashi Inui (SD Eibar)
This Japanese side is caught in between two styles of play. Former coach Vahid Halilhodžić had attempted to transition them from an energetic possession based side to a more pragmatic defensive one, better suited for tournament football. This change led to the exclusion of stars like Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki in favour of less well-known players. Results were positive but at the cost of losing players who can threaten the best teams.
Halilhodžić has since been replaced by Akira Nishino who will likely set the team up in a way more similar to previous Japan incarnations. His first competitive game was the win against Colombia and the Japanese will need to continue to defy the odds to progress further into the competition.
One to watch: Hirving Lozano (PSV)
One to watch: Breel Embolo (Schalke 04)
One to watch: Yerry Mina (Barcelona)
Colombia performed well at the 2014 World Cup and can add Radamel Falcao to the threat of 2014’s Golden Boot winner, James Rodríguez, in
The Colombian midfield is solid but unspectacular whilst the defence will rely upon the youthful pairing of
One to watch: Victor Lindelöf (Manchester United)
Sweden overcame Italy to qualify for this tournament but that may be the high point of their campaign. Emil Forsberg is the one player of real quality for the Swedes in attack but they can count upon a solid defence with the ability to keep games tight and frustrate superior opponents.
One to watch: Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moscow)
The Russians will need to make the most of their home advantage to progress far in the World Cup. The home team is full of solid professionals from their home league and the addition of naturalised Brazilian Mario Fernandes adds an attacking threat from right-back. Expect solid but uninspiring performances from the Russians who need to make the best use of home field advantage.
One to watch: Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus)
That could be different at this World Cup. Uruguay
One to watch: Fred (Shakhtar
He has selected a frontline that contains the two most expensive players of all time, Neymar and Philippe Coutinho. This is complemented by one of the tournaments strongest defences backed up by the exceptional Alisson in goal.
Where the Brazilians may struggle is in midfield where Casemiro and Paulinho provide plenty of energy but may lack the quality to control matches against the best teams in the competition.
One player who could make the difference in this area is Shakhtar midfield player Fred. The Manchester City target played more forward passes and created more chances per 90 minutes in the Champions League this season than both Casemiro and Paulinho despite playing for an inferior team. He may provide a little extra quality on the ball in deeper areas for the Seleção if their midfield lacks inspiration.
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