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.
Outright odds 5.570*
Star man: Neymar (PSG)
One to watch: Arthur (Gremio)
Brazil are always a contender and finished the unforgiving South American qualification group with an exceptional record. Coach Tite has boldly named his starting team for the first game months in advance of the tournament so we know how they will lineup in Russia.
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, Renato Augusto 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 young playmaker Arthur. The Gremio starlet’s ability on the ball has seen him linked with Barcelona as Andres Iniesta’s long-term replacement. He may provide a little extra quality on the ball for the Seleção if their midfield lacks inspiration.
Outright odds: 5.770*
Star man: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)
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 and Man City winger Leroy Sane are both pushing for starting positions. 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 oponents and their previous tournament record speaks for itself. Germany have reached at least the quarterfinal stage in every one of the last nine tournaments. Expect them to challenge again in Russia.
Outright odds: 6.530*
Star man: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
One to watch: Marco Asensio (Real Madrid)
2010 champions Spain have perhaps the best strength in depth of any squad in the competition. In midfield they can call upon Busquets, Isco, David Silva, Koke, Saúl, Thiago and Andrés Iniesta. Not to mention the likes of Dani Parejo and Asier Illaramendi who could make late pushes for the squad.
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. There are fitness doubts over Álvaro Morata whilst Diego Costa has yet to perform at his best for the national side in a major tournament. Iago Aspas and Rodrigo provide other options in attack for La Roja, whilst Isco performed well in the false nine role during qualifying.
Promoted U21 coach Julen Lopetegui has added key players from his successful youth teams to the spine that won Euro 2012, adding a vital bit of extra pace to the side that disappointed in 2014. The Spanish are primed to make a deep run into the competition.
A 6-1 win over Argentina in the March round of friendlies has seen Spain's odds of winning the World Cup shorten significantly.
Outright odds: 7.780*
Star man: Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
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 attacking threat and are supported by the pace of Anthony Martial, Kingsley Coman and Ousmane Dembélé.
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.
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.
Outright odds: 9.540*
Star man: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
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 attack, Argentina can score at will on their day.
The Argentines struggle with team balance, however. Less than stellar options in goal are protected by a defence that can look shaky at times. Moving the ball forward to their talented attack can also be an issue with a frustrated Messi often coming deep to receive the ball.
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.
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.
Outright odds: 13.000*
Star man: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
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 Vermaelen this may be their last opportunity to win something with their country.
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.
Belgium have lacked dependable full backs which has caused them to play central defenders out of position in big games. To cover for this deficiency they typically set up in a 3-5-2 formation with Thomas Meunier taking up a right wing-back position with one of Jordan Lukaku or Yannick Carrasco on the other side. Meunier is an excellent player in both attack and defence but whoever plays on the left is likely to be a defensive weak link other teams will be eager to exploit.
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: 18.070*
Star man: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
One to watch: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
England have an exciting young side led by one of Europe’s most deadly strikers in Harry Kane. The Three Lions are strong going forward with the pace and skill of Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling complementing Kane’s eye for goal.
Despite possessing talented players England have goalkeeping issues and lack a set style of play. Manager Gareth Southgate experimented with 3-5-2 in the November round of friendlies but whether this is a formation he will persist with at the World Cup remains to be seen. The central midfield positions are also causing issues for Southgate with England’s engine room often criticised for being too pedestrian.
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 progressing to the later stages of the Champions League. This could be a significant weakness should they progress to the business end of the tournament where small margins often make the difference.
Outright odds: 25.100*
Star man: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
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 and 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, has found himself occupying the bench at relegation threatened 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 Bruma, Gelson Martins and Bernardo Silva.
The Portuguese occupy the familiar position of tournament dark horses but will need some impressive performances from their veterans to progress beyond the early knockout rounds.
Outright odds: 41.160*
Star man: Luka Modrić (Real Madrid)
One to watch: Marco Pjaca (Shcalke 04/Juventus)
Croatia have a settled side with star quality from midfielders Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić as well as the threat of Mandzukić and Perišić going forward.
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.
Outright odds: 37.140*
Star man: Luis Suárez (Barcelona)
One to watch: Frederico Valverde (Deportivo/Real Madrid)
In recent tournaments Uruguay have been solid in defence with outstanding talent in attack. The midfield has been the weak point of the side, often lacking the creativity to make the most of Suárez and Cavani in front of goal.
That could be different at this World Cup. Uruguay have added young creative midfielders to their side in the form of under 20 world champions Rodrigo Bentacur and Federico Valverde. If the youngsters perform Uruguay could threaten the best sides, although this may be a tournament too early for their youthful midfield talents.
Outright odds: 43.170*
Star man: Mario Fernandes (CSKA Moscow)
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 on home turf.
Outright odds: 46.810*
Star man: James Rodríguez (Bayern Munich)
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 attack.
The Colombian midfield is solid but unspectacular whilst the defence will rely upon the youthful pairing of Davinson Sanchez and new Barcelona signing Yerry Mina. If the Colombians can get the most from their key men they have a high ceiling and could surprise a few of the favourites, but if they underperform they could be eliminated at the group stage.
Outright odds: 59.320*
Star man: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
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 squad the Poles will provide a test for every team they face. They perhaps lack the quality to go all the way in the tournament but, with the addition of Napoli’s energetic Zieliński, they will be a threat to any team in a one-off match.
Outright odds: 86.330*
Star man: Cristian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)
One to watch: Pione Sisto (Celta Vigo)
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 Pione Sisto, who has performed well for Celta Vigo in La Liga this season, and Yussuf Poulson will need to share the attacking burden if Denmark are to progress.
Outright odds: 89.340*
Star man: Ricardo Rodríguez (AC Milan)
One to watch: Breel Embolo (Schalke 04)
Switzerland possess both match winners and defensive solidity but lack the overall quality to threaten for the title. The Swiss will be encouraged by the form of Xherdan Shaqiri and Schalke youngster Breel Embolo’s return to fitness, but they will be overachieving if they manage to get beyond the round of 16.
Outright odds: 101.390*
Star man: Javier “Chicharito” Hernández (West Ham)
One to watch: Hirving Lozano (PSV)
Mexico usually make the round of 16 but struggle to go further. This squad has some good individual talents but it is hard to see them finally progressing to the later stages of the tournament. PSV winger Lozano will hope to impress ahead of a potential summer transfer.
Outright odds: 111.430*
Star man: Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig)
One to watch: Alexander Isak (Borussia Dortmund)
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 (short of a surprise Zlatan Ibrahimović return) but they can count upon a solid defence with the ability to keep games tight and frustrate superior opponents.
Outright odds: 151.580*
Star man: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda)
One to watch: Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City)
Nigeria are a young and vibrant side that possess plenty of pace and a touch of quality in attack. Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi will provide the side with creativity whilst Kelechi Iheanacho has the opportunity to demonstrate why he was so highly thought of at Manchester City. It is hard to determine how good this Nigeria side is since many of their players are somewhat unknown quantities at this level, but they have already upset Argentina in a November friendly demonstrating their potential.
Outright odds: 161.620*
Star man: Sadio Mané (Liverpool)
One to watch: Badou N’Diaye (Stoke)
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 World’s best sides.
Outright odds: 201.770*
Star man: Nemanja Matic (Manchester United)
One to watch: Sergej Milinković-Savić (Lazio)
Serbia are solid in defence and exceptionally strong in central midfield but perhaps lack the natural goalscorer who could make them a true contender. Milinković-Savić has been outstanding this season and adds to Nemanja Matić, Fejsa and Milivojević in a strong central midfield. Relying on Newcastle outcast Aleksandr Mitrovic to lead the line added to a lack of pace in defence may cost them in close matches.
Outright odds: 201.770*
Star man: Gylfi Sigurðsson (Everton)
One to watch: Albert Guðmundsson (PSV)
After being the surprise package of Euro 2016, Iceland have a settled side with a clear game plan. They are limited by the level of talent available to coach Heimir Hallgrimsson but they will be difficult to break down and dangerous from set pieces.
Outright odds: 282.080*
Star man: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
One to watch: Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke)
Solid in defence and with the pace and menace of Mo Salah up front, the Egyptians will threaten Russia’s place in the round of 16. Any further progress should be beyond this side but, with Salah in this kind of form, they could be a surprise package.
Outright odds: 301.160*
Star man: Jefferson Farfan (Lokomotiv Moscow)
One to watch: Renato Tapia (Feyenoord)
Peru have benefitted from their second seed status to secure an achievable path to the round of 16. That is probably as good as it will get for the South American side as they are unlikely to overly trouble the top teams.
Outright odds: 402.540*
Star man: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan)
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.
Outright odds: 342.310*
Star man: Maya Yoshida (Southampton)
One to watch: Takashi Inui (SD Eibar)
This Japanese side is caught in between two styles of play. Coach Vahid Halilhodžić has transitioned them from an energetic possession based side to a more pragmatic defensive one. This change has led to the exclusion of stars like Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki in favour of less well-known players. Results have been positive but at the cost of losing players who can threaten the best teams.
Outright odds: 402.540*
Star man: Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield)
One to watch: Aziz Behich (Bursaspor)
It will be a surprise if Australia emerge from group C. The Aussies lack top class quality and the departure of coach Ange Postecoglou will surely affect their preparations.
27) Costa Rica
Outright odds: 422.620*
Star man: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)
One to watch: Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United)
Costa Rica were the surprise package at the 2014 World Cup, qualifying top from a group featuring three previous World Cup winners on their way to the quarterfinals. The presence of Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas in goal ensures their defence remains solid whilst they have players capable of creating chances in attack. Despite this, a tough draw means they are unlikely to advance to the round of 16.
Outright odds: 442.700*
Star man: Hakim Ziyech (Ajax)
One to watch: Achraf Hakimi (Rela Madrid)
Morocco have star quality in defence and a glut of creative midfield players but can lack a cutting edge in attack. A tough group has severely weakened Morocco’s World Cup prospects since they will need at least one positive result against one of Portugal or Spain to progress.
29) South Korea
Outright odds: 502.930*
Star man: Heung Min Son (Tottenham Hotspur)
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.
Outright odds: 603.310*
Star man: Aymen Abdennour (Marseille)
One to watch: Youssef Msakni (Al-Duhail)
A tough group and a squad without much quality has made Tunisia big outsiders for the tournament. They will need to upset the far superior England or Belgium to reach the round of 16.
31) Saudi Arabia
Outright odds: 603.310*
Star man: Nawaf Al-Abed (Al-Hilal)
One to watch: Fahad Al-Muwallad (Levante UD/Al-Ittihad)
Saudi Arabia finished ahead of Australia on goal difference to qualify for the tournament automatically. Like the Aussies they are unlikely to have the quality to progress far into the competition.
Outright odds: 603.310*
Star man: Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders)
One to watch: Ismael Díaz (Deportivo)
Panama join Tunisia in group G. On paper the debutants are the worst side in the tournament. They were surprise qualifiers but are unlikely to cause any more shocks in Russia.
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