FIFA World Cup 2018: Meet the teams
In celebration of the FIFA World Cup 2018, we've prepared a special quick-fire guide to the nations taking part in this year's tournaments and their top players.
Argentina Group D
Manager: Jorge Sampaoli
Having struggled in qualification and been left reeling by Messi’s on/off international retirement, “Albiceleste” didn’t have the best run-up to the finals. Their success has largely depended on Messi’s heroics, but with a glut of attacking talent in Aguero, Dybala and Higuain, the Argentines have enough depth to go all the way.
Star Man: Lionel Messi
Mr Argentina, and arguably the best player around right now, will have the hopes and dreams of a nation on his shoulders. At 30 years old, this is probably Messi’s last chance at bagging the big one.
Australia Group C
Coach: Bert Van Marwijk
The “Socceroos” managed to scrape through two qualifiers with Syria and Honduras to make it to Russia 2018. However, they can always be relied on to cause an upset through the magic of the evergreen Tim Cahill (38). It was a breakout season in the EPL for Mooy and ‘keeper Matthew Ryan, so they’ve got form players at their disposal, too.
Star Man: Mile Jedinak
The combative Aston Villa midfielder has been reliable this season in the Championship. His all-round industry and ability to break up plays will be pivotal.
Belgium Group G
Coach: Roberto Martinez
There are many pundits, and armchair footie experts, that believe the Belgium squad has all the tools to be a world force. A squad that contains the likes of De Bruyne, Dries Mertens, Romelu Lukaku and Fellaini, should be dominating tournaments. But… it just never quite clicks. Could 2018 be the year it finally all comes good?
Star Man: Eden Hazard
If Belgium are to stand any chance of success they need him to be consistently brilliant throughout. And that’s the thing, ‘consistency’ has often held him back from scooping individual awards.
Brazil Group E
Having been roundly hammered by Germany 7-1 at the 2014 World Cup on home soil, the Brazilians have regrouped and look more dangerous than ever. The five-time winners now have a heady mix of silk (Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus) and steel (Casemiro, Fernandinho) to take on all-comers. And with the reckless David Luiz injured, they just might make it six.
Star Man: Neymar
The quality of player that Neymar has been up against with PSG in Ligue 1 has dropped immeasurably. So it’ll be interesting to see how he copes with real defenders.
Colombia Group H
Coach: José Pékerman
“Los Cafeteros” were arguably the biggest surprise package of the 2014 World Cup. With a complete cavalier, attacking style that teams couldn’t handle, Colombia marched towards the quarter-finals. There will be no element of surprise this time around, but with James Rodriguez, Falcao and Juan Cuadrado, they have the star power to make their mark again.
Star Man: James Rodriguez
After setting the 2014 World Cup alight with a dazzling array of skills and net-busting goals, Rodriguez announced himself on the world stage. Watch him fly again in Russia.
Costa Rica Group E
Coach: Óscar Ramírez
Much unfancied in the last World Cup, they still swept aside Uruguay and Italy, and ground out a well-deserved point against England on the way to the quarter-finals. Although the team has added new blood, their main threats are the aging duo of Bryan Ruiz and Christian Bolaños.
Star Man: Bryan Ruiz
The ex-Fulham player, and current Costa Rica captain, is instrumental. Ruiz is effective in the final third thanks to a combination of intelligent passing and an eye for goal. Pretty much everything will go through the big man.
Croatia Group D
Coach: Zlatko Dalić
Coming in through the play-offs at the expense of Greece, Croatia toiled in qualifying and were lucky not to be dumped out. It’s been a long two decades since they grabbed third spot in ’98, but they’ll hope the likes of Ivan Perišić, Nikola Kalinić and Luka Modrić, can combine to great effect throughout the competition.
Star Man: Luka Modrić
The little man is one of the biggest talents in world football. His ability to find space where there seemingly isn’t any, is incredible. He’ll supply the assists, he just needs his teammates to tuck them away.
Denmark Group C
Coach: Åge Hareide
If Denmark are to make it out of the group stages then they need to take the burden off Christian Eriksen’s back. The Spurs midfielder banged home a whopping ten goals from midfield through qualifying, which is six more than the shot-shy strikers managed… combined. If striker Nicklas Bendtner is ever going to be as good as he claims he is, then he needs to show it now.
Star Man: Christian Eriksen
Absolutely deadly from set-pieces, you might as well give Eriksen the goal as soon as free-kick is given near the 18-yard box. The Danes will need him at his best.
Egypt Group A
Coach: Héctor Cúper
Millions of Egypt fans held their breath when Liverpool star Mohamed Salah tearfully made his way off the pitch in the Champions League final. The side’s talisman was left in a heap and picked up a shoulder injury. Thankfully, he made the squad anyway. Let’s just hope he’s actually fit because if he isn’t the paper-thin squad will need to dig even deeper to progress.
Star Man: Mohamed Salah
We all want to see Salah recover from his injury in time for the tournament. His twinkle-toes will surely have defenders quaking in their footie boots for 90 minutes. And now that he’s added goals of all types to his game this season, expect him to be closely marked throughout.
England Group G
Coach: Gareth Southgate
For the first time in what feels like decades, England has a boss in place that’s not afraid to drop the big names. The likes of Rooney, Walcott and Wilshere may have been given the nod regardless of their awful form, but Southgate has put together, dare we say, an exciting squad. With Alli, Sterling, Kane and Lingard forming a pacy front four, could this be the year that football finally comes home for them?
Star Man: Harry Kane
He’s one of those rare breed players where everything he touches ends up in the back of the net. As long as he gets the service, he’ll be great.
France Group C
Coach: Didier Deschamps
Disharmony and infighting have been the theme of “Les Bleus” last few campaigns. In effect, they’ve lost the tournament before they’ve even stepped on the pitch. But things have changed. There’s an embarrassment of riches in a squad that’s been pruned of troublemakers and if Deschamps can bring it all together, he might just have a shot at bagging the big one.
Star Man: Antoine Griezmann
Even when he’s aping video game characters in his OTT celebrations, it’s hard not to love the talented striker. Griezmann has every type of goal in his locker, too.
Germany Group F
Coach: Joachim Löw
“Die Mannschaft” are favourites. Make no mistake. Not only can they afford to leave the 2014 hero, Mario Götze, and the prolific Leroy Sane twiddling their thumbs at home,
but the squad depth is such that they could field a second XI and they’d probably meet each other in the final.
Star Man: Thomas Müller
Sure, Müller hasn’t exactly been setting the Bundesliga alight in recent seasons, but he always performs on the big stage. His versatility across all attacking positions will no doubt help him on his way to the goal(s).
Iceland Group D
Coach: Heimir Hallgrímsson
Following on from their European 2016 heroics – where their clap celebration filled you with a fuzzy feeling – the tiny country has qualified for its first ever World Cup. Their tenacity means that teams have to work incredibly hard to get past them. They’ll need to show the same resilience in Russia if they’re to progress past the group stage.
Star Man: Gylfi Sigurðsson
The set-piece master had a torrid season at Everton under the one-dimensional Sam Allardyce. However, on his day – and played correctly – his passing and dead-ball skills are devastating.
Iran Group B
Coach: Carlos Queiroz
It’s no wonder Iran were the first team to qualify from the Asia pool of teams. They put together a run that saw them secure twelve clean sheets and a glut of goals from their stars Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh. Despite this, Carlos Queiroz grumbled that his Iran-based players need “40 days to get World Cup fit”. Ouch.
Star Man: Sardar Azmoun
Folks of a particular age will remember the Iranian football hero, Ali Daei. Well young Sardar is being tipped as his heir thanks to his goal-getting, skills and flair. He’s definitely one to watch.
Japan Group H
Coach: Akira Nishino
While the Japanese play some lovely, one-touch football up and down the pitch, they’re not the most physical. They can be overwhelmed in a war of attrition, which is how most teams will go into games against them. But if Kagawa and Honda are allowed the space to feed the energetic Okazaki, then they’ll hurt teams in their own way.
Star Man: Shinji Kagawa
The Dortmund midfielder quickly forgot about his average spell at Manchester United by fitting seamlessly back into the side where he was plucked from. His slide-rule passes are a thing of beauty.
Korea Republic Group F
Coach: Shin Tae-yong
The underdog tag suits them fine, but Korea Republic will be looking to emulate the special 2002 side that grabbed fourth place. It’ll be no mean feat, mind. Especially when you consider they’re up against tournament stalwarts Mexico, Sweden and Germany just to make it to the next round.
Star Man: Son Heung-minSpurs really did unearth a gem in Son. He has a knack of scoring or assisting in a game whether he’s coming off the bench or starting alongside Kane and co. in the English Premier League. Expect lung-busting performances.
Mexico Group F
Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio
It’s a long time since “El Tri” last did anything of note at the World Cup. They have the players to cause an upset, mind. Andrés Guardado had an excellent season at Real Betis, and Héctor Herrera captained Porto to the Portuguese title – so they have the quality. And with Chicharito sniffing out the goals they’re in good shape for the tournament.
Star Man: Javier HernándezIf there’s one person you want the ball to fall to in the 18 yard box, it’s Chicharito. The West Ham United striker is lethal from close range and his movement behind defensive lines is always impressive.
Morocco Group B
Coach: Hervé Renard
It’s been 20 long years since Morocco last graced the World Cup. “The Atlas Lions” were rudderless until Hervé Renard took over and brought the glory days back to the North Africans. They only conceded one goal in qualifying so they know how to shut up shop when they need to.
Star Man: Mehdi Benatia
Speaking of ‘shutting up shop’, the Juventus stopper is arguably one of the best defenders around right now. His pace and strength are an incredible match for any attacker, and he’s able to chip in with the odd goal from set-pieces, too.
Nigeria Group D
Coach: Gernot Rohr
The African side are much more than just a fantastic World Cup kit – though that is brilliant, mind. No, the “Super Eagles” can mix it with the best of them thanks to their pace and creativity in the squad. With the defensive minded duo of Mikel and Wilfred Ndidi the forwards – Iwobi, Iheanacho and Moses – are free to express themselves.
Star Man: Victor Moses
Although the Chelsea man rarely flashes his skills, it’s his directness that teams struggle with. He has that ability to be everywhere on a particular flank – either whipping in crosses or tidying up at the back.
Panama Group G
Coach: Hernán Darío Gómez
The team from Central America are making their debut in the World Cup this year having qualified in dramatic fashion. The unknown quantity factor will come into play, which will make their games fascinating. Although the team is packed with experience, it’s also – at the time of writing – an aging squad that could fatigue quickly.
Star Man: Román Torres
The defender has over 100 caps for his country and one of the wildest set of dreadlocks we’ve ever seen. The Seattle Sounders player will bring a much needed calm to a backline that will be targeted.
Peru Group C
Coach: Ricardo Gareca
The good news for Peru is that one of their star players, Paolo Guerrero, has been cleared to play in the tournament after having his doping ban overturned. Even the most ardent of fans isn’t expecting them to win the whole thing, but being in a group with France, Australia and Denmark, progression to the next round seems completely doable.
Star Man: Jefferson FarfanThe well-travelled forward, who currently plies his trade at Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow, is Peru’s flair player and main goal threat. He’s on a hot-streak having come off the back of a trophy-ladened season.
Poland group H
Coach: Adam Nawalka
After missing out on qualification for the past twelve years, the Polish dominated their qualifying group and look like a team to be reckoned with again. Marksman Robert Lewandowski will have one eye on the Golden Boot as the goals will no doubt come from the Bayern Munich superstar.
Star Man: Robert LewandowskiTo be honest, 106 goals in 126 games for Bayern is silly. Almost unbelievable. Big Rob’s dead-eye at putting the ball in the back of the net appears effortless, and that’s why every goalie at the tournament will fear coming up against him.
Portugal Group B
Coach: Fernando Santos
The current European champions surprised everyone in 2016 when they managed to bag their very first international trophy. Since then the squad has barely changed, which could benefit them in the long run. Obviously, everything will hinge on the magic of their captain and his goal-getting abilities.
Star Man: Cristiano RonaldoWhatever you think about the man, his football talent is unquestionably amazing. Sure, he can be prone to the histrionics with his team-mates, but at the same time he can single-handedly turn a game on its head with his brilliance.
Russia group A
Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov
It’s a good job Russia are the host nation, which automatically qualifies them for the tournament, because they’ve been awful of late. Pre-tournament they lost four of their last six friendlies and only managed two draws in the others. Still, with the partisan crowd behind them providing the “12th Man” they’ll get a much needed boost.
Star Man: Aleksandr Golovin
The new star of Russian football already has the top European clubs circling him this summer, and it’s
no wonder considering the midfielder’s range of passing and eye for goals.
Saudi Arabia Group A
Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi
With Pizzi at the helm, Saudi Arabia has a coach with a proven track record of winning championships. He steered Chile to the Copa América title in 2016, so he knows what it takes in a tournament setting. The Saudi team will be relying on the genius of Mohammad Al-Sahlawi.
Star Man: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi
Goals, goals and more goals, that’s what you get from the prolific Al-Sahlawi. The striker managed to smash home 16 goals in qualifying, which made him the joint top-scorer in the run up to finals in Russia. That’s no mean feat either.
Senegal Group H
Coach: Aliou Cissé
Since bursting on the scene and taking the 2002 World Cup by storm, the Senegalese haven’t managed to qualify for the tournament again. But with former captain Aliou Cissé at the helm and Sadio Mané terrifying defenders with his pace, the “Lions of Teranga” will look to match their quarter-final place from last time out and could spring a few shock results.
Star Man: Sadio Mané
While all of the limelight was on his Liverpool team-mate, Mohamad Salah, Mané quietly had one of his best seasons to date. He’ll definitely be amongst the goals for Senegal.
Serbia Group E
Coach: Mladen Krstajić
Since missing out on the finals in Brazil, Serbia went back to the drawing board to come up with a new approach to make the best of the talent they had. Mladen Krstajić was installed as manager and squeezed the goods out of Nemanja Matić, Aleksandar Kolarov and Aleksandar Mitrović. They now have a midfield line-up to be feared.
Star Man: Sergej Milinković-Savić
The lanky midfield general has dominated Serie A with his silky moves, powerful drives and eye for a pass, which is why he’s currently got a huge price-tag around his neck.
Spain Group B
Coach: Julen Lopetegui
It seems like a lifetime ago that Spain dominated the 2010 World Cup with their possession-heavy approach and use of a “false nine”. They seemed to be untouchable. But nothing lasts forever and the opposition suddenly worked them out. In Russia, and in the build up to the tournament, a new counter-attacking flow has been deployed, which makes “La Roja” a favourite.
Star Man: Andrés Iniesta
His time at Barcelona may have come to an end, but the midfield stalwart still holds the keys to Spain’s engine room. The veteran will surely orchestrate one last time.
Sweden Group F
Coach: Janne Andersson
A Zlatan-less Sweden side are thriving without their former star. It’s kind of hard to believe that they last qualified in 2006, though they’ve been treading water for a while. Without a leading man, “Blågult” have put the emphasis on team play, and the result is a much slicker unit that could and should do well.
Star Man: Emil Forsberg
At RB Leipzig, the winger has caught the eye of Europe’s top clubs thanks to his effortless ability on the ball and passing skills. Forsberg isn’t the most prolific in front of goal, but his assist numbers are solid.
Switzerland Group E
Coach: Vladimir Petković
If the Swiss are to make an impact in Russia then they need their marksmen to find some form. Striker Haris Seferović had a rotten season in front of goal for Benfica, which isn’t exactly ideal prep. There’ll be a reliance on the industry of Granit Xhaka and the magic of Xherdan Shaqiri all tournament.
Star Man: Xherdan Shaqiri
The “Alpine Messi” managed to put in a string of noteworthy performances even as his club, Stoke City, crashed into relegation. Goals from distance and set-pieces are his bread and butter, so expect some ace finishes.
Tunisia Group G
Coach: Nabil Maâloul
They ship goals as much as they score them, so you can almost guarantee a Tunisia game will never be dull. The North Africans toiled in their qualifying group, but will be hoping they can put their tireless approach to great effect and squeak out of a group that contains Panama, Belgium and England.
Star Man: Wahbi Khazri
Anyone that watched Sunderland get relegated in the 2016/17 Premier League season will no doubt picture Kazri struggling to keep up. But on loan at Rennes, he’s quickly turned into the real deal and will be looking to show that in Russia.
Uruguay Group A
Coach: Óscar Tabárez
“La Celeste” are well-equipped to win every tournament they enter. Especially when you consider they boast sharpshooters Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez up top. But there’s a mind-set problem that holds them back. If they can unearth harmony, they could be an outside shout to win it outright.
Star Man: Luis Suárez
There’s bound to be drama wherever Suarez is concerned. When he’s not gobbling up the goals, he’s chewing on defenders. If he’s not causing goalkeepers problems with his shots, he’s handling on the line himself.