Time has most certainly changed for Russia compared to the time they launched their bid to host the World Cup for the first time. At that moment, they were on a high after reaching the semi-finals at the 2008 European Championship. Now, Russia go into the World Cup as the second lowest-ranked of the 32 teams, only behind Saudi Arabia, having failed to advance past the group stage of any tournament since 2008.
Though Russia failed to make it out of the 2017 Confederations Cup group stage, it still remains unseen what Russia actually can produce on the big stage since the team hasn't taken part in the qualification rounds. Looking at the squad, Russia have a talented midfield with creative playmaker Alan Dzagoev and highly rated propect Aleksandr Golovin. However, the team lacks firepower in attack and has a disjointed defence, including goalkeeper Akinfeev who tends to fail in big tournaments, and that may result in the Russians struggle to advance from the easiest group in the World Cup.
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Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal for Saudi Arabia since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the World Cup draw after only five friendlies in charge. 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.
Now, Juan Antonio Pizzi has been appointed as the new coach, and he aims to improve Saudi Arabia's best-ever performance at World Cup which is the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. It seems like a race against time, and with only three players from the squad playing outside of the home country (all on loans) and the worst FIFA ranking of all participants, the The Green Falcon's quality don't seem to be high enough to avoid last place in the group.
A huge chok went through not only the world, but especially Egypt when Mohamed Salah had to leave the pitch in the Champions League. The Egyptian magician had carried both Liverpool in the Champions League and Premier League and Egypt through the African qualification to the country's first World Cup since 1990. Eventually, Salah made the final cut, but only time will tell how fit he will be when Egypt play their first match against group favourites Uruguay on June 15th.
Though having dominated the African Cup of Nations from 2012-15, The Pharaohs were left out of the worlds finest tournament. But now they are back. And the team is not only about Salah. Like other North African national teams, Egypt have a solid defence plus all in all a strong organisation with counter attack expert coach Hector Cuper in control. Don't be surprised if they make it through the group, though it might be difficult to see attacking brilliance coming from other than Salah. Worth noticing is Egypt's captain and legendary 45-year-old goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary who will be the oldest player in history to play at the World Cup. Respect.
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Mighty Brazil was the only team that finished with more points than Uruguay in the South American qualifying phase. Uruguay's stars are in their best age as footballers, and with a strong core of Diego Godin and talented José Giménez and strikers Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, Uruguay look like the ones to beat in group A.
With upcoming stars like midfielders Nahitan Nandez, Lucas Torreira and especially Rodrigo Bentancur, experienced Coach Oscar Tabarez has a lot of additional quality for the future and also for this summer. On paper, La Celeste need to make it through to the knockout round, and they might even go to the quarter finals, while they have to bring their A game to reach the hights of World Cup 2010.
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Group A prediction: Uruguay in 1st place while Salah and Egypt take 2nd to upset host nation Russia.
If Cristiano Ronaldo wants to win the World Cup, 2018 seems like last call. Though Portugal triumphed at the Euro 2016, Ronaldo and co. were to a lot of people rightfully criticised for their style of play during the tournament. However, through the qualifying to the World Cup, Portugal dominated their group with only one loss to Switzerland in the first game back in September 2016. Portugal won every qualifying game since that day but have shown inconsistency in the recent friendlies.
CR7 really must step up to his best this summer if Portugal have bigger hopes than just reaching the knockout phase. Though Ronaldo is a huge part in this team, Man City bound Bernado Silva plays a key role in the starting linep. Also, watch out for starlet winger Gonçalo Guedes, and don't underestimate striker André Silva though he was far from impressive in his first Serie A season. And all of you do remember what happened the last time you underestimated the Portugeese in a big tournament, don't you?
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Espana are back, and they are looking strong. The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to former goalkeeper Julen Lopetegui has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. Spain's WC squad is filled with talented midfielders. Isco, Iniesta, Busquets, Thiago, the list goes on. In addition, with David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the only potential weakness is the Spaniards' attack.
Diego Costa, Iago Aspas and Rodrigo all got the nod instead of Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata, and though all of the chosen three attackers are in great shape and offer different aspects to Lopetegui's attacking force, the failure of Costa at WC 2014 and the need for a player like Fernando Torres and David Villa back in the days may still affect La Roja. This however hasn't seemed like a problem for Spain recently as the team went through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy, and a more than convincing 6-1 win against Argentina. Seriously, watch out for these guys and keep an eye on starlet Marco Asensio.
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20 years have gone past since Morocco's last World Cup. Back in 1998 the team didn't make it through despite getting 4 points in the group stage. Now, the North African team is finally back, and though they are in a tough group, don't underestimate this solid squad. Coach Herve Renard's Morocco features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda.
Morocco's strength is without doubt the team's structured organisation. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo, and Morocco impressively qualified to the 2018 World Cup without conceding one single goal. Spain, Portugal and especially Iran will have to fight a lot to break through the Moroccan defence, and this might see Ziyech and Co. punishing the opponents on the counter attack.
From one team with a rock solid defence to another. After host nation Russia and Brazil, Iran was the first team to book a ticket to this year's World Cup. 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." And something tells us that he might be right this time though the bookmakers don't expect anything. Defence might be Iran's big strength, but watch out for Rubin Kazan striker Sardar Azmoun and Eredivisie top scorer Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Group B prediction:
Spain in 1st while Portugal fight to get 2nd. Don't be surprised if Iran or Morocco make it through instead of CR7 and Co.
With star players like Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé and Paul Pogba, a young (second youngest along with England) and vibrant Les Bleus promises to be eye-catching. Didier Deschamps side could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal, but this year the hyped French team really needs to click. The talent is certainly there, but the mindset must be as well.
Despite a loss to Sweden and two draws against small football nations Belarus and Luxembourg, France qualified as a clear number one in their group. Now, France have to cope with being huge favourites against Australia, Peru and Denmark, just like the team did in the 2014 World Cup. And France need a good start. But don't forget how it went in 2002 and 2010 when France failed to win their opening matches.
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Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, Australia 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 Socceroos 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 2018 edition.
After Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia, Bert van Marwijk, the man who helped Saudi Arabia to qualify, has taken over the hot seat. Van Marwijk, who got 2nd place with the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup, might actually be one of the biggest profiles around the team, as he will aim to improve the Australian's before the World Cup. Look out for Mile Jedinak to stabilise the midfield, though much of the attention naturally falls on 37-year-old icon Tim Cahill. However, van Marwijk and Jedinak face a huge task. If Australia advance from the group, it will be one of the biggest surprises.
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36 years. We've missed you Peru, and the Peruvians have certainly missed the World Cup. But now, they are back. Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favourites 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. Ironically, Peru have to thank Argentina coach Ricardo Gareca who scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers for the 1986 WC. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team.
Though the Peruvians may respect Gareca now, they are in love with key striker Paolo Guerrero. The 34-year-old captain scored five goals in the qualification and is a hero in Peru, and one can only imagine the joy that went through the nation when Guerrero got cleared for the World Cup despite his doping ban. Besides Guerrero, one must look out for former Schalke 04 star Jefferson Farfan, winger Edison Flores and playmaker Christian Cueva. Most importantly, Los Incas play with a big heart, and they will fight both France and Denmark for a place in the knockout phase.
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It's been six years since Denmark last played in a major tournament in the 2012 European Championships, but the team is now unbeaten since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Especially a solid defence topped with Kasper Schmeichel in goal means that the Danish Dynamite is a tough team to break down.
Looking at the attacking options, playmaker Christian Eriksen is the man the Danes will count on. The Tottenham star can both create and score goals, and his form looks to almost decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. If Denmark and Eriksen hit the top level as in the 4-0 win against Poland and the 5-1 victory in Ireland in the qualification, they will be dangerous for almost every team, but looking at the last three friendlies against Panama, Chile and Sweden, Denmark has only managed to score once. The player who scared that goal is left winger Pione Sisto - watch out for this man and potentially also for upcoming star striker Kasper Dolberg who got a ticket to Russia instead of Nicklas Bendtner.
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Group C prediction:
France and Denmark to go through. Watch out for Peru.
19 goals in 18 matches. This is all Argentina managed to produce in the World Cup Qualification, and so did last placed Venezuela. 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, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala have been far from top form for La Celeste y blanca.
Besides Messi, the only positive thing on paper from the qualification for Jorge Sampaoli's side is that only Brazil were better at defending throughout the qualification. But looking down on Argentina's squad, the defence doesn't look impressive. This is why it may not be too much to say that Argentina's World Cup depend on Messi, maybe even more important than Cristiano Ronaldo is for Portugal. Argentina would not be going to Russia without Messi's goals and leadership, and the team is without doubt one of the biggest questionmarks before the tournament.
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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. Island'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 that the Euro's wasn't a one-off. It might be optimistic to expect more success in Russia, but with Iceland's fighting spirit, their passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. The big concern though is the fitness of attacking playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson who's Iceland's biggest indivual profile. If he isn't in top shape, it looks difficult for Iceland to make it out of one of the World Cup's toughests groups.
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It's been 20 years since the glory days of Davor Suker and Co. who secured Croatia a third place. Since the 1998 World Cup in France, Croatia actually haven't made it out of the group stage, failing in 2002, 2006 and 2014. This year, Croatia aim to emulate 1998 and everything apart from participation in the knockout stage will be seen as failure.
Despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference, Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. Coach Zlatko Dalic will need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament, just like they did in the promising play-off wins against Greece. If Croatia manage to perform at their best, they will be one of the toughest teams to beat and can potentially top this group. Look out for Real Madrid midfielder Mateo Kovacic who's yet to have his real breakthrough.
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The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria, and qualified for five of the last six World Cups. 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 last year when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia.
Nigeria has a good mix of a strong central midfield in John Obi Mikel and Wilfred Ndidi and explosive talented attacking players in Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses. However, the biggest concern for Nigeria is their defence. In addition, Nigeria is missing goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, and there doesn't seem to be any obvious replacement. This can eventually be the reason why Nigeria doesn't make it through this group. Worth noting down is that Nigeria has the youngest squad in the World Cup with their players averaging 25.9 years.
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Group D prediction:
- Croatia, 2. Argentina, 3. Nigeria, 4. Iceland. But seriously, every team can make it to the last 16.
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 1-7 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, Seleção are now about organisation and flair, and there have been only one loss in a friendly against Argentina.
And then let's get to the guy everyone talks about in Brazil right now: Neymar Jr. Though he's been injured since February, in a recent friendly against Croatia, Neymar showed the world that he's back like nothing ever happened. The break from football might actually turn out to be an advantage for NJR and Brazil. If he reaches his top level, it should be enough for Brazil to go all the way. Remember, there's some guys called Marcelo, Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Thiago Silva in the squad as well. Frightening.
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Nine wins and one loss in the last group game sent Switzerland in the play-off for World Cup qualification. A dubious penalty call saw the Central European side crush Northern Ireland's World Cup dreams. Now, it's time for Switzerland to finally win a WC knockout game, which they haven't done since 1954. However, this might be the year. The Swiss team has a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience.
Switzerland is a well-balanced team that has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Dortmund's Manuel Akanji, coach Vladimir Petkovic might have found that defender, while Breel Embolo aims to get his international breakthrough in attack. Watch out for profile Xherdan Shaqiri as well, and don't underestimate the value of Valon Behrami who's going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages.
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The huge surprise of the 2014 World Cup. Costa Rica, the small Central American country, reached the quarter-finals in Brazil only losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. Profiles like Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz, Celso Borges and Joel Campbell played huge roles in Costa Rica's success. And four years later, it's the same core of players, the other participants have to watch out for.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, which is impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Costa Rica qualified for this year's World Cup only behind Mexico, and though the team lost 5-0 to Spain in November 2017, La Tricolor recently managed to beat Northern Ireland 3-0. It's strange that a team may surprise us two World Cups in a row, but once again many 'experts' doesn't expect a lot from Costa Rica. We do, but it's a tough group.
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It's been eight years since Serbia participated at the World Cup. In 2010, after an impressive win over Germany in the group opener, Serbia only needed a win, and could actually also go through with a draw, in the last group game against Australia, but the team lost 2-1 and finished bottom of the group. This really sums up the historic problems for Serbia, as the team has failed to fulfil its potential.
Now, eight years later, Serbia has made huge changes in the squad bringing in young profiles combined with a experienced defence. This seemed to be the right mix for Serbia in the qualifiers, as they cruised through their group. Look out for Dusan Tadic and Aleksandar Mitrovic in attack, but pay extra attention to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic - he might just be the next big thing and will potentially give Serbia that edge to qualify for the last 16 with group favourites Brazil.
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Group E prediction:
Brazil as clear number 1 and Serbia to snatch 2nd in front of Costa Rica and Switzerland.
A squad that doesn't even have space for Leroy Sané must be feared. The World Cup holders have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July 2017 with a B-team, using the warm-up tournament to test new options. Impressively, Germany qualified for Russia with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals.
What's really inspiring about Joachim Löw's chosen ones are that they are and perform like one unit. The key man is Toni Kroos who keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Watch out for Marco Reus who finally gets his first World Cup participation this year as well as captain Manuel Neuer who's back after a long injury period. Almost everything has to go wrong for Die Mannschaft if they don't claim a top 2 spot. Expect them to grab all 9 points available.
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Regulars at the World Cup, but always coming up just short. This is the World Cup story of Mexico. 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 therefore be seen as a success, as the Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts.
El Tri 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. Germany look almost locked on 1st place, so coach Juan Carlos Osorio knows that the team has to fight Sweden and South Korea for that last spot. And the Mexico squad has the talent to snatch that. Look out for usual suspects goalgetter Javier Chicharito Hernandez, playmaker Giovanni dos Santos, all rounder Andres Guardado and young winger Hirving Lozano. Also note that the moment you see Rafael Marquez on the pitch in Russia, he has represented Mexico five times in World Cup history, which is a tied record with Antonio Carbajal and Lothar Matthäus.
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Nobody saw it coming. Not even the Swedes. Last year, Sweden stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 after having finished second after France and in front of the Netherlands. An impressive result in the first post-Zlatan period. And actually, Sweden seem more united and well-structured without the characteristic superstar.
In the World Cup in Russia, we're also going to see a Ibrahimovic-less Sweden team. A Sweden team which's great strength is defence and team spirit. Especially the rock solid defence is certainly something the Italians will agree on. However, Sweden is not going to get an easy World Cup this year. Apart from Emil Forberg, it is difficult to spot the attacking talent in Janne Andersson's squad, and with quality World Cup opponents in Germany and Mexico, Sweden will have a tough task going for that top 2 spot.
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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 duo of English Premier League players, Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung, who bring valuable experience of top-level football. If especially Son doesn't hit his top level, it seems very difficult for South Korea to advance to the next round.
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Group F prediction:
Germany and Mexico to go through.
If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne as creative geniuses, and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. However, Belgium is yet to break into the semi-finals of a major tournament. 2018 must be the year for Belgium, a pressure that lies on Spanish coach Roberto Martinez who took over from Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016.
Martinez, however, has already made himself a unpopular guy in many Belgium fans' book. Ditching Roma star Radja Nainggolan doesn't seem like the right decision in our eyes, but who knows - maybe Martinez says 'told you so' to all his critics in July? Besides the absence of Nainggolan, another issue could be in central defence where Vincent Kompany might not be perfectly fit when the tournament kicks off. Either way, Belgium looks like a team with lots of depth, and they must be considered serious dark horses to win it all in Russia.
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Defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier on a mysterious goal, Panama earned a first-ever qualification for the World Cup, which resulted in a national holiday. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Impressive no matter have they are going to do at the World Cup.
Colombian coach Hernan Dario Gomez might be the biggest star of all around the Panama team. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. And now he did it for Panama. Gomez is taking the oldest squad (29.6 years average age) to the World Cup in Russia. And there's really not a lot to expect from the team which's biggest profiles are the rather unknown strikers Luis Tejeda, Gabriel Torres and Blas Perez.
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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, and this year's tough draw doesn't seem to change that.
With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri, their main goal will be to win the game against Panama. Unfortunately, key player Youssef Msakni did not make the squad do to an injury. However, Tunisia should still be favourites against Panama, but it seems like there's a very little chance of stealing a point from Belgium or England.
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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.
However, England has shifted recently shifted their focus on talent development, and with recent success in some of the youth tournament's, the future might look bright for The Three Lions. 2018 might just be a tad too early to expect anything huge from England. The second youngest squad (26 years old average, tied with France) will be taken to Russia, and newly appointed captain Harry Kane will aim to take his team securely through the group stage. Everything beyond the last 16 for coach Gareth Southgate and Co. should be seen as a an acceptable performance.
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Group G prediction:
A miracle needs to happen before Belgium and England don't go through.
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 top level on the biggest stage for striker Robert Lewandowski who scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying.
This year, Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern is the team's defence that conceded four goals in the game against Denmark. Group H, however, seems like the most open group in the World Cup, and Poland will have a great opportunity to make it through to the last 16 where England or Belgium look like to be waiting.
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Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they famously beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals. The qualification for this year's World Cup was 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.
Coach Aliou Cisse, who played and captained Senegal during the 2002 World Cup, will aim to inspire his squad to follow the footsteps of the 2002 team. In 2002, the big profile for Senegal was called El Hadji Diouf. Today's profile is Sadio Mané. With his blistering pace, Mané has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool, and along with a squad including lots of players from Europe's big leagues, The Lions of Teranga might surprise us just like they did 16 years ago.
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Los Cafeteros 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. This time around, qualification was a struggle for Colombia, as they waited until the last match to make it to Russia.
Like in 2014, the big profile is still James Rodriguez who stunned the world with his impressive performances. This year Colombia has added some firepower in attack with Radamel Falcao who missed out four years ago due to injury. Jose Pekerman, who also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, once again has the talent in his squad to make it out of the group stage. After that, Colombia can only surprise us. Watch out.
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The last participant in the 2018 FIFA World Cup is Japan. Coach Akira Nishino was brought in two months ago after the federation parted ways with Vahid Halilhodzic. Not the ideal warm up for the World Cup, one must say, which is one of the main reasons why it's difficult to know what to expect from Japan.
Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia, and 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, but it will be difficult for the proud nation to overcome Poland, Colombia and Senegal.
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Group H prediction:
Colombia and Senegal to go through from a group where anything can happen.
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