World Cup Qualifying

World Cup Qualifying slideshow

Fifa has launched an investigation into homophobic chants by Mexico fans during their World Cup win over Germany. Supporters could be heard yelling “puto” - the Spanish word for a male prostitute - when Manuel Neuer prepared to take a goal kick in the 24th minute of Sunday’s Group F game. Fifa confirmed it was “collecting the different match reports and potential evidence in regards to the matter, including the one from the anti-discrimination match observer who was present at the game as part of Fifa’s anti-discrimination monitoring system”. The Mexican Football Federation (FMF) has been repeatedly fined for its fans’ use of the slur but has controversially avoided a stadium ban, a sanction imposed on other Latin American associations for persistent homophobic abuse by supporters. The Court of Arbitration for Sport also cancelled two fines issued to Mexico in November, ruling the chant on those occasions had been “insulting” but not meant to offend. It allowed other fines imposed on the FMF to stand. Fifa began taking action over the “puto” chant after being condemned for failing to do so during the last World Cup in Brazil. Manuel Neuer was on the receiving end of some abuse Credit: getty images During qualifying for Russia 2018, it punished homophobic abuse on 56 occasions. Mexico accounted for 12 of those transgressions, Chile 10, Argentina six, and Brazil and Honduras five each. Only Chile and Honduras ended up with stadium bans, sparking calls for Fifa to increase the severity of its punishments for homophobic chants. Unlike “race, colour, language, religion or origin”, sexual orientation is not mentioned in Article 58 of Fifa’s disciplinary code, which governs discrimination. Breaches of Article 58 incur a minimum fine of 30,000 Swiss francs, with “serious offences” punishable by matches being played behind closed doors, the forfeit of a match, a points deduction of expulsion from a competition. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage All 56 cases of homophobic chanting during World Cup qualifying were dealt with under Article 67 of the code, which governs “insulting words”, and for which there is no minimum tariff. Piara Powar, the chief of Fare, which helps Fifa administer its anti-discrimination monitoring system, said in November that “harsher punishments” were needed for homophobic abuse, highlighting the current loophole in the regulations. He added that talks were planned with the world governing body to address the issue. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Fifa launch investigation into homophobic chants by Mexico fans during World Cup match against Germany
Fifa has launched an investigation into homophobic chants by Mexico fans during their World Cup win over Germany. Supporters could be heard yelling “puto” - the Spanish word for a male prostitute - when Manuel Neuer prepared to take a goal kick in the 24th minute of Sunday’s Group F game. Fifa confirmed it was “collecting the different match reports and potential evidence in regards to the matter, including the one from the anti-discrimination match observer who was present at the game as part of Fifa’s anti-discrimination monitoring system”. The Mexican Football Federation (FMF) has been repeatedly fined for its fans’ use of the slur but has controversially avoided a stadium ban, a sanction imposed on other Latin American associations for persistent homophobic abuse by supporters. The Court of Arbitration for Sport also cancelled two fines issued to Mexico in November, ruling the chant on those occasions had been “insulting” but not meant to offend. It allowed other fines imposed on the FMF to stand. Fifa began taking action over the “puto” chant after being condemned for failing to do so during the last World Cup in Brazil. Manuel Neuer was on the receiving end of some abuse Credit: getty images During qualifying for Russia 2018, it punished homophobic abuse on 56 occasions. Mexico accounted for 12 of those transgressions, Chile 10, Argentina six, and Brazil and Honduras five each. Only Chile and Honduras ended up with stadium bans, sparking calls for Fifa to increase the severity of its punishments for homophobic chants. Unlike “race, colour, language, religion or origin”, sexual orientation is not mentioned in Article 58 of Fifa’s disciplinary code, which governs discrimination. Breaches of Article 58 incur a minimum fine of 30,000 Swiss francs, with “serious offences” punishable by matches being played behind closed doors, the forfeit of a match, a points deduction of expulsion from a competition. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage All 56 cases of homophobic chanting during World Cup qualifying were dealt with under Article 67 of the code, which governs “insulting words”, and for which there is no minimum tariff. Piara Powar, the chief of Fare, which helps Fifa administer its anti-discrimination monitoring system, said in November that “harsher punishments” were needed for homophobic abuse, highlighting the current loophole in the regulations. He added that talks were planned with the world governing body to address the issue. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Fifa has launched an investigation into homophobic chants by Mexico fans during their World Cup win over Germany. Supporters could be heard yelling “puto” - the Spanish word for a male prostitute - when Manuel Neuer prepared to take a goal kick in the 24th minute of Sunday’s Group F game. Fifa confirmed it was “collecting the different match reports and potential evidence in regards to the matter, including the one from the anti-discrimination match observer who was present at the game as part of Fifa’s anti-discrimination monitoring system”. The Mexican Football Federation (FMF) has been repeatedly fined for its fans’ use of the slur but has controversially avoided a stadium ban, a sanction imposed on other Latin American associations for persistent homophobic abuse by supporters. The Court of Arbitration for Sport also cancelled two fines issued to Mexico in November, ruling the chant on those occasions had been “insulting” but not meant to offend. It allowed other fines imposed on the FMF to stand. Fifa began taking action over the “puto” chant after being condemned for failing to do so during the last World Cup in Brazil. Manuel Neuer was on the receiving end of some abuse Credit: getty images During qualifying for Russia 2018, it punished homophobic abuse on 56 occasions. Mexico accounted for 12 of those transgressions, Chile 10, Argentina six, and Brazil and Honduras five each. Only Chile and Honduras ended up with stadium bans, sparking calls for Fifa to increase the severity of its punishments for homophobic chants. Unlike “race, colour, language, religion or origin”, sexual orientation is not mentioned in Article 58 of Fifa’s disciplinary code, which governs discrimination. Breaches of Article 58 incur a minimum fine of 30,000 Swiss francs, with “serious offences” punishable by matches being played behind closed doors, the forfeit of a match, a points deduction of expulsion from a competition. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage All 56 cases of homophobic chanting during World Cup qualifying were dealt with under Article 67 of the code, which governs “insulting words”, and for which there is no minimum tariff. Piara Powar, the chief of Fare, which helps Fifa administer its anti-discrimination monitoring system, said in November that “harsher punishments” were needed for homophobic abuse, highlighting the current loophole in the regulations. He added that talks were planned with the world governing body to address the issue. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Fifa launch investigation into homophobic chants by Mexico fans during World Cup match against Germany
Fifa has launched an investigation into homophobic chants by Mexico fans during their World Cup win over Germany. Supporters could be heard yelling “puto” - the Spanish word for a male prostitute - when Manuel Neuer prepared to take a goal kick in the 24th minute of Sunday’s Group F game. Fifa confirmed it was “collecting the different match reports and potential evidence in regards to the matter, including the one from the anti-discrimination match observer who was present at the game as part of Fifa’s anti-discrimination monitoring system”. The Mexican Football Federation (FMF) has been repeatedly fined for its fans’ use of the slur but has controversially avoided a stadium ban, a sanction imposed on other Latin American associations for persistent homophobic abuse by supporters. The Court of Arbitration for Sport also cancelled two fines issued to Mexico in November, ruling the chant on those occasions had been “insulting” but not meant to offend. It allowed other fines imposed on the FMF to stand. Fifa began taking action over the “puto” chant after being condemned for failing to do so during the last World Cup in Brazil. Manuel Neuer was on the receiving end of some abuse Credit: getty images During qualifying for Russia 2018, it punished homophobic abuse on 56 occasions. Mexico accounted for 12 of those transgressions, Chile 10, Argentina six, and Brazil and Honduras five each. Only Chile and Honduras ended up with stadium bans, sparking calls for Fifa to increase the severity of its punishments for homophobic chants. Unlike “race, colour, language, religion or origin”, sexual orientation is not mentioned in Article 58 of Fifa’s disciplinary code, which governs discrimination. Breaches of Article 58 incur a minimum fine of 30,000 Swiss francs, with “serious offences” punishable by matches being played behind closed doors, the forfeit of a match, a points deduction of expulsion from a competition. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage All 56 cases of homophobic chanting during World Cup qualifying were dealt with under Article 67 of the code, which governs “insulting words”, and for which there is no minimum tariff. Piara Powar, the chief of Fare, which helps Fifa administer its anti-discrimination monitoring system, said in November that “harsher punishments” were needed for homophobic abuse, highlighting the current loophole in the regulations. He added that talks were planned with the world governing body to address the issue. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
The 2018 Fifa World Cup includes eight groups of four teams in its first stage - but who is in best shape to progress to the last 16? Here are the group tables and latest standings. 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 are 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 2 Australia 1 Peru 0 Denmark 1 Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria Argentina 1 Iceland 1 Croatia 2 Nigeria 0 Our prediction: Argentina and Croatia to go through Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia Costa Rica 0 Serbia 1 Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea Germany 0 Mexico 1 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: games, tables, current standings and analysis
The 2018 Fifa World Cup includes eight groups of four teams in its first stage - but who is in best shape to progress to the last 16? Here are the group tables and latest standings. 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 are 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 2 Australia 1 Peru 0 Denmark 1 Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria Argentina 1 Iceland 1 Croatia 2 Nigeria 0 Our prediction: Argentina and Croatia to go through Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia Costa Rica 0 Serbia 1 Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea Germany 0 Mexico 1 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 2018 Fifa World Cup includes eight groups of four teams in its first stage - but who is in best shape to progress to the last 16? Here are the group tables and latest standings. 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 are 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 2 Australia 1 Peru 0 Denmark 1 Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria Argentina 1 Iceland 1 Croatia 2 Nigeria 0 Our prediction: Argentina and Croatia to go through Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia Costa Rica 0 Serbia 1 Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea Germany 0 Mexico 1 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: games, tables, current standings and analysis
The 2018 Fifa World Cup includes eight groups of four teams in its first stage - but who is in best shape to progress to the last 16? Here are the group tables and latest standings. 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 are 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 2 Australia 1 Peru 0 Denmark 1 Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria Argentina 1 Iceland 1 Croatia 2 Nigeria 0 Our prediction: Argentina and Croatia to go through Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia Costa Rica 0 Serbia 1 Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea Germany 0 Mexico 1 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 2018 Fifa World Cup includes eight groups of four teams in its first stage - but who is in best shape to progress to the last 16? Here are the group tables and latest standings. 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 are 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 2 Australia 1 Peru 0 Denmark 1 Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria Argentina 1 Iceland 1 Croatia 2 Nigeria 0 Our prediction: Argentina and Croatia to go through Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia Costa Rica 0 Serbia 1 Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea Germany 0 Mexico 1 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: games, tables, current standings and analysis
The 2018 Fifa World Cup includes eight groups of four teams in its first stage - but who is in best shape to progress to the last 16? Here are the group tables and latest standings. 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 are 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 2 Australia 1 Peru 0 Denmark 1 Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria Argentina 1 Iceland 1 Croatia 2 Nigeria 0 Our prediction: Argentina and Croatia to go through Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia Costa Rica 0 Serbia 1 Brazil 1 Switzerland 1 Our prediction: Brazil and Switzerland to go through Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea Germany 0 Mexico 1 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
What is it? It is England vs Tunisia, the first match for Gareth Southgate's side at the 2018 World Cup. After plenty of talk about a positive atmosphere and a relaxed look to this England squad, we get a chance to see the team under tournament pressure. Gareth Southgate's men will be attempting to break a cycle of heartache and humiliation at major tournaments that has plunged the birthplace of football to its lowest ebb. It's no surprise that the nation's expectations are low heading to Russia. England may have won the 1966 World Cup, but have only reached the semi-finals of a tournament twice since then. Will it change this time around? When is it? Monday, June 18, 2018 - ie tonight. Where is it? At the Volgograd Arena, in Volgograd. England vs Tunisia, World Cup 2018 | How long until kick-off? What time is kick-off? It's a 7pm BST start, so make sure to get home from work in good time. What TV channel is it on? The BBC and ITV are sharing coverage of the World Cup, but BBC have rights to the first England match. You can watch their build-up on BBC One from 6.15pm. Alternatively, you can follow this match - and all 64 across the tournament - live here with Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Latest team news England England's Fabian Delph is ready to miss a World Cup match to be at the birth of his third child. All eyes are on Monday's Group G opener against Tunisia in Volgograd, with Gareth Southgate's squad made aware of his intended starting line-up two days early. Delph did not give away whether he got the nod but is ready to forego a starting role this summer in order to be by wife Natalie's side. It is hard to remember a similar scenario with England at a major tournament, but the midfielder's partner is due to give birth on June 30 - just two days after the final Group G match against Belgium. "I don't think it would affect me mentally," Delph said. "Obviously I'd have to get back to England and then get back again, so that's obviously not ideal but it's part of life. "I'm about to have my third child and I'm not going to miss it if I can help it, but I want to get back as fast as I can, so we'll have to see." England probable (3-5-2): Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Trippier, Lingard, Henderson, Dele, Young, Sterling, Kane World Cup whatsapp promo Tunisia Tunisia will field key players Wahbi Khazri and Ali Maaloul in their opening World Cup game against England on Monday after the pair were declared fit as the squad on Saturday headed to Volgograd for their Group G clash. Khazri, who will likely lead the attack, had not played since the end of the Ligue 1 season in France where he had suffered a thigh strain in action for Stade Rennes. Maaloul, whose overlapping runs are also key to Tunisia’s attacking hopes, had been injured playing in last week’s friendly against Spain in Krasnodar but was cleared after scans, officials said on Saturday. Tunisia have already been hard hit by injuries to creative winger Youssef Msakni and striker Taha Yassine Khenissi, who both missed out on the World Cup. Msakni had been invited to watch Monday's game in Volgograd by the Tunisian federation. Here is Tunisia's 23-man squad: Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab, Saudi Arabia), Moez Hassen (Chateauroux, France), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Baten, Saudi Arabia) Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City, England), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa, Turkey), Dylan Bronn (Gent, Belgium), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon, France), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly, Egypt), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek, Egypt) Midfielders: Anice Badri (Esperance), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Al Ahli Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), Ghaylene Chaalali (Esperance), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Saifeddine Khaoui (Troyes, France), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nasr, Saudi Arabia), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier, France), Naim Sliti (Dijon, France), Bassem Srarfi (Nice, France) Forwards: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ittifaq, Saudi Arabia), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Wahbi Khazri (Rennes, France) Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more What do we know about the Tunisia squad? With Youssef Msakni sidelined, Tunisia will be fielding a team at the World Cup that includes several foreign-born players, mainly from France. Indeed, Tunisia's squad is a mix of players mainly from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, France and domestic leagues. Here's a closer look at the Tunisia team: Coach 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 World Cup qualifying for his second spell as coach after a brief tenure in 2013. Maaloul played for Tunisia for a decade from 1985-95. One of very few African coaches in charge of a national team, he has transformed Tunisia from a fairly dour, defensive outfit to one more willing to attack since he took over after the African Cup of Nations in early 2017. He needs to ensure the decision to bring in new players at the expense of some of the men who got Tunisia to the World Cup doesn't upset the team balance or alienate squad members. Goalkeepers Maaloul's biggest decision may be the first name on the sheet after saying he has yet to decide. Aymen Mathlouthi, who is beginning to show frailties at 33 and after 11 years in the team, can no longer be certain of his starting spot. Maaloul must figure out whether to drop the captain and sacrifice experience for 28-year-old Farouk Ben Mustapha, who has been highly-praised in the Saudi league. World Cup 2018 stadiums Defenders Maaloul said he was leaning toward starting the World Cup with the formation used in friendly wins over Iran and Costa Rica in March. That would see 22-year-old French-born Ellyes Skhiri, who made his debut against Iran after a late call-up, start in central defence. Other contenders are 24-year-old home-based player Yassine Meriah, the experienced Syam Ben Youssef and Mohamed Amine Ben Amor. If it's a four-man back line, expect to see right-back Dylan Bronn, another French-born newcomer. Ali Maaloul has been a regular on the left. Both can also operate as wingers in a five-man midfield if Tunisia goes with a three-man defence of big, strong center-backs. Midfielders The challenge of filling the void left by Msakni will likely fall on France-born attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri. He played for the Tunisia and France youth teams before committing to Tunisia. Khazri was partnered in the center of midfield by Anice Badri in Tunisia's last match - forming a potent attacking threat. They are all versatile, operating as attacking midfielders or in a more advanced position in the forward line. Saif-Eddine Khaoui is a similar attack-minded midfielder who has forced himself into the team's plans. Ferjani Sassi has the role of shoring up the middle of the field as the holding midfielder. World Cup predictor Forwards Depending on whether Khazri, Badri, Sliti and newcomer Khaoui are deployed, there may be room for one or perhaps no out-and-out strikers. Ahmed Akaichi and Taha Yassine Khenissi have experience of operating alone up front but recent formations could mean Tunisia's forward line will be based on the versatility of the four attacking midfielders. What are they saying? Gareth Southgate "I think the history can help us in terms of understanding what we can improve upon and what we can do," England manager Southgate said. "You learn lessons from the past, but this team shouldn't be burdened with it because they're a fresh group, most of them have very few international caps. "The future is all ahead of them, so they have to be thinking about what's possible. "The players of the past and opportunities of the past are gone. "This team is looking at things in a different way, trying to play in a different way. "They have a hunger, a desire, we have a better technical players than we've had in the past coming through our academies, so there's a real enthusiasm. "They're looking forward to getting going." Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul: "For me the best team are Belgium, they are the group favourites. They have a lot of players who play in England and they are currently playing really well for a lot of clubs in England, so they are favourites and second place is between Tunisia and England. I hope it won't be the same scenario as in 1998." Key England vs Tunisia talking points AN END TO OPENING-DAY NERVES? England have not won their first fixture at a major tournament since 2006 when they edged Paraguay in Frankfurt. They have since drawn with the United States, France and Russia as well as losing to Italy at the last World Cup. Nerves in the curtain-raising fixture are not restricted to the Three Lions, of course, but their record could certainly do with some polishing. Three points would go a long way to affirming the squad's serene preparations as well as paving the way to the last 16. KANE'S TOURNAMENT DROUGHT Harry Kane has been the Premier League's market-leading finisher for four years, during which he has finessed his end product and built an enviable CV. The one notable omission is a lack of goals in summer tournaments - with the Spurs striker drawing a blank at the Under-21 European Championship and then again with the seniors at Euro 2016. Now he is captain, he must shoulder the burden and has welcomed the rising expectations with open arms. With 13 goals in 24 caps, the shirt clearly doesn't burden him - so can he seize the moment in Russia? 2 x 8 ? Gareth Southgate has pledged to play with one screening midfielder and two 'number eights' - at least against the less expansive opponents like Tunisia and Panama. That makes Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard a crucial axis in the centre of the field. The pair's partnership is still in its infancy though and it is arguable if either man is being utilised in his optimal position. How they dovetail in midfield could determine England's tempo and ability to create scoring chances. PICKFORD NEEDS A STEADY START Unless Southgate springs a major surprise, Jordan Pickford will don the gloves on Monday - making just his fourth appearance and his first in competitive internationals. It would be tempting to view it as a failure in planning but Southgate's selections have been guided by form, not a loyalty programme from the qualifying period. All Pickford needs to do is provide a safe pair of hands, quite literally, but just ask Spain's David De Gea how hard that can be when the heat is on. IN THE STANDS England are well known for their raucous travelling support but ticket sales to Three Lions fans for this tournament have been well down on previous editions. Affordability and logistics are an obvious issue but there have been many other side concerns including British diplomatic tension with Russia, LGBT rights, racism and hooliganism. Will the thinned-out numbers of English fans dent the team's confidence, or might that factor help relieve some of the weight of expectation? PA What are the odds? England to win 1/3 Draw 4/1 Tunisia to win 8/1 What's our prediction? England finished bottom of their group at the last World Cup in Brazil and suffered a humiliating defeat by Iceland in the last-16 at Euro 2016. However, without wishing to tempt face, they could not have asked for an easier start to the tournament this time and should expect to win comfortably. Predicted score: England 2 Tunisia 0. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
England vs Tunisia, World Cup 2018: What time is kick-off today, what TV channel is it on and what is our prediction?
What is it? It is England vs Tunisia, the first match for Gareth Southgate's side at the 2018 World Cup. After plenty of talk about a positive atmosphere and a relaxed look to this England squad, we get a chance to see the team under tournament pressure. Gareth Southgate's men will be attempting to break a cycle of heartache and humiliation at major tournaments that has plunged the birthplace of football to its lowest ebb. It's no surprise that the nation's expectations are low heading to Russia. England may have won the 1966 World Cup, but have only reached the semi-finals of a tournament twice since then. Will it change this time around? When is it? Monday, June 18, 2018 - ie tonight. Where is it? At the Volgograd Arena, in Volgograd. England vs Tunisia, World Cup 2018 | How long until kick-off? What time is kick-off? It's a 7pm BST start, so make sure to get home from work in good time. What TV channel is it on? The BBC and ITV are sharing coverage of the World Cup, but BBC have rights to the first England match. You can watch their build-up on BBC One from 6.15pm. Alternatively, you can follow this match - and all 64 across the tournament - live here with Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Latest team news England England's Fabian Delph is ready to miss a World Cup match to be at the birth of his third child. All eyes are on Monday's Group G opener against Tunisia in Volgograd, with Gareth Southgate's squad made aware of his intended starting line-up two days early. Delph did not give away whether he got the nod but is ready to forego a starting role this summer in order to be by wife Natalie's side. It is hard to remember a similar scenario with England at a major tournament, but the midfielder's partner is due to give birth on June 30 - just two days after the final Group G match against Belgium. "I don't think it would affect me mentally," Delph said. "Obviously I'd have to get back to England and then get back again, so that's obviously not ideal but it's part of life. "I'm about to have my third child and I'm not going to miss it if I can help it, but I want to get back as fast as I can, so we'll have to see." England probable (3-5-2): Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Trippier, Lingard, Henderson, Dele, Young, Sterling, Kane World Cup whatsapp promo Tunisia Tunisia will field key players Wahbi Khazri and Ali Maaloul in their opening World Cup game against England on Monday after the pair were declared fit as the squad on Saturday headed to Volgograd for their Group G clash. Khazri, who will likely lead the attack, had not played since the end of the Ligue 1 season in France where he had suffered a thigh strain in action for Stade Rennes. Maaloul, whose overlapping runs are also key to Tunisia’s attacking hopes, had been injured playing in last week’s friendly against Spain in Krasnodar but was cleared after scans, officials said on Saturday. Tunisia have already been hard hit by injuries to creative winger Youssef Msakni and striker Taha Yassine Khenissi, who both missed out on the World Cup. Msakni had been invited to watch Monday's game in Volgograd by the Tunisian federation. Here is Tunisia's 23-man squad: Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab, Saudi Arabia), Moez Hassen (Chateauroux, France), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Baten, Saudi Arabia) Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City, England), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa, Turkey), Dylan Bronn (Gent, Belgium), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon, France), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly, Egypt), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek, Egypt) Midfielders: Anice Badri (Esperance), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Al Ahli Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), Ghaylene Chaalali (Esperance), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Saifeddine Khaoui (Troyes, France), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nasr, Saudi Arabia), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier, France), Naim Sliti (Dijon, France), Bassem Srarfi (Nice, France) Forwards: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ittifaq, Saudi Arabia), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Wahbi Khazri (Rennes, France) Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more What do we know about the Tunisia squad? With Youssef Msakni sidelined, Tunisia will be fielding a team at the World Cup that includes several foreign-born players, mainly from France. Indeed, Tunisia's squad is a mix of players mainly from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, France and domestic leagues. Here's a closer look at the Tunisia team: Coach 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 World Cup qualifying for his second spell as coach after a brief tenure in 2013. Maaloul played for Tunisia for a decade from 1985-95. One of very few African coaches in charge of a national team, he has transformed Tunisia from a fairly dour, defensive outfit to one more willing to attack since he took over after the African Cup of Nations in early 2017. He needs to ensure the decision to bring in new players at the expense of some of the men who got Tunisia to the World Cup doesn't upset the team balance or alienate squad members. Goalkeepers Maaloul's biggest decision may be the first name on the sheet after saying he has yet to decide. Aymen Mathlouthi, who is beginning to show frailties at 33 and after 11 years in the team, can no longer be certain of his starting spot. Maaloul must figure out whether to drop the captain and sacrifice experience for 28-year-old Farouk Ben Mustapha, who has been highly-praised in the Saudi league. World Cup 2018 stadiums Defenders Maaloul said he was leaning toward starting the World Cup with the formation used in friendly wins over Iran and Costa Rica in March. That would see 22-year-old French-born Ellyes Skhiri, who made his debut against Iran after a late call-up, start in central defence. Other contenders are 24-year-old home-based player Yassine Meriah, the experienced Syam Ben Youssef and Mohamed Amine Ben Amor. If it's a four-man back line, expect to see right-back Dylan Bronn, another French-born newcomer. Ali Maaloul has been a regular on the left. Both can also operate as wingers in a five-man midfield if Tunisia goes with a three-man defence of big, strong center-backs. Midfielders The challenge of filling the void left by Msakni will likely fall on France-born attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri. He played for the Tunisia and France youth teams before committing to Tunisia. Khazri was partnered in the center of midfield by Anice Badri in Tunisia's last match - forming a potent attacking threat. They are all versatile, operating as attacking midfielders or in a more advanced position in the forward line. Saif-Eddine Khaoui is a similar attack-minded midfielder who has forced himself into the team's plans. Ferjani Sassi has the role of shoring up the middle of the field as the holding midfielder. World Cup predictor Forwards Depending on whether Khazri, Badri, Sliti and newcomer Khaoui are deployed, there may be room for one or perhaps no out-and-out strikers. Ahmed Akaichi and Taha Yassine Khenissi have experience of operating alone up front but recent formations could mean Tunisia's forward line will be based on the versatility of the four attacking midfielders. What are they saying? Gareth Southgate "I think the history can help us in terms of understanding what we can improve upon and what we can do," England manager Southgate said. "You learn lessons from the past, but this team shouldn't be burdened with it because they're a fresh group, most of them have very few international caps. "The future is all ahead of them, so they have to be thinking about what's possible. "The players of the past and opportunities of the past are gone. "This team is looking at things in a different way, trying to play in a different way. "They have a hunger, a desire, we have a better technical players than we've had in the past coming through our academies, so there's a real enthusiasm. "They're looking forward to getting going." Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul: "For me the best team are Belgium, they are the group favourites. They have a lot of players who play in England and they are currently playing really well for a lot of clubs in England, so they are favourites and second place is between Tunisia and England. I hope it won't be the same scenario as in 1998." Key England vs Tunisia talking points AN END TO OPENING-DAY NERVES? England have not won their first fixture at a major tournament since 2006 when they edged Paraguay in Frankfurt. They have since drawn with the United States, France and Russia as well as losing to Italy at the last World Cup. Nerves in the curtain-raising fixture are not restricted to the Three Lions, of course, but their record could certainly do with some polishing. Three points would go a long way to affirming the squad's serene preparations as well as paving the way to the last 16. KANE'S TOURNAMENT DROUGHT Harry Kane has been the Premier League's market-leading finisher for four years, during which he has finessed his end product and built an enviable CV. The one notable omission is a lack of goals in summer tournaments - with the Spurs striker drawing a blank at the Under-21 European Championship and then again with the seniors at Euro 2016. Now he is captain, he must shoulder the burden and has welcomed the rising expectations with open arms. With 13 goals in 24 caps, the shirt clearly doesn't burden him - so can he seize the moment in Russia? 2 x 8 ? Gareth Southgate has pledged to play with one screening midfielder and two 'number eights' - at least against the less expansive opponents like Tunisia and Panama. That makes Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard a crucial axis in the centre of the field. The pair's partnership is still in its infancy though and it is arguable if either man is being utilised in his optimal position. How they dovetail in midfield could determine England's tempo and ability to create scoring chances. PICKFORD NEEDS A STEADY START Unless Southgate springs a major surprise, Jordan Pickford will don the gloves on Monday - making just his fourth appearance and his first in competitive internationals. It would be tempting to view it as a failure in planning but Southgate's selections have been guided by form, not a loyalty programme from the qualifying period. All Pickford needs to do is provide a safe pair of hands, quite literally, but just ask Spain's David De Gea how hard that can be when the heat is on. IN THE STANDS England are well known for their raucous travelling support but ticket sales to Three Lions fans for this tournament have been well down on previous editions. Affordability and logistics are an obvious issue but there have been many other side concerns including British diplomatic tension with Russia, LGBT rights, racism and hooliganism. Will the thinned-out numbers of English fans dent the team's confidence, or might that factor help relieve some of the weight of expectation? PA What are the odds? England to win 1/3 Draw 4/1 Tunisia to win 8/1 What's our prediction? England finished bottom of their group at the last World Cup in Brazil and suffered a humiliating defeat by Iceland in the last-16 at Euro 2016. However, without wishing to tempt face, they could not have asked for an easier start to the tournament this time and should expect to win comfortably. Predicted score: England 2 Tunisia 0. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
FILE - In this file photo from Oct. 10, 2017, Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez celebrates with Roman Torres, who scored his team's second goal, after a World Cup qualifying soccer match against Costa Rica in Panama City. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File)
Panama coach blunt and honest before World Cup debut
FILE - In this file photo from Oct. 10, 2017, Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez celebrates with Roman Torres, who scored his team's second goal, after a World Cup qualifying soccer match against Costa Rica in Panama City. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File)
FILE - In this file photo from Oct. 10, 2017, Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez celebrates with Roman Torres, who scored his team's second goal, after a World Cup qualifying soccer match against Costa Rica in Panama City. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File)
FILE - In this file photo from Oct. 10, 2017, Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez celebrates with Roman Torres, who scored his team's second goal, after a World Cup qualifying soccer match against Costa Rica in Panama City. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File)
FILE - In this file photo from Oct. 10, 2017, Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez celebrates with Roman Torres, who scored his team's second goal, after a World Cup qualifying soccer match against Costa Rica in Panama City. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File)
The reaction from Juan Carlos ­Osorio to being told that an ­earthquake had registered in ­Mexico City amid the celebrations for Hirving Lozano’s winning goal against Germany told you ­everything about why this perhaps should not register quite so highly on the Richter scale of World Cup upsets. “It did!?” said the Mexico ­manager. “When we scored I sat down, thought about the plan and how not to concede over the next five minutes.” Osorio is nicknamed the “Professor” and his planning ­famously extends to copious notes and ring-binders, but delve even deeper into his remarkable journey to football’s greatest stage and the suspicion only grows that there will be no more meticulously prepared team in Russia. He had certainly identified Germany’s weaknesses with forensic accuracy here and his players were duly superb in executing a ­game plan that ruthlessly exploited a ­position that was supposed to be Germany’s great strength. Joshua Kimmich has been regularly hailed as the best right-back in the world over the past year for the way he bombs forward, creates chances and scores goals. The flipside, however, is that he also leaves great spaces behind him. For Bayern Munich, usually so dominant and secure in possession, it is rarely noticed. But starting alongside two centre-backs ­approaching 30 and the potential hazards against a fast, well drilled and technical adept opposition soon became clear. And this is just exactly what Mexico have become under the charismatic Osorio, who has now won 32 of his 48 matches as manager. Osorio would have known that Germany would be dominant in possession but, in clearly targeting the big spaces down the defending champions’ right with counter-­attacks, their threat persisted even while largely camped in their own half for the final 45 minutes. Celebrations in Mexico City registered on the Richter Scale Credit: REUTERS/Gustavo Graf Born in Colombia, Osorio saw his career as a player ended by injury at the age of 26, but his determination to succeed as a coach was extraordinary. According to the New York Times, he moved to the United States as an illegal immigrant, working in construction and food service, before regained his legal status and then completing a ­degree in exercise science at Southern Connecticut State University. He sold many of his belongings to travel to Liverpool to study ­football and science at John Moores University and it was here that, ­after asking to borrow a ladder from a family who lived adjacent to Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, he would secretly watch Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier at work. Jobs in sports science followed at Major League Soccer and then with Manchester City, but he never stopped pushing to learn and ­persuaded just about all the biggest managerial names in Europe to let him study them at work. The ring-binders were growing ever thicker and opportunities to put his ­theories in practice would follow in Colombia, the United States and Brazil, before taking the Mexico job in 2015. Osorio His tactical methods, which ­centre largely on creating ­unpredictable patterns of movement among his strikers through repetitive practice, have been ­described by Mexico’s record ­goalscorer Javier Hernández as ­bordering on “genius”. Osorio has said that he wants Mexico “to take movement to new levels”. Results have also followed, even if supporters have been ­curiously slow to celebrate a team who topped Concacaf’s World Cup qualifying and reached the quarter-finals of the Copa America and then the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. “They’re not happy with us ­winning,” said Osorio. “We have to win and humiliate the opposition. There is no country in the world that keeps so much pressure on a national team coach.” Expectations will now also follow after this marvellous performance, even if Osorio naturally has a plan. “We will work on psychology – we have videos, movies and set phrases,” he said. “I carry the burden of pressure. The players should enjoy the game and play football like they did today against Germany. When they win, they take the credit. When they lose, I will take the blame.” And so what were his last words before a match that has, quite literally, reverberated almost 7,000 miles back across the world? “Focus on the beautiful game,” said Osorio. “Play for the love of winning, not the fear of losing.” WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Juan Carlos Osorio takes the strain and teaches Mexico to play for the love of winning
The reaction from Juan Carlos ­Osorio to being told that an ­earthquake had registered in ­Mexico City amid the celebrations for Hirving Lozano’s winning goal against Germany told you ­everything about why this perhaps should not register quite so highly on the Richter scale of World Cup upsets. “It did!?” said the Mexico ­manager. “When we scored I sat down, thought about the plan and how not to concede over the next five minutes.” Osorio is nicknamed the “Professor” and his planning ­famously extends to copious notes and ring-binders, but delve even deeper into his remarkable journey to football’s greatest stage and the suspicion only grows that there will be no more meticulously prepared team in Russia. He had certainly identified Germany’s weaknesses with forensic accuracy here and his players were duly superb in executing a ­game plan that ruthlessly exploited a ­position that was supposed to be Germany’s great strength. Joshua Kimmich has been regularly hailed as the best right-back in the world over the past year for the way he bombs forward, creates chances and scores goals. The flipside, however, is that he also leaves great spaces behind him. For Bayern Munich, usually so dominant and secure in possession, it is rarely noticed. But starting alongside two centre-backs ­approaching 30 and the potential hazards against a fast, well drilled and technical adept opposition soon became clear. And this is just exactly what Mexico have become under the charismatic Osorio, who has now won 32 of his 48 matches as manager. Osorio would have known that Germany would be dominant in possession but, in clearly targeting the big spaces down the defending champions’ right with counter-­attacks, their threat persisted even while largely camped in their own half for the final 45 minutes. Celebrations in Mexico City registered on the Richter Scale Credit: REUTERS/Gustavo Graf Born in Colombia, Osorio saw his career as a player ended by injury at the age of 26, but his determination to succeed as a coach was extraordinary. According to the New York Times, he moved to the United States as an illegal immigrant, working in construction and food service, before regained his legal status and then completing a ­degree in exercise science at Southern Connecticut State University. He sold many of his belongings to travel to Liverpool to study ­football and science at John Moores University and it was here that, ­after asking to borrow a ladder from a family who lived adjacent to Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, he would secretly watch Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier at work. Jobs in sports science followed at Major League Soccer and then with Manchester City, but he never stopped pushing to learn and ­persuaded just about all the biggest managerial names in Europe to let him study them at work. The ring-binders were growing ever thicker and opportunities to put his ­theories in practice would follow in Colombia, the United States and Brazil, before taking the Mexico job in 2015. Osorio His tactical methods, which ­centre largely on creating ­unpredictable patterns of movement among his strikers through repetitive practice, have been ­described by Mexico’s record ­goalscorer Javier Hernández as ­bordering on “genius”. Osorio has said that he wants Mexico “to take movement to new levels”. Results have also followed, even if supporters have been ­curiously slow to celebrate a team who topped Concacaf’s World Cup qualifying and reached the quarter-finals of the Copa America and then the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. “They’re not happy with us ­winning,” said Osorio. “We have to win and humiliate the opposition. There is no country in the world that keeps so much pressure on a national team coach.” Expectations will now also follow after this marvellous performance, even if Osorio naturally has a plan. “We will work on psychology – we have videos, movies and set phrases,” he said. “I carry the burden of pressure. The players should enjoy the game and play football like they did today against Germany. When they win, they take the credit. When they lose, I will take the blame.” And so what were his last words before a match that has, quite literally, reverberated almost 7,000 miles back across the world? “Focus on the beautiful game,” said Osorio. “Play for the love of winning, not the fear of losing.” WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
The reaction from Juan Carlos ­Osorio to being told that an ­earthquake had registered in ­Mexico City amid the celebrations for Hirving Lozano’s winning goal against Germany told you ­everything about why this perhaps should not register quite so highly on the Richter scale of World Cup upsets. “It did!?” said the Mexico ­manager. “When we scored I sat down, thought about the plan and how not to concede over the next five minutes.” Osorio is nicknamed the “Professor” and his planning ­famously extends to copious notes and ring-binders, but delve even deeper into his remarkable journey to football’s greatest stage and the suspicion only grows that there will be no more meticulously prepared team in Russia. He had certainly identified Germany’s weaknesses with forensic accuracy here and his players were duly superb in executing a ­game plan that ruthlessly exploited a ­position that was supposed to be Germany’s great strength. Joshua Kimmich has been regularly hailed as the best right-back in the world over the past year for the way he bombs forward, creates chances and scores goals. The flipside, however, is that he also leaves great spaces behind him. For Bayern Munich, usually so dominant and secure in possession, it is rarely noticed. But starting alongside two centre-backs ­approaching 30 and the potential hazards against a fast, well drilled and technical adept opposition soon became clear. And this is just exactly what Mexico have become under the charismatic Osorio, who has now won 32 of his 48 matches as manager. Osorio would have known that Germany would be dominant in possession but, in clearly targeting the big spaces down the defending champions’ right with counter-­attacks, their threat persisted even while largely camped in their own half for the final 45 minutes. Celebrations in Mexico City registered on the Richter Scale Credit: REUTERS/Gustavo Graf Born in Colombia, Osorio saw his career as a player ended by injury at the age of 26, but his determination to succeed as a coach was extraordinary. According to the New York Times, he moved to the United States as an illegal immigrant, working in construction and food service, before regained his legal status and then completing a ­degree in exercise science at Southern Connecticut State University. He sold many of his belongings to travel to Liverpool to study ­football and science at John Moores University and it was here that, ­after asking to borrow a ladder from a family who lived adjacent to Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, he would secretly watch Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier at work. Jobs in sports science followed at Major League Soccer and then with Manchester City, but he never stopped pushing to learn and ­persuaded just about all the biggest managerial names in Europe to let him study them at work. The ring-binders were growing ever thicker and opportunities to put his ­theories in practice would follow in Colombia, the United States and Brazil, before taking the Mexico job in 2015. Osorio His tactical methods, which ­centre largely on creating ­unpredictable patterns of movement among his strikers through repetitive practice, have been ­described by Mexico’s record ­goalscorer Javier Hernández as ­bordering on “genius”. Osorio has said that he wants Mexico “to take movement to new levels”. Results have also followed, even if supporters have been ­curiously slow to celebrate a team who topped Concacaf’s World Cup qualifying and reached the quarter-finals of the Copa America and then the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. “They’re not happy with us ­winning,” said Osorio. “We have to win and humiliate the opposition. There is no country in the world that keeps so much pressure on a national team coach.” Expectations will now also follow after this marvellous performance, even if Osorio naturally has a plan. “We will work on psychology – we have videos, movies and set phrases,” he said. “I carry the burden of pressure. The players should enjoy the game and play football like they did today against Germany. When they win, they take the credit. When they lose, I will take the blame.” And so what were his last words before a match that has, quite literally, reverberated almost 7,000 miles back across the world? “Focus on the beautiful game,” said Osorio. “Play for the love of winning, not the fear of losing.” WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Juan Carlos Osorio takes the strain and teaches Mexico to play for the love of winning
The reaction from Juan Carlos ­Osorio to being told that an ­earthquake had registered in ­Mexico City amid the celebrations for Hirving Lozano’s winning goal against Germany told you ­everything about why this perhaps should not register quite so highly on the Richter scale of World Cup upsets. “It did!?” said the Mexico ­manager. “When we scored I sat down, thought about the plan and how not to concede over the next five minutes.” Osorio is nicknamed the “Professor” and his planning ­famously extends to copious notes and ring-binders, but delve even deeper into his remarkable journey to football’s greatest stage and the suspicion only grows that there will be no more meticulously prepared team in Russia. He had certainly identified Germany’s weaknesses with forensic accuracy here and his players were duly superb in executing a ­game plan that ruthlessly exploited a ­position that was supposed to be Germany’s great strength. Joshua Kimmich has been regularly hailed as the best right-back in the world over the past year for the way he bombs forward, creates chances and scores goals. The flipside, however, is that he also leaves great spaces behind him. For Bayern Munich, usually so dominant and secure in possession, it is rarely noticed. But starting alongside two centre-backs ­approaching 30 and the potential hazards against a fast, well drilled and technical adept opposition soon became clear. And this is just exactly what Mexico have become under the charismatic Osorio, who has now won 32 of his 48 matches as manager. Osorio would have known that Germany would be dominant in possession but, in clearly targeting the big spaces down the defending champions’ right with counter-­attacks, their threat persisted even while largely camped in their own half for the final 45 minutes. Celebrations in Mexico City registered on the Richter Scale Credit: REUTERS/Gustavo Graf Born in Colombia, Osorio saw his career as a player ended by injury at the age of 26, but his determination to succeed as a coach was extraordinary. According to the New York Times, he moved to the United States as an illegal immigrant, working in construction and food service, before regained his legal status and then completing a ­degree in exercise science at Southern Connecticut State University. He sold many of his belongings to travel to Liverpool to study ­football and science at John Moores University and it was here that, ­after asking to borrow a ladder from a family who lived adjacent to Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, he would secretly watch Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier at work. Jobs in sports science followed at Major League Soccer and then with Manchester City, but he never stopped pushing to learn and ­persuaded just about all the biggest managerial names in Europe to let him study them at work. The ring-binders were growing ever thicker and opportunities to put his ­theories in practice would follow in Colombia, the United States and Brazil, before taking the Mexico job in 2015. Osorio His tactical methods, which ­centre largely on creating ­unpredictable patterns of movement among his strikers through repetitive practice, have been ­described by Mexico’s record ­goalscorer Javier Hernández as ­bordering on “genius”. Osorio has said that he wants Mexico “to take movement to new levels”. Results have also followed, even if supporters have been ­curiously slow to celebrate a team who topped Concacaf’s World Cup qualifying and reached the quarter-finals of the Copa America and then the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. “They’re not happy with us ­winning,” said Osorio. “We have to win and humiliate the opposition. There is no country in the world that keeps so much pressure on a national team coach.” Expectations will now also follow after this marvellous performance, even if Osorio naturally has a plan. “We will work on psychology – we have videos, movies and set phrases,” he said. “I carry the burden of pressure. The players should enjoy the game and play football like they did today against Germany. When they win, they take the credit. When they lose, I will take the blame.” And so what were his last words before a match that has, quite literally, reverberated almost 7,000 miles back across the world? “Focus on the beautiful game,” said Osorio. “Play for the love of winning, not the fear of losing.” WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Gareth Southgate’s last World Cup appearance ended with one of the most memorable quotes about an England manager. It came in 2002, after defeat to Brazil, when Sven-Goran Eriksson was unable to inspire a comeback. “We were expecting Winston Churchill and instead we got Iain Duncan-Smith,” Southgate was quoted saying, with what he thought a private remark capturing the mood of a nation. As he follows Eriksson’s path leading England on the biggest stage, I can’t help wonder what kind of leader Southgate is? I doubt he will be delivering Churchillian speeches in the dressing room, but I also hope - and expect - he will be more charismatic than the colourless Duncan-Smith. Six years ago I spent time working alongside Southgate at a major tournament. I was a TV pundit with Southgate, Roberto Martinez and Roy Keane. Everyone was asking Keane and I about our management aspirations, evidently unaware of the ambition burning in Southgate to prove himself after his first stint as a head coach at Middlesbrough. He struck me as a person pretty much as a saw him as a player - polite, studious, good company and an all-round likeable bloke. He tended to sit on the fence with his opinions, so much so I can’t recall him saying anything headline-grabbing or contentious when we sat on the sofa in Poland during Euro 2012. If Keane or I were going off on one, he courteously agreed or kept his thoughts to himself. Gareth Southgate gives the thumbs up after England training Credit: pa Did I think he would be managing England two World Cups later? No. He did not strike me as elite management material. I had similar misgivings when he was a player. As a centre-back playing in the same era, I admired Southgate. He won 57 England caps and was a high-quality, reliable and consistent defender. As he was so talented, I thought there must have something missing from his character preventing top-four clubs making a serious bid. With respect to Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, they were never going to play in the Champions League. What was he lacking? My suspicion was that the top managers felt Southgate too ‘nice’. That has been the overriding view of him throughout his career. For better or worse, we do not equate being a ‘nice’ person with being a winner. Those who succeed tend to possess an edge, even a touch of nastiness when it matters, to get where they and their clubs need to be. All the best managers have a snarl in them. Southgate’s brief spell in club management at Middlesbrough did not end well, and although he impressed with England’s Under 21s, few make the step up to the senior team. Russia World Cup in pictures: Best photos of teams, games and players Given these preconceptions, his appointment at the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign did not fill the country with confidence, especially as it was due to the circumstances following Sam Allardyce’s sacking. It felt like England had nowhere to turn. But everything Southgate has said and done over the two years leading England to Russia has been impressive. There are subtle differences in management style which we may consider giant steps over the next month, and what really bodes well is he has shown a steel which his ‘nice guy’ public demeanour disguises. We can dismiss any whispers prior to his appointment that he is little more than a Football Association ‘yes man’. Our presumption Southgate is not tough enough for the job may be wrong. Southgate’s judgement was sharp when he first rejected the England post on an interim basis when Roy Hodgson was sacked, unwilling to hold the fort while the FA searched for someone else. It was the first sign he was prepared to make a choice that must have hurt at the time, but proved astute in ensuring he later got the role permanently. He has made big decisions over the last 12 months. Easing out England captain Wayne Rooney was skilful, as was dropping Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere on the eve of the competition. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Changing the system to three at the back after qualification is brave, as is the use of Kyle Walker in that back three for the good of the team – whether Walker likes it or not. Too often, England managers have made calls which, in the short-term, avoid controversy but hinder long-term progress – especially taking injured players and keeping faith in or pandering to big names who have lacked form and fitness for months. It feels like Southgate made a list of all the errors identified going into previous tournaments and did the opposite. That has taken courage because he will have made some enemies along the way - there will be those with their own agenda waiting to pounce if they feel slighted. There are other examples of Southgate expertly defusing the hand grenades every England manager gets chucked at him. I loved how he stood up to foreign secretary Boris Johnson when it was hinted England may have to boycott the World Cup amid rising tensions between the British and Russian governments. Most recently we saw the controversy of Raheem Sterling’s tattoo approached head-on by the manager, followed by his criticism of the player for his late arrival at training. Raheem Sterling tries to tag Trent Alexander-Arnold in training Credit: getty images Such details will not matter if we fail again, but it is refreshing to see an England manager in such control and preparing for tough questions rather than getting frustrated or emotional by the tone of interviews. This tells us much about Southgate’s true character. He is a modern coach who says he does not like plenty about the modern game, yet he is a realist and is proving adept at dealing with it. It is also refreshing to have an England manager without any baggage. Whether it was Allardyce and the off-field controversy leading to his swift exit; Hodgson and concerns about his failures at big clubs amid fears he was too ‘old school’; Fabio Capello’s inability to engage with the public and his squad; or Eriksson’s playboy lifestyle – there always seemed to be a stick with which the England coach could be easily beaten. Southgate goes into the competition with a clean slate. Indeed, the last time an England manager went into a competition with such a high approval rating was probably Glenn Hoddle in 1998, or even Terry Venables in 1996. It won’t matter if England lose early, but it’s still a healthier situation than before recent major tournaments. England has one of the least experienced teams in the World Cup We will know more over the next three fixtures if Southgate’s approach has made any difference to performances. The true examination starts against Tunisia on Monday, a fixture I believe tougher than many anticipate given the first opponents recently drew with Turkey and Portugal and lost narrowly to Spain. There is plenty of goodwill going into the competition but we have been in the midst of a phoney war until now. We will see how long the mutual respect between the manager, players and media lasts if England under-perform. If England are a goal down at half-time, Southgate’s players will be judging what kind of leader he is just as he did Eriksson. He has already shifted public perceptions of his management. Now he needs his England team to change how we feel about them. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Gareth Southgate has impressively changed our perception of him - now England need to do the same
Gareth Southgate’s last World Cup appearance ended with one of the most memorable quotes about an England manager. It came in 2002, after defeat to Brazil, when Sven-Goran Eriksson was unable to inspire a comeback. “We were expecting Winston Churchill and instead we got Iain Duncan-Smith,” Southgate was quoted saying, with what he thought a private remark capturing the mood of a nation. As he follows Eriksson’s path leading England on the biggest stage, I can’t help wonder what kind of leader Southgate is? I doubt he will be delivering Churchillian speeches in the dressing room, but I also hope - and expect - he will be more charismatic than the colourless Duncan-Smith. Six years ago I spent time working alongside Southgate at a major tournament. I was a TV pundit with Southgate, Roberto Martinez and Roy Keane. Everyone was asking Keane and I about our management aspirations, evidently unaware of the ambition burning in Southgate to prove himself after his first stint as a head coach at Middlesbrough. He struck me as a person pretty much as a saw him as a player - polite, studious, good company and an all-round likeable bloke. He tended to sit on the fence with his opinions, so much so I can’t recall him saying anything headline-grabbing or contentious when we sat on the sofa in Poland during Euro 2012. If Keane or I were going off on one, he courteously agreed or kept his thoughts to himself. Gareth Southgate gives the thumbs up after England training Credit: pa Did I think he would be managing England two World Cups later? No. He did not strike me as elite management material. I had similar misgivings when he was a player. As a centre-back playing in the same era, I admired Southgate. He won 57 England caps and was a high-quality, reliable and consistent defender. As he was so talented, I thought there must have something missing from his character preventing top-four clubs making a serious bid. With respect to Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, they were never going to play in the Champions League. What was he lacking? My suspicion was that the top managers felt Southgate too ‘nice’. That has been the overriding view of him throughout his career. For better or worse, we do not equate being a ‘nice’ person with being a winner. Those who succeed tend to possess an edge, even a touch of nastiness when it matters, to get where they and their clubs need to be. All the best managers have a snarl in them. Southgate’s brief spell in club management at Middlesbrough did not end well, and although he impressed with England’s Under 21s, few make the step up to the senior team. Russia World Cup in pictures: Best photos of teams, games and players Given these preconceptions, his appointment at the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign did not fill the country with confidence, especially as it was due to the circumstances following Sam Allardyce’s sacking. It felt like England had nowhere to turn. But everything Southgate has said and done over the two years leading England to Russia has been impressive. There are subtle differences in management style which we may consider giant steps over the next month, and what really bodes well is he has shown a steel which his ‘nice guy’ public demeanour disguises. We can dismiss any whispers prior to his appointment that he is little more than a Football Association ‘yes man’. Our presumption Southgate is not tough enough for the job may be wrong. Southgate’s judgement was sharp when he first rejected the England post on an interim basis when Roy Hodgson was sacked, unwilling to hold the fort while the FA searched for someone else. It was the first sign he was prepared to make a choice that must have hurt at the time, but proved astute in ensuring he later got the role permanently. He has made big decisions over the last 12 months. Easing out England captain Wayne Rooney was skilful, as was dropping Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere on the eve of the competition. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Changing the system to three at the back after qualification is brave, as is the use of Kyle Walker in that back three for the good of the team – whether Walker likes it or not. Too often, England managers have made calls which, in the short-term, avoid controversy but hinder long-term progress – especially taking injured players and keeping faith in or pandering to big names who have lacked form and fitness for months. It feels like Southgate made a list of all the errors identified going into previous tournaments and did the opposite. That has taken courage because he will have made some enemies along the way - there will be those with their own agenda waiting to pounce if they feel slighted. There are other examples of Southgate expertly defusing the hand grenades every England manager gets chucked at him. I loved how he stood up to foreign secretary Boris Johnson when it was hinted England may have to boycott the World Cup amid rising tensions between the British and Russian governments. Most recently we saw the controversy of Raheem Sterling’s tattoo approached head-on by the manager, followed by his criticism of the player for his late arrival at training. Raheem Sterling tries to tag Trent Alexander-Arnold in training Credit: getty images Such details will not matter if we fail again, but it is refreshing to see an England manager in such control and preparing for tough questions rather than getting frustrated or emotional by the tone of interviews. This tells us much about Southgate’s true character. He is a modern coach who says he does not like plenty about the modern game, yet he is a realist and is proving adept at dealing with it. It is also refreshing to have an England manager without any baggage. Whether it was Allardyce and the off-field controversy leading to his swift exit; Hodgson and concerns about his failures at big clubs amid fears he was too ‘old school’; Fabio Capello’s inability to engage with the public and his squad; or Eriksson’s playboy lifestyle – there always seemed to be a stick with which the England coach could be easily beaten. Southgate goes into the competition with a clean slate. Indeed, the last time an England manager went into a competition with such a high approval rating was probably Glenn Hoddle in 1998, or even Terry Venables in 1996. It won’t matter if England lose early, but it’s still a healthier situation than before recent major tournaments. England has one of the least experienced teams in the World Cup We will know more over the next three fixtures if Southgate’s approach has made any difference to performances. The true examination starts against Tunisia on Monday, a fixture I believe tougher than many anticipate given the first opponents recently drew with Turkey and Portugal and lost narrowly to Spain. There is plenty of goodwill going into the competition but we have been in the midst of a phoney war until now. We will see how long the mutual respect between the manager, players and media lasts if England under-perform. If England are a goal down at half-time, Southgate’s players will be judging what kind of leader he is just as he did Eriksson. He has already shifted public perceptions of his management. Now he needs his England team to change how we feel about them. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Gareth Southgate’s last World Cup appearance ended with one of the most memorable quotes about an England manager. It came in 2002, after defeat to Brazil, when Sven-Goran Eriksson was unable to inspire a comeback. “We were expecting Winston Churchill and instead we got Iain Duncan-Smith,” Southgate was quoted saying, with what he thought a private remark capturing the mood of a nation. As he follows Eriksson’s path leading England on the biggest stage, I can’t help wonder what kind of leader Southgate is? I doubt he will be delivering Churchillian speeches in the dressing room, but I also hope - and expect - he will be more charismatic than the colourless Duncan-Smith. Six years ago I spent time working alongside Southgate at a major tournament. I was a TV pundit with Southgate, Roberto Martinez and Roy Keane. Everyone was asking Keane and I about our management aspirations, evidently unaware of the ambition burning in Southgate to prove himself after his first stint as a head coach at Middlesbrough. He struck me as a person pretty much as a saw him as a player - polite, studious, good company and an all-round likeable bloke. He tended to sit on the fence with his opinions, so much so I can’t recall him saying anything headline-grabbing or contentious when we sat on the sofa in Poland during Euro 2012. If Keane or I were going off on one, he courteously agreed or kept his thoughts to himself. Gareth Southgate gives the thumbs up after England training Credit: pa Did I think he would be managing England two World Cups later? No. He did not strike me as elite management material. I had similar misgivings when he was a player. As a centre-back playing in the same era, I admired Southgate. He won 57 England caps and was a high-quality, reliable and consistent defender. As he was so talented, I thought there must have something missing from his character preventing top-four clubs making a serious bid. With respect to Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, they were never going to play in the Champions League. What was he lacking? My suspicion was that the top managers felt Southgate too ‘nice’. That has been the overriding view of him throughout his career. For better or worse, we do not equate being a ‘nice’ person with being a winner. Those who succeed tend to possess an edge, even a touch of nastiness when it matters, to get where they and their clubs need to be. All the best managers have a snarl in them. Southgate’s brief spell in club management at Middlesbrough did not end well, and although he impressed with England’s Under 21s, few make the step up to the senior team. Russia World Cup in pictures: Best photos of teams, games and players Given these preconceptions, his appointment at the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign did not fill the country with confidence, especially as it was due to the circumstances following Sam Allardyce’s sacking. It felt like England had nowhere to turn. But everything Southgate has said and done over the two years leading England to Russia has been impressive. There are subtle differences in management style which we may consider giant steps over the next month, and what really bodes well is he has shown a steel which his ‘nice guy’ public demeanour disguises. We can dismiss any whispers prior to his appointment that he is little more than a Football Association ‘yes man’. Our presumption Southgate is not tough enough for the job may be wrong. Southgate’s judgement was sharp when he first rejected the England post on an interim basis when Roy Hodgson was sacked, unwilling to hold the fort while the FA searched for someone else. It was the first sign he was prepared to make a choice that must have hurt at the time, but proved astute in ensuring he later got the role permanently. He has made big decisions over the last 12 months. Easing out England captain Wayne Rooney was skilful, as was dropping Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere on the eve of the competition. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Changing the system to three at the back after qualification is brave, as is the use of Kyle Walker in that back three for the good of the team – whether Walker likes it or not. Too often, England managers have made calls which, in the short-term, avoid controversy but hinder long-term progress – especially taking injured players and keeping faith in or pandering to big names who have lacked form and fitness for months. It feels like Southgate made a list of all the errors identified going into previous tournaments and did the opposite. That has taken courage because he will have made some enemies along the way - there will be those with their own agenda waiting to pounce if they feel slighted. There are other examples of Southgate expertly defusing the hand grenades every England manager gets chucked at him. I loved how he stood up to foreign secretary Boris Johnson when it was hinted England may have to boycott the World Cup amid rising tensions between the British and Russian governments. Most recently we saw the controversy of Raheem Sterling’s tattoo approached head-on by the manager, followed by his criticism of the player for his late arrival at training. Raheem Sterling tries to tag Trent Alexander-Arnold in training Credit: getty images Such details will not matter if we fail again, but it is refreshing to see an England manager in such control and preparing for tough questions rather than getting frustrated or emotional by the tone of interviews. This tells us much about Southgate’s true character. He is a modern coach who says he does not like plenty about the modern game, yet he is a realist and is proving adept at dealing with it. It is also refreshing to have an England manager without any baggage. Whether it was Allardyce and the off-field controversy leading to his swift exit; Hodgson and concerns about his failures at big clubs amid fears he was too ‘old school’; Fabio Capello’s inability to engage with the public and his squad; or Eriksson’s playboy lifestyle – there always seemed to be a stick with which the England coach could be easily beaten. Southgate goes into the competition with a clean slate. Indeed, the last time an England manager went into a competition with such a high approval rating was probably Glenn Hoddle in 1998, or even Terry Venables in 1996. It won’t matter if England lose early, but it’s still a healthier situation than before recent major tournaments. England has one of the least experienced teams in the World Cup We will know more over the next three fixtures if Southgate’s approach has made any difference to performances. The true examination starts against Tunisia on Monday, a fixture I believe tougher than many anticipate given the first opponents recently drew with Turkey and Portugal and lost narrowly to Spain. There is plenty of goodwill going into the competition but we have been in the midst of a phoney war until now. We will see how long the mutual respect between the manager, players and media lasts if England under-perform. If England are a goal down at half-time, Southgate’s players will be judging what kind of leader he is just as he did Eriksson. He has already shifted public perceptions of his management. Now he needs his England team to change how we feel about them. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Gareth Southgate has impressively changed our perception of him - now England need to do the same
Gareth Southgate’s last World Cup appearance ended with one of the most memorable quotes about an England manager. It came in 2002, after defeat to Brazil, when Sven-Goran Eriksson was unable to inspire a comeback. “We were expecting Winston Churchill and instead we got Iain Duncan-Smith,” Southgate was quoted saying, with what he thought a private remark capturing the mood of a nation. As he follows Eriksson’s path leading England on the biggest stage, I can’t help wonder what kind of leader Southgate is? I doubt he will be delivering Churchillian speeches in the dressing room, but I also hope - and expect - he will be more charismatic than the colourless Duncan-Smith. Six years ago I spent time working alongside Southgate at a major tournament. I was a TV pundit with Southgate, Roberto Martinez and Roy Keane. Everyone was asking Keane and I about our management aspirations, evidently unaware of the ambition burning in Southgate to prove himself after his first stint as a head coach at Middlesbrough. He struck me as a person pretty much as a saw him as a player - polite, studious, good company and an all-round likeable bloke. He tended to sit on the fence with his opinions, so much so I can’t recall him saying anything headline-grabbing or contentious when we sat on the sofa in Poland during Euro 2012. If Keane or I were going off on one, he courteously agreed or kept his thoughts to himself. Gareth Southgate gives the thumbs up after England training Credit: pa Did I think he would be managing England two World Cups later? No. He did not strike me as elite management material. I had similar misgivings when he was a player. As a centre-back playing in the same era, I admired Southgate. He won 57 England caps and was a high-quality, reliable and consistent defender. As he was so talented, I thought there must have something missing from his character preventing top-four clubs making a serious bid. With respect to Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, they were never going to play in the Champions League. What was he lacking? My suspicion was that the top managers felt Southgate too ‘nice’. That has been the overriding view of him throughout his career. For better or worse, we do not equate being a ‘nice’ person with being a winner. Those who succeed tend to possess an edge, even a touch of nastiness when it matters, to get where they and their clubs need to be. All the best managers have a snarl in them. Southgate’s brief spell in club management at Middlesbrough did not end well, and although he impressed with England’s Under 21s, few make the step up to the senior team. Russia World Cup in pictures: Best photos of teams, games and players Given these preconceptions, his appointment at the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign did not fill the country with confidence, especially as it was due to the circumstances following Sam Allardyce’s sacking. It felt like England had nowhere to turn. But everything Southgate has said and done over the two years leading England to Russia has been impressive. There are subtle differences in management style which we may consider giant steps over the next month, and what really bodes well is he has shown a steel which his ‘nice guy’ public demeanour disguises. We can dismiss any whispers prior to his appointment that he is little more than a Football Association ‘yes man’. Our presumption Southgate is not tough enough for the job may be wrong. Southgate’s judgement was sharp when he first rejected the England post on an interim basis when Roy Hodgson was sacked, unwilling to hold the fort while the FA searched for someone else. It was the first sign he was prepared to make a choice that must have hurt at the time, but proved astute in ensuring he later got the role permanently. He has made big decisions over the last 12 months. Easing out England captain Wayne Rooney was skilful, as was dropping Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere on the eve of the competition. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Changing the system to three at the back after qualification is brave, as is the use of Kyle Walker in that back three for the good of the team – whether Walker likes it or not. Too often, England managers have made calls which, in the short-term, avoid controversy but hinder long-term progress – especially taking injured players and keeping faith in or pandering to big names who have lacked form and fitness for months. It feels like Southgate made a list of all the errors identified going into previous tournaments and did the opposite. That has taken courage because he will have made some enemies along the way - there will be those with their own agenda waiting to pounce if they feel slighted. There are other examples of Southgate expertly defusing the hand grenades every England manager gets chucked at him. I loved how he stood up to foreign secretary Boris Johnson when it was hinted England may have to boycott the World Cup amid rising tensions between the British and Russian governments. Most recently we saw the controversy of Raheem Sterling’s tattoo approached head-on by the manager, followed by his criticism of the player for his late arrival at training. Raheem Sterling tries to tag Trent Alexander-Arnold in training Credit: getty images Such details will not matter if we fail again, but it is refreshing to see an England manager in such control and preparing for tough questions rather than getting frustrated or emotional by the tone of interviews. This tells us much about Southgate’s true character. He is a modern coach who says he does not like plenty about the modern game, yet he is a realist and is proving adept at dealing with it. It is also refreshing to have an England manager without any baggage. Whether it was Allardyce and the off-field controversy leading to his swift exit; Hodgson and concerns about his failures at big clubs amid fears he was too ‘old school’; Fabio Capello’s inability to engage with the public and his squad; or Eriksson’s playboy lifestyle – there always seemed to be a stick with which the England coach could be easily beaten. Southgate goes into the competition with a clean slate. Indeed, the last time an England manager went into a competition with such a high approval rating was probably Glenn Hoddle in 1998, or even Terry Venables in 1996. It won’t matter if England lose early, but it’s still a healthier situation than before recent major tournaments. England has one of the least experienced teams in the World Cup We will know more over the next three fixtures if Southgate’s approach has made any difference to performances. The true examination starts against Tunisia on Monday, a fixture I believe tougher than many anticipate given the first opponents recently drew with Turkey and Portugal and lost narrowly to Spain. There is plenty of goodwill going into the competition but we have been in the midst of a phoney war until now. We will see how long the mutual respect between the manager, players and media lasts if England under-perform. If England are a goal down at half-time, Southgate’s players will be judging what kind of leader he is just as he did Eriksson. He has already shifted public perceptions of his management. Now he needs his England team to change how we feel about them. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Gareth Southgate’s last World Cup appearance ended with one of the most memorable quotes about an England manager. It came in 2002, after defeat to Brazil, when Sven-Goran Eriksson was unable to inspire a comeback. “We were expecting Winston Churchill and instead we got Iain Duncan-Smith,” Southgate was quoted saying, with what he thought a private remark capturing the mood of a nation. As he follows Eriksson’s path leading England on the biggest stage, I can’t help wonder what kind of leader Southgate is? I doubt he will be delivering Churchillian speeches in the dressing room, but I also hope - and expect - he will be more charismatic than the colourless Duncan-Smith. Six years ago I spent time working alongside Southgate at a major tournament. I was a TV pundit with Southgate, Roberto Martinez and Roy Keane. Everyone was asking Keane and I about our management aspirations, evidently unaware of the ambition burning in Southgate to prove himself after his first stint as a head coach at Middlesbrough. He struck me as a person pretty much as a saw him as a player - polite, studious, good company and an all-round likeable bloke. He tended to sit on the fence with his opinions, so much so I can’t recall him saying anything headline-grabbing or contentious when we sat on the sofa in Poland during Euro 2012. If Keane or I were going off on one, he courteously agreed or kept his thoughts to himself. Gareth Southgate gives the thumbs up after England training Credit: pa Did I think he would be managing England two World Cups later? No. He did not strike me as elite management material. I had similar misgivings when he was a player. As a centre-back playing in the same era, I admired Southgate. He won 57 England caps and was a high-quality, reliable and consistent defender. As he was so talented, I thought there must have something missing from his character preventing top-four clubs making a serious bid. With respect to Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, they were never going to play in the Champions League. What was he lacking? My suspicion was that the top managers felt Southgate too ‘nice’. That has been the overriding view of him throughout his career. For better or worse, we do not equate being a ‘nice’ person with being a winner. Those who succeed tend to possess an edge, even a touch of nastiness when it matters, to get where they and their clubs need to be. All the best managers have a snarl in them. Southgate’s brief spell in club management at Middlesbrough did not end well, and although he impressed with England’s Under 21s, few make the step up to the senior team. Russia World Cup in pictures: Best photos of teams, games and players Given these preconceptions, his appointment at the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign did not fill the country with confidence, especially as it was due to the circumstances following Sam Allardyce’s sacking. It felt like England had nowhere to turn. But everything Southgate has said and done over the two years leading England to Russia has been impressive. There are subtle differences in management style which we may consider giant steps over the next month, and what really bodes well is he has shown a steel which his ‘nice guy’ public demeanour disguises. We can dismiss any whispers prior to his appointment that he is little more than a Football Association ‘yes man’. Our presumption Southgate is not tough enough for the job may be wrong. Southgate’s judgement was sharp when he first rejected the England post on an interim basis when Roy Hodgson was sacked, unwilling to hold the fort while the FA searched for someone else. It was the first sign he was prepared to make a choice that must have hurt at the time, but proved astute in ensuring he later got the role permanently. He has made big decisions over the last 12 months. Easing out England captain Wayne Rooney was skilful, as was dropping Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere on the eve of the competition. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Changing the system to three at the back after qualification is brave, as is the use of Kyle Walker in that back three for the good of the team – whether Walker likes it or not. Too often, England managers have made calls which, in the short-term, avoid controversy but hinder long-term progress – especially taking injured players and keeping faith in or pandering to big names who have lacked form and fitness for months. It feels like Southgate made a list of all the errors identified going into previous tournaments and did the opposite. That has taken courage because he will have made some enemies along the way - there will be those with their own agenda waiting to pounce if they feel slighted. There are other examples of Southgate expertly defusing the hand grenades every England manager gets chucked at him. I loved how he stood up to foreign secretary Boris Johnson when it was hinted England may have to boycott the World Cup amid rising tensions between the British and Russian governments. Most recently we saw the controversy of Raheem Sterling’s tattoo approached head-on by the manager, followed by his criticism of the player for his late arrival at training. Raheem Sterling tries to tag Trent Alexander-Arnold in training Credit: getty images Such details will not matter if we fail again, but it is refreshing to see an England manager in such control and preparing for tough questions rather than getting frustrated or emotional by the tone of interviews. This tells us much about Southgate’s true character. He is a modern coach who says he does not like plenty about the modern game, yet he is a realist and is proving adept at dealing with it. It is also refreshing to have an England manager without any baggage. Whether it was Allardyce and the off-field controversy leading to his swift exit; Hodgson and concerns about his failures at big clubs amid fears he was too ‘old school’; Fabio Capello’s inability to engage with the public and his squad; or Eriksson’s playboy lifestyle – there always seemed to be a stick with which the England coach could be easily beaten. Southgate goes into the competition with a clean slate. Indeed, the last time an England manager went into a competition with such a high approval rating was probably Glenn Hoddle in 1998, or even Terry Venables in 1996. It won’t matter if England lose early, but it’s still a healthier situation than before recent major tournaments. England has one of the least experienced teams in the World Cup We will know more over the next three fixtures if Southgate’s approach has made any difference to performances. The true examination starts against Tunisia on Monday, a fixture I believe tougher than many anticipate given the first opponents recently drew with Turkey and Portugal and lost narrowly to Spain. There is plenty of goodwill going into the competition but we have been in the midst of a phoney war until now. We will see how long the mutual respect between the manager, players and media lasts if England under-perform. If England are a goal down at half-time, Southgate’s players will be judging what kind of leader he is just as he did Eriksson. He has already shifted public perceptions of his management. Now he needs his England team to change how we feel about them. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Gareth Southgate has impressively changed our perception of him - now England need to do the same
Gareth Southgate’s last World Cup appearance ended with one of the most memorable quotes about an England manager. It came in 2002, after defeat to Brazil, when Sven-Goran Eriksson was unable to inspire a comeback. “We were expecting Winston Churchill and instead we got Iain Duncan-Smith,” Southgate was quoted saying, with what he thought a private remark capturing the mood of a nation. As he follows Eriksson’s path leading England on the biggest stage, I can’t help wonder what kind of leader Southgate is? I doubt he will be delivering Churchillian speeches in the dressing room, but I also hope - and expect - he will be more charismatic than the colourless Duncan-Smith. Six years ago I spent time working alongside Southgate at a major tournament. I was a TV pundit with Southgate, Roberto Martinez and Roy Keane. Everyone was asking Keane and I about our management aspirations, evidently unaware of the ambition burning in Southgate to prove himself after his first stint as a head coach at Middlesbrough. He struck me as a person pretty much as a saw him as a player - polite, studious, good company and an all-round likeable bloke. He tended to sit on the fence with his opinions, so much so I can’t recall him saying anything headline-grabbing or contentious when we sat on the sofa in Poland during Euro 2012. If Keane or I were going off on one, he courteously agreed or kept his thoughts to himself. Gareth Southgate gives the thumbs up after England training Credit: pa Did I think he would be managing England two World Cups later? No. He did not strike me as elite management material. I had similar misgivings when he was a player. As a centre-back playing in the same era, I admired Southgate. He won 57 England caps and was a high-quality, reliable and consistent defender. As he was so talented, I thought there must have something missing from his character preventing top-four clubs making a serious bid. With respect to Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, they were never going to play in the Champions League. What was he lacking? My suspicion was that the top managers felt Southgate too ‘nice’. That has been the overriding view of him throughout his career. For better or worse, we do not equate being a ‘nice’ person with being a winner. Those who succeed tend to possess an edge, even a touch of nastiness when it matters, to get where they and their clubs need to be. All the best managers have a snarl in them. Southgate’s brief spell in club management at Middlesbrough did not end well, and although he impressed with England’s Under 21s, few make the step up to the senior team. Russia World Cup in pictures: Best photos of teams, games and players Given these preconceptions, his appointment at the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign did not fill the country with confidence, especially as it was due to the circumstances following Sam Allardyce’s sacking. It felt like England had nowhere to turn. But everything Southgate has said and done over the two years leading England to Russia has been impressive. There are subtle differences in management style which we may consider giant steps over the next month, and what really bodes well is he has shown a steel which his ‘nice guy’ public demeanour disguises. We can dismiss any whispers prior to his appointment that he is little more than a Football Association ‘yes man’. Our presumption Southgate is not tough enough for the job may be wrong. Southgate’s judgement was sharp when he first rejected the England post on an interim basis when Roy Hodgson was sacked, unwilling to hold the fort while the FA searched for someone else. It was the first sign he was prepared to make a choice that must have hurt at the time, but proved astute in ensuring he later got the role permanently. He has made big decisions over the last 12 months. Easing out England captain Wayne Rooney was skilful, as was dropping Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere on the eve of the competition. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more Changing the system to three at the back after qualification is brave, as is the use of Kyle Walker in that back three for the good of the team – whether Walker likes it or not. Too often, England managers have made calls which, in the short-term, avoid controversy but hinder long-term progress – especially taking injured players and keeping faith in or pandering to big names who have lacked form and fitness for months. It feels like Southgate made a list of all the errors identified going into previous tournaments and did the opposite. That has taken courage because he will have made some enemies along the way - there will be those with their own agenda waiting to pounce if they feel slighted. There are other examples of Southgate expertly defusing the hand grenades every England manager gets chucked at him. I loved how he stood up to foreign secretary Boris Johnson when it was hinted England may have to boycott the World Cup amid rising tensions between the British and Russian governments. Most recently we saw the controversy of Raheem Sterling’s tattoo approached head-on by the manager, followed by his criticism of the player for his late arrival at training. Raheem Sterling tries to tag Trent Alexander-Arnold in training Credit: getty images Such details will not matter if we fail again, but it is refreshing to see an England manager in such control and preparing for tough questions rather than getting frustrated or emotional by the tone of interviews. This tells us much about Southgate’s true character. He is a modern coach who says he does not like plenty about the modern game, yet he is a realist and is proving adept at dealing with it. It is also refreshing to have an England manager without any baggage. Whether it was Allardyce and the off-field controversy leading to his swift exit; Hodgson and concerns about his failures at big clubs amid fears he was too ‘old school’; Fabio Capello’s inability to engage with the public and his squad; or Eriksson’s playboy lifestyle – there always seemed to be a stick with which the England coach could be easily beaten. Southgate goes into the competition with a clean slate. Indeed, the last time an England manager went into a competition with such a high approval rating was probably Glenn Hoddle in 1998, or even Terry Venables in 1996. It won’t matter if England lose early, but it’s still a healthier situation than before recent major tournaments. England has one of the least experienced teams in the World Cup We will know more over the next three fixtures if Southgate’s approach has made any difference to performances. The true examination starts against Tunisia on Monday, a fixture I believe tougher than many anticipate given the first opponents recently drew with Turkey and Portugal and lost narrowly to Spain. There is plenty of goodwill going into the competition but we have been in the midst of a phoney war until now. We will see how long the mutual respect between the manager, players and media lasts if England under-perform. If England are a goal down at half-time, Southgate’s players will be judging what kind of leader he is just as he did Eriksson. He has already shifted public perceptions of his management. Now he needs his England team to change how we feel about them. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
The 2018 Fifa World Cup features eight groups of four teams in its first stage. Let's have a look at who will be facing who. 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 2 Australia 1 Peru 0 Denmark 1 Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria Argentina 1 Iceland 1 Croatia 2 Nigeria 0 Our prediction: Argentina and Croatia to go through 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: games, tables, current standings and analysis
The 2018 Fifa World Cup features eight groups of four teams in its first stage. Let's have a look at who will be facing who. 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 2 Australia 1 Peru 0 Denmark 1 Our prediction: France and Denmark to go through Group D - Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria Argentina 1 Iceland 1 Croatia 2 Nigeria 0 Our prediction: Argentina and Croatia to go through 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
What is it? It's sink or swim time. We're now a day away from England's opening Group G match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia against Tunisia. Gareth Southgate's men will be attempting to break a cycle of heartache and humiliation at major tournaments that has plunged the birthplace of football to its lowest ebb. A loss to Iceland in the last 16 of the 2016 European Championship was perhaps the ultimate embarrassment. Or maybe that came when England endured their shortest World Cup campaign two years earlier - only in contention for eight days. Before that, there were penalty shoot-out losses in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006 and 2012. And before that, who could forget Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal that denied England in the World Cup semi-finals in 1986? It's no surprise that the nation's expectations are low heading to Russia. England may have won the 1966 World Cup, but have only reached the semi-finals of a tournament twice since then. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game When is it? Monday, June 18, 2018. Where is it? At the Volgograd Arena, in Volgograd. England vs Tunisia, World Cup 2018 | How long until kick-off? What time is kick-off? 7pm BST. What TV channel is it on? The BBC and ITV are sharing coverage of the World Cup, but BBC have rights to the first England match. Alternatively, you can follow this match - and all 64 across the tournament - live here with Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Latest team news England Marcus Rashford is taking part in full training as manager Gareth Southgate fine-tunes his preparations for the World Cup opener with Tunisia. Rashford has joined in with his team-mates as they train at the Spartak Zelenogorsk Stadium, although reports suggest Southgate may already have decided on his starting line-up. A number of national newspapers claimed on Thursday evening that Southgate will opt to put Raheem Sterling in support of lead striker Harry Kane, in a side containing nine World Cup debutants. England squad | World Cup 2018 That would mean starts for the likes of Harry Maguire over Gary Cahill, Jordan Henderson ahead of Eric Dier and Ashley Young at left wing-back. Regardless of who Southgate picks, the return to training of Rashford - revealed on The 'Lions' Den' show on England's YouTube channel - is good news for the manager, who has so far avoided any other injury scares and kept the initial 23-man squad he named in mid-May intact. Southgate revealed Rashford's "slight knock" upon landing in Russia and a number of team-mates attempted to allay concerns, as did the forward himself. "Thanks for the messages I've been getting," Rashford posted on Twitter. "Picked up a slight niggle but nothing to worry about £ThreeLions" Tunisia Tunisia have suffered the worst blow of all 32 teams to date, losing their playmaker Youssef Msakni, who suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury on April 7 that will keep him out for at least six months. The attacking midfielder, who has 49 caps, tore an anterior ligament playing for his Qatar Stars League club, Al-Duhail, against Al-Sailiya. When Nabil Maloul, Tunisia's manager, was asked in March what Msakni's absence would mean when the player could not feature in the spring friendlies because of a minor meniscus problem that required 10 days' rest, he said it would be like Argentina going to Russia without Lionel Messi. Here is Tunisia's 23-man squad: Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab, Saudi Arabia), Moez Hassen (Chateauroux, France), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Baten, Saudi Arabia) Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City, England), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa, Turkey), Dylan Bronn (Gent, Belgium), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon, France), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly, Egypt), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek, Egypt) Midfielders: Anice Badri (Esperance), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Al Ahli Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), Ghaylene Chaalali (Esperance), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Saifeddine Khaoui (Troyes, France), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nasr, Saudi Arabia), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier, France), Naim Sliti (Dijon, France), Bassem Srarfi (Nice, France) Forwards: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ittifaq, Saudi Arabia), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Wahbi Khazri (Rennes, France) Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more What do we know about the Tunisia line-up? With Youssef Msakni sidelined, Tunisia will be fielding a team at the World Cup that includes several foreign-born players, mainly from France. Indeed, Tunisia's squad is a mix of players mainly from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, France and domestic leagues. Here's a closer look at the Tunisia team: Coach 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 World Cup qualifying for his second spell as coach after a brief tenure in 2013. Maaloul played for Tunisia for a decade from 1985-95. One of very few African coaches in charge of a national team, he has transformed Tunisia from a fairly dour, defensive outfit to one more willing to attack since he took over after the African Cup of Nations in early 2017. He needs to ensure the decision to bring in new players at the expense of some of the men who got Tunisia to the World Cup doesn't upset the team balance or alienate squad members. Goalkeepers Maaloul's biggest decision may be the first name on the sheet after saying he has yet to decide. Aymen Mathlouthi, who is beginning to show frailties at 33 and after 11 years in the team, can no longer be certain of his starting spot. Maaloul must figure out whether to drop the captain and sacrifice experience for 28-year-old Farouk Ben Mustapha, who has been highly-praised in the Saudi league. World Cup 2018 stadiums Defenders Maaloul said he was leaning toward starting the World Cup with the formation used in friendly wins over Iran and Costa Rica in March. That would see 22-year-old French-born Ellyes Skhiri, who made his debut against Iran after a late call-up, start in central defence. Other contenders are 24-year-old home-based player Yassine Meriah, the experienced Syam Ben Youssef and Mohamed Amine Ben Amor. If it's a four-man back line, expect to see right-back Dylan Bronn, another French-born newcomer. Ali Maaloul has been a regular on the left. Both can also operate as wingers in a five-man midfield if Tunisia goes with a three-man defence of big, strong center-backs. Midfielders The challenge of filling the void left by Msakni will likely fall on France-born attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri. He played for the Tunisia and France youth teams before committing to Tunisia. Khazri was partnered in the center of midfield by Anice Badri in Tunisia's last match - forming a potent attacking threat. They are all versatile, operating as attacking midfielders or in a more advanced position in the forward line. Saif-Eddine Khaoui is a similar attack-minded midfielder who has forced himself into the team's plans. Ferjani Sassi has the role of shoring up the middle of the field as the holding midfielder. World Cup predictor Forwards Depending on whether Khazri, Badri, Sliti and newcomer Khaoui are deployed, there may be room for one or perhaps no out-and-out strikers. Ahmed Akaichi and Taha Yassine Khenissi have experience of operating alone up front but recent formations could mean Tunisia's forward line will be based on the versatility of the four attacking midfielders. What are they saying? Jesse Lingard: "Southgate has come in with the mentality to play with freedom, play without fear, and you will enjoy your time more," Lingard said. "So, as a group of players, that is what we are going to do - enjoy our football, play with no fear and play exciting football at the same time. "Of course, we want to go all the way to the final, but we are going to take each game as it comes and prepare for each game as we normally do." Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul: "For me the best team are Belgium, they are the group favourites. They have a lot of players who play in England and they are currently playing really well for a lot of clubs in England, so they are favourites and second place is between Tunisia and England. I hope it won't be the same scenario as in 1998." What are the odds? England to win 1/3 Draw 4/1 Tunisia to win 8/1 What's our prediction? England finished bottom of their group at the last World Cup in Brazil and suffered a humiliating defeat by Iceland in the last-16 at Euro 2016. However, without wishing to tempt face, they could not have asked for an easier start to the tournament this time and should expect to win comfortably. Predicted score: England 2 Tunisia 0. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
England vs Tunisia, World Cup 2018: What time is kick-off tomorrow, what TV channel is it on and what is our prediction?
What is it? It's sink or swim time. We're now a day away from England's opening Group G match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia against Tunisia. Gareth Southgate's men will be attempting to break a cycle of heartache and humiliation at major tournaments that has plunged the birthplace of football to its lowest ebb. A loss to Iceland in the last 16 of the 2016 European Championship was perhaps the ultimate embarrassment. Or maybe that came when England endured their shortest World Cup campaign two years earlier - only in contention for eight days. Before that, there were penalty shoot-out losses in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006 and 2012. And before that, who could forget Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal that denied England in the World Cup semi-finals in 1986? It's no surprise that the nation's expectations are low heading to Russia. England may have won the 1966 World Cup, but have only reached the semi-finals of a tournament twice since then. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game When is it? Monday, June 18, 2018. Where is it? At the Volgograd Arena, in Volgograd. England vs Tunisia, World Cup 2018 | How long until kick-off? What time is kick-off? 7pm BST. What TV channel is it on? The BBC and ITV are sharing coverage of the World Cup, but BBC have rights to the first England match. Alternatively, you can follow this match - and all 64 across the tournament - live here with Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Latest team news England Marcus Rashford is taking part in full training as manager Gareth Southgate fine-tunes his preparations for the World Cup opener with Tunisia. Rashford has joined in with his team-mates as they train at the Spartak Zelenogorsk Stadium, although reports suggest Southgate may already have decided on his starting line-up. A number of national newspapers claimed on Thursday evening that Southgate will opt to put Raheem Sterling in support of lead striker Harry Kane, in a side containing nine World Cup debutants. England squad | World Cup 2018 That would mean starts for the likes of Harry Maguire over Gary Cahill, Jordan Henderson ahead of Eric Dier and Ashley Young at left wing-back. Regardless of who Southgate picks, the return to training of Rashford - revealed on The 'Lions' Den' show on England's YouTube channel - is good news for the manager, who has so far avoided any other injury scares and kept the initial 23-man squad he named in mid-May intact. Southgate revealed Rashford's "slight knock" upon landing in Russia and a number of team-mates attempted to allay concerns, as did the forward himself. "Thanks for the messages I've been getting," Rashford posted on Twitter. "Picked up a slight niggle but nothing to worry about £ThreeLions" Tunisia Tunisia have suffered the worst blow of all 32 teams to date, losing their playmaker Youssef Msakni, who suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury on April 7 that will keep him out for at least six months. The attacking midfielder, who has 49 caps, tore an anterior ligament playing for his Qatar Stars League club, Al-Duhail, against Al-Sailiya. When Nabil Maloul, Tunisia's manager, was asked in March what Msakni's absence would mean when the player could not feature in the spring friendlies because of a minor meniscus problem that required 10 days' rest, he said it would be like Argentina going to Russia without Lionel Messi. Here is Tunisia's 23-man squad: Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab, Saudi Arabia), Moez Hassen (Chateauroux, France), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Baten, Saudi Arabia) Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City, England), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa, Turkey), Dylan Bronn (Gent, Belgium), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon, France), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly, Egypt), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek, Egypt) Midfielders: Anice Badri (Esperance), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Al Ahli Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), Ghaylene Chaalali (Esperance), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Saifeddine Khaoui (Troyes, France), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nasr, Saudi Arabia), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier, France), Naim Sliti (Dijon, France), Bassem Srarfi (Nice, France) Forwards: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ittifaq, Saudi Arabia), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Wahbi Khazri (Rennes, France) Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more What do we know about the Tunisia line-up? With Youssef Msakni sidelined, Tunisia will be fielding a team at the World Cup that includes several foreign-born players, mainly from France. Indeed, Tunisia's squad is a mix of players mainly from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, France and domestic leagues. Here's a closer look at the Tunisia team: Coach 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 World Cup qualifying for his second spell as coach after a brief tenure in 2013. Maaloul played for Tunisia for a decade from 1985-95. One of very few African coaches in charge of a national team, he has transformed Tunisia from a fairly dour, defensive outfit to one more willing to attack since he took over after the African Cup of Nations in early 2017. He needs to ensure the decision to bring in new players at the expense of some of the men who got Tunisia to the World Cup doesn't upset the team balance or alienate squad members. Goalkeepers Maaloul's biggest decision may be the first name on the sheet after saying he has yet to decide. Aymen Mathlouthi, who is beginning to show frailties at 33 and after 11 years in the team, can no longer be certain of his starting spot. Maaloul must figure out whether to drop the captain and sacrifice experience for 28-year-old Farouk Ben Mustapha, who has been highly-praised in the Saudi league. World Cup 2018 stadiums Defenders Maaloul said he was leaning toward starting the World Cup with the formation used in friendly wins over Iran and Costa Rica in March. That would see 22-year-old French-born Ellyes Skhiri, who made his debut against Iran after a late call-up, start in central defence. Other contenders are 24-year-old home-based player Yassine Meriah, the experienced Syam Ben Youssef and Mohamed Amine Ben Amor. If it's a four-man back line, expect to see right-back Dylan Bronn, another French-born newcomer. Ali Maaloul has been a regular on the left. Both can also operate as wingers in a five-man midfield if Tunisia goes with a three-man defence of big, strong center-backs. Midfielders The challenge of filling the void left by Msakni will likely fall on France-born attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri. He played for the Tunisia and France youth teams before committing to Tunisia. Khazri was partnered in the center of midfield by Anice Badri in Tunisia's last match - forming a potent attacking threat. They are all versatile, operating as attacking midfielders or in a more advanced position in the forward line. Saif-Eddine Khaoui is a similar attack-minded midfielder who has forced himself into the team's plans. Ferjani Sassi has the role of shoring up the middle of the field as the holding midfielder. World Cup predictor Forwards Depending on whether Khazri, Badri, Sliti and newcomer Khaoui are deployed, there may be room for one or perhaps no out-and-out strikers. Ahmed Akaichi and Taha Yassine Khenissi have experience of operating alone up front but recent formations could mean Tunisia's forward line will be based on the versatility of the four attacking midfielders. What are they saying? Jesse Lingard: "Southgate has come in with the mentality to play with freedom, play without fear, and you will enjoy your time more," Lingard said. "So, as a group of players, that is what we are going to do - enjoy our football, play with no fear and play exciting football at the same time. "Of course, we want to go all the way to the final, but we are going to take each game as it comes and prepare for each game as we normally do." Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul: "For me the best team are Belgium, they are the group favourites. They have a lot of players who play in England and they are currently playing really well for a lot of clubs in England, so they are favourites and second place is between Tunisia and England. I hope it won't be the same scenario as in 1998." What are the odds? England to win 1/3 Draw 4/1 Tunisia to win 8/1 What's our prediction? England finished bottom of their group at the last World Cup in Brazil and suffered a humiliating defeat by Iceland in the last-16 at Euro 2016. However, without wishing to tempt face, they could not have asked for an easier start to the tournament this time and should expect to win comfortably. Predicted score: England 2 Tunisia 0. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
When Mexico kick-off their World Cup today against defending champions Germany, one particular family from Liverpool will be taking a very special interest. It is now 21 years since a 35-year-old Colombian student by the name of Juan Carlos Osorio first knocked on the McManus family’s front door in Crown Road, just outside Liverpool’s Melwood training base. Osorio initially asked to borrow a ladder or a table so that he could gain a better view of Liverpool training and, having so impressed the family with his politeness, they ultimately agreed to his suggestion that he should move in. For the next two years, he would secretly watch Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans at work, making extensive notes about the practicalities and details of their training sessions. Osorio had sold the small gym he owned in New York - as well even as a car and his watch - to fund his move to England. An adventure that would go from studying science and football at John Moores University to jobs in Major League Soccer and Manchester City as a fitness coach has since taken in managerial positions in Colombia, the United States, Honduras, Mexico and Brazil before the job of Mexico national team manager since 2015. Juan Carlos Osorio has coached Mexico since 2015 Credit: AP Osorio duly led Mexico to the top of their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying section for the first time since 1997 and, with 31 wins from 47 matches, hopes are high that they can now finally get past the last 16 on foreign soil. Under him, Mexico have also reached the quarter-final of the Copa America and the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. A major curiosity then of what would seem like a resoundingly successful tenure is that he remains such a polarising figure back in Mexico. The players are certainly behind him - all-time record scorer Javier Hernandez describes him as “like a genius because they live in a completely different world than ourselves” - but a sometimes overly deep and analytical response to questions has created difficulties in connecting with fans. One recent query about how often he runs apparently prompted a lengthy explanation about the precise details of the training zones he must reach in order to strengthen his heart for such a pressurised job. Such scrutiny, though, is hardly surprising and, in the 12 years that Joachim Loew has been managing Germany, Osorio is Mexico’s 12th coach. To have lasted almost three years is already good going. World Cup whatsapp promo The biggest criticism relates to how frequently he rotates his team; something that he largely attributes to the time he spent observing Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United when he was working at City between 2001 and 2005. For all the focus that there has always been on Ferguson’s sometimes explosive man-management style, those who worked closely with him will often tell you that his planning in terms of selection was most impressive. Every preferred rotation, whether for tactical or physical reasons, would be scheduled weeks in advance and Osorio also strongly believes in the benefits of adapting according to the specific strengths and weaknesses of an opponent. Manchester City were nothing like the super-power they have become and so Ferguson was relaxed about allowing such an enthusiastic personality come and watch how he worked. “The rotation and the tendency of me to give everyone an opportunity came from Mr Ferguson,” said Osorio. "He would say just a couple of things, but they were worth me waiting the whole two hours there.” Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio poses for a portrait Credit: FIFA Osorio regards his experiences in England as formative, particularly as Latin American football places such a heavy emphasis on short passing and dribbling. He has tried to blend these different philosophies in his teams and there is also a heavy emphasis on aerial strength and set-piece planning. One striking example is in defending corners and free-kicks where, in order to preserve the potential for rapid counter-attacks and to simplify the job of his defenders, he will position as many as three players on the half-way line and two on the edge of the penalty area. Shaun Wright-Phillips worked with Osorio at Manchester City and recently told ESPN that his philosophy was “unique” among the coaches he worked with in England. Wright-Phillips also recalled how, after joining Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, Osorio would stay in contact to regularly ask questions about the Portuguese’s methods. Osorio is now bullish about what Mexico can achieve over the next four weeks. “We have a right to shine and believe we can go to the final,” he said. It would be some journey from those years studying in Liverpool but, whatever happens, Tom McManus believes that he has already taught his family something precious. "What he showed to me and I think to our two boys is that if you want to achieve anything in life, you've got to be single-minded and totally determined to go for it,” he said. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Juan Carlos Osorio's journey from secretly watching Liverpool train to coaching Mexico at the World Cup
When Mexico kick-off their World Cup today against defending champions Germany, one particular family from Liverpool will be taking a very special interest. It is now 21 years since a 35-year-old Colombian student by the name of Juan Carlos Osorio first knocked on the McManus family’s front door in Crown Road, just outside Liverpool’s Melwood training base. Osorio initially asked to borrow a ladder or a table so that he could gain a better view of Liverpool training and, having so impressed the family with his politeness, they ultimately agreed to his suggestion that he should move in. For the next two years, he would secretly watch Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans at work, making extensive notes about the practicalities and details of their training sessions. Osorio had sold the small gym he owned in New York - as well even as a car and his watch - to fund his move to England. An adventure that would go from studying science and football at John Moores University to jobs in Major League Soccer and Manchester City as a fitness coach has since taken in managerial positions in Colombia, the United States, Honduras, Mexico and Brazil before the job of Mexico national team manager since 2015. Juan Carlos Osorio has coached Mexico since 2015 Credit: AP Osorio duly led Mexico to the top of their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying section for the first time since 1997 and, with 31 wins from 47 matches, hopes are high that they can now finally get past the last 16 on foreign soil. Under him, Mexico have also reached the quarter-final of the Copa America and the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. A major curiosity then of what would seem like a resoundingly successful tenure is that he remains such a polarising figure back in Mexico. The players are certainly behind him - all-time record scorer Javier Hernandez describes him as “like a genius because they live in a completely different world than ourselves” - but a sometimes overly deep and analytical response to questions has created difficulties in connecting with fans. One recent query about how often he runs apparently prompted a lengthy explanation about the precise details of the training zones he must reach in order to strengthen his heart for such a pressurised job. Such scrutiny, though, is hardly surprising and, in the 12 years that Joachim Loew has been managing Germany, Osorio is Mexico’s 12th coach. To have lasted almost three years is already good going. World Cup whatsapp promo The biggest criticism relates to how frequently he rotates his team; something that he largely attributes to the time he spent observing Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United when he was working at City between 2001 and 2005. For all the focus that there has always been on Ferguson’s sometimes explosive man-management style, those who worked closely with him will often tell you that his planning in terms of selection was most impressive. Every preferred rotation, whether for tactical or physical reasons, would be scheduled weeks in advance and Osorio also strongly believes in the benefits of adapting according to the specific strengths and weaknesses of an opponent. Manchester City were nothing like the super-power they have become and so Ferguson was relaxed about allowing such an enthusiastic personality come and watch how he worked. “The rotation and the tendency of me to give everyone an opportunity came from Mr Ferguson,” said Osorio. "He would say just a couple of things, but they were worth me waiting the whole two hours there.” Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio poses for a portrait Credit: FIFA Osorio regards his experiences in England as formative, particularly as Latin American football places such a heavy emphasis on short passing and dribbling. He has tried to blend these different philosophies in his teams and there is also a heavy emphasis on aerial strength and set-piece planning. One striking example is in defending corners and free-kicks where, in order to preserve the potential for rapid counter-attacks and to simplify the job of his defenders, he will position as many as three players on the half-way line and two on the edge of the penalty area. Shaun Wright-Phillips worked with Osorio at Manchester City and recently told ESPN that his philosophy was “unique” among the coaches he worked with in England. Wright-Phillips also recalled how, after joining Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, Osorio would stay in contact to regularly ask questions about the Portuguese’s methods. Osorio is now bullish about what Mexico can achieve over the next four weeks. “We have a right to shine and believe we can go to the final,” he said. It would be some journey from those years studying in Liverpool but, whatever happens, Tom McManus believes that he has already taught his family something precious. "What he showed to me and I think to our two boys is that if you want to achieve anything in life, you've got to be single-minded and totally determined to go for it,” he said. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
When Mexico kick-off their World Cup today against defending champions Germany, one particular family from Liverpool will be taking a very special interest. It is now 21 years since a 35-year-old Colombian student by the name of Juan Carlos Osorio first knocked on the McManus family’s front door in Crown Road, just outside Liverpool’s Melwood training base. Osorio initially asked to borrow a ladder or a table so that he could gain a better view of Liverpool training and, having so impressed the family with his politeness, they ultimately agreed to his suggestion that he should move in. For the next two years, he would secretly watch Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans at work, making extensive notes about the practicalities and details of their training sessions. Osorio had sold the small gym he owned in New York - as well even as a car and his watch - to fund his move to England. An adventure that would go from studying science and football at John Moores University to jobs in Major League Soccer and Manchester City as a fitness coach has since taken in managerial positions in Colombia, the United States, Honduras, Mexico and Brazil before the job of Mexico national team manager since 2015. Juan Carlos Osorio has coached Mexico since 2015 Credit: AP Osorio duly led Mexico to the top of their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying section for the first time since 1997 and, with 31 wins from 47 matches, hopes are high that they can now finally get past the last 16 on foreign soil. Under him, Mexico have also reached the quarter-final of the Copa America and the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. A major curiosity then of what would seem like a resoundingly successful tenure is that he remains such a polarising figure back in Mexico. The players are certainly behind him - all-time record scorer Javier Hernandez describes him as “like a genius because they live in a completely different world than ourselves” - but a sometimes overly deep and analytical response to questions has created difficulties in connecting with fans. One recent query about how often he runs apparently prompted a lengthy explanation about the precise details of the training zones he must reach in order to strengthen his heart for such a pressurised job. Such scrutiny, though, is hardly surprising and, in the 12 years that Joachim Loew has been managing Germany, Osorio is Mexico’s 12th coach. To have lasted almost three years is already good going. World Cup whatsapp promo The biggest criticism relates to how frequently he rotates his team; something that he largely attributes to the time he spent observing Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United when he was working at City between 2001 and 2005. For all the focus that there has always been on Ferguson’s sometimes explosive man-management style, those who worked closely with him will often tell you that his planning in terms of selection was most impressive. Every preferred rotation, whether for tactical or physical reasons, would be scheduled weeks in advance and Osorio also strongly believes in the benefits of adapting according to the specific strengths and weaknesses of an opponent. Manchester City were nothing like the super-power they have become and so Ferguson was relaxed about allowing such an enthusiastic personality come and watch how he worked. “The rotation and the tendency of me to give everyone an opportunity came from Mr Ferguson,” said Osorio. "He would say just a couple of things, but they were worth me waiting the whole two hours there.” Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio poses for a portrait Credit: FIFA Osorio regards his experiences in England as formative, particularly as Latin American football places such a heavy emphasis on short passing and dribbling. He has tried to blend these different philosophies in his teams and there is also a heavy emphasis on aerial strength and set-piece planning. One striking example is in defending corners and free-kicks where, in order to preserve the potential for rapid counter-attacks and to simplify the job of his defenders, he will position as many as three players on the half-way line and two on the edge of the penalty area. Shaun Wright-Phillips worked with Osorio at Manchester City and recently told ESPN that his philosophy was “unique” among the coaches he worked with in England. Wright-Phillips also recalled how, after joining Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, Osorio would stay in contact to regularly ask questions about the Portuguese’s methods. Osorio is now bullish about what Mexico can achieve over the next four weeks. “We have a right to shine and believe we can go to the final,” he said. It would be some journey from those years studying in Liverpool but, whatever happens, Tom McManus believes that he has already taught his family something precious. "What he showed to me and I think to our two boys is that if you want to achieve anything in life, you've got to be single-minded and totally determined to go for it,” he said. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Juan Carlos Osorio's journey from secretly watching Liverpool train to coaching Mexico at the World Cup
When Mexico kick-off their World Cup today against defending champions Germany, one particular family from Liverpool will be taking a very special interest. It is now 21 years since a 35-year-old Colombian student by the name of Juan Carlos Osorio first knocked on the McManus family’s front door in Crown Road, just outside Liverpool’s Melwood training base. Osorio initially asked to borrow a ladder or a table so that he could gain a better view of Liverpool training and, having so impressed the family with his politeness, they ultimately agreed to his suggestion that he should move in. For the next two years, he would secretly watch Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans at work, making extensive notes about the practicalities and details of their training sessions. Osorio had sold the small gym he owned in New York - as well even as a car and his watch - to fund his move to England. An adventure that would go from studying science and football at John Moores University to jobs in Major League Soccer and Manchester City as a fitness coach has since taken in managerial positions in Colombia, the United States, Honduras, Mexico and Brazil before the job of Mexico national team manager since 2015. Juan Carlos Osorio has coached Mexico since 2015 Credit: AP Osorio duly led Mexico to the top of their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying section for the first time since 1997 and, with 31 wins from 47 matches, hopes are high that they can now finally get past the last 16 on foreign soil. Under him, Mexico have also reached the quarter-final of the Copa America and the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. A major curiosity then of what would seem like a resoundingly successful tenure is that he remains such a polarising figure back in Mexico. The players are certainly behind him - all-time record scorer Javier Hernandez describes him as “like a genius because they live in a completely different world than ourselves” - but a sometimes overly deep and analytical response to questions has created difficulties in connecting with fans. One recent query about how often he runs apparently prompted a lengthy explanation about the precise details of the training zones he must reach in order to strengthen his heart for such a pressurised job. Such scrutiny, though, is hardly surprising and, in the 12 years that Joachim Loew has been managing Germany, Osorio is Mexico’s 12th coach. To have lasted almost three years is already good going. World Cup whatsapp promo The biggest criticism relates to how frequently he rotates his team; something that he largely attributes to the time he spent observing Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United when he was working at City between 2001 and 2005. For all the focus that there has always been on Ferguson’s sometimes explosive man-management style, those who worked closely with him will often tell you that his planning in terms of selection was most impressive. Every preferred rotation, whether for tactical or physical reasons, would be scheduled weeks in advance and Osorio also strongly believes in the benefits of adapting according to the specific strengths and weaknesses of an opponent. Manchester City were nothing like the super-power they have become and so Ferguson was relaxed about allowing such an enthusiastic personality come and watch how he worked. “The rotation and the tendency of me to give everyone an opportunity came from Mr Ferguson,” said Osorio. "He would say just a couple of things, but they were worth me waiting the whole two hours there.” Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio poses for a portrait Credit: FIFA Osorio regards his experiences in England as formative, particularly as Latin American football places such a heavy emphasis on short passing and dribbling. He has tried to blend these different philosophies in his teams and there is also a heavy emphasis on aerial strength and set-piece planning. One striking example is in defending corners and free-kicks where, in order to preserve the potential for rapid counter-attacks and to simplify the job of his defenders, he will position as many as three players on the half-way line and two on the edge of the penalty area. Shaun Wright-Phillips worked with Osorio at Manchester City and recently told ESPN that his philosophy was “unique” among the coaches he worked with in England. Wright-Phillips also recalled how, after joining Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, Osorio would stay in contact to regularly ask questions about the Portuguese’s methods. Osorio is now bullish about what Mexico can achieve over the next four weeks. “We have a right to shine and believe we can go to the final,” he said. It would be some journey from those years studying in Liverpool but, whatever happens, Tom McManus believes that he has already taught his family something precious. "What he showed to me and I think to our two boys is that if you want to achieve anything in life, you've got to be single-minded and totally determined to go for it,” he said. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
When Mexico kick-off their World Cup today against defending champions Germany, one particular family from Liverpool will be taking a very special interest. It is now 21 years since a 35-year-old Colombian student by the name of Juan Carlos Osorio first knocked on the McManus family’s front door in Crown Road, just outside Liverpool’s Melwood training base. Osorio initially asked to borrow a ladder or a table so that he could gain a better view of Liverpool training and, having so impressed the family with his politeness, they ultimately agreed to his suggestion that he should move in. For the next two years, he would secretly watch Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans at work, making extensive notes about the practicalities and details of their training sessions. Osorio had sold the small gym he owned in New York - as well even as a car and his watch - to fund his move to England. An adventure that would go from studying science and football at John Moores University to jobs in Major League Soccer and Manchester City as a fitness coach has since taken in managerial positions in Colombia, the United States, Honduras, Mexico and Brazil before the job of Mexico national team manager since 2015. Juan Carlos Osorio has coached Mexico since 2015 Credit: AP Osorio duly led Mexico to the top of their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying section for the first time since 1997 and, with 31 wins from 47 matches, hopes are high that they can now finally get past the last 16 on foreign soil. Under him, Mexico have also reached the quarter-final of the Copa America and the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. A major curiosity then of what would seem like a resoundingly successful tenure is that he remains such a polarising figure back in Mexico. The players are certainly behind him - all-time record scorer Javier Hernandez describes him as “like a genius because they live in a completely different world than ourselves” - but a sometimes overly deep and analytical response to questions has created difficulties in connecting with fans. One recent query about how often he runs apparently prompted a lengthy explanation about the precise details of the training zones he must reach in order to strengthen his heart for such a pressurised job. Such scrutiny, though, is hardly surprising and, in the 12 years that Joachim Loew has been managing Germany, Osorio is Mexico’s 12th coach. To have lasted almost three years is already good going. World Cup whatsapp promo The biggest criticism relates to how frequently he rotates his team; something that he largely attributes to the time he spent observing Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United when he was working at City between 2001 and 2005. For all the focus that there has always been on Ferguson’s sometimes explosive man-management style, those who worked closely with him will often tell you that his planning in terms of selection was most impressive. Every preferred rotation, whether for tactical or physical reasons, would be scheduled weeks in advance and Osorio also strongly believes in the benefits of adapting according to the specific strengths and weaknesses of an opponent. Manchester City were nothing like the super-power they have become and so Ferguson was relaxed about allowing such an enthusiastic personality come and watch how he worked. “The rotation and the tendency of me to give everyone an opportunity came from Mr Ferguson,” said Osorio. "He would say just a couple of things, but they were worth me waiting the whole two hours there.” Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio poses for a portrait Credit: FIFA Osorio regards his experiences in England as formative, particularly as Latin American football places such a heavy emphasis on short passing and dribbling. He has tried to blend these different philosophies in his teams and there is also a heavy emphasis on aerial strength and set-piece planning. One striking example is in defending corners and free-kicks where, in order to preserve the potential for rapid counter-attacks and to simplify the job of his defenders, he will position as many as three players on the half-way line and two on the edge of the penalty area. Shaun Wright-Phillips worked with Osorio at Manchester City and recently told ESPN that his philosophy was “unique” among the coaches he worked with in England. Wright-Phillips also recalled how, after joining Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, Osorio would stay in contact to regularly ask questions about the Portuguese’s methods. Osorio is now bullish about what Mexico can achieve over the next four weeks. “We have a right to shine and believe we can go to the final,” he said. It would be some journey from those years studying in Liverpool but, whatever happens, Tom McManus believes that he has already taught his family something precious. "What he showed to me and I think to our two boys is that if you want to achieve anything in life, you've got to be single-minded and totally determined to go for it,” he said. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Juan Carlos Osorio's journey from secretly watching Liverpool train to coaching Mexico at the World Cup
When Mexico kick-off their World Cup today against defending champions Germany, one particular family from Liverpool will be taking a very special interest. It is now 21 years since a 35-year-old Colombian student by the name of Juan Carlos Osorio first knocked on the McManus family’s front door in Crown Road, just outside Liverpool’s Melwood training base. Osorio initially asked to borrow a ladder or a table so that he could gain a better view of Liverpool training and, having so impressed the family with his politeness, they ultimately agreed to his suggestion that he should move in. For the next two years, he would secretly watch Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans at work, making extensive notes about the practicalities and details of their training sessions. Osorio had sold the small gym he owned in New York - as well even as a car and his watch - to fund his move to England. An adventure that would go from studying science and football at John Moores University to jobs in Major League Soccer and Manchester City as a fitness coach has since taken in managerial positions in Colombia, the United States, Honduras, Mexico and Brazil before the job of Mexico national team manager since 2015. Juan Carlos Osorio has coached Mexico since 2015 Credit: AP Osorio duly led Mexico to the top of their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying section for the first time since 1997 and, with 31 wins from 47 matches, hopes are high that they can now finally get past the last 16 on foreign soil. Under him, Mexico have also reached the quarter-final of the Copa America and the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. A major curiosity then of what would seem like a resoundingly successful tenure is that he remains such a polarising figure back in Mexico. The players are certainly behind him - all-time record scorer Javier Hernandez describes him as “like a genius because they live in a completely different world than ourselves” - but a sometimes overly deep and analytical response to questions has created difficulties in connecting with fans. One recent query about how often he runs apparently prompted a lengthy explanation about the precise details of the training zones he must reach in order to strengthen his heart for such a pressurised job. Such scrutiny, though, is hardly surprising and, in the 12 years that Joachim Loew has been managing Germany, Osorio is Mexico’s 12th coach. To have lasted almost three years is already good going. World Cup whatsapp promo The biggest criticism relates to how frequently he rotates his team; something that he largely attributes to the time he spent observing Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United when he was working at City between 2001 and 2005. For all the focus that there has always been on Ferguson’s sometimes explosive man-management style, those who worked closely with him will often tell you that his planning in terms of selection was most impressive. Every preferred rotation, whether for tactical or physical reasons, would be scheduled weeks in advance and Osorio also strongly believes in the benefits of adapting according to the specific strengths and weaknesses of an opponent. Manchester City were nothing like the super-power they have become and so Ferguson was relaxed about allowing such an enthusiastic personality come and watch how he worked. “The rotation and the tendency of me to give everyone an opportunity came from Mr Ferguson,” said Osorio. "He would say just a couple of things, but they were worth me waiting the whole two hours there.” Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio poses for a portrait Credit: FIFA Osorio regards his experiences in England as formative, particularly as Latin American football places such a heavy emphasis on short passing and dribbling. He has tried to blend these different philosophies in his teams and there is also a heavy emphasis on aerial strength and set-piece planning. One striking example is in defending corners and free-kicks where, in order to preserve the potential for rapid counter-attacks and to simplify the job of his defenders, he will position as many as three players on the half-way line and two on the edge of the penalty area. Shaun Wright-Phillips worked with Osorio at Manchester City and recently told ESPN that his philosophy was “unique” among the coaches he worked with in England. Wright-Phillips also recalled how, after joining Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, Osorio would stay in contact to regularly ask questions about the Portuguese’s methods. Osorio is now bullish about what Mexico can achieve over the next four weeks. “We have a right to shine and believe we can go to the final,” he said. It would be some journey from those years studying in Liverpool but, whatever happens, Tom McManus believes that he has already taught his family something precious. "What he showed to me and I think to our two boys is that if you want to achieve anything in life, you've got to be single-minded and totally determined to go for it,” he said. 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
What is it? It's sink or swim time. We're now only days away from England's opening Group G match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia against Tunisia. Gareth Southgate's men will be attempting to break a cycle of heartache and humiliation at major tournaments that has plunged the birthplace of football to its lowest ebb. A loss to Iceland in the last 16 of the 2016 European Championship was perhaps the ultimate embarrassment. Or maybe that came when England endured their shortest World Cup campaign two years earlier - only in contention for eight days. Before that, there were penalty shoot-out losses in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006 and 2012. And before that, who could forget Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal that denied England in the World Cup semi-finals in 1986? It's no surprise that the nation's expectations are low heading to Russia. England may have won the 1966 World Cup, but have only reached the semi-finals of a tournament twice since then. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game When is it? Monday, June 18, 2018. Where is it? At the Volgograd Arena, in Volgograd. England vs Tunisia, World Cup 2018 | How long until kick-off? What time is kick-off? 7pm BST. What TV channel is it on? The BBC and ITV are sharing coverage of the World Cup, but BBC have rights to the first England match. Alternatively, you can follow this match - and all 64 across the tournament - live here with Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Latest team news England Marcus Rashford will train with England on Friday as manager Gareth Southgate fine-tunes his preparations for the World Cup opener with Tunisia. Three days out from Monday's Group G clash in Volgograd, the Manchester United man will train for the first time in Russia after a knee problem. Rashford will join in with his team-mates as they train at the Spartak Zelenogorsk Stadium, although reports suggest Southgate may already have decided on his starting line-up. A number of national newspapers claimed on Thursday evening that Southgate will opt to put Raheem Sterling in support of lead striker Harry Kane, in a side containing nine World Cup debutants. England squad | World Cup 2018 That would mean starts for the likes of Harry Maguire over Gary Cahill, Jordan Henderson ahead of Eric Dier and Ashley Young at left wing-back. Regardless of who Southgate picks, the return to training of Rashford - revealed on The 'Lions' Den' show on England's YouTube channel - is good news for the manager, who has so far avoided any other injury scares and kept the initial 23-man squad he named in mid-May intact. Southgate revealed Rashford's "slight knock" upon landing in Russia and a number of team-mates attempted to allay concerns, as did the forward himself. "Thanks for the messages I've been getting," Rashford posted on Twitter. "Picked up a slight niggle but nothing to worry about £ThreeLions" Tunisia Tunisia have suffered the worst blow of all 32 teams to date, losing their playmaker Youssef Msakni, who suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury on April 7 that will keep him out for at least six months. The attacking midfielder, who has 49 caps, tore an anterior ligament playing for his Qatar Stars League club, Al-Duhail, against Al-Sailiya. When Nabil Maloul, Tunisia's manager, was asked in March what Msakni's absence would mean when the player could not feature in the spring friendlies because of a minor meniscus problem that required 10 days' rest, he said it would be like Argentina going to Russia without Lionel Messi. Here is Tunisia's 23-man squad: Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab, Saudi Arabia), Moez Hassen (Chateauroux, France), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Baten, Saudi Arabia) Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City, England), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa, Turkey), Dylan Bronn (Gent, Belgium), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon, France), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly, Egypt), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek, Egypt) Midfielders: Anice Badri (Esperance), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Al Ahli Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), Ghaylene Chaalali (Esperance), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Saifeddine Khaoui (Troyes, France), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nasr, Saudi Arabia), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier, France), Naim Sliti (Dijon, France), Bassem Srarfi (Nice, France) Forwards: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ittifaq, Saudi Arabia), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Wahbi Khazri (Rennes, France) Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more What do we know about the Tunisia line-up? With Youssef Msakni sidelined, Tunisia will be fielding a team at the World Cup that includes several foreign-born players, mainly from France. Indeed, Tunisia's squad is a mix of players mainly from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, France and domestic leagues. Here's a closer look at the Tunisia team: Coach 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 World Cup qualifying for his second spell as coach after a brief tenure in 2013. Maaloul played for Tunisia for a decade from 1985-95. One of very few African coaches in charge of a national team, he has transformed Tunisia from a fairly dour, defensive outfit to one more willing to attack since he took over after the African Cup of Nations in early 2017. He needs to ensure the decision to bring in new players at the expense of some of the men who got Tunisia to the World Cup doesn't upset the team balance or alienate squad members. Goalkeepers Maaloul's biggest decision may be the first name on the sheet after saying he has yet to decide. Aymen Mathlouthi, who is beginning to show frailties at 33 and after 11 years in the team, can no longer be certain of his starting spot. Maaloul must figure out whether to drop the captain and sacrifice experience for 28-year-old Farouk Ben Mustapha, who has been highly-praised in the Saudi league. World Cup 2018 stadiums Defenders Maaloul said he was leaning toward starting the World Cup with the formation used in friendly wins over Iran and Costa Rica in March. That would see 22-year-old French-born Ellyes Skhiri, who made his debut against Iran after a late call-up, start in central defence. Other contenders are 24-year-old home-based player Yassine Meriah, the experienced Syam Ben Youssef and Mohamed Amine Ben Amor. If it's a four-man back line, expect to see right-back Dylan Bronn, another French-born newcomer. Ali Maaloul has been a regular on the left. Both can also operate as wingers in a five-man midfield if Tunisia goes with a three-man defence of big, strong center-backs. Midfielders The challenge of filling the void left by Msakni will likely fall on France-born attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri. He played for the Tunisia and France youth teams before committing to Tunisia. Khazri was partnered in the center of midfield by Anice Badri in Tunisia's last match - forming a potent attacking threat. They are all versatile, operating as attacking midfielders or in a more advanced position in the forward line. Saif-Eddine Khaoui is a similar attack-minded midfielder who has forced himself into the team's plans. Ferjani Sassi has the role of shoring up the middle of the field as the holding midfielder. World Cup predictor Forwards Depending on whether Khazri, Badri, Sliti and newcomer Khaoui are deployed, there may be room for one or perhaps no out-and-out strikers. Ahmed Akaichi and Taha Yassine Khenissi have experience of operating alone up front but recent formations could mean Tunisia's forward line will be based on the versatility of the four attacking midfielders. What are they saying? Jesse Lingard: "Southgate has come in with the mentality to play with freedom, play without fear, and you will enjoy your time more," Lingard said. "So, as a group of players, that is what we are going to do - enjoy our football, play with no fear and play exciting football at the same time. "Of course, we want to go all the way to the final, but we are going to take each game as it comes and prepare for each game as we normally do." Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul: "For me the best team are Belgium, they are the group favourites. They have a lot of players who play in England and they are currently playing really well for a lot of clubs in England, so they are favourites and second place is between Tunisia and England. I hope it won't be the same scenario as in 1998." What are the odds? England to win 1/3 Draw 4/1 Tunisia to win 8/1 What's our prediction? England finished bottom of their group at the last World Cup in Brazil and suffered a humiliating defeat by Iceland in the last-16 at Euro 2016. However, without wishing to tempt face, they could not have asked for an easier start to the tournament this time and should expect to win comfortably. Predicted score: England 2 Tunisia 0. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
England vs Tunisia, World Cup 2018: What time is kick-off on Monday, what TV channel is it on and what is our prediction?
What is it? It's sink or swim time. We're now only days away from England's opening Group G match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia against Tunisia. Gareth Southgate's men will be attempting to break a cycle of heartache and humiliation at major tournaments that has plunged the birthplace of football to its lowest ebb. A loss to Iceland in the last 16 of the 2016 European Championship was perhaps the ultimate embarrassment. Or maybe that came when England endured their shortest World Cup campaign two years earlier - only in contention for eight days. Before that, there were penalty shoot-out losses in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006 and 2012. And before that, who could forget Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal that denied England in the World Cup semi-finals in 1986? It's no surprise that the nation's expectations are low heading to Russia. England may have won the 1966 World Cup, but have only reached the semi-finals of a tournament twice since then. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game When is it? Monday, June 18, 2018. Where is it? At the Volgograd Arena, in Volgograd. England vs Tunisia, World Cup 2018 | How long until kick-off? What time is kick-off? 7pm BST. What TV channel is it on? The BBC and ITV are sharing coverage of the World Cup, but BBC have rights to the first England match. Alternatively, you can follow this match - and all 64 across the tournament - live here with Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Latest team news England Marcus Rashford will train with England on Friday as manager Gareth Southgate fine-tunes his preparations for the World Cup opener with Tunisia. Three days out from Monday's Group G clash in Volgograd, the Manchester United man will train for the first time in Russia after a knee problem. Rashford will join in with his team-mates as they train at the Spartak Zelenogorsk Stadium, although reports suggest Southgate may already have decided on his starting line-up. A number of national newspapers claimed on Thursday evening that Southgate will opt to put Raheem Sterling in support of lead striker Harry Kane, in a side containing nine World Cup debutants. England squad | World Cup 2018 That would mean starts for the likes of Harry Maguire over Gary Cahill, Jordan Henderson ahead of Eric Dier and Ashley Young at left wing-back. Regardless of who Southgate picks, the return to training of Rashford - revealed on The 'Lions' Den' show on England's YouTube channel - is good news for the manager, who has so far avoided any other injury scares and kept the initial 23-man squad he named in mid-May intact. Southgate revealed Rashford's "slight knock" upon landing in Russia and a number of team-mates attempted to allay concerns, as did the forward himself. "Thanks for the messages I've been getting," Rashford posted on Twitter. "Picked up a slight niggle but nothing to worry about £ThreeLions" Tunisia Tunisia have suffered the worst blow of all 32 teams to date, losing their playmaker Youssef Msakni, who suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury on April 7 that will keep him out for at least six months. The attacking midfielder, who has 49 caps, tore an anterior ligament playing for his Qatar Stars League club, Al-Duhail, against Al-Sailiya. When Nabil Maloul, Tunisia's manager, was asked in March what Msakni's absence would mean when the player could not feature in the spring friendlies because of a minor meniscus problem that required 10 days' rest, he said it would be like Argentina going to Russia without Lionel Messi. Here is Tunisia's 23-man squad: Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab, Saudi Arabia), Moez Hassen (Chateauroux, France), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Baten, Saudi Arabia) Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City, England), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa, Turkey), Dylan Bronn (Gent, Belgium), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon, France), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly, Egypt), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek, Egypt) Midfielders: Anice Badri (Esperance), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Al Ahli Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), Ghaylene Chaalali (Esperance), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Saifeddine Khaoui (Troyes, France), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nasr, Saudi Arabia), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier, France), Naim Sliti (Dijon, France), Bassem Srarfi (Nice, France) Forwards: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ittifaq, Saudi Arabia), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Wahbi Khazri (Rennes, France) Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more What do we know about the Tunisia line-up? With Youssef Msakni sidelined, Tunisia will be fielding a team at the World Cup that includes several foreign-born players, mainly from France. Indeed, Tunisia's squad is a mix of players mainly from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, France and domestic leagues. Here's a closer look at the Tunisia team: Coach 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 World Cup qualifying for his second spell as coach after a brief tenure in 2013. Maaloul played for Tunisia for a decade from 1985-95. One of very few African coaches in charge of a national team, he has transformed Tunisia from a fairly dour, defensive outfit to one more willing to attack since he took over after the African Cup of Nations in early 2017. He needs to ensure the decision to bring in new players at the expense of some of the men who got Tunisia to the World Cup doesn't upset the team balance or alienate squad members. Goalkeepers Maaloul's biggest decision may be the first name on the sheet after saying he has yet to decide. Aymen Mathlouthi, who is beginning to show frailties at 33 and after 11 years in the team, can no longer be certain of his starting spot. Maaloul must figure out whether to drop the captain and sacrifice experience for 28-year-old Farouk Ben Mustapha, who has been highly-praised in the Saudi league. World Cup 2018 stadiums Defenders Maaloul said he was leaning toward starting the World Cup with the formation used in friendly wins over Iran and Costa Rica in March. That would see 22-year-old French-born Ellyes Skhiri, who made his debut against Iran after a late call-up, start in central defence. Other contenders are 24-year-old home-based player Yassine Meriah, the experienced Syam Ben Youssef and Mohamed Amine Ben Amor. If it's a four-man back line, expect to see right-back Dylan Bronn, another French-born newcomer. Ali Maaloul has been a regular on the left. Both can also operate as wingers in a five-man midfield if Tunisia goes with a three-man defence of big, strong center-backs. Midfielders The challenge of filling the void left by Msakni will likely fall on France-born attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri. He played for the Tunisia and France youth teams before committing to Tunisia. Khazri was partnered in the center of midfield by Anice Badri in Tunisia's last match - forming a potent attacking threat. They are all versatile, operating as attacking midfielders or in a more advanced position in the forward line. Saif-Eddine Khaoui is a similar attack-minded midfielder who has forced himself into the team's plans. Ferjani Sassi has the role of shoring up the middle of the field as the holding midfielder. World Cup predictor Forwards Depending on whether Khazri, Badri, Sliti and newcomer Khaoui are deployed, there may be room for one or perhaps no out-and-out strikers. Ahmed Akaichi and Taha Yassine Khenissi have experience of operating alone up front but recent formations could mean Tunisia's forward line will be based on the versatility of the four attacking midfielders. What are they saying? Jesse Lingard: "Southgate has come in with the mentality to play with freedom, play without fear, and you will enjoy your time more," Lingard said. "So, as a group of players, that is what we are going to do - enjoy our football, play with no fear and play exciting football at the same time. "Of course, we want to go all the way to the final, but we are going to take each game as it comes and prepare for each game as we normally do." Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul: "For me the best team are Belgium, they are the group favourites. They have a lot of players who play in England and they are currently playing really well for a lot of clubs in England, so they are favourites and second place is between Tunisia and England. I hope it won't be the same scenario as in 1998." What are the odds? England to win 1/3 Draw 4/1 Tunisia to win 8/1 What's our prediction? England finished bottom of their group at the last World Cup in Brazil and suffered a humiliating defeat by Iceland in the last-16 at Euro 2016. However, without wishing to tempt face, they could not have asked for an easier start to the tournament this time and should expect to win comfortably. Predicted score: England 2 Tunisia 0. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2017, file photo, Denmark's Christian Eriksen celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the World Cup qualifying second leg soccer match against Ireland in Dublin, Ireland. Led by explosive star Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Christian Eriksen, the Danish Dynamite responded with six victories and three ties during their final nine qualifiers. That run included a 4-0 rout of qualifying group-winner Poland and a 5-1 demolition of Ireland in the second leg of a two-game playoff to secure a fifth World Cup appearance and first since 2010. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File)
Messi begins bid for 1st World Cup title against Iceland
FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2017, file photo, Denmark's Christian Eriksen celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the World Cup qualifying second leg soccer match against Ireland in Dublin, Ireland. Led by explosive star Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Christian Eriksen, the Danish Dynamite responded with six victories and three ties during their final nine qualifiers. That run included a 4-0 rout of qualifying group-winner Poland and a 5-1 demolition of Ireland in the second leg of a two-game playoff to secure a fifth World Cup appearance and first since 2010. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2017, file photo, Denmark's Christian Eriksen celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the World Cup qualifying second leg soccer match against Ireland in Dublin, Ireland. Led by explosive star Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Christian Eriksen, the Danish Dynamite responded with six victories and three ties during their final nine qualifiers. That run included a 4-0 rout of qualifying group-winner Poland and a 5-1 demolition of Ireland in the second leg of a two-game playoff to secure a fifth World Cup appearance and first since 2010. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2017, file photo, Denmark's Christian Eriksen celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the World Cup qualifying second leg soccer match against Ireland in Dublin, Ireland. Led by explosive star Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Christian Eriksen, the Danish Dynamite responded with six victories and three ties during their final nine qualifiers. That run included a 4-0 rout of qualifying group-winner Poland and a 5-1 demolition of Ireland in the second leg of a two-game playoff to secure a fifth World Cup appearance and first since 2010. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2017, file photo, Denmark's Christian Eriksen celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the World Cup qualifying second leg soccer match against Ireland in Dublin, Ireland. Led by explosive star Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Christian Eriksen, the Danish Dynamite responded with six victories and three ties during their final nine qualifiers. That run included a 4-0 rout of qualifying group-winner Poland and a 5-1 demolition of Ireland in the second leg of a two-game playoff to secure a fifth World Cup appearance and first since 2010. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File)
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
What is it? It's sink or swim time. We're now only days away from England's opening Group G match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia against Tunisia. Gareth Southgate's men will be attempting to break a cycle of heartache and humiliation at major tournaments that has plunged the birthplace of football to its lowest ebb. A loss to Iceland in the last 16 of the 2016 European Championship was perhaps the ultimate embarrassment. Or maybe that came when England endured their shortest World Cup campaign two years earlier - only in contention for eight days. Before that, there were penalty shoot-out losses in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006 and 2012. And before that, who could forget Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal that denied England in the World Cup semi-finals in 1986? It's no surprise that the nation's expectations are low heading to Russia. England may have won the 1966 World Cup, but have only reached the semi-finals of a tournament twice since then. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game When is it? Monday, June 18, 2018. Where is it? At the Volgograd Arena, in Volgograd. England vs Tunisia, World Cup 2018 | How long until kick-off? What time is kick-off? 7pm BST. What TV channel is it on? The BBC and ITV are sharing coverage of the World Cup, but BBC have rights to the first England match. Alternatively, you can follow this match - and all 64 across the tournament - live here with Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Latest team news England Marcus Rashford will train with England on Friday as manager Gareth Southgate fine-tunes his preparations for the World Cup opener with Tunisia. Three days out from Monday's Group G clash in Volgograd, the Manchester United man will train for the first time in Russia after a knee problem. Rashford will join in with his team-mates as they train at the Spartak Zelenogorsk Stadium, although reports suggest Southgate may already have decided on his starting line-up. A number of national newspapers claimed on Thursday evening that Southgate will opt to put Raheem Sterling in support of lead striker Harry Kane, in a side containing nine World Cup debutants. England squad | World Cup 2018 That would mean starts for the likes of Harry Maguire over Gary Cahill, Jordan Henderson ahead of Eric Dier and Ashley Young at left wing-back. Regardless of who Southgate picks, the return to training of Rashford - revealed on The 'Lions' Den' show on England's YouTube channel - is good news for the manager, who has so far avoided any other injury scares and kept the initial 23-man squad he named in mid-May intact. Southgate revealed Rashford's "slight knock" upon landing in Russia and a number of team-mates attempted to allay concerns, as did the forward himself. "Thanks for the messages I've been getting," Rashford posted on Twitter. "Picked up a slight niggle but nothing to worry about £ThreeLions" Tunisia Tunisia have suffered the worst blow of all 32 teams to date, losing their playmaker Youssef Msakni, who suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury on April 7 that will keep him out for at least six months. The attacking midfielder, who has 49 caps, tore an anterior ligament playing for his Qatar Stars League club, Al-Duhail, against Al-Sailiya. When Nabil Maloul, Tunisia's manager, was asked in March what Msakni's absence would mean when the player could not feature in the spring friendlies because of a minor meniscus problem that required 10 days' rest, he said it would be like Argentina going to Russia without Lionel Messi. Here is Tunisia's 23-man squad: Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab, Saudi Arabia), Moez Hassen (Chateauroux, France), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Baten, Saudi Arabia) Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City, England), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa, Turkey), Dylan Bronn (Gent, Belgium), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon, France), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly, Egypt), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek, Egypt) Midfielders: Anice Badri (Esperance), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Al Ahli Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), Ghaylene Chaalali (Esperance), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Saifeddine Khaoui (Troyes, France), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nasr, Saudi Arabia), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier, France), Naim Sliti (Dijon, France), Bassem Srarfi (Nice, France) Forwards: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ittifaq, Saudi Arabia), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Wahbi Khazri (Rennes, France) Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more What do we know about the Tunisia line-up? With Youssef Msakni sidelined, Tunisia will be fielding a team at the World Cup that includes several foreign-born players, mainly from France. Indeed, Tunisia's squad is a mix of players mainly from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, France and domestic leagues. Here's a closer look at the Tunisia team: Coach 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 World Cup qualifying for his second spell as coach after a brief tenure in 2013. Maaloul played for Tunisia for a decade from 1985-95. One of very few African coaches in charge of a national team, he has transformed Tunisia from a fairly dour, defensive outfit to one more willing to attack since he took over after the African Cup of Nations in early 2017. He needs to ensure the decision to bring in new players at the expense of some of the men who got Tunisia to the World Cup doesn't upset the team balance or alienate squad members. Goalkeepers Maaloul's biggest decision may be the first name on the sheet after saying he has yet to decide. Aymen Mathlouthi, who is beginning to show frailties at 33 and after 11 years in the team, can no longer be certain of his starting spot. Maaloul must figure out whether to drop the captain and sacrifice experience for 28-year-old Farouk Ben Mustapha, who has been highly-praised in the Saudi league. World Cup 2018 stadiums Defenders Maaloul said he was leaning toward starting the World Cup with the formation used in friendly wins over Iran and Costa Rica in March. That would see 22-year-old French-born Ellyes Skhiri, who made his debut against Iran after a late call-up, start in central defence. Other contenders are 24-year-old home-based player Yassine Meriah, the experienced Syam Ben Youssef and Mohamed Amine Ben Amor. If it's a four-man back line, expect to see right-back Dylan Bronn, another French-born newcomer. Ali Maaloul has been a regular on the left. Both can also operate as wingers in a five-man midfield if Tunisia goes with a three-man defence of big, strong center-backs. Midfielders The challenge of filling the void left by Msakni will likely fall on France-born attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri. He played for the Tunisia and France youth teams before committing to Tunisia. Khazri was partnered in the center of midfield by Anice Badri in Tunisia's last match - forming a potent attacking threat. They are all versatile, operating as attacking midfielders or in a more advanced position in the forward line. Saif-Eddine Khaoui is a similar attack-minded midfielder who has forced himself into the team's plans. Ferjani Sassi has the role of shoring up the middle of the field as the holding midfielder. World Cup predictor Forwards Depending on whether Khazri, Badri, Sliti and newcomer Khaoui are deployed, there may be room for one or perhaps no out-and-out strikers. Ahmed Akaichi and Taha Yassine Khenissi have experience of operating alone up front but recent formations could mean Tunisia's forward line will be based on the versatility of the four attacking midfielders. What are they saying? Jesse Lingard: "Southgate has come in with the mentality to play with freedom, play without fear, and you will enjoy your time more," Lingard said. "So, as a group of players, that is what we are going to do - enjoy our football, play with no fear and play exciting football at the same time. "Of course, we want to go all the way to the final, but we are going to take each game as it comes and prepare for each game as we normally do." Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul: "For me the best team are Belgium, they are the group favourites. They have a lot of players who play in England and they are currently playing really well for a lot of clubs in England, so they are favourites and second place is between Tunisia and England. I hope it won't be the same scenario as in 1998." What are the odds? England to win 1/3 Draw 4/1 Tunisia to win 8/1 What's our prediction? England finished bottom of their group at the last World Cup in Brazil and suffered a humiliating defeat by Iceland in the last-16 at Euro 2016. However, without wishing to tempt face, they could not have asked for an easier start to the tournament this time and should expect to win comfortably. Predicted score: England 2 Tunisia 0. World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
England vs Tunisia, World Cup 2018: What time is kick-off, what TV channel is it on and what is our prediction?
What is it? It's sink or swim time. We're now only days away from England's opening Group G match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia against Tunisia. Gareth Southgate's men will be attempting to break a cycle of heartache and humiliation at major tournaments that has plunged the birthplace of football to its lowest ebb. A loss to Iceland in the last 16 of the 2016 European Championship was perhaps the ultimate embarrassment. Or maybe that came when England endured their shortest World Cup campaign two years earlier - only in contention for eight days. Before that, there were penalty shoot-out losses in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006 and 2012. And before that, who could forget Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal that denied England in the World Cup semi-finals in 1986? It's no surprise that the nation's expectations are low heading to Russia. England may have won the 1966 World Cup, but have only reached the semi-finals of a tournament twice since then. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game When is it? Monday, June 18, 2018. Where is it? At the Volgograd Arena, in Volgograd. England vs Tunisia, World Cup 2018 | How long until kick-off? What time is kick-off? 7pm BST. What TV channel is it on? The BBC and ITV are sharing coverage of the World Cup, but BBC have rights to the first England match. Alternatively, you can follow this match - and all 64 across the tournament - live here with Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Latest team news England Marcus Rashford will train with England on Friday as manager Gareth Southgate fine-tunes his preparations for the World Cup opener with Tunisia. Three days out from Monday's Group G clash in Volgograd, the Manchester United man will train for the first time in Russia after a knee problem. Rashford will join in with his team-mates as they train at the Spartak Zelenogorsk Stadium, although reports suggest Southgate may already have decided on his starting line-up. A number of national newspapers claimed on Thursday evening that Southgate will opt to put Raheem Sterling in support of lead striker Harry Kane, in a side containing nine World Cup debutants. England squad | World Cup 2018 That would mean starts for the likes of Harry Maguire over Gary Cahill, Jordan Henderson ahead of Eric Dier and Ashley Young at left wing-back. Regardless of who Southgate picks, the return to training of Rashford - revealed on The 'Lions' Den' show on England's YouTube channel - is good news for the manager, who has so far avoided any other injury scares and kept the initial 23-man squad he named in mid-May intact. Southgate revealed Rashford's "slight knock" upon landing in Russia and a number of team-mates attempted to allay concerns, as did the forward himself. "Thanks for the messages I've been getting," Rashford posted on Twitter. "Picked up a slight niggle but nothing to worry about £ThreeLions" Tunisia Tunisia have suffered the worst blow of all 32 teams to date, losing their playmaker Youssef Msakni, who suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury on April 7 that will keep him out for at least six months. The attacking midfielder, who has 49 caps, tore an anterior ligament playing for his Qatar Stars League club, Al-Duhail, against Al-Sailiya. When Nabil Maloul, Tunisia's manager, was asked in March what Msakni's absence would mean when the player could not feature in the spring friendlies because of a minor meniscus problem that required 10 days' rest, he said it would be like Argentina going to Russia without Lionel Messi. Here is Tunisia's 23-man squad: Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab, Saudi Arabia), Moez Hassen (Chateauroux, France), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Baten, Saudi Arabia) Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City, England), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa, Turkey), Dylan Bronn (Gent, Belgium), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon, France), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly, Egypt), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek, Egypt) Midfielders: Anice Badri (Esperance), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Al Ahli Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), Ghaylene Chaalali (Esperance), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Saifeddine Khaoui (Troyes, France), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nasr, Saudi Arabia), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier, France), Naim Sliti (Dijon, France), Bassem Srarfi (Nice, France) Forwards: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ittifaq, Saudi Arabia), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Wahbi Khazri (Rennes, France) Full 2018 World Cup squad lists and guides | Star to watch, odds, fans' chants and more What do we know about the Tunisia line-up? With Youssef Msakni sidelined, Tunisia will be fielding a team at the World Cup that includes several foreign-born players, mainly from France. Indeed, Tunisia's squad is a mix of players mainly from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, France and domestic leagues. Here's a closer look at the Tunisia team: Coach 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 World Cup qualifying for his second spell as coach after a brief tenure in 2013. Maaloul played for Tunisia for a decade from 1985-95. One of very few African coaches in charge of a national team, he has transformed Tunisia from a fairly dour, defensive outfit to one more willing to attack since he took over after the African Cup of Nations in early 2017. He needs to ensure the decision to bring in new players at the expense of some of the men who got Tunisia to the World Cup doesn't upset the team balance or alienate squad members. Goalkeepers Maaloul's biggest decision may be the first name on the sheet after saying he has yet to decide. Aymen Mathlouthi, who is beginning to show frailties at 33 and after 11 years in the team, can no longer be certain of his starting spot. Maaloul must figure out whether to drop the captain and sacrifice experience for 28-year-old Farouk Ben Mustapha, who has been highly-praised in the Saudi league. World Cup 2018 stadiums Defenders Maaloul said he was leaning toward starting the World Cup with the formation used in friendly wins over Iran and Costa Rica in March. That would see 22-year-old French-born Ellyes Skhiri, who made his debut against Iran after a late call-up, start in central defence. Other contenders are 24-year-old home-based player Yassine Meriah, the experienced Syam Ben Youssef and Mohamed Amine Ben Amor. If it's a four-man back line, expect to see right-back Dylan Bronn, another French-born newcomer. Ali Maaloul has been a regular on the left. Both can also operate as wingers in a five-man midfield if Tunisia goes with a three-man defence of big, strong center-backs. Midfielders The challenge of filling the void left by Msakni will likely fall on France-born attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri. He played for the Tunisia and France youth teams before committing to Tunisia. Khazri was partnered in the center of midfield by Anice Badri in Tunisia's last match - forming a potent attacking threat. They are all versatile, operating as attacking midfielders or in a more advanced position in the forward line. Saif-Eddine Khaoui is a similar attack-minded midfielder who has forced himself into the team's plans. Ferjani Sassi has the role of shoring up the middle of the field as the holding midfielder. World Cup predictor Forwards Depending on whether Khazri, Badri, Sliti and newcomer Khaoui are deployed, there may be room for one or perhaps no out-and-out strikers. Ahmed Akaichi and Taha Yassine Khenissi have experience of operating alone up front but recent formations could mean Tunisia's forward line will be based on the versatility of the four attacking midfielders. What are they saying? Jesse Lingard: "Southgate has come in with the mentality to play with freedom, play without fear, and you will enjoy your time more," Lingard said. "So, as a group of players, that is what we are going to do - enjoy our football, play with no fear and play exciting football at the same time. "Of course, we want to go all the way to the final, but we are going to take each game as it comes and prepare for each game as we normally do." Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul: "For me the best team are Belgium, they are the group favourites. They have a lot of players who play in England and they are currently playing really well for a lot of clubs in England, so they are favourites and second place is between Tunisia and England. I hope it won't be the same scenario as in 1998." What are the odds? England to win 1/3 Draw 4/1 Tunisia to win 8/1 What's our prediction? England finished bottom of their group at the last World Cup in Brazil and suffered a humiliating defeat by Iceland in the last-16 at Euro 2016. However, without wishing to tempt face, they could not have asked for an easier start to the tournament this time and should expect to win comfortably. Predicted score: England 2 Tunisia 0. 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 When the Russians launched their bid to host the World Cup for the first time, they were on a high after reaching the semi-finals at the 2008 European Championship. Times have changed. Russia go into the draw as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams, having failed to advance past the group stage of any tournament since 2008. Ambitious talk of reaching the quarter-finals or even semi-finals has faded. There are off-field problems too, with reports of disputes between players and the coach. Hooligan rampages at Euro 2016 tarnished Russia's image, with the country threatened with expulsion from the tournament in France. Key player: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow) - A talented goalkeeper who captains the team, Akinfeev has tended to make mistakes in big games. Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov - After experiments with expensive foreign recruits like Fabio Capello and Guus Hiddink, Russia go into the World Cup with a dour, defence-first former goalkeeper. 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