World Cup Qualifying

World Cup Qualifying slideshow

Jurgen Klinsmann believes the United States' World Cup qualifying failure is a huge blow.
Klinsmann says World Cup miss set USA back 'several years'
Jurgen Klinsmann believes the United States' World Cup qualifying failure is a huge blow.
Martin Dubravka was hyperactive as a child, a tiny tornado of pent up energy and constant chatter - a small boy who made a lot of noise. Other than his height, not much has changed. You may not have heard much of Dubravka - that he has been a revelation on Tyneside, that he is yet to concede a goal at St James’ Park and has, without any real credit, been Newcastle United’s best signing of the season. Dubravka was January’s mystery man, a 6ft 3in Slovakian signed, initially on loan, without fanfare. He had impressed against both England and Scotland in the World Cup qualifying campaign, but still flew in under the radar. When he signed from Sparta Prague, few understood why Rafa Benitez had made him a priority target. He already had two senior goalkeepers, Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow jostling for places in his first XI, as well as England Under-19 World Cup winner Freddie Woodman waiting behind them. Indeed, it was Benitez’s obsession with signing another goalkeeper that caused friction with those above him in the summer. Men in suits, without a coaching badge between them, still felt they were justified in questioning his judgement filling one of the team’s most important positions. Martin Dubravka put in a match-winning performance in his first game for Newcastle Credit: Getty Images Dubravka knows nothing about that six-month power struggle, but he is the reason Benitez has won the argument. Since making his debut in a win over Manchester United, Newcastle have won four, drawn one and lost only once, away to Liverpool, to move well clear of relegation danger. A jittery defence has been becalmed by his sizeable presence, to the extent that tomorrow's meeting with Arsenal is now blissfully stress-free. “When I signed in January, I didn’t think for one second that I was joining a club that would be relegated,” said Dubravka, who, along with his partner Lucia, has already fallen in love with the city and is desperate to make his loan move permanent. “I was joining a club with a huge history and crazy fans, as soon as I got here I knew we would not go down. When you beat Manchester United in your first game, I knew we would do everything we needed to stay up. Martin Dubravka says he wants to take Newcastle into Europe Credit: Reuters “This a club that deserves to be higher, to be in Europe again, but we have to take small steps. We need the manager to stay, he is the boss, he is the most important person. The manager and the owner, they have to work together and get Newcastle back to the level they should be at. “I’m desperate to stay here, I know that already. The fans, they have been amazing, everywhere we go, they stop and talk. This is a proper football city, I love that, you feel it as soon as you get here.” At the age of 29, Dubravka is entering his prime as a goalkeeper, but he retains many of the same traits that led to his grandmother, driven to breaking point in a small apartment in Zilina, pushed him into football after a freak accident brought a swift end to his interest in ice hockey. “I come from a family of goalkeepers,” Dubravka, who once had a poster of his opposite number this weekend, Petr Cech, on his bedroom wall, explained. “My father was a goalkeeper, my grandfather was a goalkeeper also, but I wanted to play in a different position at first. I liked to play football with my feet, but I don’t know, things happen, it was probably my destiny. Martin Dubravka thanks his grandmother for introducing him to fooball Credit: Getty Images “I was really small when I was young, probably the smallest in my class and my mum said: “why do you want to be a goalkeeper?” but things happen for a reason. “The first person to bring me to football was my grandmother. We were really close, but I was hyper active as a child. I don’t think I stopped talking. I drove her mad one day, bouncing around her apartment, leaping from sofa to sofa. I don’t think she could take anymore. “I was too active, I had too much energy, it had to be burned off. She said “you need to go and do something outside. It was a small city, she knew some of the coaches and even though I was too young to play with that age group, she insisted. “I didn’t always listen when I was younger. I might have gone into ice hockey, but when I was five years old, I hurt myself really badly. It was a family BBQ and I was chopping some wood with a machete. My parents were saying, stop that, stop that, you are going to hurt yourself, but…. I put it in my leg. My parents had told me 100 times. It was a bad injury and I still have a big scar. “If it was a few millimetres higher the doctors said I would have had trouble walking and there would have been no chance of me becoming a goalkeeper. I was unlucky, but lucky at the same time. You know, maybe this was meant to be. Mike Ashley to renew efforts to sell Newcastle “I probably would never had played football. The thing is, I could not skate for a while, so I played football instead.” It has not just been Dubravka’s ability as a goalkeeper that has made a difference, it is, according to Benitez “the way he communicates with the defenders” that is so important. Even on his debut against Manchester United, Dubravka was confident and outspoken enough to cajole and guide those in front of him, something he learned from his idol, Cech. Dubravka speaks English fluently, language skills picked up while playing for Esbjerg in Denmark and the chatter that once drove his grandmother to distraction is now put to better use. “I don’t think you have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper, I don’t do anything that is not natural for me,” he added. “I’m not aggressive, but I have a lot of energy. I talk a lot, I always try to speak to my defenders, I think that is the way it should be. “I don’t think they get annoyed… they are glad I say things to them. If I don’t speak to them, they look at me like something is wrong. I guess that is what they expect from me. As I said, I was hyperactive as a child….” Newcastle will, if Benitez has his way, be extremely active in the transfer market again this summer, but the Spaniard will not be looking for another goalkeeper. That position has already been filled.
Exclusive Martin Dubravka interview: From hyperactive ice-hockey goalkeeper to Newcastle cult hero - via a freak machete injury
Martin Dubravka was hyperactive as a child, a tiny tornado of pent up energy and constant chatter - a small boy who made a lot of noise. Other than his height, not much has changed. You may not have heard much of Dubravka - that he has been a revelation on Tyneside, that he is yet to concede a goal at St James’ Park and has, without any real credit, been Newcastle United’s best signing of the season. Dubravka was January’s mystery man, a 6ft 3in Slovakian signed, initially on loan, without fanfare. He had impressed against both England and Scotland in the World Cup qualifying campaign, but still flew in under the radar. When he signed from Sparta Prague, few understood why Rafa Benitez had made him a priority target. He already had two senior goalkeepers, Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow jostling for places in his first XI, as well as England Under-19 World Cup winner Freddie Woodman waiting behind them. Indeed, it was Benitez’s obsession with signing another goalkeeper that caused friction with those above him in the summer. Men in suits, without a coaching badge between them, still felt they were justified in questioning his judgement filling one of the team’s most important positions. Martin Dubravka put in a match-winning performance in his first game for Newcastle Credit: Getty Images Dubravka knows nothing about that six-month power struggle, but he is the reason Benitez has won the argument. Since making his debut in a win over Manchester United, Newcastle have won four, drawn one and lost only once, away to Liverpool, to move well clear of relegation danger. A jittery defence has been becalmed by his sizeable presence, to the extent that tomorrow's meeting with Arsenal is now blissfully stress-free. “When I signed in January, I didn’t think for one second that I was joining a club that would be relegated,” said Dubravka, who, along with his partner Lucia, has already fallen in love with the city and is desperate to make his loan move permanent. “I was joining a club with a huge history and crazy fans, as soon as I got here I knew we would not go down. When you beat Manchester United in your first game, I knew we would do everything we needed to stay up. Martin Dubravka says he wants to take Newcastle into Europe Credit: Reuters “This a club that deserves to be higher, to be in Europe again, but we have to take small steps. We need the manager to stay, he is the boss, he is the most important person. The manager and the owner, they have to work together and get Newcastle back to the level they should be at. “I’m desperate to stay here, I know that already. The fans, they have been amazing, everywhere we go, they stop and talk. This is a proper football city, I love that, you feel it as soon as you get here.” At the age of 29, Dubravka is entering his prime as a goalkeeper, but he retains many of the same traits that led to his grandmother, driven to breaking point in a small apartment in Zilina, pushed him into football after a freak accident brought a swift end to his interest in ice hockey. “I come from a family of goalkeepers,” Dubravka, who once had a poster of his opposite number this weekend, Petr Cech, on his bedroom wall, explained. “My father was a goalkeeper, my grandfather was a goalkeeper also, but I wanted to play in a different position at first. I liked to play football with my feet, but I don’t know, things happen, it was probably my destiny. Martin Dubravka thanks his grandmother for introducing him to fooball Credit: Getty Images “I was really small when I was young, probably the smallest in my class and my mum said: “why do you want to be a goalkeeper?” but things happen for a reason. “The first person to bring me to football was my grandmother. We were really close, but I was hyper active as a child. I don’t think I stopped talking. I drove her mad one day, bouncing around her apartment, leaping from sofa to sofa. I don’t think she could take anymore. “I was too active, I had too much energy, it had to be burned off. She said “you need to go and do something outside. It was a small city, she knew some of the coaches and even though I was too young to play with that age group, she insisted. “I didn’t always listen when I was younger. I might have gone into ice hockey, but when I was five years old, I hurt myself really badly. It was a family BBQ and I was chopping some wood with a machete. My parents were saying, stop that, stop that, you are going to hurt yourself, but…. I put it in my leg. My parents had told me 100 times. It was a bad injury and I still have a big scar. “If it was a few millimetres higher the doctors said I would have had trouble walking and there would have been no chance of me becoming a goalkeeper. I was unlucky, but lucky at the same time. You know, maybe this was meant to be. Mike Ashley to renew efforts to sell Newcastle “I probably would never had played football. The thing is, I could not skate for a while, so I played football instead.” It has not just been Dubravka’s ability as a goalkeeper that has made a difference, it is, according to Benitez “the way he communicates with the defenders” that is so important. Even on his debut against Manchester United, Dubravka was confident and outspoken enough to cajole and guide those in front of him, something he learned from his idol, Cech. Dubravka speaks English fluently, language skills picked up while playing for Esbjerg in Denmark and the chatter that once drove his grandmother to distraction is now put to better use. “I don’t think you have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper, I don’t do anything that is not natural for me,” he added. “I’m not aggressive, but I have a lot of energy. I talk a lot, I always try to speak to my defenders, I think that is the way it should be. “I don’t think they get annoyed… they are glad I say things to them. If I don’t speak to them, they look at me like something is wrong. I guess that is what they expect from me. As I said, I was hyperactive as a child….” Newcastle will, if Benitez has his way, be extremely active in the transfer market again this summer, but the Spaniard will not be looking for another goalkeeper. That position has already been filled.
Martin Dubravka was hyperactive as a child, a tiny tornado of pent up energy and constant chatter - a small boy who made a lot of noise. Other than his height, not much has changed. You may not have heard much of Dubravka - that he has been a revelation on Tyneside, that he is yet to concede a goal at St James’ Park and has, without any real credit, been Newcastle United’s best signing of the season. Dubravka was January’s mystery man, a 6ft 3in Slovakian signed, initially on loan, without fanfare. He had impressed against both England and Scotland in the World Cup qualifying campaign, but still flew in under the radar. When he signed from Sparta Prague, few understood why Rafa Benitez had made him a priority target. He already had two senior goalkeepers, Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow jostling for places in his first XI, as well as England Under-19 World Cup winner Freddie Woodman waiting behind them. Indeed, it was Benitez’s obsession with signing another goalkeeper that caused friction with those above him in the summer. Men in suits, without a coaching badge between them, still felt they were justified in questioning his judgement filling one of the team’s most important positions. Martin Dubravka put in a match-winning performance in his first game for Newcastle Credit: Getty Images Dubravka knows nothing about that six-month power struggle, but he is the reason Benitez has won the argument. Since making his debut in a win over Manchester United, Newcastle have won four, drawn one and lost only once, away to Liverpool, to move well clear of relegation danger. A jittery defence has been becalmed by his sizeable presence, to the extent that tomorrow's meeting with Arsenal is now blissfully stress-free. “When I signed in January, I didn’t think for one second that I was joining a club that would be relegated,” said Dubravka, who, along with his partner Lucia, has already fallen in love with the city and is desperate to make his loan move permanent. “I was joining a club with a huge history and crazy fans, as soon as I got here I knew we would not go down. When you beat Manchester United in your first game, I knew we would do everything we needed to stay up. Martin Dubravka says he wants to take Newcastle into Europe Credit: Reuters “This a club that deserves to be higher, to be in Europe again, but we have to take small steps. We need the manager to stay, he is the boss, he is the most important person. The manager and the owner, they have to work together and get Newcastle back to the level they should be at. “I’m desperate to stay here, I know that already. The fans, they have been amazing, everywhere we go, they stop and talk. This is a proper football city, I love that, you feel it as soon as you get here.” At the age of 29, Dubravka is entering his prime as a goalkeeper, but he retains many of the same traits that led to his grandmother, driven to breaking point in a small apartment in Zilina, pushed him into football after a freak accident brought a swift end to his interest in ice hockey. “I come from a family of goalkeepers,” Dubravka, who once had a poster of his opposite number this weekend, Petr Cech, on his bedroom wall, explained. “My father was a goalkeeper, my grandfather was a goalkeeper also, but I wanted to play in a different position at first. I liked to play football with my feet, but I don’t know, things happen, it was probably my destiny. Martin Dubravka thanks his grandmother for introducing him to fooball Credit: Getty Images “I was really small when I was young, probably the smallest in my class and my mum said: “why do you want to be a goalkeeper?” but things happen for a reason. “The first person to bring me to football was my grandmother. We were really close, but I was hyper active as a child. I don’t think I stopped talking. I drove her mad one day, bouncing around her apartment, leaping from sofa to sofa. I don’t think she could take anymore. “I was too active, I had too much energy, it had to be burned off. She said “you need to go and do something outside. It was a small city, she knew some of the coaches and even though I was too young to play with that age group, she insisted. “I didn’t always listen when I was younger. I might have gone into ice hockey, but when I was five years old, I hurt myself really badly. It was a family BBQ and I was chopping some wood with a machete. My parents were saying, stop that, stop that, you are going to hurt yourself, but…. I put it in my leg. My parents had told me 100 times. It was a bad injury and I still have a big scar. “If it was a few millimetres higher the doctors said I would have had trouble walking and there would have been no chance of me becoming a goalkeeper. I was unlucky, but lucky at the same time. You know, maybe this was meant to be. Mike Ashley to renew efforts to sell Newcastle “I probably would never had played football. The thing is, I could not skate for a while, so I played football instead.” It has not just been Dubravka’s ability as a goalkeeper that has made a difference, it is, according to Benitez “the way he communicates with the defenders” that is so important. Even on his debut against Manchester United, Dubravka was confident and outspoken enough to cajole and guide those in front of him, something he learned from his idol, Cech. Dubravka speaks English fluently, language skills picked up while playing for Esbjerg in Denmark and the chatter that once drove his grandmother to distraction is now put to better use. “I don’t think you have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper, I don’t do anything that is not natural for me,” he added. “I’m not aggressive, but I have a lot of energy. I talk a lot, I always try to speak to my defenders, I think that is the way it should be. “I don’t think they get annoyed… they are glad I say things to them. If I don’t speak to them, they look at me like something is wrong. I guess that is what they expect from me. As I said, I was hyperactive as a child….” Newcastle will, if Benitez has his way, be extremely active in the transfer market again this summer, but the Spaniard will not be looking for another goalkeeper. That position has already been filled.
Exclusive Martin Dubravka interview: From hyperactive ice-hockey goalkeeper to Newcastle cult hero - via a freak machete injury
Martin Dubravka was hyperactive as a child, a tiny tornado of pent up energy and constant chatter - a small boy who made a lot of noise. Other than his height, not much has changed. You may not have heard much of Dubravka - that he has been a revelation on Tyneside, that he is yet to concede a goal at St James’ Park and has, without any real credit, been Newcastle United’s best signing of the season. Dubravka was January’s mystery man, a 6ft 3in Slovakian signed, initially on loan, without fanfare. He had impressed against both England and Scotland in the World Cup qualifying campaign, but still flew in under the radar. When he signed from Sparta Prague, few understood why Rafa Benitez had made him a priority target. He already had two senior goalkeepers, Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow jostling for places in his first XI, as well as England Under-19 World Cup winner Freddie Woodman waiting behind them. Indeed, it was Benitez’s obsession with signing another goalkeeper that caused friction with those above him in the summer. Men in suits, without a coaching badge between them, still felt they were justified in questioning his judgement filling one of the team’s most important positions. Martin Dubravka put in a match-winning performance in his first game for Newcastle Credit: Getty Images Dubravka knows nothing about that six-month power struggle, but he is the reason Benitez has won the argument. Since making his debut in a win over Manchester United, Newcastle have won four, drawn one and lost only once, away to Liverpool, to move well clear of relegation danger. A jittery defence has been becalmed by his sizeable presence, to the extent that tomorrow's meeting with Arsenal is now blissfully stress-free. “When I signed in January, I didn’t think for one second that I was joining a club that would be relegated,” said Dubravka, who, along with his partner Lucia, has already fallen in love with the city and is desperate to make his loan move permanent. “I was joining a club with a huge history and crazy fans, as soon as I got here I knew we would not go down. When you beat Manchester United in your first game, I knew we would do everything we needed to stay up. Martin Dubravka says he wants to take Newcastle into Europe Credit: Reuters “This a club that deserves to be higher, to be in Europe again, but we have to take small steps. We need the manager to stay, he is the boss, he is the most important person. The manager and the owner, they have to work together and get Newcastle back to the level they should be at. “I’m desperate to stay here, I know that already. The fans, they have been amazing, everywhere we go, they stop and talk. This is a proper football city, I love that, you feel it as soon as you get here.” At the age of 29, Dubravka is entering his prime as a goalkeeper, but he retains many of the same traits that led to his grandmother, driven to breaking point in a small apartment in Zilina, pushed him into football after a freak accident brought a swift end to his interest in ice hockey. “I come from a family of goalkeepers,” Dubravka, who once had a poster of his opposite number this weekend, Petr Cech, on his bedroom wall, explained. “My father was a goalkeeper, my grandfather was a goalkeeper also, but I wanted to play in a different position at first. I liked to play football with my feet, but I don’t know, things happen, it was probably my destiny. Martin Dubravka thanks his grandmother for introducing him to fooball Credit: Getty Images “I was really small when I was young, probably the smallest in my class and my mum said: “why do you want to be a goalkeeper?” but things happen for a reason. “The first person to bring me to football was my grandmother. We were really close, but I was hyper active as a child. I don’t think I stopped talking. I drove her mad one day, bouncing around her apartment, leaping from sofa to sofa. I don’t think she could take anymore. “I was too active, I had too much energy, it had to be burned off. She said “you need to go and do something outside. It was a small city, she knew some of the coaches and even though I was too young to play with that age group, she insisted. “I didn’t always listen when I was younger. I might have gone into ice hockey, but when I was five years old, I hurt myself really badly. It was a family BBQ and I was chopping some wood with a machete. My parents were saying, stop that, stop that, you are going to hurt yourself, but…. I put it in my leg. My parents had told me 100 times. It was a bad injury and I still have a big scar. “If it was a few millimetres higher the doctors said I would have had trouble walking and there would have been no chance of me becoming a goalkeeper. I was unlucky, but lucky at the same time. You know, maybe this was meant to be. Mike Ashley to renew efforts to sell Newcastle “I probably would never had played football. The thing is, I could not skate for a while, so I played football instead.” It has not just been Dubravka’s ability as a goalkeeper that has made a difference, it is, according to Benitez “the way he communicates with the defenders” that is so important. Even on his debut against Manchester United, Dubravka was confident and outspoken enough to cajole and guide those in front of him, something he learned from his idol, Cech. Dubravka speaks English fluently, language skills picked up while playing for Esbjerg in Denmark and the chatter that once drove his grandmother to distraction is now put to better use. “I don’t think you have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper, I don’t do anything that is not natural for me,” he added. “I’m not aggressive, but I have a lot of energy. I talk a lot, I always try to speak to my defenders, I think that is the way it should be. “I don’t think they get annoyed… they are glad I say things to them. If I don’t speak to them, they look at me like something is wrong. I guess that is what they expect from me. As I said, I was hyperactive as a child….” Newcastle will, if Benitez has his way, be extremely active in the transfer market again this summer, but the Spaniard will not be looking for another goalkeeper. That position has already been filled.
Martin Dubravka was hyperactive as a child, a tiny tornado of pent up energy and constant chatter - a small boy who made a lot of noise. Other than his height, not much has changed. You may not have heard much of Dubravka - that he has been a revelation on Tyneside, that he is yet to concede a goal at St James’ Park and has, without any real credit, been Newcastle United’s best signing of the season. Dubravka was January’s mystery man, a 6ft 3in Slovakian signed, initially on loan, without fanfare. He had impressed against both England and Scotland in the World Cup qualifying campaign, but still flew in under the radar. When he signed from Sparta Prague, few understood why Rafa Benitez had made him a priority target. He already had two senior goalkeepers, Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow jostling for places in his first XI, as well as England Under-19 World Cup winner Freddie Woodman waiting behind them. Indeed, it was Benitez’s obsession with signing another goalkeeper that caused friction with those above him in the summer. Men in suits, without a coaching badge between them, still felt they were justified in questioning his judgement filling one of the team’s most important positions. Martin Dubravka put in a match-winning performance in his first game for Newcastle Credit: Getty Images Dubravka knows nothing about that six-month power struggle, but he is the reason Benitez has won the argument. Since making his debut in a win over Manchester United, Newcastle have won four, drawn one and lost only once, away to Liverpool, to move well clear of relegation danger. A jittery defence has been becalmed by his sizeable presence, to the extent that tomorrow's meeting with Arsenal is now blissfully stress-free. “When I signed in January, I didn’t think for one second that I was joining a club that would be relegated,” said Dubravka, who, along with his partner Lucia, has already fallen in love with the city and is desperate to make his loan move permanent. “I was joining a club with a huge history and crazy fans, as soon as I got here I knew we would not go down. When you beat Manchester United in your first game, I knew we would do everything we needed to stay up. Martin Dubravka says he wants to take Newcastle into Europe Credit: Reuters “This a club that deserves to be higher, to be in Europe again, but we have to take small steps. We need the manager to stay, he is the boss, he is the most important person. The manager and the owner, they have to work together and get Newcastle back to the level they should be at. “I’m desperate to stay here, I know that already. The fans, they have been amazing, everywhere we go, they stop and talk. This is a proper football city, I love that, you feel it as soon as you get here.” At the age of 29, Dubravka is entering his prime as a goalkeeper, but he retains many of the same traits that led to his grandmother, driven to breaking point in a small apartment in Zilina, pushed him into football after a freak accident brought a swift end to his interest in ice hockey. “I come from a family of goalkeepers,” Dubravka, who once had a poster of his opposite number this weekend, Petr Cech, on his bedroom wall, explained. “My father was a goalkeeper, my grandfather was a goalkeeper also, but I wanted to play in a different position at first. I liked to play football with my feet, but I don’t know, things happen, it was probably my destiny. Martin Dubravka thanks his grandmother for introducing him to fooball Credit: Getty Images “I was really small when I was young, probably the smallest in my class and my mum said: “why do you want to be a goalkeeper?” but things happen for a reason. “The first person to bring me to football was my grandmother. We were really close, but I was hyper active as a child. I don’t think I stopped talking. I drove her mad one day, bouncing around her apartment, leaping from sofa to sofa. I don’t think she could take anymore. “I was too active, I had too much energy, it had to be burned off. She said “you need to go and do something outside. It was a small city, she knew some of the coaches and even though I was too young to play with that age group, she insisted. “I didn’t always listen when I was younger. I might have gone into ice hockey, but when I was five years old, I hurt myself really badly. It was a family BBQ and I was chopping some wood with a machete. My parents were saying, stop that, stop that, you are going to hurt yourself, but…. I put it in my leg. My parents had told me 100 times. It was a bad injury and I still have a big scar. “If it was a few millimetres higher the doctors said I would have had trouble walking and there would have been no chance of me becoming a goalkeeper. I was unlucky, but lucky at the same time. You know, maybe this was meant to be. Mike Ashley to renew efforts to sell Newcastle “I probably would never had played football. The thing is, I could not skate for a while, so I played football instead.” It has not just been Dubravka’s ability as a goalkeeper that has made a difference, it is, according to Benitez “the way he communicates with the defenders” that is so important. Even on his debut against Manchester United, Dubravka was confident and outspoken enough to cajole and guide those in front of him, something he learned from his idol, Cech. Dubravka speaks English fluently, language skills picked up while playing for Esbjerg in Denmark and the chatter that once drove his grandmother to distraction is now put to better use. “I don’t think you have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper, I don’t do anything that is not natural for me,” he added. “I’m not aggressive, but I have a lot of energy. I talk a lot, I always try to speak to my defenders, I think that is the way it should be. “I don’t think they get annoyed… they are glad I say things to them. If I don’t speak to them, they look at me like something is wrong. I guess that is what they expect from me. As I said, I was hyperactive as a child….” Newcastle will, if Benitez has his way, be extremely active in the transfer market again this summer, but the Spaniard will not be looking for another goalkeeper. That position has already been filled.
Exclusive Martin Dubravka interview: From hyperactive ice-hockey goalkeeper to Newcastle cult hero - via a freak machete injury
Martin Dubravka was hyperactive as a child, a tiny tornado of pent up energy and constant chatter - a small boy who made a lot of noise. Other than his height, not much has changed. You may not have heard much of Dubravka - that he has been a revelation on Tyneside, that he is yet to concede a goal at St James’ Park and has, without any real credit, been Newcastle United’s best signing of the season. Dubravka was January’s mystery man, a 6ft 3in Slovakian signed, initially on loan, without fanfare. He had impressed against both England and Scotland in the World Cup qualifying campaign, but still flew in under the radar. When he signed from Sparta Prague, few understood why Rafa Benitez had made him a priority target. He already had two senior goalkeepers, Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow jostling for places in his first XI, as well as England Under-19 World Cup winner Freddie Woodman waiting behind them. Indeed, it was Benitez’s obsession with signing another goalkeeper that caused friction with those above him in the summer. Men in suits, without a coaching badge between them, still felt they were justified in questioning his judgement filling one of the team’s most important positions. Martin Dubravka put in a match-winning performance in his first game for Newcastle Credit: Getty Images Dubravka knows nothing about that six-month power struggle, but he is the reason Benitez has won the argument. Since making his debut in a win over Manchester United, Newcastle have won four, drawn one and lost only once, away to Liverpool, to move well clear of relegation danger. A jittery defence has been becalmed by his sizeable presence, to the extent that tomorrow's meeting with Arsenal is now blissfully stress-free. “When I signed in January, I didn’t think for one second that I was joining a club that would be relegated,” said Dubravka, who, along with his partner Lucia, has already fallen in love with the city and is desperate to make his loan move permanent. “I was joining a club with a huge history and crazy fans, as soon as I got here I knew we would not go down. When you beat Manchester United in your first game, I knew we would do everything we needed to stay up. Martin Dubravka says he wants to take Newcastle into Europe Credit: Reuters “This a club that deserves to be higher, to be in Europe again, but we have to take small steps. We need the manager to stay, he is the boss, he is the most important person. The manager and the owner, they have to work together and get Newcastle back to the level they should be at. “I’m desperate to stay here, I know that already. The fans, they have been amazing, everywhere we go, they stop and talk. This is a proper football city, I love that, you feel it as soon as you get here.” At the age of 29, Dubravka is entering his prime as a goalkeeper, but he retains many of the same traits that led to his grandmother, driven to breaking point in a small apartment in Zilina, pushed him into football after a freak accident brought a swift end to his interest in ice hockey. “I come from a family of goalkeepers,” Dubravka, who once had a poster of his opposite number this weekend, Petr Cech, on his bedroom wall, explained. “My father was a goalkeeper, my grandfather was a goalkeeper also, but I wanted to play in a different position at first. I liked to play football with my feet, but I don’t know, things happen, it was probably my destiny. Martin Dubravka thanks his grandmother for introducing him to fooball Credit: Getty Images “I was really small when I was young, probably the smallest in my class and my mum said: “why do you want to be a goalkeeper?” but things happen for a reason. “The first person to bring me to football was my grandmother. We were really close, but I was hyper active as a child. I don’t think I stopped talking. I drove her mad one day, bouncing around her apartment, leaping from sofa to sofa. I don’t think she could take anymore. “I was too active, I had too much energy, it had to be burned off. She said “you need to go and do something outside. It was a small city, she knew some of the coaches and even though I was too young to play with that age group, she insisted. “I didn’t always listen when I was younger. I might have gone into ice hockey, but when I was five years old, I hurt myself really badly. It was a family BBQ and I was chopping some wood with a machete. My parents were saying, stop that, stop that, you are going to hurt yourself, but…. I put it in my leg. My parents had told me 100 times. It was a bad injury and I still have a big scar. “If it was a few millimetres higher the doctors said I would have had trouble walking and there would have been no chance of me becoming a goalkeeper. I was unlucky, but lucky at the same time. You know, maybe this was meant to be. Mike Ashley to renew efforts to sell Newcastle “I probably would never had played football. The thing is, I could not skate for a while, so I played football instead.” It has not just been Dubravka’s ability as a goalkeeper that has made a difference, it is, according to Benitez “the way he communicates with the defenders” that is so important. Even on his debut against Manchester United, Dubravka was confident and outspoken enough to cajole and guide those in front of him, something he learned from his idol, Cech. Dubravka speaks English fluently, language skills picked up while playing for Esbjerg in Denmark and the chatter that once drove his grandmother to distraction is now put to better use. “I don’t think you have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper, I don’t do anything that is not natural for me,” he added. “I’m not aggressive, but I have a lot of energy. I talk a lot, I always try to speak to my defenders, I think that is the way it should be. “I don’t think they get annoyed… they are glad I say things to them. If I don’t speak to them, they look at me like something is wrong. I guess that is what they expect from me. As I said, I was hyperactive as a child….” Newcastle will, if Benitez has his way, be extremely active in the transfer market again this summer, but the Spaniard will not be looking for another goalkeeper. That position has already been filled.
Martin Dubravka was hyperactive as a child, a tiny tornado of pent up energy and constant chatter - a small boy who made a lot of noise. Other than his height, not much has changed. You may not have heard much of Dubravka - that he has been a revelation on Tyneside, that he is yet to concede a goal at St James’ Park and has, without any real credit, been Newcastle United’s best signing of the season. Dubravka was January’s mystery man, a 6ft 3in Slovakian signed, initially on loan, without fanfare. He had impressed against both England and Scotland in the World Cup qualifying campaign, but still flew in under the radar. When he signed from Sparta Prague, few understood why Rafa Benitez had made him a priority target. He already had two senior goalkeepers, Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow jostling for places in his first XI, as well as England Under-19 World Cup winner Freddie Woodman waiting behind them. Indeed, it was Benitez’s obsession with signing another goalkeeper that caused friction with those above him in the summer. Men in suits, without a coaching badge between them, still felt they were justified in questioning his judgement filling one of the team’s most important positions. Martin Dubravka put in a match-winning performance in his first game for Newcastle Credit: Getty Images Dubravka knows nothing about that six-month power struggle, but he is the reason Benitez has won the argument. Since making his debut in a win over Manchester United, Newcastle have won four, drawn one and lost only once, away to Liverpool, to move well clear of relegation danger. A jittery defence has been becalmed by his sizeable presence, to the extent that tomorrow's meeting with Arsenal is now blissfully stress-free. “When I signed in January, I didn’t think for one second that I was joining a club that would be relegated,” said Dubravka, who, along with his partner Lucia, has already fallen in love with the city and is desperate to make his loan move permanent. “I was joining a club with a huge history and crazy fans, as soon as I got here I knew we would not go down. When you beat Manchester United in your first game, I knew we would do everything we needed to stay up. Martin Dubravka says he wants to take Newcastle into Europe Credit: Reuters “This a club that deserves to be higher, to be in Europe again, but we have to take small steps. We need the manager to stay, he is the boss, he is the most important person. The manager and the owner, they have to work together and get Newcastle back to the level they should be at. “I’m desperate to stay here, I know that already. The fans, they have been amazing, everywhere we go, they stop and talk. This is a proper football city, I love that, you feel it as soon as you get here.” At the age of 29, Dubravka is entering his prime as a goalkeeper, but he retains many of the same traits that led to his grandmother, driven to breaking point in a small apartment in Zilina, pushed him into football after a freak accident brought a swift end to his interest in ice hockey. “I come from a family of goalkeepers,” Dubravka, who once had a poster of his opposite number this weekend, Petr Cech, on his bedroom wall, explained. “My father was a goalkeeper, my grandfather was a goalkeeper also, but I wanted to play in a different position at first. I liked to play football with my feet, but I don’t know, things happen, it was probably my destiny. Martin Dubravka thanks his grandmother for introducing him to fooball Credit: Getty Images “I was really small when I was young, probably the smallest in my class and my mum said: “why do you want to be a goalkeeper?” but things happen for a reason. “The first person to bring me to football was my grandmother. We were really close, but I was hyper active as a child. I don’t think I stopped talking. I drove her mad one day, bouncing around her apartment, leaping from sofa to sofa. I don’t think she could take anymore. “I was too active, I had too much energy, it had to be burned off. She said “you need to go and do something outside. It was a small city, she knew some of the coaches and even though I was too young to play with that age group, she insisted. “I didn’t always listen when I was younger. I might have gone into ice hockey, but when I was five years old, I hurt myself really badly. It was a family BBQ and I was chopping some wood with a machete. My parents were saying, stop that, stop that, you are going to hurt yourself, but…. I put it in my leg. My parents had told me 100 times. It was a bad injury and I still have a big scar. “If it was a few millimetres higher the doctors said I would have had trouble walking and there would have been no chance of me becoming a goalkeeper. I was unlucky, but lucky at the same time. You know, maybe this was meant to be. Mike Ashley to renew efforts to sell Newcastle “I probably would never had played football. The thing is, I could not skate for a while, so I played football instead.” It has not just been Dubravka’s ability as a goalkeeper that has made a difference, it is, according to Benitez “the way he communicates with the defenders” that is so important. Even on his debut against Manchester United, Dubravka was confident and outspoken enough to cajole and guide those in front of him, something he learned from his idol, Cech. Dubravka speaks English fluently, language skills picked up while playing for Esbjerg in Denmark and the chatter that once drove his grandmother to distraction is now put to better use. “I don’t think you have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper, I don’t do anything that is not natural for me,” he added. “I’m not aggressive, but I have a lot of energy. I talk a lot, I always try to speak to my defenders, I think that is the way it should be. “I don’t think they get annoyed… they are glad I say things to them. If I don’t speak to them, they look at me like something is wrong. I guess that is what they expect from me. As I said, I was hyperactive as a child….” Newcastle will, if Benitez has his way, be extremely active in the transfer market again this summer, but the Spaniard will not be looking for another goalkeeper. That position has already been filled.
Exclusive Martin Dubravka interview: From hyperactive ice-hockey goalkeeper to Newcastle cult hero - via a freak machete injury
Martin Dubravka was hyperactive as a child, a tiny tornado of pent up energy and constant chatter - a small boy who made a lot of noise. Other than his height, not much has changed. You may not have heard much of Dubravka - that he has been a revelation on Tyneside, that he is yet to concede a goal at St James’ Park and has, without any real credit, been Newcastle United’s best signing of the season. Dubravka was January’s mystery man, a 6ft 3in Slovakian signed, initially on loan, without fanfare. He had impressed against both England and Scotland in the World Cup qualifying campaign, but still flew in under the radar. When he signed from Sparta Prague, few understood why Rafa Benitez had made him a priority target. He already had two senior goalkeepers, Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow jostling for places in his first XI, as well as England Under-19 World Cup winner Freddie Woodman waiting behind them. Indeed, it was Benitez’s obsession with signing another goalkeeper that caused friction with those above him in the summer. Men in suits, without a coaching badge between them, still felt they were justified in questioning his judgement filling one of the team’s most important positions. Martin Dubravka put in a match-winning performance in his first game for Newcastle Credit: Getty Images Dubravka knows nothing about that six-month power struggle, but he is the reason Benitez has won the argument. Since making his debut in a win over Manchester United, Newcastle have won four, drawn one and lost only once, away to Liverpool, to move well clear of relegation danger. A jittery defence has been becalmed by his sizeable presence, to the extent that tomorrow's meeting with Arsenal is now blissfully stress-free. “When I signed in January, I didn’t think for one second that I was joining a club that would be relegated,” said Dubravka, who, along with his partner Lucia, has already fallen in love with the city and is desperate to make his loan move permanent. “I was joining a club with a huge history and crazy fans, as soon as I got here I knew we would not go down. When you beat Manchester United in your first game, I knew we would do everything we needed to stay up. Martin Dubravka says he wants to take Newcastle into Europe Credit: Reuters “This a club that deserves to be higher, to be in Europe again, but we have to take small steps. We need the manager to stay, he is the boss, he is the most important person. The manager and the owner, they have to work together and get Newcastle back to the level they should be at. “I’m desperate to stay here, I know that already. The fans, they have been amazing, everywhere we go, they stop and talk. This is a proper football city, I love that, you feel it as soon as you get here.” At the age of 29, Dubravka is entering his prime as a goalkeeper, but he retains many of the same traits that led to his grandmother, driven to breaking point in a small apartment in Zilina, pushed him into football after a freak accident brought a swift end to his interest in ice hockey. “I come from a family of goalkeepers,” Dubravka, who once had a poster of his opposite number this weekend, Petr Cech, on his bedroom wall, explained. “My father was a goalkeeper, my grandfather was a goalkeeper also, but I wanted to play in a different position at first. I liked to play football with my feet, but I don’t know, things happen, it was probably my destiny. Martin Dubravka thanks his grandmother for introducing him to fooball Credit: Getty Images “I was really small when I was young, probably the smallest in my class and my mum said: “why do you want to be a goalkeeper?” but things happen for a reason. “The first person to bring me to football was my grandmother. We were really close, but I was hyper active as a child. I don’t think I stopped talking. I drove her mad one day, bouncing around her apartment, leaping from sofa to sofa. I don’t think she could take anymore. “I was too active, I had too much energy, it had to be burned off. She said “you need to go and do something outside. It was a small city, she knew some of the coaches and even though I was too young to play with that age group, she insisted. “I didn’t always listen when I was younger. I might have gone into ice hockey, but when I was five years old, I hurt myself really badly. It was a family BBQ and I was chopping some wood with a machete. My parents were saying, stop that, stop that, you are going to hurt yourself, but…. I put it in my leg. My parents had told me 100 times. It was a bad injury and I still have a big scar. “If it was a few millimetres higher the doctors said I would have had trouble walking and there would have been no chance of me becoming a goalkeeper. I was unlucky, but lucky at the same time. You know, maybe this was meant to be. Mike Ashley to renew efforts to sell Newcastle “I probably would never had played football. The thing is, I could not skate for a while, so I played football instead.” It has not just been Dubravka’s ability as a goalkeeper that has made a difference, it is, according to Benitez “the way he communicates with the defenders” that is so important. Even on his debut against Manchester United, Dubravka was confident and outspoken enough to cajole and guide those in front of him, something he learned from his idol, Cech. Dubravka speaks English fluently, language skills picked up while playing for Esbjerg in Denmark and the chatter that once drove his grandmother to distraction is now put to better use. “I don’t think you have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper, I don’t do anything that is not natural for me,” he added. “I’m not aggressive, but I have a lot of energy. I talk a lot, I always try to speak to my defenders, I think that is the way it should be. “I don’t think they get annoyed… they are glad I say things to them. If I don’t speak to them, they look at me like something is wrong. I guess that is what they expect from me. As I said, I was hyperactive as a child….” Newcastle will, if Benitez has his way, be extremely active in the transfer market again this summer, but the Spaniard will not be looking for another goalkeeper. That position has already been filled.
<p>Lorenzo Brown and Kaza Keane going through stretching exercises. 905’s point guards have had a busy season, with Brown playing 14 games for the parent club while Keane travelled to Nassau, Bahamas in February to suit up for Team Canada at the FIBA World Cup qualifying. (Photo courtesy: Trung Ho) </p>
Raps905

Lorenzo Brown and Kaza Keane going through stretching exercises. 905’s point guards have had a busy season, with Brown playing 14 games for the parent club while Keane travelled to Nassau, Bahamas in February to suit up for Team Canada at the FIBA World Cup qualifying. (Photo courtesy: Trung Ho)

Football - Serbia v Scotland - 2014 World Cup Qualifying European Zone - Group A - Karadorde Stadium, Novi Sad, Serbia - 26/3/13. Matija Nastasic - Serbia Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Peter Cziborra
Serbia v Scotland - 2014 World Cup Qualifying European Zone - Group A
Football - Serbia v Scotland - 2014 World Cup Qualifying European Zone - Group A - Karadorde Stadium, Novi Sad, Serbia - 26/3/13. Matija Nastasic - Serbia Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Peter Cziborra
England Women move top of World Cup qualifying group after beating Bosnia and Herzegovina
England Women move top of World Cup qualifying group after beating Bosnia and Herzegovina
England Women move top of World Cup qualifying group after beating Bosnia and Herzegovina
England Women move top of World Cup qualifying group after beating Bosnia and Herzegovina
England Women move top of World Cup qualifying group after beating Bosnia and Herzegovina
England Women move top of World Cup qualifying group after beating Bosnia and Herzegovina
England Women move top of World Cup qualifying group after beating Bosnia and Herzegovina
England Women move top of World Cup qualifying group after beating Bosnia and Herzegovina
England Women move top of World Cup qualifying group after beating Bosnia and Herzegovina
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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&#39;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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia&#39;s best-ever 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach 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. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo&#39;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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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&#39; attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain&#39;s striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid&#39;s transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year&#39;s tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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&#39;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 &quot;not go to Russia as tourists.&quot; Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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&#39;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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America&#39;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&#39;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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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&#39;t played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 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&#39;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&#39;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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-year-old Argentine is his country&#39;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&#39;s entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year&#39;s run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland&#39;s team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn&#39;t a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland&#39;s passionate fans and their &quot;thunderclap&quot; 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&#39;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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s best player: &quot;We are Zweden.&quot; The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year&#39;s European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden&#39;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&#39;s meek group-stage exit than 2002&#39;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&#39;s failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham&#39;s Son Heung-min, Swansea&#39;s Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace&#39;s Lee Chung-yong - 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&#39;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. Group G BELGIUM It&#39;s time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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&#39;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&#39;s World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team&#39;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&#39;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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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&#39;t afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England&#39;s attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It&#39;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&#39;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. 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&#39;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&#39;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 89 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 65-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.
World Cup 2018 groups: Your complete guide to the teams
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever 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 - Will coach 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. Group B 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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. 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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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 11 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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-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. Last year'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 last year 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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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 last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. 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 trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - 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. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H 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. 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 89 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 65-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.
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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&#39;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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia&#39;s best-ever 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach 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. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo&#39;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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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&#39; attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain&#39;s striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid&#39;s transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year&#39;s tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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&#39;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 &quot;not go to Russia as tourists.&quot; Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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&#39;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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America&#39;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&#39;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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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&#39;t played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 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&#39;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&#39;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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-year-old Argentine is his country&#39;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&#39;s entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year&#39;s run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland&#39;s team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn&#39;t a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland&#39;s passionate fans and their &quot;thunderclap&quot; 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&#39;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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s best player: &quot;We are Zweden.&quot; The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year&#39;s European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden&#39;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&#39;s meek group-stage exit than 2002&#39;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&#39;s failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham&#39;s Son Heung-min, Swansea&#39;s Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace&#39;s Lee Chung-yong - 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&#39;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. Group G BELGIUM It&#39;s time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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&#39;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&#39;s World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team&#39;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&#39;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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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&#39;t afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England&#39;s attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It&#39;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&#39;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. 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&#39;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&#39;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 89 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 65-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.
World Cup 2018 groups: Your complete guide to the teams
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever 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 - Will coach 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. Group B 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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. 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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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 11 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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-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. Last year'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 last year 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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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 last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. 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 trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - 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. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H 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. 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 89 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 65-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.
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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&#39;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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia&#39;s best-ever 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach 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. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo&#39;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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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&#39; attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain&#39;s striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid&#39;s transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year&#39;s tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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&#39;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 &quot;not go to Russia as tourists.&quot; Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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&#39;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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America&#39;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&#39;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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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&#39;t played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 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&#39;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&#39;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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-year-old Argentine is his country&#39;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&#39;s entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year&#39;s run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland&#39;s team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn&#39;t a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland&#39;s passionate fans and their &quot;thunderclap&quot; 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&#39;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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s best player: &quot;We are Zweden.&quot; The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year&#39;s European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden&#39;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&#39;s meek group-stage exit than 2002&#39;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&#39;s failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham&#39;s Son Heung-min, Swansea&#39;s Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace&#39;s Lee Chung-yong - 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&#39;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. Group G BELGIUM It&#39;s time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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&#39;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&#39;s World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team&#39;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&#39;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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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&#39;t afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England&#39;s attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It&#39;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&#39;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. 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&#39;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&#39;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 89 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 65-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.
World Cup 2018 groups: Your complete guide to the teams
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever 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 - Will coach 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. Group B 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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. 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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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 11 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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-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. Last year'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 last year 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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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 last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. 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 trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - 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. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H 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. 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 89 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 65-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.
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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&#39;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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia&#39;s best-ever 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach 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. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo&#39;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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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&#39; attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain&#39;s striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid&#39;s transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year&#39;s tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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&#39;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 &quot;not go to Russia as tourists.&quot; Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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&#39;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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America&#39;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&#39;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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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&#39;t played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 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&#39;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&#39;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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-year-old Argentine is his country&#39;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&#39;s entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year&#39;s run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland&#39;s team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn&#39;t a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland&#39;s passionate fans and their &quot;thunderclap&quot; 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&#39;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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s best player: &quot;We are Zweden.&quot; The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year&#39;s European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden&#39;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&#39;s meek group-stage exit than 2002&#39;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&#39;s failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham&#39;s Son Heung-min, Swansea&#39;s Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace&#39;s Lee Chung-yong - 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&#39;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. Group G BELGIUM It&#39;s time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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&#39;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&#39;s World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team&#39;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&#39;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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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&#39;t afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England&#39;s attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It&#39;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&#39;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. 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&#39;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&#39;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 89 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 65-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.
World Cup 2018 groups: Your complete guide to the teams
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever 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 - Will coach 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. Group B 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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. 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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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 11 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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-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. Last year'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 last year 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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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 last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. 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 trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - 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. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H 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. 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 89 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 65-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.
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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&#39;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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia&#39;s best-ever 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach 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. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo&#39;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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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&#39; attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain&#39;s striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid&#39;s transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year&#39;s tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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&#39;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 &quot;not go to Russia as tourists.&quot; Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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&#39;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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America&#39;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&#39;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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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&#39;t played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 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&#39;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&#39;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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-year-old Argentine is his country&#39;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&#39;s entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year&#39;s run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland&#39;s team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn&#39;t a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland&#39;s passionate fans and their &quot;thunderclap&quot; 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&#39;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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s best player: &quot;We are Zweden.&quot; The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year&#39;s European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden&#39;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&#39;s meek group-stage exit than 2002&#39;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&#39;s failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham&#39;s Son Heung-min, Swansea&#39;s Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace&#39;s Lee Chung-yong - 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&#39;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. Group G BELGIUM It&#39;s time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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&#39;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&#39;s World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team&#39;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&#39;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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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&#39;t afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England&#39;s attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It&#39;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&#39;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. 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&#39;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&#39;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 89 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 65-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.
World Cup 2018 groups: Your complete guide to the teams
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever 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 - Will coach 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. Group B 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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. 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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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 11 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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-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. Last year'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 last year 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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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 last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. 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 trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - 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. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H 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. 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 89 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 65-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.
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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&#39;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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia&#39;s best-ever 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach 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. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo&#39;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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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&#39; attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain&#39;s striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid&#39;s transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year&#39;s tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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&#39;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 &quot;not go to Russia as tourists.&quot; Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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&#39;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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America&#39;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&#39;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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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&#39;t played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 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&#39;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&#39;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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-year-old Argentine is his country&#39;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&#39;s entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year&#39;s run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland&#39;s team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn&#39;t a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland&#39;s passionate fans and their &quot;thunderclap&quot; 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&#39;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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s best player: &quot;We are Zweden.&quot; The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year&#39;s European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden&#39;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&#39;s meek group-stage exit than 2002&#39;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&#39;s failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham&#39;s Son Heung-min, Swansea&#39;s Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace&#39;s Lee Chung-yong - 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&#39;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. Group G BELGIUM It&#39;s time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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&#39;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&#39;s World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team&#39;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&#39;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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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&#39;t afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England&#39;s attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It&#39;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&#39;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. 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&#39;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&#39;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 89 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 65-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.
World Cup 2018 groups: Your complete guide to the teams
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever 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 - Will coach 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. Group B 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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. 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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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 11 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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-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. Last year'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 last year 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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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 last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. 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 trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - 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. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H 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. 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 89 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 65-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.
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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&#39;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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia&#39;s best-ever 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach 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. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo&#39;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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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&#39; attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain&#39;s striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid&#39;s transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year&#39;s tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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&#39;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 &quot;not go to Russia as tourists.&quot; Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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&#39;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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America&#39;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&#39;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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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&#39;t played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 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&#39;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&#39;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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-year-old Argentine is his country&#39;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&#39;s entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year&#39;s run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland&#39;s team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn&#39;t a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland&#39;s passionate fans and their &quot;thunderclap&quot; 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&#39;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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s best player: &quot;We are Zweden.&quot; The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year&#39;s European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden&#39;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&#39;s meek group-stage exit than 2002&#39;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&#39;s failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham&#39;s Son Heung-min, Swansea&#39;s Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace&#39;s Lee Chung-yong - 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&#39;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. Group G BELGIUM It&#39;s time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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&#39;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&#39;s World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team&#39;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&#39;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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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&#39;t afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England&#39;s attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It&#39;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&#39;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. 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&#39;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&#39;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 89 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 65-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.
World Cup 2018 groups: Your complete guide to the teams
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever 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 - Will coach 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. Group B 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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. 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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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 11 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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-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. Last year'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 last year 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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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 last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. 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 trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - 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. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H 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. 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 89 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 65-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.
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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&#39;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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia&#39;s best-ever 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach 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. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo&#39;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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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&#39; attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain&#39;s striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid&#39;s transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year&#39;s tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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&#39;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 &quot;not go to Russia as tourists.&quot; Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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&#39;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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America&#39;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&#39;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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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&#39;t played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 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&#39;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&#39;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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-year-old Argentine is his country&#39;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&#39;s entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year&#39;s run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland&#39;s team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn&#39;t a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland&#39;s passionate fans and their &quot;thunderclap&quot; 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&#39;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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s best player: &quot;We are Zweden.&quot; The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year&#39;s European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden&#39;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&#39;s meek group-stage exit than 2002&#39;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&#39;s failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham&#39;s Son Heung-min, Swansea&#39;s Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace&#39;s Lee Chung-yong - 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&#39;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. Group G BELGIUM It&#39;s time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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&#39;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&#39;s World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team&#39;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&#39;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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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&#39;t afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England&#39;s attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It&#39;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&#39;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. 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&#39;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&#39;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 89 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 65-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.
World Cup 2018 groups: Your complete guide to the teams
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever 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 - Will coach 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. Group B 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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. 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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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 11 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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-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. Last year'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 last year 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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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 last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. 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 trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - 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. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H 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. 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 89 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 65-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.
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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&#39;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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia&#39;s best-ever 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach 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. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo&#39;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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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&#39; attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain&#39;s striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid&#39;s transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year&#39;s tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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&#39;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 &quot;not go to Russia as tourists.&quot; Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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&#39;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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America&#39;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&#39;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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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&#39;t played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 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&#39;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&#39;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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-year-old Argentine is his country&#39;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&#39;s entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year&#39;s run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland&#39;s team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn&#39;t a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland&#39;s passionate fans and their &quot;thunderclap&quot; 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&#39;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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;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&#39;s best player: &quot;We are Zweden.&quot; The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year&#39;s European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden&#39;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&#39;s meek group-stage exit than 2002&#39;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&#39;s failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham&#39;s Son Heung-min, Swansea&#39;s Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace&#39;s Lee Chung-yong - 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&#39;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. Group G BELGIUM It&#39;s time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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&#39;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&#39;s World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team&#39;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&#39;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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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&#39;t afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England&#39;s attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It&#39;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&#39;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. 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&#39;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&#39;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 89 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 65-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.
World Cup 2018 groups: Your complete guide to the teams
The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A 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 was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever 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 - Will coach 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. Group B 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 defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, 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 has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. 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. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. 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 22-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, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C 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, and is yet to be replaced. 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: To be appointed. 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 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old 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 11 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. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D 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 57-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. Last year'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 last year 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. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E 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 Saint-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, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. 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: To be appointed. Group F 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 last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. 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 trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - 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. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this 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-ever 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 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics 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. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H 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. 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 89 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 65-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.
Edinson Cavani plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Edinson Cavani plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Edinson Cavani plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Uruguay&#39;s players pose for a team picture before a World Cup qualifying match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Uruguay's players pose for a team picture before a World Cup qualifying match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Uruguay's players pose for a team picture before a World Cup qualifying match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Edinson Cavani plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Edinson Cavani plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Edinson Cavani plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Federico Valverde plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Federico Valverde plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Federico Valverde plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Federico Valverde celebrates after scoring during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Federico Valverde celebrates after scoring during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Federico Valverde celebrates after scoring during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Luis Suarez plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Martin Caceres plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Martin Caceres plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Martin Caceres plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Federico Valverde plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Federico Valverde plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Federico Valverde plays the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Iran&#39;s Masoud Shojaei (L) fights for the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan in Tehran on June 12, 2017
Iran's Masoud Shojaei (L) fights for the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan in Tehran on June 12, 2017
Iran's Masoud Shojaei (L) fights for the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan in Tehran on June 12, 2017
Iran&#39;s Masoud Shojaei (L) fights for the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan in Tehran on June 12, 2017 (AFP Photo/ATTA KENARE)
Iran's Masoud Shojaei (L) fights for the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan in Tehran on June 12, 2017
Iran's Masoud Shojaei (L) fights for the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan in Tehran on June 12, 2017 (AFP Photo/ATTA KENARE)
Iran&#39;s Masoud Shojaei (L) fights for the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan in Tehran on June 12, 2017
Iran's Masoud Shojaei (L) fights for the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan in Tehran on June 12, 2017
Iran's Masoud Shojaei (L) fights for the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan in Tehran on June 12, 2017
Iran&#39;s Masoud Shojaei (L) fights for the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan in Tehran on June 12, 2017
Iran's Masoud Shojaei (L) fights for the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan in Tehran on June 12, 2017
Iran's Masoud Shojaei (L) fights for the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan in Tehran on June 12, 2017
Football Soccer - Italy v Liechtenstein - 2018 World Cup Qualifying European Zone - Group G - Friuli Stadium, Udine, Italy - June 11, 2017. Italy&#39;s Andrea Belotti celebrates after scoring. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
Football Soccer - Italy v Liechtenstein - 2018 World Cup Qualifying European - Group G
Football Soccer - Italy v Liechtenstein - 2018 World Cup Qualifying European Zone - Group G - Friuli Stadium, Udine, Italy - June 11, 2017. Italy's Andrea Belotti celebrates after scoring. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
<p>Afghanistan thrash Windies to win World Cup qualifying final</p>
Afghanistan thrash Windies to win World Cup qualifying final

Afghanistan thrash Windies to win World Cup qualifying final

<p>Afghanistan thrash Windies to win World Cup qualifying final</p>
Afghanistan thrash Windies to win World Cup qualifying final

Afghanistan thrash Windies to win World Cup qualifying final

A combination photo shows Iran&#39;s Ehsan Haji Safi (L) playing during a 2014 World Cup qualifying football match and Iran&#39;s Masoud Shojaei playing during a World Cup 2018 qualifying match
A combination photo shows Iran's Ehsan Haji Safi (L) playing during a 2014 World Cup qualifying football match and Iran's Masoud Shojaei playing during a World Cup 2018 qualifying match
A combination photo shows Iran's Ehsan Haji Safi (L) playing during a 2014 World Cup qualifying football match and Iran's Masoud Shojaei playing during a World Cup 2018 qualifying match
A combination photo shows Iran&#39;s Ehsan Haji Safi (L) playing during a 2014 World Cup qualifying football match and Iran&#39;s Masoud Shojaei playing during a World Cup 2018 qualifying match (AFP Photo/Behrouz MEHRI, Karim JAAFAR)
A combination photo shows Iran's Ehsan Haji Safi (L) playing during a 2014 World Cup qualifying football match and Iran's Masoud Shojaei playing during a World Cup 2018 qualifying match
A combination photo shows Iran's Ehsan Haji Safi (L) playing during a 2014 World Cup qualifying football match and Iran's Masoud Shojaei playing during a World Cup 2018 qualifying match (AFP Photo/Behrouz MEHRI, Karim JAAFAR)

What to read next

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes