The 2018 World Cup gets underway on 14 June in Russia, when 32 international teams from across the globe will compete for the coveted Jules Rimet Trophy. Anticipation is already high after a tantalizing main draw in December, and the leading nations will be doing everything in their power during the coming months to prepare for the biggest sporting event in the world. Here is a rundown of the teams most likely to be the main contenders.
Germany are the reigning champions after beating Argentina 1-0 in the World Cup final in Brazil four years ago, and Joachim Low’s team look a formidable proposition once again. They cruised through their Group C qualifying campaign with an impressive ten wins from ten games and a record 43 goals. They also won the Confederations Cup – a warm-up for the main event last July – with an experimental squad brimming with young talent. Securing back to back World Cups is a monumental task, but Germany looks a cut above the rest right now.
The Brazilians were humiliated by Germany in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup, but new coach Tite has assembled an exciting, attacking side that took the Conmebol qualifying section by storm. Tite believes his side are among the leading contenders to win in the summer and it is easy to see why. The world’s most expensive player, Neymar, heads a quartet of excellent forward players, which also includes Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus. Brazil has traditionally been weaker in defense, and that could be a problem again, but they do have defensive midfielder and Real Madrid star Casemiro, who will be tasked with protecting the back four in Russia.
Spain was the world’s best international side during the late 2000s and early 2010s, but a disastrous World Cup campaign in 2014 ended their incredible run of success. La Roja looked back to their best during qualifying when they disposed of potential contenders Italy, and a new generation is now eager to match the achievements of Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, et al. New boss Julen Lopetegui has an abundance of attacking talent at his disposal, including Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata and their primary creative force, Isco. Spain’s credentials will be tested early on as they take on Euro 2016 winners Portugal in their first game.
France lost in the Euro 2016 final on home soil but that setback has not stunted their growth on the world stage, and they made it through qualifying with ease. A home draw with Luxembourg was a brief low point and suggests Didier Deschamps’ team still have work to do to fulfill their potential, but they could contend in Russia again if they hit the ground running. They are also as stacked in the talent department as any other side, with the likes of Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, and Kylian Mbappe all tipped to shine in the summer.
Cristiano Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or for the fifth time in December and Portugal will be looking to their captain and top scorer to lead them to a second successive international title following their success in the European Championships two years ago. Ronaldo will be 33 by that time so Portugal’s hopes could hinge on keeping him fit and firing for a busy schedule of games. Coach Fernando Santos will also need to get the best out of other skillful players such as Bernardo Silva to mark themselves as genuine contenders.
A Lionel Messi masterclass saved Argentina from World Cup qualifying heartache as they secured their spot in the very last game with a 3-1 away win over Ecuador. The white and sky blues certainly have an incredible selection of individuals to choose from, but the big question will be whether Jorge Sampaoli can find a system that can accommodate the likes of Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria while allowing the evergreen Messi to shine. Argentina has always been there or thereabouts at World Cups so a semifinal finish or better could be on the cards.
Germany are the current favorites to win the 2018 World Cup at around 5/1 but Brazil’s odds have shortened considerably during the last six months following a series of impressive performances, and they are now clear second favorites, just behind the reigning champions. France and Spain are next on the list, followed by Argentina and Belgium. Punters can get the latest odds for each game in Russia with sports betting online. There will be a total of 64 matches played across 12 venues.
Best of the rest
An upset is more likely than ever before due to the incredible strength in depth in the international game. Poland, for example, has Robert Lewandowski, who scored 16 goals during qualifying, while Nigeria can call on Premier League quality that includes Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi. England also qualified unbeaten and could be contenders if they start well.