With all 32 competing nations now aware of their group stage opponents, we assess the World Cup draw.
Russia have been handed a reasonably kind draw for next summer’s competition, when they will be desperate to avoid becoming only the second host nation to crash out at the group stage. Saudi Arabia will be their opponents on the opening day in a meeting between the two lowest-ranked sides in the tournament, with Egypt representing Africa and Uruguay flying the South American flag. Luis Suarez and co. should have enough quality to top the group, with Russia’s match against Egypt in Saint Petersburg likely to be pivotal in determining who advances alongside the two-time winners.
Group B contains two heavyweights in Portugal and Spain, who will go head-to-head in both teams’ opening games in Russia. The winner of that encounter will be in pole position to finish in first place, but Morocco and Iran will be equally desperate to emerge victorious in their meeting on the same day. Both teams are defensively solid and will be tough to break down, so it is not a foregone conclusion that the two European countries will make it through – although that is certainly the most probable outcome.
France are among the favourites to lift the Jules Rimet trophy next year and should have little trouble negotiating their passage to the knockout rounds. Their first opponents are Australia, who played more games in qualification than any other team before finally sealing their spot in Russia thanks to a play-off triumph over Honduras. The Socceroos will earmark matches against Peru and Denmark as their chance to amass enough points to progress, but both the Peruvians and the Danes will also be quietly confident of joining France in the round of 16.
Argentina only just about got over the line in South American qualification, coming from behind to beat Ecuador in their final game and book their place at the tournament. There are still a number of issues for manager Jorge Sampaoli to resolve between now and the big kick-off, but the presence of Lionel Messi means they have an excellent chance of going all the way. They will face Nigeria at a World Cup for the fifth time, with Croatia and Iceland making up a balanced group in which all four sides will harbour realistic hopes of making it through.
Five-time winners Brazil qualified in style, with Tite guiding the Selecao to top spot in the South American segment after taking charge in summer 2016. There is plenty to get excited about as far as this Brazil side is concerned, and they will be targeting three wins from three in Group E. Costa Rica, Switzerland and Serbia will all have something to say about that, however. The Swiss are the second-highest ranked team in the group, but Serbia could be a potential dark horse.
Reigning champions Germany will attempt to match the feat of Brazil in 1958 and 1962 by winning two World Cups in a row. It is difficult to envisage another team topping Group F ahead of Die Mannschaft, who possess tremendous quality in virtually every area of the pitch. Mexico qualified for the competition with relative ease and will have their eyes firmly set on second spot, but Sweden and South Korea both know that victory over the other in their opening game would provide a major boost to their chances of reaching the last 16. No doubt the World Cup is going to be full of surprises, but it’s always good to follow top football betting tips to ensure you come out on top!
New boys Panama qualified for the World Cup at the expense of the United States, with a place alongside Belgium, England and Tunisia in Group G their reward. Roberto Martinez’s Belgians will probably be vying with England for first place, but Tunisia can be tough to play against and should not be written off entirely. Having said that, this is arguably the group with the two clearest favourites to reach the knockout stage.
Group H is one of the most intriguing in the draw – it would not come as a major surprise if any nation finished first or fourth. Poland are the representatives from Pot One and, in Robert Lewandowski, have one of the tournament’s outstanding players on their side. Colombia have not entirely convinced since the 2014 World Cup but they still possess plenty of quality, while Senegal are arguably the strongest of the African contingent despite their disappointing showing at this year’s Cup of Nations. Japan, making their sixth consecutive appearance, complete the group.
By Greg Lea
Greg Lea is a freelance football writer for FourFourTwo, The Blizzard and various others. Follow his Twitter account @GregLeaFootball for anything and everything related to soccer and more.