Breaking down the field: Team profiles of all 32 World Cup teams

Craig Forrest and Brendan Dunlop take a look at the key storylines ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

Sportsnet breaks down all 32 nations that will compete at this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia.

ARGENTINA

Previous World Cup appearances: 16
How they did in 2014: Finalist (lost to Germany)
Best showing: CHAMPIONS (1978, 1986)
How they got to Russia: Finished third in South American qualifiers with a 7-7-4 record, behind Brazil and Uruguay.
Player to watch: Lionel Messi – Alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, the Argentine captain is the best player on the planet. Noted for his explosive scoring, speed, and dribbling skills.
Coach: Jorge Sampaoli – Managed Chile at the 2014 World Cup, reaching the round of 16. Won Copa America in 2015 with Chile.
Group D schedule: vs. Iceland (June 16 in Moscow), vs. Croatia (June 21 in Nizhny), vs. Nigeria (June 26 in Saint Petersburg).
Prognosis: You have to like their chances to win Group D, with Croatia being their only stiff test. With Messi and a strong supporting cast in attack, as well as a solid defence, Argentina should at least be able to make it to the quarterfinals. But are they on the same level as tournament favourites Germany, Brazil, Spain and France? It remains to be seen.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Argentina
June 01 2018

AUSTRALIA

Previous World Cup appearances: 4
How they did in 2014: Group stage exit
Best showing: Round of 16 (2006)
How they got to Russia: Finished third in their Asian qualifying group with a 5-4-1 record, behind Japan and Saudi Arabia. Beat Syria in Asian playoffs. Beat Honduras in inter-confederation playoffs.
Player to watch: Aaron Mooy – A creative midfielder who helped Huddersfield Town avoid relegation in the Premier League this season. Has a decent shot and helps out defensively.
Coach: Bert van Marwijk – Was hired in January after Australia already qualified. Guided the Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup final. Previously in charge of Saudi Arabia.
Group C schedule: vs. France (June 16 in Kazan), vs. Denmark (June 21 in Samara), vs. Peru (June 26 in Sochi).
Prognosis: Not very good. They simply don’t have the talent to make a run in the knockout stage. Van Marwijk is still figuring things out. Being placed in a difficult group doesn’t help their cause, either. It’s difficult to imagine the Socceroos will even win a game – never mind get out of the group.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Australia
June 01 2018

BELGIUM

Previous World Cup appearances: 12
How they did in 2014: Quarterfinals (lost to Argentina)
Best showing: Semifinals (1986)
How they got to Russia: Won their European qualifying group with a 9-1-0 record, ahead of Greece.
Player to watch: Eden Hazard – One of the best attacking players in the world. The Chelsea star is a creative and goal-scoring force, able to play up front or out wide
Coach: Roberto Martinez – The Spaniard was appointed by Belgium in 2016, having previously managed Premier League clubs Wigan Athletic and Everton.
Group G schedule: vs. Panama (June 18 in Sochi), vs. Tunisia (June 23 in Moscow), vs. England (June 28 in Nizhny).
Prognosis: Four years ago Belgium was considered a dark horse. This time around, they have to be one of the favourites. This is a deep team, brimming with quality all over the pitch, from the back to the front. They’re the favourites to win the group ahead of England, and have the potential to go on a run to the semifinals.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Belgium
June 06 2018

BRAZIL

Previous World Cup appearances: 20
How they did in 2014: Semifinals (lost to Germany)
Best showing: CHAMPIONS (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
How they got to Russia: Finished first in South American qualifiers with a 12-5-1 record.
Player to watch: Neymar – The best player in the world not named Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. A goal-scorer extraordinaire, Neymar has something to prove after Brazil’s amazing capitulation on home soil four years ago
Coach: Tite – Called in to right the ship after Brazil’s disastrous showing at the 2015 Copa America. Led the team through a near-flawless qualifying campaign for Russia once he took over.
Group E schedule: vs. Switzerland (June 17 in Rostov), vs. Costa Rica (June 22 in Saint Petersburg), vs. Serbia (June 27 in Moscow).
Prognosis: This is a world-class side, with quality at every position. Tite could field two teams at this World Cup, with an explosive attack, led by Neymar, and a stingy defence. Winning the group is a foregone conclusion. Anything less than a semifinal appearance would be a shocker. This Brazilian side is capable of going all the way and clinching its sixth World Cup crown.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Brazil
June 01 2018

COLOMBIA

Previous World Cup appearances: 5
How they did in 2014: Quarterfinals (lost to Brazil)
Best showing: Quarterfinals (2014)
How they got to Russia: Finished fourth in South American qualifiers with a 7-6-5 record, behind Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.
Player to watch: James Rodriguez – One of the breakout stars at the 2014 World Cup, he remains a key figure for Colombia as its main attacking reference point. Scored six goals and set up four others during the qualifying campaign.
Coach: Jose Pekerman – The Argentine manager has been in charge of Colombia since 2012, leading the country to its best ever showing at the World Cup, the quarterfinals four years ago in Brazil. Managed Argentina from 2004-2006.
Group H schedule: vs. Japan (June 19 in Saransk), vs. Poland (June 24 in Kazan), vs. Senegal (June 28 in Samara).
Prognosis:. While solid defensively, Colombia should be scoring more goals than they do with guys such as Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao in the team. The midfield is rather bland, too – Rodriguez is expected to carry the creative load. They’ll get out of the group – although it won’t be straight forward, as Poland and Senegal will give them a challenge. Beyond that, they won’t go far.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Colombia
June 06 2018

COSTA RICA

Previous World Cup appearances: 4
How they did in 2014: Quarterfinals (lost to the Netherlands)
Best showing: Quarterfinals (2014)
How they got to Russia: Finished second in CONCACAF qualifiers with a 4-4-2 record, behind Mexico.
Player to watch: Keylor Navas – A talented goalkeeper who made a name for himself at the 2014 World Cup, earning a transfer move to Real Madrid where he has starred for the last three seasons.
Coach: Oscar Ramirez – A former midfielder who played for Costa Rica at the 1990 World Cup, Ramirez has been in charge of Los Ticos since 2015.
Group E schedule: vs. Serbia (June 17 in Samara), vs. Brazil (June 22 in Saint Petersburg), vs. Switzerland (June 27 in Nizhny).
Prognosis: Don’t expect another Cinderella run like four years ago when they reached the quarterfinals. More than likely, they’ll go out after three games. This is essentially the same team from the 2014 World Cup – good in terms of lack of turnover, bad in terms a lack of attacking intent and endeavour. Costa Rica is noted for its strong defensive play, but they need much more than that to survive this tough opening group.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Costa Rica
June 01 2018

CROATIA

Previous World Cup appearances: 4
How they did in 2014: Group stage exit
Best showing: Semifinals (1998)
How they got to Russia: Finished second in their European qualifying group with a 6-2-2 record, behind Iceland. Beat Greece in the European playoffs.
Player to watch: Luka Modric – One of the best playmaking midfielders in the world. A star with Real Madrid, Modric is silky smooth in possession and can deliver a killer pass.
Coach: Zlatko Dalic – Hired last October following the firing of his predecessor. Managed to get Croatia over the finish line in the qualifiers.
Group D schedule: vs. Nigeria (June 16 in Kaliningrad), vs. Argentina (June 21 in Novgorod), vs. Iceland (June 26 in Rostov).
Prognosis: This is a loaded team (Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, Nikola Kalinic, Mario Mandzukic), and yet, Croatia managed to stumble in the qualifiers, finishing behind modest Iceland in their group. There’s no team identity under Dalic (not surprising, as he’s only been in charge for less than a year) and the attack, while brilliant on paper, can be disjointed at times. A round of 16 appearance looks like a safe bet. Maybe they’ll get to the quarterfinals.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Croatia
June 01 2018

DENMARK

Previous World Cup appearances: 4
How they did in 2014: Did not qualify
Best showing: Quarterfinals (1998)
How they got to Russia: Finished second in their European qualifying group with a 6-2-2 record, behind Poland. Beat Ireland in the European playoffs.
Player to watch: Christian Eriksen – A world-class midfielder who has earned plaudits at Tottenham for his free kick ability, sublime passing, and elegance in possession. A dangerous goal-scoring threat, too.
Coach: Age Hareide – Won titles at club level in his native Norway, Sweden and Denmark, before being appointed manager of the Danish national team in 2016.
Group C schedule: vs. Peru (June 16 in Saransk), vs. Australia (June 21 in Samara), vs. France (June 26 in Moscow).
Prognosis: The Danes don’t have a dangerous, goal-scoring forward, and are rather bland and ordinary in midfield, aside from Eriksen. They have a solid defence, though – teams will find it difficult to break them down. A relatively easy group means Denmark should be able to get to the round of 16. But that’s as far as they’ll go.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Denmark
June 01 2018

EGYPT

Previous World Cup appearances: 2
How they did in 2014: Did not qualify
Best showing: 1990 (group stage)
How they got to Russia: Won their African qualifying group with a 4-1-1 record, ahead of Uganda.
Player to watch: Mohamed Salah – The iconic forward had a career season at Liverpool, finishing as the Premier League’s top scorer.
Coach: Hector Cuper – Hired in 2017, the Argentine led the Pharaohs to the finals of that year’s African Nations Cup, before guiding them to their first World Cup berth since 1990.
Group A schedule: vs. Uruguay (June 15 in Yekaterinburg), vs. Russia (June 19 in Saint Petersburg), vs. Saudi Arabia (June 25 in Volgograd).
Prognosis: They’ll go as far as Salah can carry them, as Egypt doesn’t have any other dangerous scoring threats. Egypt plays a defensive brand of soccer, looking to stifle their opponents, so don’t expect many goals. They can survive the group, but they could also very likely go home after three games. Either way, they’re not going beyond the round of 16.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Egypt
May 30 2018

ENGLAND

Previous World Cup appearances: 14
How they did in 2014: Group stage exit
Best showing: CHAMPIONS (1966)
How they got to Russia: Won their European qualifying group with an 8-2-0 record, ahead of Slovakia.
Player to watch: Harry Kane – The Tottenham forward is coming off another sensational Premier League season. Will be looking to making amends for a poor outing at Euro 2016.
Coach: Gareth Southgate – A former England international during his playing days, he was hired in 2016 after previously managing the country’s under-21 team.
Group G schedule: vs. Tunisia (June 18 in Volgograd), vs. Panama (June 24 in Nizhny), vs. Belgium (June 28 in Kaliningrad).
Prognosis: On paper, England should go through to the next round, but you never know – the same was said about the Three Lions in 2014 when they crashed out in the group stage. They have dangerous options in attack with Kane and Raheem Sterling, but serious questions remain about its defence. And who will be the starting goalkeeper? Should be good enough to for a round of 16 appearance; maybe even the quarterfinals.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: England
June 06 2018

FRANCE

Previous World Cup appearances: 14
How they did in 2014: Quarterfinals
Best showing: CHAMPIONS (1998)
How they got to Russia: Won their European qualifying group with an 7-2-1 record, ahead of Sweden.
Player to watch: Antoine Griezmann – The Atletico Madrid forward is one of the best forwards in the world today, known for his goal-scoring prowess and touch on the ball.
Coach: Didier Deschamps – Captain of the French side that won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Named manager of Les Bleus in 2012, and led them to the finals of Euro 2016.
Group C schedule: vs. Australia (June 16 in Kazan), vs. Peru (June 21 in Yekaterinburg), vs. Denmark (June 26 in Moscow).
Prognosis: France has the talent to win it all. It says a lot about the team’s quality that they can leave a player the calibre of Karim Benzema at home. Deschamps has a wealth of options at each position, and even though he likes to tinker, Les Bleus should sail through the group stage, and go on a deep run in the tournament. Semifinals at the very least, but don’t be surprised if they’re in Moscow for the final on July 15.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: France
June 01 2018

GERMANY

Previous World Cup appearances: 18
How they did in 2014: CHAMPIONS
Best showing: CHAMPIONS (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)
How they got to Russia: Won their European qualifying group with an 10-0-0 record, ahead of Northern Ireland.
Player to watch: Thomas Muller – There are more spectacular Germany players, but the Bayern Munich star has scored 10 goals over the last two World Cups. Always seems to excel when the stakes are high.
Coach: Joachim Low – Hired in 2006, Low has enjoyed a great deal of success as Germany’s manager – winning the 2014 World Cup and last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup. Also guided his country to the Euro 2008 finals.
Group F schedule: vs. Mexico (June 17 in Luzhniki), vs. Sweden (June 23 in Sochi), vs. South Korea (June 27 in Kazan).
Prognosis: No nation has repeated as World Cup champions since Brazil in 1958 and 1962. But that could change this year. Germany is that good. This is a deep team – Manchester City’s Leroy Sane didn’t make the cut – with quality and a wealth of options at every position. Low is one of the best managers in international soccer, too. A semifinal appearance seems assured, at the very least, but make no mistake about it – this World Cup is Germany’s to lose.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Germany
June 06 2018

ICELAND

Previous World Cup appearances: None
How they did in 2014: Did not qualify
Best showing: None
How they got to Russia: Won their European qualifying group with an 7-1-2 record, ahead of Croatia.
Player to watch: Gylfi Sigurdsson – A talented playmaker who suffered a season-ending knee injury back in March while playing for Everton. He should be fine for the tournament, which is good news for Iceland, because it depends on his creativity
Coach: Heimir Hallgrímsson – Served as an assistant under former Iceland manager Lars Lagerback for two years before becoming co-manager with Lagerback in 2013. Took sole control of the national team after Euro 2016.
Group D schedule: vs. Argentina (June 16 in Volgograd), vs. Nigeria (June 22 in Nizhny), vs. Croatia (June 26 in Rostov).
Prognosis: Yes, Iceland broke out Euro 2016 when they reached the quarterfinals in their first major tournament. And yes, they beat out Croatia to win their qualifying group and book their first-ever World Cup berth. But they’re going to be figured out in Russia, as their dire defensive tactics won’t be able to stop Lionel Messi and Argentina, and a Croatia side brimming with attacking talent. First round exit.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Iceland
June 01 2018

IRAN

Previous World Cup appearances: 4
How they did in 2014: Group stage exit.
Best showing: Group stage (2014)
How they got to Russia: Finished first in their Asian qualifying group with a 6-4-0 record, ahead of South Korea.
Player to watch: Sardar Azmoun – A 23-year-old forward who plays in the Russian league for Rubin Kazan. Dubbed “the Iranian Messi,” he’s known for his quickness and aerial ability.
Coach: Carlos Queiroz – The Portuguese has previously been in charge of Real Madrid and his country’s national team. Appointed coach of Iran in 2011, Queiroz helped the Asian nation qualify for the World Cup four years ago in Brazil.
Group B schedule: vs. Morocco (June 15 in Saint Petersburg), vs. Spain (June 20 in Kazan), vs. Portugal (June 25 in Saransk).
Prognosis: Queiroz is an experienced coach, and Iran has become a defensively-sound, well-organized team that can hurt opponents on the counter-attack. Still, they lack technical ability in midfield, and as such, they find themselves on the back foot for long stretches of the game. Spain and Portugal might struggle to break them down at first, but they will eventually do it. Maybe they can sneak into the round of 16. But it isn’t likely.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Iran
June 01 2018

JAPAN

Previous World Cup appearances: 5
How they did in 2014: Group stage exit
Best showing: Round of 16 (2010)
How they got to Russia: Finished first in their Asian qualifying group with a 6-2-2 record, ahead of Saudi Arabia.
Player to watch: Shinji Kagawa – One of the most technically gifted Japanese players of all-time. A creative midfielder who can also score goals.
Coach: Akira Nishino – Had a great deal of success at club level, coaching a number of teams in Japan’s domestic league. Was only named Japan’s manager in April following the firing of Vahid Halilhodžić.
Group H schedule: vs. Colombia (June 19 in Saransk), vs. Senegal (June 24 in Yekaterinburg), vs. Poland (June 28 in Volgograd).
Prognosis: This is a team in transition and one that lacks an identity – not surprising, considering Nishino has been in charge for less than two months. Maybe they’ll come together under their coach and surprise people. But the team’s lack of cohesion, combined with the fact they’re not in an easy group, suggests they’ll be eliminated after three games.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Japan
June 06 2018

MEXICO

Previous World Cup appearances: 15
How they did in 2014: Round of 16
Best showing: Quarterfinals (1986)
How they got to Russia: Finished first in CONCACAF qualifiers with a 6-3-1 record, ahead of Costa Rica.
Player to watch: Hirving Lozano – An exciting, 22-year-old winger who played a major role in helping PSV win the Dutch league title this season, his first in the Netherlands.
Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio – A former coach in MLS, Osorio has accrued an impressive record since being appointed manager of Mexico in 2015.
Group F schedule: vs. Germany (June 17 in Moscow), vs. South Korea (June 23 in Rostov), vs. Sweden (June 27 in Yekaterinburg).
Prognosis: Mexico has exited the World Cup in the round of 16 in each of the last six tournaments, and they’ve never won a knockout round on foreign soil. There’s no reason to believe that will change this time around. Talented is they may be, El Tri doesn’t have the quality to challenge the big boys at this tournament. An opening game against Germany is a tall order, and they might not recover from it.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Mexico
June 06 2018

MOROCCO

Previous World Cup appearances: 4
How they did in 2014: Did not qualify
Best showing: Round of 16 (1986)
How they got to Russia: Won their African qualifying group with a 3-3-0 record, ahead of Ivory Coast.
Player to watch: Medhi Benatia – The captain and inspirational leader of Morocco. Has plenty of “big club” experience, having played for Bayern Munich and Juventus.
Coach: Herve Renard – Hired by Morocco in 2016, the Frenchman has previous national team experience, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia (in 2012) and Ivory Coast (2015).
Group B schedule: vs. Iran (June 15 in Saint Petersburg), vs. Portugal (June 20 in Moscow), vs. Spain (June 25 in Kaliningrad).
Prognosis: The draw wasn’t too kind to Morocco – Spain and Portugal are two tough opponents, and they’re the Africans’ last two matches of the group stage. Still, this is a fearless Moroccan side that likes to press and go right at their opponents, and they have enough quality in midfield to control possession. They’re capable of springing a surprise, and finishing in the top two in the group to move on the next round.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Morocco
June 01 2018

NIGERIA

Previous World Cup appearances: 5
How they did in 2014: Round of 16
Best showing: Round of 16 (2014)
How they got to Russia: Won their African qualifying group with a 4-1-1 record, ahead of Zambia.
Player to watch: John Obi Mikel – The former Chelsea midfielder now plays in the Chinese league, and has been a national team mainstay for over a decade.
Coach: Grenot Rohr – The former German defender has spent most of his coaching career leading French clubs. Was named manager of Nigeria in 2016, and the Super Eagles became the first African team to qualify for this World Cup.
Group D schedule: vs. Croatia (June 16 in Kaliningrad), vs. Iceland (June 22 in Volgograd), vs. Argentina (June 26 in Saint Petersburg).
Prognosis: The Nigerians like to attack, and they are capable of putting teams under pressure. But they lack balance, with their midfield and defence routinely stretched far too easily by opponents. Tough games to start and end the group stage. They’ll put up a good fight, but that won’t be good enough to advance to the next round.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Nigeria
June 01 2018

PANAMA

Previous World Cup appearances: None
How they did in 2014: Did not qualify
Best showing: None
How they got to Russia: Finished third in CONCACAF qualifiers with a 3-4-3 record, behind Mexico and Costa Rica.
Player to watch: Roman Torres – The team’s captain, he scored the goal that clinched World Cup qualification. A tough-as-nails defender with the Seattle Sounders in MLS.
Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez – The Colombian has previously taken his country and Ecuador to the World Cup. Took charge of Panama in 2014, and led the nation to its first World Cup berth in Russia.
Group G schedule: vs. Belgium (June 18 in Sochi), vs. England (June 24 in Nizhny), vs. Tunisia (June 28 in Saint Saransk).
Prognosis: Good on Panama for qualifying for the World Cup. It’s a wonderful story. But reality is going to set in this summer in Russia. This is one of the oldest teams in the tournament. It’s also one of the most unrefined, with the Panamanians playing a physical and cynical brand of soccer. They’re also susceptible to being ripped open in defence. Will likely be eliminated after losing their opening two games.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Panama
June 06 2018

PERU

Previous World Cup appearances: 4
How they did in 2014: Did not qualify
Best showing: Quarterfinals (1970)
How they got to Russia: Finished fifth in South American qualifiers with a 7-5-6 record, behind Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Colombia. Beat New Zealand in inter-confederation playoffs.
Player to watch: Paolo Guerrero – A veteran forward and Peru’s all-time top scorer. Was originally barred from this World Cup after a positive drug test. But the ban was lifted in late May, allowing him to compete in Russia.
Coach: Ricardo Gareca – A player of some repute in his native Argentina, he managed a number of top South American clubs before taking charge of Peru in 2015, leading them to their first World Cup since 1982.
Group C schedule: vs. Denmark (June 16 in Saransk), vs. France (June 21 in Yekaterinburg), vs. Australia (June 26 in Sochi).
Prognosis: They come into this tournament full of confidence, having earned positive results against nations such as Argentina, Uruguay and Croatia within the last two years. This is a defensively stingy team under Gareca, and they have enough attacking weapons to hurt you, especially Guerrero. Peru could be one of the surprise sides of the tournament, capable of reaching the quarterfinals. Will battle it out with Denmark for second place, but should advance to the round of 16.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Peru
June 06 2018

POLAND

Previous World Cup appearances: 7
How they did in 2014: Did not qualify
Best showing: Semifinals (1982)
How they got to Russia: Won their European qualifying group with an 8-1-1 record, ahead of Denmark.
Player to watch: Robert Lewandowski – Poland’s captain and one of the top strikers in the world. Coming off a 29-goal season for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
Coach: Adam Nawalka – A former Polish international who played at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Took over as national team manager in 2013.
Group H schedule: vs. Senegal (June 19 in Moscow), vs. Colombia (June 24 in Kazan), vs. Japan (June 28 in Volgograd).
Prognosis: Aside from Lewandowski, there’s some good attacking talent on this Polish team, including Arkadiusz Milik. But they are an aging side, and questions linger about the defence after the team conceded a lot of goals in a relatively easy qualifying group. It’s difficult to envision them going far in this tournament. A round of 16 might be in the cards, but they could just as easily exit the tournament at the group stage.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Poland
June 06 2018

PORTUGAL

Previous World Cup appearances: 6
How they did in 2014: Group stage exit
Best showing: Semifinals (1966)
How they got to Russia: Won their European qualifying group with an 9-0-1 record, ahead of Switzerland.
Player to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo – Who else? Alongside Lionel Messi, he’s the best player on the planet. Could be playing in his last World Cup this summer.
Coach: Fernando Santos – He coached the “Big 3” in Portugal’s first division (Sporting, Benfica, Porto) before taking over the Greek national team in 2010. Was appointed Portugal manager in 2014, and won Euro 2016.
Group B schedule: vs. Spain (June 15 in Sochi), vs. Morocco (June 20 in Moscow), vs. Iran (June 25 in Saransk).
Prognosis: The Portuguese over-achieved when they won Euro 2016 in France. Can they do it again on the game’s biggest stage? Not likely. This is far from a one-man side (the man being Ronaldo), as they proved two years. But they have an aging defence, and let’s not kid ourselves, a lot of their play flows through Ronaldo. A tough opening game vs. Spain doesn’t help their cause. Round of 16? Sure. Quarterfinals? Maybe.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Portugal
June 01 2018

RUSSIA

Previous World Cup appearances: 10
How they did in 2014: Group stage exit
Best showing: Semifinals (1966)
How they got to Russia: Qualified automatically as hosts.
Player to watch: Igor Akinfeev – The Russian captain and long-time national team goalkeeper. Makes some great saves and is vastly experienced, but also commits the odd gaffe.
Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov – A former top goalkeeper who earned 39 caps for Russia. Coached in the Polish league before being named manager of Russia in 2016.
Group C schedule: vs. Saudi Arabia (June 14 in Moscow), vs. Egypt (June 19 in Saint Petersburg), vs. Uruguay (June 25 in Samara).
Prognosis: Russia will kick off the World Cup as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams in the tournament – at No. 70, three spots below Group A rivals Saudi Arabia. There’s some promising attacking talent on this team, most notably Aleksandr Golovin and Fyodor Smolov. But by and large, this a dull and uninspiring side. Will home-field advantage be enough for them to get out of the group? Possibly. But it’s just as likely they’ll be eliminated after three games.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Russia
June 01 2018

SAUDI ARABIA

Previous World Cup appearances: 4
How they did in 2014: Did not qualify
Best showing: Round of 16 (1994)
How they got to Russia: Finished second in their Asian qualifying group with a 6-1-3 record, behind Japan.
Player to watch: Yahya Al Shehri – A creative midfielder who serves as Saudi Arabia’s chief creator.
Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi – A former Spanish international during his playing days, Pizzi previously managed Chile’s national team and won the 2016 Copa America. Was appointed manager of Saudi Arabia last November.
Group C schedule: vs. Russia (June 14 in Moscow), vs. Uruguay (June 20 in Rostov), vs. Egypt (June 25 in Volgograd).
Prognosis: Pretty bleak. Although fearless in attack, they’re also incredibly suspect in defence, and teams will have little trouble exploiting that weakness. The majority of their players play in Saudi Arabia – needless to say they’re going to find it tough going against opposing players who ply their trades in top European leagues. Unlikely they’ll even win a game.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Saudi Arabia
June 01 2018

SENEGAL

Previous World Cup appearances: 1
How they did in 2014: Did not qualify
Best showing: Quarterfinals (2002)
How they got to Russia: Won their African qualifying group with a 4-2-0 record, ahead of Burkina Faso.
Player to watch: Sadio Mane – The Senegalese forward is coming off a great season with Liverpool in the Premier League. His country’s best goal-scoring threat.
Coach: Aliou Sisse – He captained the Senegal side that reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. Named coach of the national team in 2015.
Group H schedule: vs. Poland (June 19 in Moscow), vs. Japan (June 24 in Yekaterinburg), vs. Colombia (June 29 in Samara).
Prognosis: There’s plenty of speed and power in this Senegalese side, which also boasts attacking depth that might surprise some people. Mane is the main focus of the attack. Sisse has tinkered with different formations, line-ups and playing styles, so it’s hard to get a good read on this team. On paper, a round of 16 berth seems plausible. But they could also go home after the first round.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Senegal
June 06 2018

SERBIA

Previous World Cup appearances: 1
How they did in 2014: Group stage exit
Best showing: Group stage (2014)
How they got to Russia: Won their European qualifying group with a 6-3-1 record, ahead of Ireland.
Player to watch: Nemanja Matic – A no-nonsense, holding midfielder who has distinguished himself this season at Manchester United.
Coach: Mladen Krstajić – A former national team defender, he was appointed interim manager of Serbia last October before getting hired fulltime two months later.
Group E schedule: vs. Costa Rica (June 17 in Samara), vs. Switzerland (June 22 in Kaliningrad), vs. Brazil (June 27 in Moscow).
Prognosis: There’s plenty of talent in this team, especially midfield maestro Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who could be one of the breakout stars of this tournament. The team hasn’t found its identity under Krstajić since he took over before last Christmas, but on paper, this team is too good and has too much quality to go home early. A quarterfinal appearance wouldn’t be a big surprise.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Serbia
June 01 2018

SOUTH KOREA

Previous World Cup appearances: 9
How they did in 2014: Group stage exit
Best showing: Semifinals (2002)
How they got to Russia: Finished second in their Asian qualifying group with a 4-3-3 record, behind Iran.
Player to watch: Son Heung-min – South Korea’s top scorer in qualifying, he enjoyed a solid season with Tottenham in 2017-18.
Coach: Shin Tae-Yong – A former midfielder who earned a couple dozen caps in the 1990s. Was named South Korea manager last year.
Group F schedule: vs. Sweden (June 18 in Nizhny), vs. Mexico (June 23 in Rostov), vs. Germany (June 27 in Kazan).
Prognosis: South Korea does have a few players of technical ability in midfield, but aside from Son Heung-min, they’re hardly a threat going forward. The defence can be easily opened up, as evidence by their poor defensive record during the qualifiers. It’s a tough group, one they won’t survive.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Korea Republic
June 06 2018

SPAIN

Previous World Cup appearances: 14
How they did in 2014: Group stage exit
Best showing: CHAMPIONS (2010)
How they got to Russia: Won their European qualifying group with a 9-1-0 record, ahead of Italy.
Player to watch: Andres Iniesta – He’s 34, but he still has plenty of gas left in the tank. A classy, elegant midfielder who scored the extra-time winner against Holland in the 2010 final.
Coach: Julen Lopetegui – A former goalkeeper who played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, he coached Spain’s youth teams at under-19, 20 and 20 levels before getting the senior team gig in 2016.
Group C schedule: vs. Portugal (June 15 in Sochi), vs. Iran (June 20 in Kazan), vs. Morocco (June 25 in Kaliningrad).
Prognosis: Spain has been reborn under Lopetegui after their disastrous showing at the last World Cup. They cruised through qualifying, topping a group that included Italy. There’s quality and experience at every position in this team, and plenty of depth. One of the top favourites to win the World Cup. They’ll be there in the final four, at the very least.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Spain
June 06 2018

SWEDEN

Previous World Cup appearances: 11
How they did in 2014: Did not qualify
Best showing: Finalist (1958)
How they got to Russia: Finished second in their European qualifying group with a 6-1-3 record, behind France. Beat Italy in the European playoffs.
Player to watch: Emil Forsberg – An effective playmaker who can also play on the left wing. Viewed as Sweden’s new talisman now that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is gone.
Coach: Janne Andersson – Managed a number of Swedish clubs before taking over the national team in 2016.
Group F schedule: vs. South Korea (June 18 in Nizhny), vs. Germany (June 27 in Yekaterinburg), vs. Mexico (June 27 in Kaliningrad).
Prognosis: Sweden might actually be better without Ibrahimovic. There’s been more emphasis on defensive organization and being hard to break down since his departure from the national team. That said, Sweden is pretty toothless going forward, and doesn’t have a proven goal scorer who can carry the offensive burden. It’s a tough group, too, with their two most challenging games saved for last. Round of 16 at best.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Sweden
June 06 2018

SWITZERLAND

Previous World Cup appearances: 10
How they did in 2014: Round of 16
Best showing: Quarterfinals (1954)
How they got to Russia: Finished second in their European qualifying group with a 9-0-1 record, behind Portugal. Beat Northern Ireland in the European playoffs.
Player to watch: Xherdan Shaqiri – Dynamic midfielder who can play on either wing, behind the main striker, or as a playmaker. Possesses a strong left-footed shoot, too.
Coach: Vladimir Petković – Bosnian who managed such clubs as Lazio and Sion before taking the Swiss job in 2014.
Group E schedule: vs. Brazil (June 17 in Rostov), vs. Serbia (June 22 in Kaliningrad), vs. Costa Rica (June 27 in Nizhny).
Prognosis: The Swiss have a nice blend of youth and experience in their roster. Players such as Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri offer the team some genuine attacking class. Lack a top goal scorer, though. So long as Xhaka and Shaqiri are at their best, Switzerland has a good chance at getting out of the group. Anything beyond that would be a surprise.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Switzerland
June 06 2018

TUNISIA

Previous World Cup appearances: 4
How they did in 2014: Did not qualify
Best showing: Group stage (2006)
How they got to Russia: Won their African qualifying group with a 4-2-0 record, ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo.
Player to watch: Wahbi Khazri – One of Tunisia’s few players that offers flair when in possession. Can play either in midfield or out wide.
Coach: Nabil Maâloul – Earned 74 caps for his country before turning to coaching in the 1990s. Previously took charge of Tunisia in 2013. Began his second tenure last April.
Group G schedule: vs. England (June 18 in Volgograd), vs. Belgium (June 23 in Moscow), vs. Panama (June 28 in Saransk).
Prognosis: Khazri has been dealing with a thigh injury, so there’s questions about his fitness. Aside from him, Tunisia suffers from a lack of attacking creativity and ingenuity. Overall, this is a pretty bland team, although they do play with a lot of heart and without fear. They’re going home early.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Tunisia
June 06 2018

URUGUAY

Previous World Cup appearances: 12
How they did in 2014: Round of 16
Best showing: CHAMPIONS (1930, 1950)
How they got to Russia: Finished second in South American qualifiers with a 9-4-5 record, behind Brazil.
Player to watch: Luis Suarez – His country’s all-time leading scorer. One of the most dangerous forwards in the world, and also one of the most volatile.
Coach: Oscar Tabarez – One of the most respected managers in world soccer. Began his second spell in charge of Uruguay in 2006, and helped La Celeste win the 2011 Copa America, and reach the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Group A schedule: vs. Egypt (June 15 in Yekaterinburg), vs. Saudi Arabia (June 20 in Rostov), vs. Russia (June 25 in Samara).
Prognosis: Uruguay could be one of the dark horses at this tournament, as Tabarez has put together a roster that blends youth and experience. Suarez and Edinson Cavani pose a lethal 1-2 scoring punch. There’s plenty of steel and grit, with veteran defender Diego Godin and young midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur. Group A should be a cakewalk, and a semifinal place is not out of the question.

World Soccer Team Profiles For Russia 2018
World Soccer Team Profiles: Uruguay
June 06 2018

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.