32 Teams In 32 Days: Previewing Every Team In The 2018 World Cup

Over the next 32 days we are going to preview all 32 teams participating the the 2018 World Cup. We will release one team per day with all the information you need to know to impress your friends, so you can pass as the soccer hipster guy.

Folks, we are so close to the World Cup we can taste it. Over the next 32 days, we will be releasing our team by team preview for the 2018 World Cup.

Day-by-day leading up to the opening match in Russia, you will learn everything you need to know about every World Cup team. From their coaches, to key players, to schedules and much more, we will have you feeling like you’ve been watching soccer every day since the last World Cup ended. OK, maybe that's a stretch, but we'll give you enough information so that even if your team isn't in the World Cup (hey, USA) you'll be able to hop on a bandwagon with ease. 

Uruguay

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname:  La Celeste (The Sky Blue)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 12 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Champion (1930, 1950)
  • Breakout Star: CB José María Giménez

Despite having a population of less than 3.5 million, Uruguay has won two World Cup titles and finished in the top four three other times. This team always shows up to play, having failed to win a match in just two of its previous 12 World Cup appearances.

Everyone knows about Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani up front for La Celeste, but the defensive spine is what will determine their World Cup success. Diego Godín is as good as any defender in the world, but he and most of the defenders are over the age of 30, so they could struggle with the pace of Mo Salah in Group A. 

  • Best Case Scenario: Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez go nuts on a weak Group A, combining for 10 goals in the group stage to spark a run to the semifinals for the second time in three tournaments.
  • Worst Case Scenario: Luis Suarez does something crazy — something we can’t even predict because no one has even thought of doing it before — and gets a lifetime ban from FIFA while Uruguay somehow finds a way to finish third behind Egypt and Russia. 

Tunisia

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: نسور قرطاج (The Eagles of Carthage)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 4 (last in 2006)
  • Best Finish: Group Stage (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006)
  • Breakout Star: MF Naïm Sliti

The Eagles of Carthage are back in the World Cup after a 12-year hiatus and will be seeking their first win at the tournament since 1978. In each of Tunisia’s last three appearances, the team went home early after recording a draw and two losses.

Compared to other African nations, Tunisia doesn’t have much star power and just nine players who play for European clubs. But the Eagles did go through Group A in qualifying without a loss and their only defeat in the last 365 days came in a 1-0 defeat to Spain, having beaten the likes of Egypt, Iran and Costa Rica while drawing against Portugal and Turkey. You’ve been warned, England.

  • Best Case Scenario: Tunisia takes advantage of three own goals from England to pick up an early win and advance to the Round of 16 for the first time ever. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: Tunisia is outclassed in its first two matches against England and Belgium before losing a meaningless dead rubber against Panam, finishing the World Cup without a point for the first time. 

Switzerland

Switzerland World Cup Preview

  • Nickname: Die Nati (The National Team)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 10 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1934, 1938, 1954)
  • Breakout Star: FW Breel Embolo

Switzerland will be at the World Cup for a fourth straight tournament, having won five matches in Die Nati’s last three appearances. Nonetheless, Switzerland hasn’t advanced past the Round of 16 since 1954, when the tournament was in Switzerland. 

Switzerland lost just one match in World Cup qualification, allowing seven goals in 12 qualifiers. The team is littered with underrated players like Stephan Lichsteiner, Xherdan Shaqiri, Haris Seferovic and Granit Xhaka. OK, maybe Xhaka isn’t underrated, but he’s still got a killer left foot (both for good and evil).

  • Best Case Scenario: Granit Xhaka uses his left foot for good, scoring a couple thunderbolts to help Switzerland reach the Round of 16 before taking Germany to penalty kicks. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: Granit Xhaka uses his left foot for evil, destroying Neymar’s leg with a horrific challenge in Switzerland’s first match before Die Nati bows out in the group stage. 

Sweden

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: Blågult (The Blue-Yellow)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 11 (last in 2006)
  • Best Finish: Runner-up (1958)
  • Breakout Star: MF Emil Forsberg

Even without Zlatan Ibrahimovic (or perhaps because of his absence), Sweden is back in the World Cup after missing the last two tournaments, knocking out the Netherlands and Italy along the way. The Blågult have a history of success in the World Cup, having finishing in the Top Four four times, most recently in 1994.

Marcus Berg scored eight goals and the play-making of Emil Forsberg makes Sweden a threat even without Zlatan in the lineup. Everything is likely to come down to the final group stage match against Mexico, which should be a thriller. 

  • Best Case Scenario: Emil Forsberg makes everyone forget about Zlatan (at least for a couple weeks), Sweden finishes second in Group F and gives Brazil a run for its money in a thrilling Round of 16 match.
  • Worst Case Scenario: Zlatan Ibrahimovic forces his way onto the field for Sweden’s do-or-die match against Mexico. He scores a brilliant goal but disqualifies his own team because he wasn’t actually on the roster. 

Spain

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: La Furia Roja (The Red Fury)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 14 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Champion (2010)
  • Breakout Star: MF Marco Asensio

After a dismal exit in the group stage at the 2014 World Cup, Spain will be eager to prove it’s back among the world’s elite. Then again, Spain’s only other Top Four finish came in 1950, so maybe 2010 was the aberration? Probably not. This team is loaded.

La Furia Roja are powered by some of the top players from Real Madrid and Barcelona, with a sprinkling of talent from England and Atletico Madrid. Spain has some of the world’s best at goalkeeper, defense and midfield — the one question is up front where the four forwards on the roster have a combined 13 goals for Spain.

  • Best Case Scenario: Spain returns to its form of 2010, riding the superb play of goalie David de Gea and the unaging efforts of Andres Iniesta to another World Cup championship.
  • Worst Case Scenario: Diego Costa gets drawn into a fist fight with Pepe in the opening match and is kicked out of the tournament and Spain struggles to score, eventually losing in the quarterfinals. 

South Korea

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: 태극전사 (Taegeuk Warriors)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 9 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Fourth Place (2002)
  • Breakout Star: FW Hwang Hee-chan

South Korea is in the World Cup for an eighth straight time, despite scoring 11 goals in 10 qualifying matches, including three scoreless draws. There will be a great impetus on Tottenham’s Son Heung-min to create offense. 

Aside from the Tottenham starlet, only four other South Koreans play in Europe. Hwang Hee-chan could be the difference maker for the Taegeuk Warriors if they’re to go through. The 22-year-old forward has reached double-digit goals for Red Bull Salzburg the last two seasons.

  • Best Case Scenario: South Korea takes advantage of an already-qualified Germany to steal a point and qualify for the knockout rounds before falling to Brazil in the Round of 16. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: South Korea accidentally trains to defend Zlatan Ibrahimovic against Sweden in the opener, forgetting he isn’t in the squad. They lose 4-0 on the way to a second straight winless World Cup appearance. 

Serbia

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: Орлови (Оrlovi, Eagles)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 1 as Serbia (2010), 1 as Serbia and Montenegro, 9 with Yugoslavia 
  • Best Finish: Group Stage (2010) as Serbia, Fourth Place (1930, 1962 as Yugoslavia)
  • Breakout Star: MF Sergej Milinković-Savić

Serbia made its way through Group D in UEFA qualifying with just one loss despite one of the deepest pools of talent including Ireland, Wales and Austria. And yet coach Slavoljub Muslin was fired after the qualification process, with Mladen Krstajić replacing him.

Serbia’s squad has some well-known names like Nemanja Matić, Branislav Ivanović, Aleksandar Kolarov, Aleksandar Mitrović and Dušan Tadić, but Sergej Milinković-Savić could be the next big thing from the country. Expect the Lazio midfielder to be linked to an increasing number of big clubs with a big showing in Russia. 

  • Best Case Scenario: Aleksandar Mitrović, who scored six goals in qualifying, goes crazy (in the good way this time), scoring five goals in the group stage as Serbia reaches the knockout rounds for the first time ever as its own country before losing to Germany in the Round of 16.
  • Worst Case Scenario: Aleksandar Mitrović goes crazy (in his usual way) and picks up two yellow cards and a straight red in Serbia’s first two matches as the Eagles flame out without scoring a goal.

Senegal

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: Les Lions de la Téranga (Lions of Teranga)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 1 (2002)
  • Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2002)
  • Breakout Star: FW Keita Baldé

Senegal is back in the World Cup for the second time ever thanks to a squad loaded with European experience and led up front by Liverpool’s Sadio Mané. The Lions of Teranga will be looking for a repeat of their 2002 appearance, when they upset reigning champion France and Sweden on the way to the quarterfinals.

Senegal was one of the few teams to go unbeaten in qualifying. They tore through CAF’s Group D with four wins and two draws, albeit aided by a replay against South Africa after FIFA banned the referee in charge of a 2-1 win for the 2010 World Cup hosts. 

  • Best Case Scenario: Sadio Mané scores half a dozen goals and Senegal tops a convoluted Group H before upsetting England on the way back to the quarterfinals. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: Senegal’s offense struggles against well-drilled defenses and the Lions flame out without a victory. 

Saudi Arabia

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: الصقور الخضر (Green Falcons)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 4 (last in 2006)
  • Best Finish: Round of 16 (1994)
  • Breakout Star: MF Salem Al-Dawsari

The Green Falcons went to four straight World Cups from 1994 to 2006 and are back after a 12-year hiatus. Since stunning the world with two wins in its first appearance in 1994, Saudi Arabia has struggled at the World Cup, getting outscored 26-4 in its last nine matches. 

Saudi Arabia’s roster is made up almost entirely of domestic players and is led by Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, who has 28 goals in 38 appearances for the Green Falcons. No one scored more than Saudi Arabia in AFC qualifying, tied with Japan for most with 17 goals in 10 matches.

  • Best Case Scenario: Saudi Arabia takes advantage of an easy group to advance out of the group stage before being bounced by Spain in the Round of 16. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: Saudi Arabian players take bribes from Russia and to lose in the opening match but beat Egypt so the host nation can actually advance in the group. 

Russia

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: Сборная (Sbornaya, The National Team)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 10 (last in 2014, seven as USSR)
  • Best Finish: Fourth (1966)
  • Breakout Star: MF Aleksandr Golovin

As host, Russia was the only team to not have to qualify for the World Cup. This means the Sbornaya haven’t really played many meaningful matches lately aside from finishing 23rd (out of 24 teams) at the 2016 European Championships and failing to get out of the group stage at last summer’s Confederations Cup. 

Perhaps with this in mind, Russia has one of the oldest teams in the tournament, with just five players under the age of 25. Despite this, just two players (captain Igor Akinfeev and defender Sergei Ignashevich) have more than 100 caps. Only two players play outside of Russia (backup keeper Vladimir Gabulov with Club Brugge and midfielder Denis Cheryshev with Villareal). 

  • Best Case Scenario: FIFA turns a blind eye to doping, curious VAR decisions and Vladimir Putin’s meddling and Russia upsets Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in the Round of 16. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: FIFA discovers rampant doping in the team but pretends to not see it until after the Russians are eliminated in the group stage. Putin exiles all team members to Siberia. 

Portugal

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: A Seleção das Quinas (The Selection of the Quinas)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 6 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Third place (1966)
  • Breakout Star: MF Bernardo Silva

Portugal is the defending European champion and yet few expect to see Cristiano Ronaldo lifting the World Cup trophy at the end of the tournament. But Portugal is well-positioned to make a deep run as it did in 2006 when it finished in fourth in Germany. 

The team is all about Ronaldo, but he’s backed up by a stout defense that allowed four goals in 10 World Cup qualifiers. Bernado Silva is a wizard with the ball, Ricardo Quaresma is a master of the trivela and there’s enough youth in the squad that Portugal might just surprise everyone again.

  • Best Case Scenario: Cristiano Ronaldo scores 14 goals, breaking Just Fontaine’s record for most goals in a World Cup and Portugal wins its first world championship, beating Spain 3-1 in the final thanks to a Ronaldo hat trick.
  • Worst Case Scenario: Cristiano Ronaldo continues his streak of scoring just one goal per World Cup, Portugal is upset by Morocco and fails to advance out of the group stage for the second straight tournament. 

Poland

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: Orły (The Eagles)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 7 (last in 2006)
  • Best Finish: Third (1974 and 1982)
  • Breakout Star: FW Arkadiusz Milik

Few can remember when Poland was last a force on the global stage more than 35 years ago, but the Eagles are back, ranked in the top 10 heading into the World Cup. That ranking helped Poland secure a relatively easy group.

As Robert Lewandowski goes, so goes Poland; no one scored more than his 16 goals in qualifying. The key will be keeping the pressure off the Bayern Munich star and shoring up a defense that allowed nearly 1.5 goals per game in qualifying.

  • Best Case Scenario: Robert Lewandowski goes full Grzegorz Lato, becoming the second Pole to win the Golden Boot. The Eagles take advantage of an easy group to springboard a run to the semifinals.
  • Worst Case Scenario: Coach Adam Nawałka accidentally puts former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski on the roster instead of Robert Lewandowski and Poland loses the popular vote but still advances to the Round of 16 via the electoral college. 

Peru

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: La Blanquirroja (The White and Red)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 4 (last in 1982)
  • Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1970)
  • Breakout Star: MF Edison Flores

Peru has gone through more since qualifying for the World Cup than any other team, with captain and all-time leading goal scorer Paolo Guerrero going from banned to not banned to banned again to not banned again. But Los Incas will be happy to have Guerrero for their first World Cup in 36 years. 

Peru qualified by edging Chile for fifth in CONMEBOL and beating New Zealand in an intercontinental playoff. La Blanquirroja scored more goals than Argentina, Colombia and Chile in qualifying. Edison Flores, 24, could position himself for a move from Denmark to a top-tier league with a strong showing in Russia after scoring five goals in qualifying.  

  • Best Case Scenario: The experience of Paolo Guerrero and Jefferson Farfán help Peru take down Denmark and Australia to finish second in the group behind France before scoring the upset of the tournament by defeating Lionel Messi and Argentina in the Round of 16.
  • Worst Case Scenario: A suspect Peruvian defense, which had just two shutouts in 18 CONMEBOL qualifying matches, allows three goals per match as Peru crashes out in the group stage. 

Panama

Panama World Cup Preview

  • Nickname: Los Canaleros
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 0
  • Best Finish: n/a
  • Breakout Star: FW Ismael Díaz

Panama earned its first World Cup berth in dramatic fashion on the final day of Concacaf qualifying despite scoring just a goal per game in qualifying. Of the other 31 nations in the tournament, only Uruguay and Iceland are smaller in population than Panama.

Needless to say, Panama won’t have any World Cup experience to rely on, but six players on the 35-man preliminary roster have more than 100 caps, including captain Felipe Baloy, Seattle Sounders defender Román Torres and former FC Dallas striker Blas Pérez. 

  • Best Case Scenario: A successful tournament for Panama would be a win over Tunisia in the final group-stage match to give the country something to hang its hat on after losses to Belgium and England.
  • Worst Case Scenario: Panama is routed by Belgium and England before losing to Tunisia to finish in last place of all 32 teams. 

Nigeria

Nigeria Team Preview

  • Nickname: Super Eagles
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 5 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Round of 16 (1994, 1998 and 2014)
  • Breakout Star: MF Alex Iwobi

The largest African nation by population has the potential to make a deep run through the World Cup this year, perhaps breaching the quarterfinals for the first time. Nigeria beat Argentina 4-2 in a friendly in Russia in November and won’t be scared of a rematch with the Group D favorites.

The England-based trio of Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho will be vital for the Super Eagles’ chances. Nigeria was the first African nation to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and could benefit from playing Argentina last in group play.

  • Best Case Scenario: Nigeria finishes second in Group D and upsets France in the Round of 16 with an inspired performance. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: The Nigerian FA does something screwy before the tournament like withholding wages and the Super Eagles respond by playing like crap, crashing out of the tournament without a win.

Morocco

Morocco World Cup Preview

  • Nickname: Atlas Lions
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 4 (last in 1998)
  • Best Finish: Round of 16 (1986)
  • Breakout Star: MF Hakim Ziyech

Morocco hasn’t been to a World Cup in 20 years but the country is eager for a strong showing with a squad full of European regulars. Juventus defender Medhi Benatia is the team’s leader and all but four players on the 23-man roster play in Europe. Morocco did not allow a goal in Group B during World Cup qualifying. 

The squad overall is a bit old by today’s standards, with an average age of 27. But Hakim Ziyech is a rising star, having been named Dutch Footballer of the Year after a breakout season with Ajax. The question will be how Morocco can stack up with European giants Spain and Portugal. 

  • Best Case Scenario: Morocco opens with a win over Iran, draws against Portugal and then takes advantage of Spain having already qualified to get a result and finish second in Group B. From there, Morocco advances to the quarterfinals for the first time with a win over Egypt in the Round of 16.   
  • Worst Case Scenario: Morocco can’t even beat Iran in the opening match and suffers heavy defeats to Portugal and Spain on the way to a last-place finish. Oh and Morocco loses its fifth World Cup bid to the united U.S., Mexico and Canada bid.

Mexico

Mexico World Cup Preview

  • Nickname: El Tri
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 15 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1970 and 1986)
  • Breakout Star: FW Hirving Lozano

More than perhaps any nation outside of Brazil and Germany, Mexico is a lock for the Round of 16. But it’s what they do when they get there that frustrates El Tri’s legion of fans. Mexico has only advanced past the Round of 16 when it hosted the tournament in 1970 and 1986 and holds the record for most losses in World Cup history.

Unlike in 2014, when Mexico needed the U.S. to help qualify for the World Cup, Mexico qualified easily this time, losing just once in 16 matches. The squad has a strong blend of youth and experience from 22-year-old Hirving Lozano to 39-year-old Rafa Márquez, which might be just what Juan Carlos Osorio needs to get his team to the quarterfinals.

  • Best Case Scenario: Mexico finishes second in Group F behind Germany then pulls off the upset of the tournament by taking down Brazil in the Round of 16 thanks to a last-minute winner from Chicharito.
  • Worst Case Scenario: Mexico finishes second in Group F behind Germany but bows out in the Round of 16 yet again, getting walloped 4-1 by Brazil, including a hat trick from Neymar. 

Japan

Japan Team Preview

  • Nickname: Samurai Blue
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 5 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Round of 16 (2002 and 2010)
  • Breakout Star: FW Takuma Asano

Japan qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 1998 but the Samurai Blue have been a mainstay in the tournament since. The four-time Asian champion has yet to advance past the Round of 16, a task that will be difficult this year. Despite being the third nation to qualify for Russia after Brazil and Iran, Japan made a coaching change earlier this year, firing Vahid Halilhodžić after three years on the job. 

While not the most star-studded roster, Japan can call on some players with plenty of European experience, like Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kazawa, Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Makoto Hasebe, Leicester City attacker Shinji Okazaki, Southampton defender Maya Yoshida and Pachuca winger Keisuke Honda, who appeared nearly 100 times for CSKA Moscow. 

  • Best Case Scenario: Japan uses its experience to finish second in Group H and then upsets England in the Round of 16 after six Three Lions players are suspended for yellow-card accumulation. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: Japan goes winless at the World Cup for the first time since its first appearance in 1998. The Samurai Blue get a point from a draw against Senegal but lose to Poland and Colombia. 

Iran

Iran World Cup Preview

  • Nickname: تیم ملی (Team Melli)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 4 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: First round
  • Breakout Star: FW Sardar Azmoun

Iran became the second team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after Brazil (and host Russia, if you’re nitpicking) in June of 2017. Team Melli easily finished first in its Asia qualifying group, well ahead of South Korea (Qatar finished dead last in the six-team group). 

Iran’s only victory at any of its four World Cups came in 1998 against the U.S., so perhaps it’s unfortunate the USMNT didn’t make it to Russia. Coached by former Real Madrid and Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz, Team Melli doesn’t exactly have a lot of star power, but watch out for Sardar Azmoun. The 23-year-old plays in Russia for Rubin Kazan and has scored 23 goals in 31 appearances for Iran, including four in qualifying.

  • Best Case Scenario: Iran has has three tough opponents in Group B, so just getting its first World Cup win since 1998 will be a success for a team with a -15 goal differential in World Cup history. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: Iran loses its first match to Morocco and loses all hopes of advancing, leading to blow-out losses against Spain and Portugal on the way to finishing dead last in the tournament. But hey, at least they made it and the U.S. didn’t. 

Iceland

Iceland National Team Preview

  • Nickname: Strákarnir okkar (Our Boys)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 0
  • Best Finish: n/a
  • Breakout Star: W Albert Guðmundsson

Hipsters unite with these bearded, clapping vikings. Led by Everton midfielder Gylfi Sigurðsson, Iceland became the smallest nation to ever qualify for a World Cup with a population comparable to Corpus Christi, Texas. Iceland qualified for its first European Championship in 2016, becoming the darlings of the tournament with a run to the quarterfinals, beating England in the Round of 16. 

Thanks to a well-adapted player development program, Iceland has a solid team that can do some damage in Russia. Six players on the final 23-man squad roster ply their trade in the English league system and all but two play outside of Iceland. But this team is all about the collective unit, one that will be tested in what should be one of the most entertaining groups of the tournament.

  • Best Case Scenario: Buoyed by a close loss to Argentina in the opening match, Iceland beats Nigeria then gets a draw against Croatia to advance as the second-place team before falling to a late Antoine Griezmann goal against France in the Round of 16.
  • Worst Case Scenario: The feel-good story ends quickly as Iceland is outclassed by the greater skill and athleticism of the tough opponents in Group D and the Vikings go out without a win. 

Germany

World Cup Team Previews

  • Nickname: Die Mannschaft (The Team)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 18 (last in 2014, 10 as West Germany)
  • Best Finish: Champions (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)
  • Breakout Star: FW Timo Werner

This team has everything. They’ve got the best goalkeeper in the world (when healthy) Manuel Neuer, they’ve got the experienced spine of Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels, Toni Kroos, Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller and they’ve got youth talents in Leroy Sané, Timo Werner, Joshua Kimmich and Julian Brandt.

The only thing not to like about Germany is that many of these players won the tournament in 2014. Will they be as motivated to lift the trophy once again?

Best Case Scenario: Germany repeats as champion, beating Brazil on the way and tying Brazil with five World Cups. 

Worst Case Scenario: Germany forgets to score, instead just passing the ball around for 90 minutes before Poland’s Robert Lewandowski jumps on a poor pass from Manuel Neuer to score a late winner in the Round of 16. 

France

France World Cup Preview

  • Nickname: Les Bleus (The Blues)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 14 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Champion (1998)
  • Breakout Star: FW Kylian Mbappé

France is absolutely loaded this year, with key players in every position playing for the top clubs in the world. Hugo Lloris is stellar in goal, the defense includes Real Madrid and Barcelona stalwarts (Raphaël Varane and Samuel Umtiti), the midfield has the flash Paul Pogba and the indefatigable N’Golo Kanté and the forward line has more talent and versatility than any team in the tournament.

Antoine Griezmann is a terror and Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé represent two of the hottest young athletes on the planet. This team is just too loaded to mention every player, all of whom would waltz into most any other country’s starting line up. The question will be if they can put it all together and not implode like they did in 2010. 

  • Best Case Scenario: Everyone stays healthy, the young stars dazzle and the French finally conquer Russia 200 years after Napoleon invaded Russia. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: The disparate team, which includes just a small handful of club teammates, fails to find the necessary chemistry and flames out in the Round of 16. 

England

England World Cup Preview

  • Nickname: Three Lions
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 14 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Champions (1966)
  • Breakout Star: Dele Alli

It’s been 12 years since England last won a knockout-round match but the Three Lions are in the best position for a run they’ve been in for a long time. They’re young, but not too young, and fearless led by Tottenham goal-scoring machine Harry Kane.

Of England’s 20 outfield players, 17 come from the Premier League’s top five clubs, with the other three coming from Arsenal and Leicester City. The defense is solid if not stellar and the forwards have goals in them. The question will be whether the midfield has enough to get past elite teams.

  • Best Case Scenario: With an easy path to the quarterfinals, England makes its best run in the World Cup since 1990, reaching the semifinals before finishing third, but setting up for a World Cup title in 2022.
  • Worst Case Scenario: England loses to Poland in the Round of 16 and Real Madrid chooses to sign Robert Lewandowski instead of Harry Kane in the offseason. Kane goes into depression, gains a ton of weight and Tottenham slips into a relegation battle next season.

Egypt

Egypt World Cup Preview

  • Nickname: The Pharaohs
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 2 (last in 1990)
  • Best Finish: Group stage (1990)
  • Breakout Star: MF Trézéguet

Egypt was the first African nation to ever qualify for the World Cup back in 1934, but the Pharaohs’ only other appearance came in 1990. But this team has Mohamed Salah and in him all things are possible.

Salah set the Premier League record for goals in a season with 32 for Liverpool and he’s scored 33 goals in 57 appearances with Egypt. But it’s not all about Salah; Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny, West Brom’s Ahmed Hegazi and Aston Villa’s Ahmed Elmohamady all provide quality. But none are as experienced as 45-year-old goalkeeper and captain Essam El-Hadary. 

  • Best Case Scenario: Salah scores a bajillion goals, Egypt wins its group and takes out Portugal on the way to the quarterfinals. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: Faced with the pressure of a nation on his shoulders and defenses focusing on him, Salah goes scoreless and Egypt is knocked out in the group stage. 

Denmark

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: De Rød-Hvide (The Red-White)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 4 (last in 2010)
  • Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1998)
  • Breakout Star: CB Andreas Christensen

Despite having won the 1992 Euros, Denmark has little history of success in the World Cup, qualifying for the first time in 1986 and missing the 1990 and 1994 Cups. But this Danish side is perhaps the most talented since the 1992 Cinderella story.

Everything about Denmark starts and ends with Tottenham star midfielder Christian Eriksen, who has 21 goals in 77 appearances for the Danes. And while Nicklas Bendtner is a great/goofy option up top, this squad is built on defense. Led by Simon Kjær and with Kasper Schmeichel in goal, Denmark allowed just nine goals in 12 World Cup qualifiers.

  • Best Case Scenario: Everything clicks for the Danes as it did in the 5-1 demolition of Ireland in the UEFA playoffs. Denmark finishes second in Group C then reaches the quarterfinals with an upset over unlikely group winner Iceland. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: Eriksen is struck down by a voodoo doll and Denmark loses to Peru and Australia before beating France but still not advancing. 

Croatia

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: Vatreni (The Blazers)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 4 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Third place (1998)
  • Breakout Star: CM Mateo Kovačić

Croatia hasn’t advanced out of the group stage since its incredible run in 1998, the first year it was allowed at the World Cup. But Croatia has never had as much quality as it currently possesses.

Real Madrid’s Luka Modrić and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitić are two of the best midfielders in the world while Mario Mandžukić is a proven scorer up top. Other quality pieces include Ivan Perišić, Nikola Kalinić, Mateo Kovačić, Šime Vrsaljko, Vedran Ćorluka and, on occasion, Dejan Lovren. 

  • Best Case Scenario: Croatia takes advantage of a convoluted Group D to finish in first place and avoid playing France in the Round of 16 and then upsets Spain in the quarterfinals before bowing out in the semifinals. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: Croatia is unable to navigate its way through the talented Group D and finishes third in the group, once again failing to reach the knockout rounds. 

Costa Rica

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname:  Los Ticos
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: Four (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2014)
  • Breakout Star: FW Joel Campbell

Costa Rica was the Cinderella of the 2014 tournament after reaching the quarterfinals. Los Ticos are bringing pretty much the exact same squad to Russia, with little youth but plenty of experience as the oldest team in the field.

Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas remains one of the world’s most underrated players and he’s got a strong defense in front of him that allowed 11 goals in 16 World Cup qualifiers. The silky Bryan Ruiz and still-just-25 Joel Campbell lead the offense but it will be up to a midfield with Celco Borges, Christian Bolaños and Yeltsin Tejeda to balance the team, which scored just five goals in five matches in Brazil in 2014. 

  • Best Case Scenario: Keylor Navas plays out of his mind and Costa Rica finishes second to Brazil in Group E before going out to Germany in a close Round-of-16 match. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: Age catches up to Costa Rica, which fails to score a goal and goes winless in the tournament. 

Colombia

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: Los Cafeteros (The Coffee Growers)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 5 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2014)
  • Breakout Star: Davinson Sánchez

José Pékerman is now in his sixth year as coach for Los Cafeteros and the Argentine has Colombia geared for another run to the quarterfinals. Placed in the relatively tame Group H with Poland, Senegal and Japan, Colombia will expect to advance to the group stage, though a matchup against either England or Belgium likely awaits in the Round of 16. James Rodriguez regained his 2014 form with Bayern Munich this season and could once again be the straw that stirs the Colombian drink. 

  • Best Case Scenario: 32-year-old Radamel Falcao scores eight goals in his first World Cup and Los Cafeteros reach the semifinals. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: James Rodriguez injures himself dancing to celebrate a goal he didn’t even score and Colombia goes out in the group stage. 

Brazil

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname:  Seleção (The Selection)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 20 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Champions (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
  • Breakout Star: Alisson

Brazilians (especially Neymar) will be on a mission to put the embarrassment of the 7-1 defeat to Germany in 2014 behind them. As one would expect with Brazil, this team has plenty of flair from the likes of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Douglas Costa, Philippe Coutinho and Willian. But the Seleção will need captain Thiago Silva to avoid suspension to keep things organized in the back.

  • Best Case Scenario: Neymar overtakes Ronaldo and Messi as the best player in the world by guiding Brazil to the World Cup. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: Neymar is injured in the second match like Pele in 1962, only this time Brazil doesn’t have enough talent to go on and win the Cup anyway. 

Belgium

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: De Rode Duivels (The Red Devils)
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 12 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Fourth (1986)
  • Breakout Star: Yannick Carrasco

Belgium is in a golden age with as much attacking talent as any team in the world. Kevin de Bruyne (Man City) pulls the strings alongside Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Romelu Lukaku (Man U), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang) and Alex Witsel (Tianjin (Quanjian). Mousa Dembélé (Tottenham) and Marouane Fellaini (Man U) provide strength in midfield while the Tottenham duo of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen add chemistry in the back in front of Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois.

  • Best Case Scenario: De Bruyne scores a couple screamers, Carrasco reminds everyone of what he did for Atletico before he left for China and the defense is air tight as Belgium wins its first world championship. 
  • Worst Case Scenario: De Bruyne gets fat on waffles, his face breaks out in pimples and Belgium loses in the quarterfinals just like in the last World Cup and Euros. 

Australia

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: Socceroos
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 4 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Round of 16 (2006)
  • Breakout Star: Aaron Mooy

The Socceroos have become a regular presence at the World Cup, qualifying for a fourth straight time after one appearance in the first 17 tournaments. But they’ve rarely done much more than participate other than a Round of 16 appearance in 2006 when they gave eventual champion Italy a run for its money. While 38-year-old Tim Cahill could become the fourth player to score at four consecutive World Cups, this team will rely on captain Mile Jedinak if it hopes to advance. But if Cahill can score another screamer like this one this summer, it will be a good tournament for the underdog Socceroos.

  • Best Case Scenario: Reaching the Round of 16 and scoring a great goal.
  • Worst Case Scenario: Losing all three matches and running out of beer.

Argentina

Team Preview for the 2018 World Cup

  • Nickname: La Albiceleste
  • Prior World Cup Appearances: 16 (last in 2014)
  • Best Finish: Champions (1978, 1986)
  • Breakout Star: Paulo Dybala

Lionel Messi is in the conversation as one of the best players of all time, but he’s yet to win a World Cup like Argentina legend Diego Maradona. If Messi is ever to live up to his country’s high expectations, his national teammates need to perform up to their potential. Argentina reached the 2014 final before falling 1-0 to Germany in extra time and nothing short of championship will do for fans of La Albiceleste. Without Messi this team has been an absolute disaster. If Messi is Messi and the supporting cast can just not mess up, they’ll have a chance to lift the hardware.

  • Best Case Scenario: Winning it all. Nothing less will suffice for Messi’s critics.
  • Worst Case Scenario: Going out in the group stage against a determined group. 

This story will update everyday with a new team leading up the start of the 2018 World Cup

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