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The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off with Russia versus Saudi Arabia on Thursday at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
The final takes place on Sunday, July 15, but before any side begins to dream about the prospect of winning the World Cup, they must first make it out of their group.
Read on for an assessment of each group along with a projected outcome. Group odds are in brackets and are provided by OddsShark.
Group A Projection: 1. Uruguay (EVENS) 2. Egypt (+550) 3. Russia (+125) 4. Saudi Arabia (+3300)
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Uruguay are the best side in Group A, boasting huge quality in both attack and defence, as well as technical ability in midfield—see the likes of Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez, Rodrigo Bentancur, Deigo Godin and Jose Gimenez.
They should top the pool with ease, likely after gaining all nine points available.
Hosts Russia will have home backing but, along with Saudi Arabia, they are one of the lowest-ranked sides in the tournament and look unlikely to be able to take the second qualifying spot from a Mohamed Salah-led Egypt.
Group B Projection: 1. Portugal (+185) 2. Spain (-200) 3. Morocco (+1600) 4. Iran (+2500)
Spain endured a chastening 2014 World Cup as they were knocked out at the group stage to end a run of three tournament triumphs in a row at the Euros in 2008 and 2012 and the 2010 World Cup.
It seemed highly unlikely the same fate would befall them in Russia after a 20-game unbeaten streak, but then disaster struck the day before the start of the tournament when manager Julen Lopetegui was sacked:
B/R Football @brfootball
BREAKING: Spain manager Julen Lopetegui has been sacked just two days before their first World Cup game https://t.co/bLXHKohSWj
The squad are sure to be rocked by the upheaval, but the key question for Group B still remains over who will finish top, which is likely to depend on which of Spain or Portugal prevails when the two meet on Friday in one of the most enticing matches of the group stage.
Group C Projection: 1. France (-350) 2. Denmark (+450) 3. Peru (+900) 4. Australia (+1800)
The depth of France’s squad is almost unmatched in the competition. Based purely on the quality of players they were able to leave out of their 23, Les Bleus should have no problem topping Group C.
B/R Football @brfootball
OUT: Anthony Martial, Adrien Rabiot, Alexandre Lacazette
IN: Nabil Fekir, Florian Thauvin, Steven N’Zonzi
France name their 23-man squad for Russia! 🇫🇷 https://t.co/XArHLmH1jy
Denmark are arguably the next best side in the group, boasting huge attacking quality in playmaker Christian Eriksen and defensive solidity thanks to goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and centre-backs Andreas Christensen and Simon Kjaer.
Peru and Australia have their qualities—the former came through CONMEBOL qualifying ahead of the likes of Chile and Ecuador—but are likely to end up playing for third and fourth.
Group D Projection: 1. Croatia (+225) 2. Argentina (-180) 3. Iceland (+1200) 4. Nigeria (+1000)
Argentina’s attacking line is remarkable. The headline act is clearly Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, but even without him a squad including Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria would be expected to go far at a World Cup.
BBC Sport @BBCSport
Argentina’s front line looks frightening! 😳
So much so that there’s no room for Serie A’s joint top scorer, Mauro Icardi.
👉 https://t.co/KmEzagNQz9 https://t.co/5kgzqbQLdG
However, they only scraped through qualifying and lack the defensive organisation to be genuine contenders.
Croatia have a less star-studded squad but are well drilled, and their midfield trio of Ivan Perisic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic could see them to victory over the Albiceleste, which should, in turn, see them top Group D.
Group E Projection: 1. Brazil (-400) 2. Serbia (+800) 3. Switzerland (+600) 4. Costa Rica (+1800)
Brazil are the side with perhaps the most storied history in the World Cup. But the narrative took a nasty turn four years ago when the five-time winners were knocked out of their home tournament in a 7-1 semi-final thrashing at the hands of eventual champions Germany.
Tite has rebuilt the side admirably, and they have little to fear from Group E, boasting as they do incredible quality throughout the side, from goalkeeper—where Alisson and Ederson will compete for the starting spot—to striker.
Switzerland, Serbia and Costa Rica will all be fighting for second place. Switzerland’s FIFA ranking of six is a false position, and Serbia have the knowhow to edge them in the fight for the knockout rounds.
Group F Projection: 1. Germany (-310) 2. Sweden (+600) 3. Mexico (+500) 4. South Korea (+2000)
Much like France and Brazil, Joachim Low’s Germany squad is packed to the rafters with talent, and they should have little trouble topping Group F, although there is a worrying precedent, per BT Sport’s Ian Darke:
Ian Darke @IanDarke
In the last two World Cups , holders have been knocked out in the group stage. Surely can’t happen to Germany.
Sweden, Mexico and South Korea have plenty of quality, and the battle for second place is set to be an intriguing one.
Based on pure ability many will back El Tri to qualify with Germany to the last 16. But Sweden were the side that ousted Italy in the qualifying play-offs and have the organisation and resilience to get the results they need to advance.
Group G Projection: 1. Belgium (-125) 2. England (+120) 3. Tunisia (+1600) 4. Panama (+2500)
England are synonymous with under-performances at major tournaments in recent times, never more so than in their last-16 defeat to Iceland at UEFA Euro 2016 and group-stage exit at the last World Cup.
However, purely in terms of making it out of the group this time, they could hardly have been handed an easier draw.
Panama and Tunisia are both beatable sides for Gareth Southgate’s men, and they and Belgium should both have secured six points each by the time they face off on June 28 for what should be a top-spot shootout.
Group H Projection: 1. Poland (+175) 2. Colombia (+120) 3. Senegal (+500) 4. Japan (+700)
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A well balanced quartet, Group H should provide some intriguing matches, not least given it boasts one team each from Europe, South America, Africa and Asia.
Poland and Colombia are the two best sides, and they boast the two most high-profile players in the pool.
Striker Robert Lewandowski and playmaker James Rodriguez are both stars, and the latter will be looking to repeat his campaign from 2014 when he won the Golden Boot and produced some fantastic displays.