This is the first time for the World Cup
to be held in Russia. Matches will be played in eleven cities in 12 different stadiums. Host Russia will kick things off against Saudi Arabia on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium Moscow and the final will be on July 15.
32 teams from all around the world have qualified and while there are some familiar countries, Iceland and Panama will be taking part for the very first time. In the 2018 World Cup Group Stage there are eight groups, A-H, of four teams. Two teams from each group will advance to the knockout stage. Most World Cups have a feared ‘Group of Death’ where three or four excellent teams must try to qualify. In this World Cup, though, the groups seem to be reasonably balanced.
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In Group A is Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay. Favorites from this group should be Russia as they have host advantage and Uruguay who are ranked 17th in the world and finished an impressive second in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualification.
Group B has Portugal, Spain, Iran and Morocco. Spain and Portugal are the most likely to qualify from this group. Spain will be trying to regain the form that won the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Portugal, of course, will depend on Ronaldo and are full of confidence after winning the 2016 Euros
Group C contains France, Peru, Denmark and Australia. This is a close group. France are ranked 7th, Peru is ranked 11th and Denmark 12th. France should qualify but anything can happen.
In Group D we have Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria. Argentina are one of the most successful World Cup teams with two wins in 1978 and 1986. They will try to do better than 2014 where they lost in the final against Germany. The second qualification place should be a hard battle between Croatia and Iceland. Croatia are ranked 18th and although this is the first World Cup for tiny Iceland, they shocked the world when they reached the Quarter-Finals of Euros 2016.
Group E contains Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia. Brazil are four-time World Cup Champions and need to erase the memory of their 7-1 defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup. They finished top of the CONMEBOL World Cup qualification and are ranked 2nd. They should qualify for the knockout stage without problems. The second qualification spot is tough but Switzerland have an edge.
In Group F we have Germany, Mexico, Sweden and South Korea. Germany are, of course, Champions and always perform well in World Cups. Mexico are currently ranked 15th and Sweden 23rd so it will be a hard fight between them.
Group G has Belgium, England, Tunisia and Panama. Belgium’s young team has finally come of age, and this World Cup may be the best chance for them to show the world what they can do on a big stage. England has struggled in the last few World Cups to even qualify for the knockout stage. Are there any surprises in store here?
Finally, in Group H is Poland, Colombia, Senegal and Japan. Based on rankings, Poland (10) and Colombia (16) should be favorites for qualification but many still remember the Senegal Lions defeating World Champions France in the first game of the 2002 World Cup and know that anything can happen!