By Kaitlyn Schallhorn, ,
Published June 13, 2018
Thirty-two teams are competing in Russia for the 2018 World Cup, including defending champion Germany.
Brazil is favored to win the World Cup, but France came ready to play with a team loaded with talent, and Portugal fans are confident Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo will lead them to victory. Iceland, too, has emerged as a 2018 fan favorite as the tiny Nordic nation qualified for the tournament for the first time in its history.
From the teams that could win it all to those that barely made the tournament, read on for a look at the teams to watch.
Defending World Cup champion Germany is trying to be the first team since Brazil in 1962 to win back-to-back trophies. Germany is ranked No. 1 by FIFA.
Coached by Joachim Löw, Germany finished third at the 2010 World Cup and made it to the semifinals at the Euro 2012 before winning the 2014 World Cup. Captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer had missed much of this season with a foot fracture but said he feels “very good” ahead of the World Cup.
Germany has made 18 World Cup appearances and has won four titles. Germany plays Mexico in its first match and is based in Moscow for the tournament.
Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup and lost to Germany, the eventual winner, in a devastating semifinal that ended 1-7. The country is ranked No. 2 by FIFA ahead of the tournament and favored to win the championship.
Captain Neymar da Silva Santos Junior -- or Neymar -- is one of the tournament’s biggest stars. At 26 years old, Neymar recently suffered from a broken foot -- putting him out of the game for about three months -- but the forward’s readmittance on the team has made Brazil an even greater force to be reckoned with.
Brazil has made 20 World Cup appearances and has won five titles. It will have its base in Sochi despite playing no games near the Black Sea resort. Coached by Adenor Leonardo Bachi, nicknamed “Tite,” its first match will be played against Switzerland.
Fans of Egypt’s team have their fingers crossed for Mohamed Salah’s return from a shoulder injury. On Monday, the team doctor said a final decision on Salah’s return has not yet been reached and floated the possibility of him starting from the bench.
Ranked No. 45, Egypt has only made two World Cup appearances, winning none of them. This year’s World Cup is the first in 28 years that Egypt even qualified for. In 1934 and 1990, Egypt didn’t advance past the opening round.
Based in Grozny, Egypt will take on Uruguay for its first match of the 2018 tournament. The team is expected to make history, however, with its goalkeeper; at 45 years old, Essam el-Hadary could become the oldest player to ever compete at a World Cup
For the first time in 36 years, Peru is back to the World Cup, this time with Argentine coach Ricardo Gareca, who has history with the team. In 1986, Gareca played for Argentina and scored a goal that ended Peru’s qualification chances.
Ranked No. 11, Peru has won no World Cup titles but has made four appearances. Peru’s first match will be against Denmark.
For Argentina fans, it’s all about Lionel Messi, the 30-year-old star Barcelona forward. And this year’s tournament could be Messi’s last chance to secure that coveted FIFA trophy.
Coached by Jorge Sampaoli, Argentina is ranked fifth by FIFA. The team has made it to the World Cup 16 times, winning two titles, the last of which was in 1986. For the 2018 tournament, Argentina is based in Moscow and will play Iceland for its first match.
Argentina has faced a series of setbacks that could hinder its bid for glory. Usual goalkeeper Sergio Romero was left off the squad due to a knee injury and midfielder Manuel Lanzini was dropped from the roster after rupturing his ACL during team training in Russia. Likewise, midfielder Lucas Biglia and striker Sergio Aguero have suffered recent injuries, and defender Javier Mascherano, 34, is coming to the end of his career.
In the lead up to the 2018 World Cup, Uruguay, coached by Oscar Tabarez, finished second behind Brazil and automatically qualifying for the tournament.
Fans are also hoping striker Luiz Suarez can keep his mouth closed -- literally. In 2014, Suarez was expelled from the tournament after he bit an Italian player. Suarez has said he knows he has “a debt to repay” to his country and wants to “try to show a good image” at this year’s tournament.
Ranked No. 14, Uruguay has appeared in 12 World Cups and won two titles. Uruguay is based in Nizhny Novgorod and plays Egypt in its first match of this year’s tournament. According to Sporting News, it has made it past the group round in four of the last five tournaments.
Ranked No. 7, coach Didier Deschamps has a bevy of talented players with the France team, especially when it comes to forwards.
Because of all that talent, fans are hoping France will at least make it to the semi-finals this year. It has Raphael Varane on defense, Paul Pogba in midfield and Hugo Lloris at the goal. And Deschamps’ contract doesn’t expire until 2020.
France has won one World Cup and has appeared in the tournament 14 times. In 1998, France both hosted and won the World Cup.
Based in Moscow, France takes on Australia for its first match of the 2018 contest.
Coming into the tournament at No. 4, Portugal won the Euro in 2016 and has Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, a five-time FIFA world player of the year, in its corner. And by sitting out some less meaningful matches, Ronaldo has had plenty of rest in preparation of the World Cup.
Coached by Fernando Santos, Portugal will play Spain in its first match of tournament. In all, the team has made six appearances at the World Cup, winning none. In Russia this year, Portugal is based in Moscow.
It’s the 2018 World Cup Cinderella team as the Nordic nation heads to the tournament. Iceland has never been to the World Cup and is the smallest nation ever to qualify for the tournament with a population of just 330,000. Its fans are passionate and celebrate the team with gigantic Viking thunderclaps.
Iceland made its first appearance at the European Championship two years ago where it made it all the way to the quarterfinals. At the tournament, Iceland shocked fans with its defeat of England.
Coach Heimar Hallgrimsson is a fan favorite, too, as coaching isn’t his only job; back in Iceland, Hallgrimsson also runs a dental surgery clinic in a small town.
Ranked No. 22 by FIFA, Iceland will meet Argentina for its first World Cup match ever. The team is based in Krasnodar.
The last time a host nation won the World Cup was in 1998 with France coming out victorious. This year, don’t expect Russia to have the same luck. The team only has 30-1 odds of winning, according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
Because Russia is hosting the tournament, it’s also the first team to play, matching up with Saudi Arabia for the only match on June 14. Coached by Stanislav Cherchesov, Russia is ranked 70th and has won zero World Cup titles. It has made 10 appearances.
Russia is going into the World Cup without a win in its past seven games after drawing 1-1 with an under-strength Turkey team just a week before the tournament.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.