Sports Spectrum Draft Special

2018 FIFA World Cup preview: A look at each of the 32 teams

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is here, as 32 countries will compete all over Russia for the most sought-after trophy in sports. The tournament kicks off Thursday in Moscow at Luzhniki Stadium and comes to a close July 15 in the same stadium. Here is a group-by-group look at all the teams participating:

GROUP A

Russia – With a title, Russia would become the seventh host team to win the World Cup. The last was France in 1998.

Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia makes its first World Cup appearance since 2006 behind the scoring of Mohammad Al-Shlawi, who scored 16 goals in World Cup qualifying.

Egypt – Egypt will appear in its first World Cup since 1990 after forward Mohamed Salah converted a stoppage-time penalty to give it a 2-1 win over Congo.

Uruguay – Luis Suarez is Uruguay’s all-time leading scorer with 50 goals. He’s tied for third in his country with five career goals in World Cup matches.

GROUP B

Portugal – The highest-ranked team in this group is headlined by Cristiano Ronaldo, winner of the Ballon d’Or (best male player) four out of the last five years, and five times total.

Spain – Spain, champion of the 2010 World Cup, advanced to the 2018 World Cup with a goal differential of plus-33 in World Cup qualifying.

Morocco – Morocco qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 20 years by winning its group in the final round of African qualifying without losing a match or conceding a single goal.

Iran – Iran qualified for the World Cup without losing any of its qualifying matches. The team is led by Sardar Azmoun, who scored 11 goals in World Cup qualifying.

GROUP C

France – Didier Deschamps helped France win its only World Cup title in 1998 as a player and captain of the team. He’s now the head coach.

Australia – Tim Cahill is looking to become one of the few players to score a goal in four World Cups. He’s also second in World Cup history with five cards.

Peru – Peru won a two-leg playoff over New Zealand to secure the last spot in the World Cup, the nation’s first appearance since 1982. It is led by winger Jefferson Farfan.

Denmark – Midfielder Christian Ericksen scored 11 goals in World Cup qualifying, including a hat trick against Ireland that booked Denmark’s spot in the World Cup.

GROUP D

Argentina – Lionel Messi is one of the best footballers in history. The nation’s captain and all-time leading goal scorer aims to lead Argentina back to the final after placing second in 2014.

Iceland – Star midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson — a two-time Icelandic Sportsperson of the Year — leads Iceland to its first ever appearance in the World Cup.

Croatia – The Croatian team is led by midfielder Luka Modric, who has been named the Croatian Footballer of the Year six times, tied for the most ever.

Nigeria – John Obi Mikel leads the Nigeria Super Eagles to the World Cup for the sixth time. They were the first African country to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

GROUP E

Brazil – The first nation to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Brazil has won the most World Cup titles of any country with five.

Switzerland – Granit Xhaka, Switzerland’s reigning Player of the Year, is looking to lead the country to the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time since 1954.

Serbia – Serbia’s coach, Mladen Krstajic, was a leading defender for Serbia and Montenegro in the 2006 World Cup, and took over coaching the Serbian squad in October 2017.

Costa Rica – Captain Bryan Ruiz was a key striker in Costa Rica’s quarterfinal run in 2014, and he now leads the team in scoring and international appearances.

GROUP F

Germany – The No. 1 team in the world, Germany won the 2014 World Cup, its fourth title. With another championship, the Germans would tie Brazil for the most World Cup titles.

Mexico – Hirving Lozano’s header in qualifying play helped Mexico to a 1-0 win over Panama to advance to its seventh straight World Cup.

Sweden – Striker Marcus Berg scored eight goals in World Cup qualifying play, including four in one match. He has filled the void left by the retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

South Korea – Ki Sung-Yueng leads South Korea, which has advanced to every World Cup since 1986. The team’s best finish was fourth place in 2002.

GROUP G

Belgium – The young trio of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne has Belgium in the World Cup for a second consecutive time after failing to qualify in 2006 and 2010.

Panama – Panama will be making its first appearance in the World Cup after Roman Torres knocked home a winner against Costa Rica in qualifying play.

Tunisia – Tunisia is in the World Cup for the first time in 12 years led by goalie Aymen Mathlouthi, who leads his team in international appearances.

England – England hasn’t lost a World Cup qualifier in the last eight years (38 games). But its worst World Cup performance came in 2014, when it lost its first two pool matches.

GROUP H

Poland – Poland captain Robert Lewandowski scored 16 goals in World Cup qualifying matches, setting a European record for most goals in one qualifying campaign.

Senegal – Senegal coach Aliou Cisse was the captain of Senegal’s 2002 World Cup team, which reached the quarterfinals in its only other World Cup appearance.

Colombia – James Rodriguez netted six goals in five games and won the Golden Boot award at the 2014 World Cup, where Colombia advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time.

Japan – Just two months before the World Cup, Japan fired coach Vahid Halilhodzic and replaced him with Akira Nishino, the Japanese soccer association’s technical director.