The 2018 World Cup in Russia is fast approaching and the event promises to be one of the most fiercely contested in recent times.
The tournament kicks-off on June 14 and reaches its climax at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15. The hosts will be joined by 31 other nations playing 64 fixtures in 12 venues across 11 cities.
Read on for our top five nations to follow at this summer’s World Cup.
The reigning champions surprisingly failed to follow up their 2014 World Cup win at the European Championships two years later, losing to France in the semi-finals.
However, ten wins out of ten during qualifying for Russia sent out an ominous warning that they would not give up their world title lightly.
The Germans are strongly fancied to win the World Cup for a fifth time, but use this Bet365 bonus code generator before wagering on the outcome.
Gareth Southgate’s team qualified comfortably and subsequent performances in their World Cup warm-up matches has raised hopes they can make an impact in Russia.
England have drawn with Brazil, Germany and Italy, in addition to beating Netherlands, and they look a much-improved side at the moment.
Poor performances in Brazil and at Euro 2016 were rightly criticised by England’s long-suffering fans, but Southgate’s side look capable of reaching at least the quarter-finals.
Five-time winners Brazil are the only nation to appear in every World Cup, but they have a big point to prove in Russia.
The 2014 hosts humiliated 7-1 by Germany in the semi-finals of the last tournament – a result that sent shockwaves around the football world.
An impressive qualifying campaign has seen Brazil installed as one of the favourites this time around and they should make a strong bid to win their sixth World Cup.
This will be Panama’s first appearance at the World Cup and they are sure to win plenty of support from neutral fans.
The USA’s failure to beat Trinidad and Tobago in their last qualifying game sent Panama through to Russia and their supporters will definitely bring a party atmosphere to the tournament.
Panama are expected to lose all of their group games, but if they could pick up a point against the likes of England or Belgium it would rank as one of the biggest shocks in the tournament’s history.
Mario Gotze’s goal in extra-time finally broke Argentina’s brave resistance in the 2014 final against Germany, but they have struggled for consistency since then.
Argentina were knocked out of the Olympics in the group stage and stumbled through qualifying for this World Cup, but with Lionel Messi pulling the strings they remain a side capable of going all the way in Russia.
This is likely to be Messi’s last realistic chance of winning the World Cup, so expect the Barcelona forward to be firing on all cylinders next summer.