The 32 teams attending the 2018 FIFA World Cup have been finalized, with Peru the last confirmed participant courtesy of their 2-0 aggregate victory over New Zealand on Thursday.
Ahead of the anticipated group-stage draw, set to take place on December 1at the Kremlin Palace, there’s now only one real question left: Who is going to win it?
Here is a run down of some of the countries attending the finals in Russia next summer ranked from one to 13, in order of how likely they can to lift that wondrous golden trophy.
Qualifying results are considered, but general strength and star power can sometimes trump that record.
For many, the favourites to lift the World Cup are Germany, and it is an easy argument to make.
They’re the reigning champions, having triumphed in Brazil in 2014, and the core of that team—Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil—remains in place.
Adding the speed and No. 9 instincts of Timo Werner has made Die Mannschaft an even more penetrative attacking force than they were three-and-a-half years ago, and the strength in depth is insane.
Brazil are one of the most settled Russia-bound teams. Tite’s been a resounding success since being appointed boss, and he’s crafted a strong identity and outlook in a short space of time.
Against England, we saw his preferred XI, with injuries to certain players clearing up to allow it. They may not have managed many minutes on the pitch as an 11 due to injuries, but there’s generally been at least nine or 10 of them featuring in every game.
The presence of Neymar gives Tite the X-factor every manager wants, and his chemistry with Gabriel Jesus will be crucial.
There’s an aura around Spain at the moment; it feels like they’re back to, or at least on the road back to, the peak of their powers.
Manager Julen Lopetegui has sifted through a talented national pool and formed a group of players who enjoy playing with one another. If Alvaro Morata can solve the centre-forward worry, there’s no reason La Furia Roja should not be considered serious, leading contenders to win.
All eyes are on Germany, Brazil and France, but Spain are peaking at the right time.
Nigeria walked their qualifying group, progressing with a six-point lead over second having gone unbeaten through a tough pool on paper.
They’re the top-ranked African side in this ranking as a result, and the intriguing slant on them is that, with the introduction of new talents like Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, they’re getting better and better as we approach the finals.
Qualifying was a mess, but it’s behind them now. Jorge Sampaoli replaced Edgardo Bauza as manager in May this year and has heaved Argentina over the line, and he can now hit the reset button and start moulding his team properly.
With Messi on the pitch, they can win any game, and more often than not, he delivers when it matters the most—case in point being the last-gasp win over Ecuador to seal passage to Russia. Other areas of the squad are lacking, particularly full-back, but the presence of the Barcelona talisman papers over so many cracks.
Despite a rough couple of years, La Albiceleste are more likely than the vast majority of qualified teams to win this World Cup.
Portugal’s defeat of Switzerland last month meant they were spared the chaos of the play-offs, and they have already been able to get to work on plans for the finals.
Any plan drawn up will be centred around Cristiano Ronaldo, but it’s important to note a number of complementary pieces are beginning to flourish for the national team, notably Bernardo Silva and William Carvalho.
There may be some issues in defence for Fernando Santos to contend with; the centre-backs are aging and declining, while public pressure to replace Cedric Soares with Nelson Semedo is mounting. Still, they’re in good nick and have a world-class difference-maker who can mask other issues.
Provided Uruguay’s key players are fit and in form heading into next June, they’re an outside contender to win it. No one’s going to label them favourites, but they have that gritty makeup, mixed with star attacking quality, that can work so well in tournament football.
The thing is, Luis Suarez’s “bad patch” is close to becoming a bad year. It’s been over six months since he really played that well, and while he’s saying all the right things with regard to his drop in form, Uruguayans must be concerned this hapless run won’t abate.
When fit and firing, he’s La Celeste’s best player. They need him back to his old self, or they can’t go shoulder to shoulder with the big boys.
Belgium’s biggest worry coming into this World Cup run-in is, seemingly, their manager Roberto Martinez. He’s done little to win fan appraisal since replacing Marc Wilmots and caught some heat this week due to his tactical approach against Mexico.
The Red Devils possess lots of talent, two of the finest midfielders in the world, a top-five goalkeeper and some solid defenders. But they possessed that in 2014 and in 2016 and underwhelmed, so they cannot be assumed to be contenders until they visibly piece it all together.
It might just be that not a single soul thinks England have a realistic shot at winning the World Cup. Perhaps Gareth Southgate can use that to his advantage and exceed (low) expectations.
The Three Lions have been boring to watch throughout the qualifying campaign, with flaccid football the hallmark of some dull Wembley performances. The lack of central-midfield talent is a huge concern, and one excellent friendly performance from Ruben Loftus-Cheek changes little there.
But half the battle is having a world-class striker, and England have one in Harry Kane. That secures them a spot in the upper reaches of this ranking as it does give them a chance next summer.
If you haven’t caught the highlights of Mexico’s bout with Belgium last week, remedy that. It shows what an exciting, flamboyant side they can be, and what a rising star they have in Hirving Lozano.
El Tri were a fun ride in Brazil in 2014, and early evidence suggests they will be well worth keeping an eye on in Russia.
There are many sides on this list with plenty of quality but few answers as to how to put it all together. Colombia are the poster boys for this predicament, as their squad looks great, but on the pitch, there have been struggles.
If James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao hit peak levels then Los Cafeteros are a serious threat, but while the latter seems likely to oblige, the former doesn’t. Without the service, the predator can’t go to work.
Jose Pekerman’s a good coach and has the experiences of 2014 to draw upon in fixing this, but one win in six doesn’t inspire confidence right now.