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World Cup Preview: All you need to know about every team at Russia 2018

  • World Cup Preview: All you need to know about every team at Russia 2018

    Nigeria team (Back row L-R) Nigeria's midfielder John Obi Mikel, Nigeria's defender William Troost-Ekong, Nigeria's defender Leon Balogun, Nigeria's midfielder Victor Moses, Nigeria's midfielder Joel Obi and Nigeria's goalkeeper Francis Uzoho, (Front row L-R) Nigeria's striker Odion Ighalo, Nigeria's defender Shehu Abdullahi, Nigeria's midfielder Alex Iwobi, Nigeria's midfielder Ogenyi Onazi and Nigeria's defender Bryan Idowu line up for a pre-game photograph ahead of the International friendly football match between England and Nigeria at Wembley stadium in London on June 2, 2018. (Photo by Ian KINGTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read IAN KINGTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Whether you’re a football fanatic, jumping on the bandwagon or just trying to make the most of your office sweep, this is your comprehensive guide to what to expect from every team at this year’s FIFA World Cup. (Note: if you’re looking for the part featuring Australia, skip ahead to Group C)

Group A

Russia

Strong contenders to take the ‘worst world cup host squad in recent memory’ award away from South Africa, Russia’s run-in to the tournament has been fairly underwhelming. For it’s somewhat proud history of producing quality talent, Russia’s squad is in the worst state it’s been for the last decade and it’s hard to take too many positives into the group stage. Igor Akinfeev has earned a reputation for his inability to keep a clean sheet in the Champion’s League, however, there’s no obvious replacement waiting in the wings. There’s a dash of talent in midfielders Cheryshev, Dzagoev and Zhirkov, but once-Premier League target Aleksandr Kokorin will miss the tournament with a knee injury, putting a lot of pressure on Fedor Smolov up front. It’s a generous group for Russia, but dismal outings in the Euros and Confederations Cup point to a likely group stage exit and disappointed home crowd.

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Alan Dzagoev

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One to watch: Fedo Smolov

Saudi Arabia

The Green Falcons enter the competition as the lowest ranked team at the World Cup and a lack of western recognition for barely any names on the 23-man squad is testament to expectations. Australian fans may speculate that Saudi Arabia only qualified thanks to a deliberately poor performance from Japan on the final day of Asian qualifying, however, Bert Van Marwijk (ironically now the Australian coach) did just enough with the squad to send them through. Fahad Al Muwallad scored the winning goal in that match against Japan and looks a tricky customer to handle, while Mohamed Al-Sahlawi will be hoping to net some goals with a big audience watching. They play some exciting football at times, but don’t expect anything too big from the comp’s biggest underdog.

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Mohamed Al-Sahlawi 

One to watch: Fahad Al Muwallad

Egypt

Don’t believe the hype… at least not until his shoulder is back in its socket. Mohamed Salah’s dream finish to his monumental season at Liverpool was literally pulled away from him in the Champion’s League final and a different doctor every day will tell you how likely he is to make his recovery in time for the group stage. Egypt have had to prepare for life without Salah and judging by the fixtures leading into the World Cup, it looks pretty bleak. The recent 3-0 defeat to Belgium exposed some problems with the goalkeeper and their usually rigid defence looked at sixes and sevens. Meanwhile the team appears to struggle for goals up front, though at least Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny returning from injury will be a welcome boost in midfield. In any other group you would expect Egypt to be put to the sword, but you just never know.

Predicted finish: Round of 16

Main man: Mohamed Salah (hopefully)

One to watch: Shikabala

Uruguay

What new and exciting way can Luis Suarez get himself sent off at this World Cup? Uruguayan fans will be hoping age and experience have taught the Barcelona forward a lesson leading into Russia 2018, but the difference this year is that he isn’t the only big star up front. Edinson Cavani continues to break goal scoring records in Ligue 1 for PSG and the combination between the two strikers is almost as frightening as facing Diego Godin, the Atletico Madrid centre half who’s stock is in full supply. The midfield is young and inexperienced, but keep an eye out for Sampdoria midfielder Lucas Torreira to create magic from a dead ball. Uruguay should easily top this group.

Predicted finish: Quarter final

Main man: Edinson Cavani

One to watch: Lucas Torreira

Group B

Portugal

Portugal surprised the world with their Euro 2016 championship, so no one will be taking the Portuguese lightly in Russia this year. However, the stars of the 2016 tournament are no longer the hottest property in Europe with William Carvalho and Joao Moutinho underwhelming this season and breakout star Renato Sanchez not even making the cut. A lot has been made in the media about this year being Leo Messi's last chance to win the World Cup, yet the same narrative isn't being made of Ballon D'or winner Cristiano Ronaldo. The squad have become a lot less reliant on Ronaldo's goals and his evolving role in the team could actually work in their favour.

Predicted finish: Quarter final

Main man: Cristiano Ronaldo

One to watch: Bernardo Silva

Spain

Update: Spain's preparations for the World Cup have taken a dramatic nosedive with coach Julen Lopetegui sensationally sacked just two days before the start of the tournament due to his appointment as Real Madrid manager for the 2018/19 La Liga season. Former Spanish defender Fernando Hierro has been announced as the replacement for the short-term future, but with less than 48 hours to prepare for the competition, this could knock the wind right out of the Spaniards' sails. 

Not many countries can boast the recent success or squad depth as Spain in the last decade. That wonderful generation of superstars responsible for 3 back-to-back international titles is aging, but the Spanish DNA remains strong in 2018 with that dazzling possession football and confidence on the ball returning. There is a good balance in the squad too, with pantomime villains in the shape of Sergio Ramos and Diego Costa evening out the purist’s favourites in Isco, Iniesta and Jordi Alba. There is a lot of competition in Russia this year, but Spain are one of the favourites and should the dismantling of Italy in qualification provide any sort of indication, we could see another year of Spanish dominance in the modern era.

Predicted finish: World Cup Finalist

Main man: Andres Iniesta

One to watch: Isco

Morocco

With Morocco rumoured to be in the box seat to host the 2026 World Cup, there will be a few PR executives rubbing their hands together should the Moroccan team put on a show and upset the likes of Spain and Portugal. That being said, the evidence suggests that this group might just be too strong. Morocco have a cautious defence who seldom leak goals, led by their most notable name in the squad, Mehdi Benatia of Juventus, and are the reason we won’t be seeing the Ivory Coast at this year’s World Cup. The team do appear to be missing an out-and-out striker and with solid defenders in all of their group competitors, may struggle to put many goals away (though keep an eye out for Ayoub El Kaabi who has scored 10 goals in eight appearances since his debut in January).

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Mehdi Benatia

One to watch: Ayoub El Kaabi

Iran

While the rest of the Asian contingent at the World Cup appear to be on the decline, Iran have declared themselves as Asia’s best with an outstanding unbeaten qualification campaign, resulting in only two goals conceded. Losses to Tunisia and Turkey in friendlies prove they aren’t invincible, but the team are well-drilled and look like they won’t give too much away at the back. They will likely feel the effect of losing captain Javad Nekounam just before the tournament, but the inclusion of 21 year-old Saeid Ezatolahi, affectionately known as the ‘Persian Pogba’ could be the spark they need to surprise the likes of Portugal.

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Sardar Azmoun

One to watch: Saeid Ezatolahi (Persian Pogba)

Group C

France

The scariest part of France’s World Cup squad is the player’s they left at home for the tournament. A team that could do without Karim Benzema, Adrien Rabiot, Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette and Kingsley Coman is quite clearly a force to be reckoned with. Yet, as the French know quite well, it only takes a clash of personalities in the dressing room or a blackmail scandal to throw their campaign off the rails. Antoine Griezmann looks set to depart Atletico Madrid and will want to put himself in the shop window with some scintillating displays, however, the midfield is where France look truly scary. Ngolo Kante is the quiet achiever and should Didier Deschamps choose to play a three-man midfield, Paul Pogba is due to silence some critics. Keep an eye on young PSG forward Kylian Mbappe in his first World Cup.

Predicted finish: Semi-finals

Main man: Antoine Griezmann

One to watch: Kylian Mbappe

Australia

Ambitious as they might feel, underdog is a generous label to give the Australian’s at this year’s World Cup. Written off by global media, there’s very little expectation on the Socceroos to make any impact in their group, however, a 4-0 win over the Czech Republic won’t do their confidence any harm. With Tim Cahill the last remaining veteran from the 2006 squad, the team isn’t totally bereft of up-and-coming talent. Aaron Mooy had an impressive first half of the season with Huddersfield, Tom Rogic won a domestic treble with Celtic and Mathew Leckie has had a decent season with German side Hertha BSC. 19 year-old Daniel Arzani is an exciting creative prospect off the bench, but with Bert Van Marwijk only having a couple of months to make his mark on the team, it will take a bit of luck and Australia’s typical physicality to get anything out of this tournament.

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Aaron Mooy

One to watch: Daniel Arzani

Peru

Perhaps the form team heading into this World Cup, Peru haven’t lost a game since 15 November 2016 and are enjoying the qualification of their first World Cup since 1982. If recent results weren’t enough to buoy the Peruvians, captain and star man Paolo Guerrero had his doping ban suspended thanks to a letter from the opposing group team captains, meaning he is free to play in Russia and this is a huge boost for the team. Peru cherish possession and will look to play their opposition off the park, though should Guerrero’s drug test show another positive result, it will be interesting to see where the goals come from (perhaps Jefferson Farfan of Schalke, PSV and now Lokomotiv Moscow).

Predicted finish: Round of 16

Main man: Paolo Guerrero 

One to watch: Jefferson Farfan

Denmark

There’s an obvious main man at Denmark this World Cup (and no, Bendtner is injured). Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen proved his worth in a qualifier play-off against Ireland with a wonderful hat trick and a reminder that his form isn’t just restricted to the occasional Premier League masterclass. While Eriksen is the shining star, Denmark operate as a fairly effective unit from back to front, with some physical operators should a match require a route one approach. Unbeaten in 11 matches leading into the world cup, the Danish outfit will look to continue their country’s good fortunes at the World Cup.

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Christian Eriksen

One to watch: Kasper Schmeichel

Group D

Argentina

Is Lionel Messi still considered the GOAT if he doesn’t win a World Cup? It’s the question on everyone’s lips, but only time will tell if the little magician reaches the same heights as Argentina’s other prodigal son, Maradona. He’s not the only attacking threat in the team either, with Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria all fighting for their share of the limelight, meaning Mauro Icardi misses out despite top-scoring in Serie A for Inter (ahead of Higuain). A player to watch might be Manuel Lanzini, with the West Ham midfielder operating behind the front three and creating chances for the strikers. This might be an unpopular opinion, however, I predict a surprise exit at the hands of Peru or Denmark thanks to the immense pressure to succeed.

Predicted finish: Round of 16

Main man: Lionel Messi  

One to watch: Manuel Lanzini

Croatia

A team featuring Ivan Rakatic, Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic should be a team worth keeping an eye on, yet Croatia remain underwhelming to the neutral. After a dismal display in the qualifiers, Croatia relied on a play-off win against Greece to progress to the World Cup Finals and have not filled their supporters with optimism. If Inter pair Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic can capture more of the hot and less of the cold from their domestic form, they could be valuable assets for the side. Defence is an issue for Croatia and that might have something to do with the presence of Dejan Lovren in the squad, but even without a big game bottle job, there are very few who predict Croatia have the ability to do anything spectacular this year.

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Luka Modric

One to watch: Marcelo Brozozic

Iceland

The fairy tale story of the 2016 European Championship is back for another round with Iceland’s debut World Cup appearance making them the smallest nation to ever qualify for the tournament. That being said, the road is a little more rocky for the Scandinavians leading up to the world’s biggest stage. Everton midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson has the most talked-about knee in the Northern Hemisphere as he races to be fit in time, while Captain and Cardiff midfielder Aron Gunnarsson is fighting the same battle. With that in mind, it’s Iceland’s unity that took them to the quarter finals in Euro 2016 and to the top of their qualifying group, so expect the same level of organisation at this World Cup. The squad’s fascinating mini rivalry with Croatia will be fun to watch unfold and keep an eye out for Burnley winger Jóhann Berg Gudmundsson.

Predicted finish: Round of 16

Main man: Gylfi Sigurdsson

One to watch: Jóhann Berg Gudmundsson

Nigeria

If marketability contributed points to the World Cup, Nigeria would be a chance at winning the competition. The kits are as much of a hit as the pre-tournament hype and this is beginning to look like the neutral’s favourite for the 2018 World Cup. The forward line and midfield will be very familiar to fans of the English Premier League, so it’s no surprise that’s where Nigeria’s strengths lie. Alex Iwobi remembers how to play football again when he leaves the Emirates and Victor Moses is the key to the attacking flow for Nigeria. Following a couple of poor results in the friendlies leading into the World Cup, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Nigeria bow out of the tournament as soon as they entered, however, if the defensive line can be ironed out in time, they might become the upset package everyone is hoping they will be.

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Victor Moses

One to watch: Alex Iwobi

Group E

Brazil

Only Brazil could bow out of their own tournament 7-1 at the hands of Germany and still be considered favourites at the following World Cup. With Neymar Jr fighting fit and a new-look squad under boss Tite, Brazil look a force to be reckoned with having rediscovered their rhythmic, attacking football. Stacked with a frighteningly talented midfield and front line, it’s hard to not envisage Brazil making some sort of impression on the world stage. Everyone is expecting Neymar Jr to show his worth on the world’s biggest stage, but keep your eyes on Chelsea’s player of the season Willian, Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus and United new signing Fred to make the difference in breaking down the brick-wall defences on Serbia and Switzerland. They are the bookies’ favourites and it would be hard to argue against them.

Predicted finish: World Cup winners

Main man: Neymar Jr

One to watch: Gabriel Jesus

Switzerland

They aren’t as good on the football field as they are on a tennis court, but the Swiss have a decent outfit ahead of Russia 2018. Roger Federer’s good friend Breel Embolo is the rising star in an otherwise average attacking line, however, you can expect Premier League familiars Valon Bahrami and Xherdan Shaquiri to provide plenty of goal scoring threat from midfield. Much like teammate Iwobi, Granit Xhaka becomes a completely new player for his international team and when firing on all cylinders, can essentially run the game. Switzerland can consider themselves unlucky that they didn’t get a more favourable draw for the group stage and may struggle for confidence after facing Brazil first up.

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Xherdan Shaqiri

One to watch: Breel Embolo

Costa Rica

The real surprise package to come from the last World Cup, Costa Rica’s chances of emulating that form in Russia have been considerably downplayed this year. The squad looks remarkably similar to the one that impressed in Brazil, which could either be considered a solid platform to continue building or potentially render them predictable. Keylor Navas is still the key man and could probably be considered one of the most underrated goalkeepers in the world, given the display he put on in Brazil four years ago. Brian Ruiz may be aging, but he’s out to prove that he’s still got it, while Joel Campbell is still the mercurial talent for the squad (and still on loan from Arsenal).

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Keylor Navas

One to watch: Ian Smith

Serbia

If Mitro is on fire, then the rest of the competition should be terrified. Serbia are a tough nut to crack, but a wealth of talent (particularly in the midfield) with Lazio’s Milinkovic-Savic, Crystal Palace’s Milivojevic and United’s Nemanja Matic, Serbia could be a wildcard at this tournament. Teams won’t find it easy to score against them, even if they have Neymar Jr in the squad, so if Aleksandar Mitrovic carries his form for Fulham onto the world stage, there could be a place in the knock-out rounds up for grabs.

Predicted finish: Round of 16

Main man: Aleksandar Mitrovic

One to watch: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

Group F

Germany

How hard could it really be to retain your World Cup title if you don’t even have room in your squad for Leroy Sane? Germany have shown the magnitude of the depth in their ranks with a Confederations Cup win in 2017 with what many would consider a B-side Germany team. There are plenty of familiar faces including Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil, Marco Rues and Mats Hummels, however, it’s the new boys Leon Goretzka, Timo Werner and Julian Brandt that give Germany the edge. Expected to hold the ball and play smart, pragmatic football, expect Germany to be one of the favourites to go deep into the competition.

Predicted finish: Semi final

Main man: Mesut Ozil 

One to watch: Timo Werner

Mexico

Highly regarded as tournament regulars, Mexico have impressively made the quarter finals in the past six World Cup competitions. Recent form and a tough group may put an end to that trend this year. Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela and Giovanni Dos Santos are all looking past their prime and there are few from the next generation who look ready to take up that mantle. Exception could be made for PSV’s Hirving Lozano who looks as sharp on the ball as Eden Hazard, but Mexico’s undefeated run in their qualification campaign papers over the 7-0 loss to Chile in the Copa America just two years ago.

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Javier Hernandez

One to watch: Hirving Lozano

Sweden

Sweden stepped out of their Zlatan Ibrahimovic-shaped shadow to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 and dare I say it, look better off without him. In saying that, it’s hard to see where the goals will come from with Marcus Berg, John Guidetti and Ola Toivonen not inspiring the imagination by any stretch. Should one of the aforementioned strikers have a decent day, there will be plenty of chances being crafted by Emil Forsberg and Seb Larrson behind them in midfield. Sweden are a strong unit and won’t give too much away defensively, which could mean the Netherlands and Italy won’t be the last of the Swedes’ victims.

Predicted finish: Round of 16

Main man: Emil Forsberg

One to watch: Victor Lindelof

South Korea

England may have taken a core selection of Tottenham players to the World Cup, but South Korea have done one better by trying to emulate the Tottenham formation and structure of play. A lot of this revolves around star man Son Heung-min, who following injuries to other key attacking players makes him indispensable. Son took his chance to prove his worth as a number 9 while Harry Kane was injured during the Premier League season and that’s where we can expect to see him at the World Cup, with Lee Chung-yong supporting him as a ‘Dele Alli.’ Injuries have reduced the quality in the squad for South Korea and you get the feeling the entire country is resting its hopes on the individual performance of their star… sounds like a squad we’ve already spoken about.

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Son Heung-min

One to watch: Hwang Hee-chan

Group G

Belgium

Having two serial under-performers in the same group looks sure to have punters hedging bets on an upset, but Belgium have set themselves up as one of the most fearsome attacking teams of the tournament, not that Toby Alderweireld or Jan Vertongen are anything to smirk at. Romelu Lukaku, Michy Batshuayi, Yannick Carrasco, Dries Mertens and the Hazard brothers look like an unstoppable force and it seems almost laughable to suggest that having Kevin De Bruyne in the squad could be a hindrance because he thinks too quickly for his teammates! The much maligned Roberto Martinez is looking for a chance to silence his critics, though many will point at his decision to leave Radja Nainggolan at home as a reason for any failures. Vincent Kompany’s absence was felt in the 4-1 friendly win over Costa Rica and if Belgium are going to find a way to slip up, it will likely be through Dedryck Boyata.

Predicted finish: Round of 16

Main man: Eden Hazard

One to watch: Dries Mertens

Panama

If you've not heard of Panama before, they're a tiny country below Costa Rica and their squad is almost solely responsible for the absence of the USA in this year's world cup finals. By no means anything more than minnows, there's a lot to like like about Panama's best generation of players in the country's debut appearance at the competition. This has been the same generation of players for a few qualification campaigns now, so an aging without big tournament experience is likely to play against Panama. It's hard to miss dread-locked captain Roman Torres who is responsible for the goal that sent Panama to Russia, however, 37 year-old Blas Perez is the key man up front whose strength and hold up play allows the midfield to join surges forward. There's an added potency and desire to perform at the World Cup following the murder of midfielder Amilcar Henriquez last year, so expect an emotional opening game against Belgium.

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Blas Perez

One to watch: Michael Murillo

Tunisia

While few expect any big surprises from Panama, Tunisia are seen as the banana skin that could derail either Belgium or England in Group G. Featuring a rugged defense capable of muscling teams out of scoring opportunities, Tunisia weren't tested during an easy African qualification run and questions remain as to whether they can provide anything worth talking about up the other end of the field. There is a contingent of midfielders playing in the French leagues and defender Yohan Benalouane plies his trade at Leicester City, however, the key player Tunisia will be relying on to have a career-defining tournament is Sunderland man Wahbi Khazri. He spent a season at Rennes in Ligue 1 and by all reports enters the competition in some handy form, scoring 9 goals in France. Tunisia only went down to Spain 1-0 in a pre-tournament friendly and will prove a tricky customer and outside chance of progressing to the round of 16.

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Wahbi Khazri

One to watch: Naim Sliti

England

Oh England, where to even begin… It’s been a long time coming for English fans to feel a glimmer of hope in an international tournament and while their group doesn’t present as the most difficult, the same could have been said about recent games against Algeria and Iceland. There are positives though. If Harry Kane remains fit, he is a goal-scoring machine and paired with the bright, young Marcus Rashford could become a lethal attack with Welbeck and Vardy off the bench. England are still missing a James Rodriguez-style midfielder to take control of the match, but Southgate’s new system with Kyle Walker in a three-man back line will provide wide players Trippier and Rose the chance to draw defences wide and create space for Lallana, Alli, Lingard and so to operate. Here’s hoping the young talent in England can prove what they’re worth in Russia this summer.

Predicted finish: Quarter final

Main man: Harry Kane

One to watch: Marcus Rashford

Group H

Poland

Plenty of household names in the Poland squad including two ex-Arsenal goalkeepers and half the old Borussia Dortmund squad, you’d expect a lot more from Poland than what you got in World Cup qualifiers. They can score goals with 28 in qualification, however, the team have only kept two clean sheets in the build up to Russia and look particularly fragile defensively. The lack of apparent threat in this group could be the team’s downfall as a failure to capitalise on the country’s production of quality players could reveal gaps in the team. Robert Lewandowski is arguably the best number 9 in the competition, but his form for Bayern this year wasn't his typical vintage and the pressure of expectation on the striker could prove too much. 

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Robert Lewandowski

One to watch: Piotr Zielinski

Senegal

Senegal have form when it comes to throwing up a surprise at a World Cup, beating France and Sweden in 2002 to reach the semi-finals. On paper, this team looks like it has the quality to achieve a similar feat. A perfect blend of resilient midfield and defense with a dazzling display of speed and skill in the final third, Senegal will challenge Nigeria for the title of neutral's favourites. Sadio Mane is the key man on the back of another brilliant season at Liverpool, but he isn't the only threat on goal with Diafra Sakho and Mbaye Niang likely to cause opposition defenses a headache. In defense, Kalidou Koulibaly was one of the standout players for Napoli in Serie A this season and is handy for a header in the box on corners and set pieces. The run-in results over the past couple of months have been a blemish on what is otherwise one of the most exciting underdog prospects for the World Cup this year.

Predicted finish: Round of 16

Main man: Sadio Mane

One to watch: Kalidou Koulibaly

Columbia

The party bus from the 2014 World Cup is well and truly parked for Columbia, scraping through South American qualification on the final day. So much relies on the mercurial James Rodriguez, who in his number 10 role is given the freedom to run the show, but it’s hard to pick another player in great form in the team. Radamel Falcao makes up for missing the last World Cup with an appearance, but his best days are behind him, as are Bacca’s, Cuadrado’s and Aguilar’s. An exciting talent appearing in the English premier league this season has been Davinson Sanchez, so with a couple of bright sparks in an average group, Columbia are expected to progress. 

Predicted finish: Quarter final

Main man: James Rodriguez

One to watch: Jose Izquierdo

Japan

Japan have a reputation for technically brilliant football and meticulous coordination on the field, however, hiring a new coach just two months before a World Cup competition will really test that this year. Akira Nishino was called in to take over following a run of below-par performances and his predecessor opting against choosing veterans Shinji Kagawa, Keisuki Honda and  Shinji Okazaki. With those players introduced back into the first team fold, Japan travel to Russia with their oldest squad ever at a World Cup, but that combined experience should not be underestimated. Shinji Kagawa on his day could transform a game against any of their group opposition, but a shaky defense despite the presence of Maya Yoshida and Wataru Endo will test the Japanese resolve. Takuma Asano has performed highly at the U-21 level and is a bright spark to bring off the bench should Okazaki struggle in the final third.

Predicted finish: Group stage exit

Main man: Shinji Kagawa

One to watch: Takuma Asano

This guide should be enough to impress the average fan down the pub and might help you with some decisions for your 4-leg multi bets. Keep an eye on this blog for updates throughout the World Cup and share your predictions in the comments below. 

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