2018 World Cup Preview

The 2018 FIFA World Cup, held in Russia, will be the 21st edition of the tournament. Recognized as one of the greatest sporting competitions in the world, the 2014 edition in Brazil reached over 3.2 billion people worldwide, and this year's event is set to have similar global appeal.

Here's everything you need to know about this summer's football extravaganza.

The Teams

Thirty-two teams will compete in the tournament finals, with hosts Russia joined by 31 other national teams, who qualified through a number of continental fixtures. Holders Germany and previous winners Spain, Brazil, France, Argentina, England, and Uruguay are all present, although 2006 champions Italy and 2010 runners-up the Netherlands are among a number of much-fancied teams missing out. Iceland and Panama are both competing at the finals for the first time in their history, while Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Peru, Tunisia, and Senegal return after long periods of absence.

At the beginning of December, the qualified nations were drawn into eight groups of four teams. In each group, each team will play each other once, with the top two teams in each group progressing to the knockout stage. The full group draw is as follows:

Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran

Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

The Venues

Russia is a vast country, and to reduce traveling times for teams between games, only venues in the European part of the country were considered to host fixtures. A total of 12 venues across 11 cities will experience World Cup football this summer, with most stadia being either brand new or totally refurbished ahead of the games.

The largest stadium in Russia, the Luzhniki in Moscow, will host the final on the July 15th, as well as one of the semifinals and the opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The Otkrytiye Arena across the city will also be used as a stadium. The other venues are located (from west to east) in Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd, Saransk, Kazan, Samara, and Yekaterinburg.

Who to Look Out For

Holders Germany are looking to become the first team to win consecutive World Cups since Brazil managed it in 1962. Although World Cup legends Miroslav Klose, Philipp Lahm, and Bastian Schweinsteiger are now retired, a new crop, led by Leroy Sane, Timo Werner, and Joshua Kimmich, has emerged. Joachim Low's side's strength in depth is arguably unmatched, with a de facto B-team emerging victorious at last summer's Confederations Cup.

Joining Germany as "much-fancied" are Spain and Brazil. Spain, who won the tournament in 2010, have the most experience, with World Cup winners Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, and Andres Iniesta still key, while Brazil, under new manager Tite, and bolstered by the two most expensive players in the world, Neymar and Philippe Coutinho, will be looking for revenge for their humiliation 7-1 semifinal defeat to Germany in 2017.

France, given a relatively easy group draw, have a galaxy of talent at their disposal, as do Belgium, but are Didier Deschamps and Roberto Martinez the right men to pull everything together? Argentina and European champions Portugal have the two best players in the world, in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but will that be enough?

As for England, not much is expected of a young team who posted a number of underwhelming performances in qualifying, but a quarter-final should be manageable given the draw.

Outside Shots

An African nation could be a good shout to pull a surprise. Liverpool's Mo Salah (Egypt) and Sadio Mane (Senegal) are among the Premier League's best attackers, and their goals could result in their nations going far. In Europe, Poland, inspired by Robert Lewandowski, look a good bet to go deep into the competition, while South Americans Uruguay are always dangerous.

The Infamous "Group of Death"

Every World Cup throws up a tricky looking group, and 2018 is no exception. In Group D, Argentina and Croatia look likeliest to progress, although neither will relish being drawn against Iceland. The minnows, with a population of 333,000, are the smallest nation ever to qualify, although they should not be completely disregarded after beating England in Euro 2016. 2013 African champions Nigeria are used to playing Argentina and could be an outside bet to progress to the knockouts, too.

Keep up to date with the World Cup 2018 news and views here as the tournament gets closer.

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