Five favourites and five also-rans for the World Cup in Russia

The line-up for the 2018 World Cup in Russia is close to completion after Australia became the 31st nation to book their place at the finals.

Germany will hope to defend the trophy from numerous worthy rivals while several less prominent countries will likely make early exits following the group-stage matches.

Here, we look at the teams most likely to triumph and those that will likely struggle.

The favourites

Germany

Joachim Low's men were imperious in Brazil three years ago and, despite wobbling at Euro 2016, have stormed through World Cup qualifying with a rare haul of 10 wins from 10. Several stars from Rio - including Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller - survive in a squad now enriched with breakthrough talents like Niklas Sule, Leroy Sane and Timo Werner. Rest assured, Germany are the side to avoid when the draw is made in Moscow on December 1.

Brazil

The most expensive player in the world, Neymar, spearheads a revitalised Selecao who have long since recovered from their 7-1 humiliation by Germany in Belo Horizonte.

Qualifying was a breeze for a glittering squad, who are relying more on Europe-based players than they were at their home World Cup. Boss Tite has recaptured the 'joga bonito' style which Brazil are famous for.

Argentina

Russia was very nearly deprived of a star turn from Lionel Messi as Argentina's qualification hung in the balance before a vital match in Ecuador. The Barcelona striker scored a hat-trick to rescue La Albiceleste, who will now hope to go one better than they did in Brazil by winning the World Cup for a third-time. Head coach Jorge Sampaoli was recruited after a lengthy pursuit and he has Argentina playing stylish and effective football once again.

Spain

The 2010 world champions were humiliatingly dethroned in Rio, a loss to Chile confirming their meek exit and the end of a run of three straight tournament triumphs. Under Julen Lopetegui they are better organised, with a fresh emphasis placed on attacking rather than an obsession with possession-based play.

Isco, Alvaro Morata and Marco Asensio represent the next generation, and a concerted run to the very final rounds is the minimum expectation for La Roja.

France

Les Bleus have responded well to the disappointment of losing the final of their own European Championship to Portugal, with coach Didier Deschamps guiding France to top spot in qualifying Group A ahead of Sweden and Holland. Key to their success in reaching Russia was an excellent defensive record, but France have strikers like Alexandre Lacazette and Antoine Griezmann to unleash once they reach the summer finals.

The also-rans

Saudi Arabia

Finishing second to Japan, Saudi Arabia pipped Australia to automatic qualification on goal difference, despite losing three games in the pool. With no representative players in a major world league, the Saudis can reasonably only dream of winning a first World Cup game since 1994.

Panama

The United States are one of the shock absentees from the finals and, aside from the Americans' own failings, Panama are to blame. A controversial 'ghost goal' against Costa Rica secured a 2-1 win that knocked the US out, sending the Central Americans to their debut World Cup.

Tunisia

There were surprises aplenty in African qualifying, with well-fancied nations Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon all missing out. Among those taking advantage were Tunisia, whose class act is midfielder Wahbi Khazri, currently in exile from troubled Sunderland at middling French club Rennes.

Iran

After some wrangling Iran kept hold of head coach Carlos Queiroz following their last World Cup appearance in 2014 and he has duly steered them to their fifth finals. There is little to suggest from their domination of a group featuring China, Uzbekistan and Qatar that they can step up a gear.

Iceland

England fans would write Iceland off at their peril after being on the receiving end of an embarrassing ousting from Euro 2016. But as much as they deserve credit for delivering the tiny island nation with a population of less than 350,000 to the finals, Iceland cannot expect to topple all the big boys.


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