World Cup 2018: Group-by-group analysis

Omnisport

The countdown to the 21st World Cup can now well and truly begin following Friday's group-stage draw in Moscow.

All 32 teams learned their fate for next year's finals in Russia, and one from those nations will enter football history on July 15 when the final will be contested at the Luzhniki Stadium.

Before we get that far, though, the pool stages must be contested and – with the help of Opta data – we have analysed groups A-D.

Superstars from Groups A-D. Pic: Sporting News

Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay

Russia could hardly have asked for a better group as they aim to avoid being just the second host nation to exit at the group stage (South Africa being the other). However, as an independent nation, Russia – currently the lowest-ranked team of the 32 – have never reached the knockout stages and have lost their last five games at the tournament, but Uruguay are their highest-ranked opponents (21st). Uruguay, whose boss Oscar Tabarez is making a fourth World Cup appearance, won the tournament on their first two outings in 1930 and 1950, and their only loss in their past eight group-stage games came against Costa Rica four years ago. Edinson Cavani will spearhead the attack having scored 10 goals in qualifying, while Luis Suarez has been involved in seven of Uruguay's last 13 World Cup strikes. Saudi Arabia are playing their fifth World Cup and first since 2006, but they do not have a win since 1994 (1-0 versus Belgium). Incredibly, this is Egypt's first World Cup since 1990 and Mohamed Salah's penalty that secured qualification sparked mass celebrations. Boss Hector Cuper manages at a World Cup for the first time, while Egypt are yet to win a match at the finals.

* AUSTRALIA: Socceroos to face France, Denmark
* WHEN: Full World Cup fixture list
* SOCCEROOS: Australia's draw, fixtures, opponents, ticketing


Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran

With the lack of a true "Group of Death", this pool is among the toughest of the eight, with European champions Portugal hosting Spain in the group's opener. The last two World Cup winners, which includes Spain, have been knocked out in the group stages at the following tournament. Spain are at their 11th straight World Cup and will be desperate to bounce back from the ignominy of being eliminated before the knockout stages last time out. Spain came up against Portugal en route to winning the 2010 edition, David Villa scoring the only goal in 1-0 win. Portugal, boosted by their not-so-secret weapon Cristiano Ronaldo, who was involved in more goals than any other player in European qualifiers (18), won their first major tournament at Euro 2016 and will aim to become the fourth nation to win the European Championship and World Cup back to back. Morocco will appear at the finals for the first time in 20 years and have history against Portugal having beaten them 3-1 in 1986. Iran have qualified for successive World Cups for the first time and head coach Carlos Queiroz will come up against the country of his birth Portugal. Iran have just one World Cup victory, a famous 2-1 triumph over the United States in 1998.

Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark

France are among the favourites to triumph in Russia, and with the likes of Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe in their ranks it is not hard to see why. Les Bleus have reached the last two finals in Europe, triumphing on home soil in 1998 and losing to Italy on penalties in 2006. Didier Deschamps is heading into a third major tournament as boss, leading France to the last eight four years ago and the final of Euro 2016, where they lost to Portugal on their own turf. Denmark were beaten by France at World Cup '98, but gained revenge four years later when Les Bleus were knocked out in the group stage. Christian Eriksen will be the Danes' dangerman having been involved in 56 per cent of their goals in qualifying. Australia toiled in qualifying and needed an inter-confederation play-off to progress, though they are currently without a manager following Ange Postecoglou's resignation. The Socceroos have only two World Cup wins to their name, but veteran Tim Cahill has a fine personal record, scoring five of his countries goals at the global showpiece. Peru are returning to the world stage for the first time since 1982, the biggest gap of years (36) between participations of any of the 32 teams.


Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria

Argentina will face familiar foes in the form of Nigeria. The Super Eagles will be taking on Argentina for the fifth time in six World Cup appearances and have lost all four of their previous matches against them. Argentina are two-time winners, but were beaten in the final by Germany four years ago. Jorge Sampaoli's men almost missed out on the tournament altogether before talismanic skipper Lionel Messi, scorer of seven goals in CONMEBOL qualifying, saved them with a hat-trick against Ecuador in a win-or-bust encounter. Expect to see Argentina in the knockout stages - they have gone past round one in 11 of their last 12 appearances. At the other end of the scale, Iceland are one of two tournament debutants. With just 334,000 inhabitants (at the time of qualifying) they are the smallest nation to reach a finals and will look for more memorable moments having knocked England out of Euro 2016. Croatia needed a play-off against Greece to reach a fifth World Cup and have lost their opening fixture at the past three editions of the competition. Croatia are aiming to channel the class of '98, when they finished third on their first appearance.

Superstars from groups E-H. Pic: Sporting News


Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

Brazil are the great entertainers and the most successful team in the history of the competition with five victories. A 7-1 humiliation to Germany in 2014 ended their hopes of home success. But Brazil, the only team to have qualified for every finals, coasted through qualifying and many fancy them to win a sixth World Cup. Neymar was involved in five of Brazil's 11 goals at the last finals, with a fractured vertebra ending his competition prematurely. Switzerland boast the honour of being the only team to have not conceded a single goal in a World Cup tournament (2006), but – despite only losing once in qualifying – needed a play-off to reach Russia. Only once have Switzerland topped their group, while the last time they reached the quarter-finals was 1954. Costa Rica upset the odds to get out a pool including Italy, Uruguay and England in 2014 and were just one of three sides (penalty shoot-outs excluded) to not lose a match. Serbia are appearing as an independent nation for the second time.

Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea

The pressure is on Germany to end the run of defending champions exiting the next tournament at the group stages, with Italy and Spain doing so in 2010 and 2014. Die Mannschaft's victory four years ago means only Brazil have more World Cup wins than their tally of four. Germany will fancy their chances of adding to a statistic that has seen them finish as the competition's top scorers in the past three editions. Among current players, Thomas Muller is the highest World Cup scorer with 10. Sweden were runners-up when hosts of the tournament in 1958 and have not lost a group match since 1990. Sweden last faced Germany in the World Cup in 2006, where they were beaten 2-0 by the hosts. Only four teams have made more World Cup appearances than Mexico, but they boast an unenviable record of having been knocked out of the last 16 in each of the last six World Cups. South Korea's 10 appearances is more than any other Asian nation and they have not missed out since 1986. However, only one of their past 10 World Cup matches has ended in victory.


Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England

England's greatest hour came at their home tournament in 1966, but since Bobby Moore lofted the Jules Rimet trophy into the air the Three Lions have progressed past the last eight just once in 1990 – a finals where they beat Belgium. Recent World Cups have been particularly disappointing, with England winning just one of their past eight matches. Gareth Southgate's men conceded just three goals in qualifying, though, a joint-best with Spain in European qualifiers. Belgium are living through a so-called "Golden Generation" with the likes of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku among Roberto Martinez's ranks, and they were the first European nation – other than the hosts who appear automatically - to qualify for Russia. But their best performance remains a run to the last eight in 2014, where Kevin De Bruyne had a hand in 50 per cent of Belgium's goals. It is hard to look past England and Belgium getting out of the group, but that will not stop tournament-debutants Panama from dreaming big. Incredibly, Panama reached Russia with a negative goal difference (-1), while no player scored more than twice for them in the CONCACAF section. Tunisia are back for a fifth time, and first since 2006, but have not won since triumphing in their first-ever match in June 1978 – a defeat to England in the '98 group stages included.

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

On paper, Group H looks the weakest of the pools so it is seemingly all to play for to reach the knockout stages. Poland are the highest ranked of the nations in the group, and Robert Lewandowski will be key to their hopes after the Bayern Munich striker top scored in European qualifying with 16. You have to go back to 1986 for the last time they advanced from the group stages, but Colombia made it to the last eight in 2014 – where James Rodriguez shone to win the Golden Boot. Do not expect to see many draws involving Colombia, with none of their 18 matches ending goalless. Senegal lit up the 2002 World Cup, where they memorably beat then defending champions France in the group stages before reaching the last eight. That is their only tournament appearance to date, though. Japan are playing for a sixth time, and have alternated going out in the group stages and the last 16 – if the pattern continues they will make the knockout stages. But to do so, they will likely have to improve of a record of two wins in their past 11 World Cup matches.