The greatest sporting event in the world is here and, just like every four years, the world will stand still as 32 teams battle it out for the title of world champions.

Our panel looks at the chances of the eight likeliest candidates to lift the coveted trophy in Russia.

No country ruled over international football with an iron fist quite like the Spanish side did in those four years from 2008-2012, becoming the first and only side to win three consecutive major international tournaments.

Four years ago though, the empire fell. And those who remained were left to pick up the pieces. Slowly but surely, the foundations were laid for another shot at world dominance and Spain go into the World Cup with arguably the best starting eleven on paper.  

La Furia Roja’s only weakness may be at the point of attack, with Diego Costa, Iago Aspas and Rodrigo all impressing in patches but not showing enough for Julen Lopetegui to place his trust in any one of them.

Dani Carvajal’s injury means that young Álvaro Odriozola is in line for a baptism of fire, especially considering the marauding right-back is more adept at bombing forward than he is at keeping attackers at bay — which will surely leave a certain Cristiano Ronaldo licking his lips when Portugal take on Spain in their opener.

Yet these minor issues will not be enough to dampen the mood in the Spanish camp, especially with the side unbeaten since Lopetegui took over more than two years ago.

The 51-year-old Lopetegui’s own version of tiki-taka and pressing, which sees him employ four perpetually rotating attacking midfielders, has seen parallels being drawn with South Africa 2010.

A repeat is on the cards.

Final prediction: Winners

Spain exited the 2014 World Cup in unceremonious fashion and will be eager to make up for that embarrassment. And while they have all the ingredients in place, a repeat of their 2010 heroics may be a step too far for La Furia Roja.

The team is a tight-knit unit, with most of their players coming from the two biggest modern giants of European football; Barcelona and Real Madrid. While most of these players are bitter rivals for their clubs, they are willing to give up everything for each other when they don on the famous Red of Spain. This has allowed Julen Lopetegui to produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Spain also boast enviable strength in depth and young stars such as Saul, Koke, Isco and Marco Asensio can be rotated in a manner that ensures the more experienced midfielders such as David Silva and Andres Iniesta remain fresh throughout what is expected to be a gruelling campaign in Russia.

However, their lack of a star striker may come to haunt Spain. While Diego Costa, Iago Aspas and Rodrigo are all good solid strikers, they pale in comparison to David Villa and Fernando Torres. For all of Spain’s midfield genius, it was Villa and Torres who scored most of the crucial strikes in Spain’s three consecutive international tournament triumphs.

Final prediction: Semi-finalists

Spain’s star may have waned in the past four years as they struggled to replace aging stars such as Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol and Xavi. However, La Roja travel to Russia with a fearsome squad and will rightfully be targeting glory once again.

In David de Gea and a back-four of Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Dani Carvajal, Spain have the best defensive five in the world. And while their midfield is right up there with the very best too, it is in attack that Spain may be let down.

Still, the off-the-ball pressing and hunger that was the hallmark of Spain in their heyday has returned under Julen Lopetegui and anything less than a spot in the semi-final will be considered a failure for a Spanish side filled to the brim with some of the finest players in the world.

Final prediction: Semi-finalists

Spain’s elimination in the 2014 World Cup will live long in memory, with the defending champions being knocked out in humiliating fashion at the very first hurdle.

Defeat in the first knockout round of Euro 2016 meant change was inevitable and Julen Lopetegui was appointed the new manager.

The former Barcelona and Real Madrid goalkeeper has got Spain purring again as they won nine out of their 10 matches in qualification.

How Costa fares may well determine how far Spain go, with the Atletico Madrid man having struggled to replicate his club form for his adopted country.

Final prediction: Runners-up

Few fans in the world are as demanding and unforgiving as Brazil’s. Failure, at any stage, is simply not tolerable.

As always, the Selecao go into the World Cup as one of the pretournament favourites. The work that manager Tite has done since taking over should not be underestimated, with the 57-year-old completely changing the mood surrounding Brazil in the past two years.

The 7-1 humiliation against Germany — Brazil’s last World Cup game, at home too at that — hasn’t been forgotten and the football-crazy nation will be demanding a delayed riposte.

Injury to veteran right-back Dani Alves comes as a blow but a solid defence and midfield allows Brazil’s traditional flair players to concentrate solely on wreaking havoc up front.

The talismanic Neymar will be supported by attackers such as Gabriel Jesus, Firmino, Coutinho, Douglas Costa and Willian, and, in the Real Madrid duo of Marcelona and Casemiro, they boast the world’s best left-back and defensive midfielder.

History’s most successful team with five World Cups to their name, Brazil will be quietly confident of adding a sixth star to their badge. With a solid defence, a hard-working midfield and some of the world's finest attackers in their side, it would take something special to deny them the title.

Final prediction: Runners-up

Brazilian fans and players alike are looking towards redemption after their home campaign four years ago imploded in the most dramatic of fashions.

On paper, the Selecao have one of the best squads on paper, featuring the likes of Neymar, Coutinho and Marcelo.

However, there is a niggling feeling that this Brazil side rely a bit too much on individual brilliance, especially that of Neymar. Injuries to players at crucial times have meant that Brazil’s lack of cohesion may come to the fore once the knockout stages come around.

If the players manage to come together at crucial moments then there are few teams that can stop this Brazil side.

Final prediction: Runners-up

Brazil are shoe-ins to win a group that they share with Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland but will surely face tougher tasks once the knockout stages come around.

Brazil have one of the strongest squads on paper and rightly travel to Russia as one of the strong favourites.

They may have been knocked out of the Copa America two years ago in the group stages and were completely undone by a brilliant Germany side in the World Cup but Tite has managed to add steel to this side without compromising on the attacking flair associated with the best Brazilian sides over the years.

Like four years ago, Brazil will be looking towards Neymar to provide them with moments of individual brilliance but have a much more improved side than they did at home in 2014. The likes of Marcelo, Casemiro and Gabriel Jesus form an integral part of the squad, having come leaps and bounds in the past four years.

This means stopping Neymar is no longer enough to stop Brazil and even the likes of Germany, France and Spain will be fretting over ways to stop this formidable unit when in full flow.

Final prediction: Runners-up

Brazil’s 7-1 humiliation at home at the hands of eventual champions Germany has become the stuff of legend and internet memes but, four years later, Brazil are targeting a sixth title.

Coach Tite has managed to transform the team in the two years that he has been in charge, changing a timid side into one that is both defensively solid and lethal in attack.

Brazil were the first team to qualify for Russia 2018 and finished their qualification campaign with a whopping +30 goal difference, having scored 41 and conceding just 11 along the way. Their record in qualification under Tite was even more impressive, with 30 goals scored and just three conceded.

A fluid and flexible 4-1-4-1 system means Brazil’s starting eleven features creative players such as Philippe Coutinho, Neymar and Gabriel Jesus while also boasting midfield destroyers Casemiro and Fernandinho.

This is a team that should not and cannot be taken lightly.

Final prediction: Semi-finalists

They say never write off the Germans. Whether it be toppling the mighty Hungarians during the Miracle of Bern or becoming the first European team to win a World Cup in South America almost exactly 60 years later, those darned Germans really become men possessed when the big tournaments come around.

What is troubling though for those not supporting this juggernaut is that they don’t enter Russia 2018 as the potential dark horses or the defiant underdogs; they enter it as the defending champions and one of the pretournament favourites.

Joachim Low’s men form a fearsome unit even before they get their customary World Cup boost. With it, there are precious few teams in the world that can withstand the full force of this German storm.

A few question marks hang over Die Mannschaft though, with skipper Manuel Neuer’s lack of game-time in the past 12 months being chief among them. The Bayern goalkeeper is peerless in his position but even the slightest hint of rust can be ruthlessly punished at the World Cup.

But what makes Germany the standout favourites is the almost ridiculous notion that somehow the whole is even greater than the sum of their formidable parts, with most of these players having played with each other time and again for both club and country.

Their form going into the World Cup has been sketchy at best but make no mistake about it, if there is one team the remaining 31 sides will be fearing, then it is Germany.

Final prediction: Semi-finalists

Germany have reached the semi-finals of every major tournament under the 58-year-old’s charge, managing to combine their typical efficiency with elegant flair to devastating effect.

The 2018 team has nine survivors from their successful 2014 campaign, and while the legendary Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger have departed, they have been ably replaced by Joshua Kimmich and Ilkay Gundogan.

With one of the world’s best number 10s in Mesut Ozil, goal machine Thomas Muller, midfield maestro Toni Kroos and skipper Manuel Neuer, Germany’s squad may well be the most impressive on paper.

Germany have made the world number one ranking more or less their own in the past four years and it will take a brave man to bet against them adding a fifth star to their badge.

Final prediction: Winners

It says a lot about the embarrassment of riches at Low’s disposal that even leaving someone of the quality of Leroy Sane doesn’t have much of an effect on Germany’s chances at the World Cup.

The defending champions have one of the best defensive lines in the tournament but the performance of skipper Manuel Neuer, who missed almost all of last season with a broken foot. However, Barcelona keeper Marc-André ter Stegen is a more than able deputy.

It will be interesting to see what kind of attack Low opts for, as the presence of Timo Werner may allow Low to deploy Thomas Muller in a deeper role.

Dortmund star Marco Reus is finally going to a World Cup and his ability to conjure up something out of nothing may well decide tight games in the latter stages.

Final prediction: Winners

Germany are always one of the safest bets to win any World Cup, with the Die Mannschaft providing one of the most admirable blueprints for all countries to follow.

A perpetual conveyor belt of players produced in some of the finest academies in Europe continue to provide manager Low with the option to blend youth and experience.

The 4-2-3-1 is employed by Germany at all age groups, ensuring every player knows exactly what is required of him.

While Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil are undoubtedly the stars of the side, naming just them when discussing Germany won’t do justice to the strength in depth within the side. Their recent Confederations Cup triumph with second string players showed just how strong Germany are in every position.

Few will be surprised if the World Cup ends with Manuel Neuer lifting the famous trophy.

Final prediction: Semi-finalists

Antoinne Griezmann, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Raphael Varane, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele. France’s team reads like the who’s who of young talent.

Yet France’s 1998 World Cup winning captain Didier Deschamps would know his charges are more of a side in progress than the finished product. The nagging feeling remains that Russia 2018 comes too early for the second youngest squad in the tournament, behind only Nigeria, as the likes of Dembele, Mbappe, Varane and even Pogba are yet to reach their peak years.

For all their power on paper, there seem to be too many issues with this France team for them to worry the other pretournament favourites. Full-backs Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy don’t inspire much confidence, skipper Hugo Lloris is on the decline and has made several high-profile errors this season, the side sorely lacks in both experience and leadership, and even Deschamps may not be sure of quite what is Les Bleus’ best starting eleven.

Stranger things have happened though and if the likes of Olivier Giroud, Griezmann and Pogba can be at their best, then France have a support cast good enough to see them go all the way as Deschamps looks to become only the third coach in history after Brazilian Mário Zagallo and German Franz Beckenbauer to win the World Cup as both player and manager.

Final prediction: Semi-finalists

Many had been tipping Euro 2016 finalists France to go all the way in Russia but some indifferent results in recent friendlies seem to have changed the mood surrounding Les Blues.

The team is heavily reliant on the magic of Atletico Madrid’s star man Antoine Griezmann despite an abundance of talent at the disposal of coach Didier Deschamps.

The absence of a leader at the back after Laurent Koscielny’s injury can prove to be a problem for the team in the latter stages.

It will be interesting to see what kind of Paul Pogba turns up for the event as the mercurial midfielder’s performances will be pivotal to the team’s chances at the tournament. The rise of PSG’s Kylian Mbappe is a welcome sign for the team as he can provide that x-factor up front alongside Griezmann.

Lyon’s Nabil Fekir and Marseille’s Florian Thauvin may provide the side with added creative spark if their services are used, with many calling for Fekir to start in the side ahead of Pogba.

Final prediction: Semi-finalists

It’s been 20 years since Didier Deschamps lifted the World Cup trophy as a skipper in 1998, and the legendary midfielder is looking to end Les Blues’ draught; this time around as manager.

Zinedine Zidane aside, this is arguably a more qualified squad than France’s winning 1998 team. With a talent-laden squad but without a definite style of play, Deschamps will have to be faultless in his team selection.

An outstanding attacking line-up of Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele as well as Giroud provides speed as well as brain and brawn going forward. The ever-subtle and ever-mobile Kante will be instrumental in midfield; defensively as well as when launching swift counter-attacks. Supplemented by Blaise Matuidi and perhaps Tolisso or Nzonzi in place of Pogba, in case the inconsistent midfielder disappoints, France have a promising midfield.

The team is further strengthened by competent attacking full-backs in the form of Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibé, who’s bombarding runs into the opposing half will be essential in providing width to France.

France have a winning squad, one that can repeat the success of 1998. However, there’s something missing, an x-factor of sorts. But perhaps that doesn’t matter. There is always something missing with France. After all, France won the 1998 World Cup despite question marks over their forward line.

Final prediction: Winners

There was a time when France were on top of the world, boasting the likes of Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane as they claimed the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 Euro. Then came a dip that has seen them plunge as low as 27th in FIFA rankings and go nearly two decades without another major title. 

Now, with World Cup winning captain Didier Deschamps at the helm, there is a real sense of belief once again. France’s golden generation boasts such an impressive talent pool that at least a couple of Ousmane Dembele, Thomas Lemar, Nabil Fekir and Kylian Mbappe will find themselves out of the starting line-up.

With Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and N’Golo Kante in the middle and the central defensive pairing of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti behind them, France can be assured of both solidity and invention through the middle.  

And while it may seem that all French hopes lie with Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann, PSG’s Kylian Mbappe and Kante may well be the men who make a difference.

However, France’s lack of experience may well make it impossible for them to go all the way.

Final prediction: Quarter-finalists

Over the past few years, Belgian football has offered a classic case study of why tactical astuteness and individual brilliance must go hand-in-hand.

Despite boasting some of the biggest names of the modern era, the Red Devils’ golden generation is now facing the very real possibility of never achieving anything at a major international tournament.

If former manager Marc Wilmots’ pragmatism curtailed the effectiveness of the forward line, Roberto Martinez's expansive style of football means they are there for the picking when they come up against the best attackers.

Perhaps the biggest challenge faced by Martinez is how to shoehorn players such as Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne in attack while also accommodating the likes of Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.

Most of this squad are at peak age and will be well aware of the fact that they may never get a better chance of winning Belgium’s first-ever World Cup.

Final prediction: Quarter-finalists

Belgium start this tournament as one of the favourites and rightly so, boasting two of the world’s most creative players in Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard.

But somehow, something doesn’t look quite right with the team going forward as doubts hang over the big-game prowess of frontman Romelu Lukaku.

Even though Lukaku presents more than a potent threat with his sheer size in front of goal, but his poor first touch and lack of mobility may hinder the team against more stubborn defences.

The inclusion of Marouane Fellaini, Axel Witsel and Nacer Chadli at the expense of midfield dynamo Radja Nainggolan is a shocker to say the least and Belgium are certainly weaker without the Roma man.

Napoli’s Dries Mertens had an outstanding season at club level but is likely to be shunted out wide to accommodate Lukaku.

The 31-year-old scored 18 goals and provided six assists in Serie A and can still prove to be a real menace as he links up with De Bruyne and Hazard.

But even with so much quality in the squad, The Red Devil’s lack of tournament heritage and experience mean they may not be going too far.

Final prediction: Quarter-finalists

Belgium go into the World Cup on the back of a record-breaking qualification campaign yet few are predicting them to lift the trophy in Russia. While the squad is well-equipped in attack, questions continue to mount about their defensive abilities as well as of manager Roberto Martinez.

The team have enough quality in midfield with star playmaker Kevin De Bruyne and captain Eden Hazard to create chances against almost every side. Add to that the firepower of Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Michy Batshuyai and you have a side that may be just as lethal as it is creative.

That said, the squad have a weak backline and dropping destroyer-in-chief Radja Nainggolan may be a decision that Martinez will come to regret. If Belgium can overcome their defensive issues and replicate the form they exhibited during the qualification campaign, they may end up surprising everyone.

Final prediction: Quarter-finalists

Belgium is a team filled with a legion of stars but are still just considered potential dark-horses due to their underwhelming major tournament record.

While the team could only make it to the quarter-finals at World Cup 2014 and Euros 2016, on paper there is little reason why this side can’t go much further.

With their golden generation of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, The Red Devils go into the tournament with the uneasy feeling that it may well be now or never.

The Red Devils scored a phenomenal 43 goals during qualification, meaning goals are to be expected. And while their defence has been leaky, the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld ensure there is still room for improvement.

Belgium are almost certain to go through their group and, if their defence holds up, can go a long way.

Final prediction: Quarter-finalists

Do not let the embarrassment of riches up front fool you; this is very much the Lionel Messi team.

Few teams have ever relied so much on one man, with the Barcelona legend being forced to do it almost all on his own to even get Argentina to the World Cup.

The biggest issue facing Jorge Sampaoli is how to get the best out of his plethora of attackers. None of Paulo Dybala, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel di Maria or even Messi play at the same level for Argentina as they do for their respective club sides.

It is difficult to decide what is more bizarre: Sampaoli’s decision to omit Inter skipper Mauro Icardi from the 23-man squad or the fact that Argentina go into the World Cup with their three goalkeepers, all of whom are over the age of 30, having played a total of eight international matches between them.

The overwhelming feeling is that Argentina’s weaknesses in midfield and defence can be exploited too easily for them to be feared by the best around. Yet so ominous are the names in that Argentinian attack that if they do finally click into gear then they can sweep away all who stand in their way.

Final prediction: Quarter-finalists

It was Diego Armando in 1986 and it is Lionel Messi in 2018. While Argentina’s dependence on Maradona paid off, it seems highly unlikely Messi can pull off a Maradona.

Considering the talent at their disposal, it is shocking that Argentina go into the World Cup without any convincing strikers as coach Jorge Sampaoli omitted Inter skipper Mauro Icardi from the squad to leave himself with just a semi-fit Sergio Aguero and an out-of-form Gonzalo Higuain to choose from.

The squad is also older than it was four years ago, with Javier Mascherano coming to the end of his career and Lucas Biglia struggling with fitness.

Argentina’s usual number one Sergio Romero is set to miss the tournament, with Chelsea’s back-up goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero expected to start between the sticks.

Messi, too, is not the same he was four years ago and has become more of a creator of chances rather than the convertor.

A team which has Lionel Messi in it can never be counted out, but their almost crippling dependence on him means other teams know that stopping Messi may well translate into stopping Argentina. While the team has a lethal front line, injury problems and a lack of depth may come back to haunt them in the latter stages of the tournament.

Final prediction: Quarter-finalists

Argentina are a footballing powerhouse and always one of the most entertaining teams for one reason or the other.

Over the last decade or so, the emergence of Lionel Messi as the greatest player of his generation alongside Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo has overshadowed Argentina’s progress as a team.

La Albiceleste required the single-handed intervention of Messi to even qualify for this World Cup and little has changed since then to suggest that the Barcelona man isn’t carrying the hopes of an entire generation almost entirely on his own shoulders.

The team isn’t short on talent but their performances as a unit leave a lot to be desired, suggesting they will struggle in the knockouts.

Backroom politics have likely led to the omission of Inter’s Mauro Icardi, which means Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero will have to up the ante if Argentina are to avoid having to rely on Gonzalo Higuain up front once again.

Argentina have been knocked out of the quarter-finals in three of the last five World Cups and there is little to suggest it won’t be more of the same for them.

Final prediction: Quarter-finalists

Argentina’s journey to the World Cup was a tricky one this time around and it took the genius of you-know-who to even get them to Russia.

And just like four years ago, Argentina will be looking towards Lionel Messi to inspire them at the mega event.

Such is the difference in Argentina with and without Messi that of the eight qualifying matches that their skipper missed, Argentina won only one.

With the second-best defence in qualification, it is surprisingly in front of goal that Argentina have struggled, despite boasting the likes of Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain among their ranks.

However, even with issues up front and precious little creativity in midfield, the presence of Messi in their side means 2014 runners-up Argentina may well go one step further than they did four years ago.

Final prediction: Winners

Cristiano Ronaldo. That's that comes to mind when you think Portugal. And for good reason. The Real Madrid forward is considered one of the greatest footballers of all time.

However, the Euro 2016 final showed it would be unfair to brand this side a one-man team.

The talents of Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva are yet to be fully exploited by coach Fernando Santos but the budding creative midfielder can be an asset if used in the right system. Similarly, Andre Silva has emerged a viable option up front. The forward has developed a good chemistry with Ronaldo and may prove to be instrumental in Portugal’s World Cup campaign.

While Portugal don’t play the most exciting brand of football, they are defensively quite well organised. However, they have their work cut out for them if they are to make it any further than the quarter-finals.

Final prediction: Round of 16

Portugal are lucky enough to be able to count on the services of the world’s best goalscorer in Cristiano Ronaldo, meaning no opponent can ever take them lightly.

Portugal should advance from their group without any issues but Ronaldo may struggle without his usual Real Madrid support cast around him.

Their lack of natural width means fullbacks Cedric Soares and Raphael Guerreiro will have to provide the width but their forays forward may be limited by defensive-minded manager Fernando Santos.

Portugal were impressive during the qualifying rounds and won nine out of their 10 matches, conceding just four goals in 10 matches as the experienced but aging Pepe and Jose Fonte showed that they still got it. However, sterner tests are sure to follow.

Portugal’s rigid playing style means they garner few neutral supporters not rooting the team due to Ronaldo.

Final prediction: Quarter-finalists

Such is Cristiano Ronaldo’s gravitas that the entire Portuguese team seems to sometimes be eclipsed by the Goliath of a man.

However, for the very first time in their history, Portugal go into a World Cup as the European champions and will therefore have an added sense of expectation surrounding them.

Portugal’s chances of topping their group are slim, being drawn in the same group as Spain, which means they may face a tough Uruguay side in the round of 16.

The two Silvas — Bernardo and Andre — will be looking to provide support to Ronaldo as the European champions go into the tournament with a better-looking attack than what they had two years ago.

Final prediction: Quarter-finalists

Need more be said than the fact that Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo? However, it would be folly to consider him the Alpha and Omega of this side.

Portugal can rely on the pace and vision of Gonçalo Guedes, the link-up play of Bernardo Silva and the trickery of veteran Ricardo Quaresma to create goals.

The fullback area is a concern for a lot of top sides at the World Cup but Portugal are not one of them. Coach Fernando Santos has several options to call upon in his flat 4-4-2 system and their crop of young fullbacks — Raphaël Guerreiro, Cédric Soares, Mario Rui and Ricardo Pereira —can provide vital width.

Their aging centre-backs are a worry but Pepe and co can be expected to shed blood, sweat and tears as they embark on one final hurrah at the international stage.

Portugal are not the favourites to win the World Cup but they are most definitely one of the dark horses at the tournament.

Final prediction: Round of 16

Victory has eluded the two-time winners since 1950. While Uruguay play with typical South American flair, they also often make the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

With Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani up front and Atletico Madrid centre-backs Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez at the back, this might be La Celeste’s best generation since their heyday.

With most of Uruguay’s stars are possibly playing in their last World Cup, it will be interesting to see if they can go the distance. They are almost certain to top their group but Uruguay might run into trouble later on due to their lack of midfield choices. Add to that the very real possibility of facing either Spain or Portugal in the round of 16, there could be a repeat of their early 2014 knockout.

Final prediction: Round of 16

Uruguay enter the tournament as the third best team from South America, both in terms of current form as well as in terms of their World Cup legacy.

The 1936 and 1950 champions will be eager to improve upon their last two World Cup campaigns.

In 2014, they were undone by the brilliance of a young James Rodriguez, but the team has matured in the four years since and finished second in the South American qualifying stage — ahead of the likes of Argentina, Chile and Colombia.

Reliance on strikers Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez — who combined to score 15 of their 32 goals in the qualification campaign — can become a problem in case of an injury or off day.

Atletico Madrid’s young defender Jose Maria Gimenez will be looking to stamp his authority at the grandest stage of them all.

Final prediction: Round of 16

Uruguay have flown under the radar, despite having the services of one of the most talented squads in the world.

Long-standing coach Oscar Tabarez’s tactical nous has been instrumental in turning this side greater than the sum of its parts. The team is well balanced and organised with pace in, both, its defensive and offensive transition.

Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani might steal the limelight more often than not, but this by no means undervalues the creative spark provided by Giorgian De Arrascaeta. At their best, the trio can form an extremely lethal forward-line due to their ability to complement each other.

The youthful exuberance in midfield provided by players such as Rodrigo Bentacur and Lucas Torreira can help them win some crucial battles in the middle of the park, while the unflappable Diego Godin and his talented Atletico Madrid teammate Jose Gimenez are capable enough to tidy up things at the back.

Keeping in mind the quality they possess, anything less than a quarter-final berth will be a major disappointment for La Celeste.

Final prediction: Quarter-finalists

Uruguay may have won the World Cup twice but it has been a while since they were considered among the giants of world football. The football-mad country though will be hoping to see their team go as far as possible in the competition.

Uruguay face Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia in perhaps the easiest of groups and are favourites to top group A.

Boasting a strong defensive line, and star strikers in the form of Luiz Suarez and Edinson Cavani, the team will be relying on direct attacks due to their lack of a fluid midfield that can control the tempo of the game.

Matias Vecino may need to step up and holds the midfield together if Uruguay are to have a realistic chance of proceeding in the tournament. Realistically speaking, however, Uruguay may find it difficult to go further than the round-of-16. Moreover, let’s hope Suarez avoids a red card.

Final prediction: Quarter-finalists

Produced by: Rahima Sohail

Video by: Narendar Khatri