Analysis as Brazil and Spain head up the most difficult World Cup 2018 'Group of Death'

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
On your Ney: Brazil superstar Neymar in action (all Getty).

When the World Cup 2018 draw gets under way in Moscow on Friday, all the nations will nervously dread being picked in a ‘Group of Death’.

Get pulled out alongside several of the globe’s grandest sides, and their stay in Russia could shorten drastically.

Unlike previous editions, all four pots this time are based on FIFA rankings – with the exception of hosts Russia who are automatically assigned to Position A1.

This has opened up the possibilities for a more stringent selection, especially as two UEFA sides can be placed together.

Here, we select what could be the toughest group possible.



The rabble that was humiliated on home soil four years ago has been utterly elevated by the ascensions of superstar forward Neymar and congenial head coach Tite.

There is world-class quality throughout this squad. Gone are the days of unconvincing journeyman like Fred leading the line.

In a lethal 4-3-3 formation, Paris Saint-Germain’s €222 million (Dh967.4m) Neymar and Liverpool genius Philippe Coutinho flank rising Manchester City star Gabriel Jesus. Tite’s Corinthians connection is apparent in midfield through Barcelona powerhouse Paulinho and Beijing Guoan’s Renato Augusto, while Internazionale’s Miranda provides vital experience at centre-back.

Brazil were simply incredible during South American’s exacting qualification process, finishing 10 points ahead of second-placed Uruguay with a goal difference of +30.

They will take some stopping this summer.

Brazil manager, Tite

Brazil manager, Tite



A changing of the guard under head coach Julen Lopetegui appears likely to bring reward for Spain once again.

Brazil 2014 represented a tournament too far for the likes of goalkeeper Iker Casillas and midfielder Xavi, serial trophy winners for both club an country. The likes of centre-back Gerard Pique, playmaker David Silva and the enduring Andres Iniesta remain for La Fura Rioja, but vital new players have been added to the mix.

Up front, Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata scored five in five during qualifying and looked a better fit than Diego Costa ever did. Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea is also better for his experience as No1 at Euro 2016, while the time is now for Real Madrid attackers Isco and Marco Asensio.

Their strength in depth is only rivalled by Germany and France, with the XI able to withstand any threat. A new ‘Golden Generation’ is emerging.

Alvaro Morata (l)

Spain’s Alvaro Morata (l)



An air of mystery exists around Asia’s dominant nation.

A lack of funding, weak planning and political isolation should combine to curtail head coach Carlos Queiroz. Yet through the storm and several threats of resignation, the ex-Manchester United assistant has created a regional superpower during his six years in charge.

The power of the collective is key in a squad headlined by rising Rubin Kazan forward Sardar Azmoun, who has 22 goals in 30 international appearances. Persepolis goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand stood behind a defence which conceded just twice – in the last game against Syria – in the third-and-final round of qualifying.

Team Melli only gained one point in their three group matches at World Cup 2014. Yet beaten finalists Argentina will never forget how hard they pushed them in a match decided by Lionel Messi’s solitary 91st-minute winner.

Carlos Quieroz (c)

Iran boss Carlos Quieroz (c)



The Eagles are back on the global stage and ready to make an impact.

For a region that has long existed as a hotbed of football talent, it is no surprise to see how strong their squad is. Manchester United anchorman Nemanja Matic is one of the Premier League’s best players, left-back Aleksandar Kolarov has been reborn at Roma, the creative Dusan Tadic got four goals and seven assists as his nation stormed to top spot in UEFA qualifying’s Group D and Lazio’s emerging Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is one of Serie A’s dominant midfield figures.

The Serbs aren’t without their weaknesses. Caretaker coach Mladen Krstajic has stressed a desire to bring in new blood, while veteran Zenit Saint Petersburg defender Branislav Ivanovic has shown signs of creaking.

But any nation hoping for an easy team from pot four will reel at the suggestion of playing them.

Nemanja Matic (c).

Serbia’s Nemanja Matic (c).

Most popular

Complete team-by-team guide to all the teams featuring at World Cup 2018 in Russia

Sport360 staff 16/11/2017

The teams are decided for the highly-anticipated FIFA World Cup 2018 edition in Russia, after plenty of drama, last-minute winners as emotions ran high.

With the qualifiers now done and dusted, we bring you a team-by-team guide of all the nations participating in the World Cup, along with their coaches, stars players and their best attempts in the competition so far.

Fasten your seatbelts. Here we go!


Coach: Jorge Sampaoli

Star player: Lionel Messi

World Cup best: Winners 1978, 1986

A nervy qualification campaign saw one of world football’s great powers book their place at the last opportunity with victory over Ecuador but the losing finalists in 2014 will be looking to go one better.

Lionel Messi 4


Coach: Ange Postecoglou

Star player: Aaron Mooy

World Cup best: Second round 2006

Completing a quintet of qualifiers from the Asian groups, Australia conquered Honduras over two play-off legs. Were pointless at Brazil 2014 and long-serving talisman Tim Cahill is on the wane.

Australia 1


Coach: Roberto Martinez

Star player: Eden Hazard

World Cup best: Fourth place 1986

Unbeaten in qualifying, Belgium’s hugely talented squad will be hoping to build on their quarter-final appearance four years ago having reached the same stage at Euro 2016.



Coach: Adenor Leonardo Bacchi (Tite)

Star player: Neymar

World Cup best: Winners 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002

The five-time champions were the first team other than hosts Russia to qualify for the tournament after a very impressive campaign. Brazil have not made a World Cup final since their last title in 2002.

Brazil 1


Coach: Jose Pekerman

Star player: Radamel Falcao

World Cup best: Quarter-finals 2014

Colombia’s star has waned a little since their brilliant showing in 2014, when they reached the last eight and were narrowly and controversially beaten by Brazil. Finished fourth in South American qualifying.



Coach: Oscar Ramirez

Star player: Keylor Navas

World Cup best: Quarter-finals 2014

Finished second in CONCACAF qualifying, with the highlight being a 4-0 victory over the United States. Will be hard pushed to match their 2014 performance, when they beat Italy, Uruguay and Greece before losing to Holland on penalties.

Costa Rica


Coach: Zlatko Dalic

Star player: Ivan Rakitic

World Cup best: Third place 1998

Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic make for one of the best creative midfields in the tournament but they have failed to make it out of their group on their last three appearances since reaching the semi-finals at France 98.



Coach: Age Hareide

Star player: Christian Eriksen

World Cup best: Quarter-finals 1998

After missing out in 2014, Eriksen propelled Denmark back to the World Cup finals with a hat-trick in their play-off victory over the Republic of Ireland. The Danes failed to get out of their group on their last appearance in 2010.

Christian Eriksen


Coach: Hector Cuper

Star player: Mohamed Salah

World Cup best: First round 1934, 1990

Egypt will make only their third appearance at a World Cup finals and their first since 1990 after booking their place in Russia with victory over Congo. Runners-up to Cameroon in this year’s African Nations Cup.

Egypt 3


Coach: Gareth Southgate

Star player: Harry Kane

World Cup best: Winners 1966

A comfortable qualification campaign did nothing to boost optimism for England’s chances in Russia. A first major tournament in charge for Southgate, with the Three Lions having failed to reach the quarter-finals at the last two World Cups.

Harry Kane 11


Coach: Didier Deschamps

Star player: Antoine Griezmann

World Cup best: Winners 1998

Knocked out in the quarter-finals in 2014, France have built a hugely impressive squad and will hope to make up for their near miss on home soil in Euro 2016, when they lost in the final to Portugal.

Antoine Griezmann 2


Coach: Joachim Low

Star player: Toni Kroos

World Cup best: Winners 2014 (West Germany were champions in 1954, 1974 and 1990)

The reigning champions qualified in style, winning all 10 of their games, scoring 43 goals and conceding only four. Their golden generation is ageing but remains a force and has been enhanced by young blood.



Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson

Star player: Gylfi Sigurdsson

World Cup best: Debut

The smallest nation by population ever to qualify for the World Cup finals, Iceland followed up their Euro 2016 heroics by topping a group featuring Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey.



Coach: Carlos Queiroz

Star player: Sardar Azmoun

World Cup best: First round 1978, 1998, 2006, 2014

This will be Iran’s fourth appearance from the last six World Cup finals, but their only victory came against the USA in 1998. Won their final qualifying group ahead of South Korea.



Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic

Star player: Shinji Kagawa

World Cup best: Second round 2002, 2010

Will be appearing at their sixth consecutive World Cup finals after winning their qualification group. Did not win any of their three group games at the 2014 tournament.



Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio

Star player: Javier Hernandez

World Cup best: Quarter-finals 1970, 1986

Mexico are traditionally the strongest team in the CONCACAF region and again qualified comfortably. They have reached the second round at the last six tournaments without once going further.

Javier Hernandez 1


Coach: Herve Renard

Star player: Medhi Benatia

World Cup best: Second round 1986

Well-travelled coach Renard will have relished beating his former employers Ivory Coast to top spot in a tough qualifying group. The North Africans are back at the finals for the first time since 1998.



Coach: Salisu Yusuf

Star player: Victor Moses

World Cup best: Second round 1994, 1998, 2014

A very impressive qualifying campaign booked Nigeria’s place in Russia. The Super Eagles have only missed one of the last seven tournaments but 2014’s victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina was their first since 1998.



Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez

Star player: Gabriel Torres

World Cup best: Debut

Panama have been edging closer to reaching the World Cup finals for the first time in recent tournaments and crossed the line this time thanks to a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Costa Rica in their final qualifier.



Coach: Ricardo Gareca

Star player: Paolo Guerrero

World Cup best: Quarter-finals 1970

Peru had not qualified for the World Cup since 1982, but finally booked the last spot in Russia with a 2-0 victory over New Zealand in the second leg of their playoff.



Coach: Adam Nawalka

Star player: Robert Lewandowski

World Cup best: Third place 1974, 1982

Poland are back at the World Cup finals for the first time since 2006 after comfortably topping their qualifying group. The last time they progressed beyond the group stages was 1986.

Robert Lewandowski


Coach: Fernando Santos

Star player: Cristiano Ronaldo

World Cup best: Third place 1966

Portugal enjoyed a real battle with Switzerland for automatic qualification but came out on top. Looking to continue their unbeaten run at tournaments after winning their first major title at Euro 2016.

Cristiano Ronaldo 5


Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov

Star player: Fyodor Smolov

World Cup best: First round 1994, 2002, 2014 (Soviet Union finished fourth in 1966)

Russia qualified automatically as hosts and will be desperate to improve their poor recent record at major tournaments. They have not won a match since Euro 2012 and, since the break up of the Soviet Union, have not progressed from the World Cup group stage.



Coach: Edgardo Bauza

Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi

World Cup best: Second round 1994

After qualifying for four consecutive tournaments between 1994 and 2006, Saudi Arabia missed out in 2010 and 2014 but are back after finishing ahead of Australia in their qualifying group.

Saudi Arabia


Coach: Aliou Cisse

Star player: Sadio Mane

World Cup best: Quarter-final 2002

The surprise package at the 2002 World Cup – they memorably beat hosts France – Senegal missed three editions of the tournament before securing their return by beating South Africa in a replayed group match. The original result was annulled after referee Joseph Lamptey was expelled by FIFA.

Senegal 1


Coach: Mladen Krstajic (caretaker)

Star player: Nemanja Matic

World Cup best: First round 2010 (Yugoslavia finished fourth in 1930 and 1962, Serbia and Montenegro reached the second round in 1998)

Qualifying for a first major tournament since the 2010 World Cup was not enough to save manager Slavoljub Muslin from the sack. Finished top of a group featuring the Republic of Ireland and Wales.



Coach: Shin Tae-yong

Star player: Son Heung-min

World Cup best: Fourth place 2002

South Korea qualified for their ninth consecutive World Cup finals despite an indifferent campaign. They have only won two matches since finishing fourth as co-hosts in 2002.

Son Heung Min


Coach: Julen Lopetegui

Star player: Isco

World Cup best: Winners 2010

The previously all-conquering Spanish suffered the ignominy of group stage exits at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship. The squad has seen evolution rather than revolution.

Spain team


Coach: Janne Andersson

Star player: Andreas Granqvist

World Cup best: Runners-up 1958

They may be missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic but Sweden qualified for their first World Cup since 2006 with a play-off win over four-time champions Italy. They also finished above Holland in a tough qualifying group which was headed by France.



Coach: Vladimir Petkovic

Star player: Xherdan Shaqiri

World Cup best: Quarter-finals 1934, 1938, 1954

Qualified for their fourth straight World Cup by beating Northern Ireland in a play-off via a controversial penalty. They have made it out of their group in two of the previous three tournaments and that will be the minimum aim this time around.



Coach: Nabil Maaloul

Star player: Wahbi Khazri

World Cup best: Group stage 1978, 1998, 2002, 2006.

After appearing at three consecutive finals without winning a single group game, Tunisia missed the last two editions. Unbeaten in qualifying, they defeated DR Congo to Russia by a point, with a last-round draw against Libya proving enough for a squad compromised largely of Tunisia-based players.



Coach: Oscar Tabarez

Star player: Luis Suarez

World Cup best: Winners 1930, 1950

Uruguay’s last World Cup campaign was overshadowed by Suarez’s bite on Giorgio Chiellini and expulsion from the tournament but they qualified impressively for Russia and possess undoubted firepower.


Provided by Press Association Sport

Most popular

Buffon, Bale, Sanchez among the star names to miss out on 2018 FIFA World Cup

Gianluigi Buffon and his illustrious Italy team-mates crashed out of World Cup qualifying on Monday night after a 0-0 draw against Sweden at the San Siro, having lost the away leg of the play-off 1-0 on Friday.

The loss means Buffon joins a star-studded list of players who have failed to qualify for next year’s showpiece event.

Gareth Bale and Alexis Sanchez are among the other headline names who will miss out on the World Cup in Russia as several high-profile teams shockingly failed to qualify.

Here’s an all-star XI of World Cup absentees.


Buffon’s international career ended in tears after Italy’s failure to qualify. The Juventus goalkeeper won the World Cup in 2006, which is a memory he’ll undoubtedly always cherish, but bowing out in this manner was unbecoming for such a legendary player.


Antonio Valencia has quietly become one of the world’s best right-backs over the last couple of seasons at Manchester United. However, he was unable to inspire his national team and lead them to the World Cup, as Ecuador were one of the casualties of a strong South American qualifying group.


Leonardo Bonucci’s nightmare start to the season continued on Monday. He’s had a tough start to his AC Milan career after moving from Juventus in the summer. However, he put in a heroic effort for his national team, playing with a facial mask after an injury he suffered in the first leg and even soldiered on after pulling up with what looked like a hamstring injury on Monday, but it wasn’t enough.


Giorgio Chiellini joined Buffon, as well as Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi, in announcing his international retirement immediately after Italy crashed out against Sweden. Unlike the other three, Chiellini retires having never tasted success at the international level. He and Bonucci were both Italy youth-team players when the senior squad won the 2006 World Cup.


David Alaba endured injury struggles that caused him to miss crucial qualifiers for Austria, who had the misfortune of being drawn in one of the toughest groups in Europe alongside Serbia, Ireland, and Wales. Austria won their final two qualifiers without the Bayern Munich man, but it wasn’t enough to get into second spot in their group.


At 25, Marco Verratti has plenty of time to banish the memories of Italy’s disappointing qualifying campaign. He’ll especially rue missing out on Monday’s second leg, as he was suspended and could only watch on as his team-mates failed to breach Sweden’s defence. Who knows how different things would’ve been had the PSG star been conducting play from midfield.


Like Bonucci, Arturo Vidal hasn’t had a great start to his campaign. He’s missed games through injury, his Bayern Munich side were on the verge of a crisis before righting the ship, and the all-action midfielder failed to help his national side qualify for the World Cup. Chile were highest-profile casualties in what is arguably the world’s toughest region – Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Colombia were the sides that qualified automatically. Still, Chile should have at least finished fifth and earned a playoff spot against New Zealand, but they lost out on that to Peru.


Speaking of a poor and injury-impacted start to the season, Bale was a huge miss for Wales in their crucial qualifiers towards the end of the group stages. There’s no guarantee Wales would have beaten Ireland in their final qualifier, when a win would have ensured a play-off spot, but Bale would certainly have made his side more potent. His injury struggles are likely going to cost him his status as a Real Madrid player, and they played a big part in costing his country a World Cup spot.


Christian Pulisic was left bemoaning USA’s shortcomings in developing young players after a shock loss to Trinidad and Tobago saw the Americans fail to qualify. He should know best: at the age of 17, Pulisic decided moving out of his country was the best option for his development. Now, he’s a star at Borussia Dortmund, and a 19-year-old who’s head and shoulders above his international team-mates – an indictment of USA’s lack of quality even considering his talent.


For a few weeks early in this season, it seemed like everything was going wrong for Sanchez. He wasn’t playing for Arsenal due to injury and a transfer dispute. Then he never got the transfer he so desperately wanted. And after all that, he couldn’t lead Chile to the World Cup. It’s been quite a fall for Chile, who reached the quarter-finals at the 2014 World Cup.


Gabon were one of the weaker sides in African qualifying, so it’s not entirely a surprise to see them miss out on the World Cup, especially in a group that also had Morocco and the Ivory Coast. Still, it was a disappointing effort from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Borussia Dortmund striker scored the winning penalty in the shoot-out against Mozambique that took Gabon to the group stages, but otherwise he failed to score a single goal during Gabon’s qualifying campaign.

Most popular