The 2018 World Cup is already underway as global sporting attention lies fixed on Russia.
A galaxy of football stars are playing at the first World Cup to be held in Eastern Europe and the tournament looks, on paper at least, to be one of the most open in modern times.
Who are the main contenders to win the World Cup? Let’s take a look…
Tournament hosts Russia apart, five-time World Cup winners Brazil were the first team to qualify for the 2018 finals. Selecao coach Tite can all upon forward stars Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho among others.
The Samba flair in attack is complemented nicely by solid defensive options, including Premier League title winner Fernandinho, domestic French treble-winning PSG captain Thiago Silva and no-nonsense centre-back Joao Miranda. It leaves Brazil as 4/1 favourites to lift the World Cup.
Die Mannschaft are holders of the World Cup after beating Argentina in extra-time four years ago. Joachim Low has evolved his German side since, needing to replace the likes of Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose.
Germany have made a successful transition, if last summer’s Confederations Cup victory is any indicator. Number-one Manuel Neuer missed most of the Bundesliga season with a broken foot, but that shouldn’t be a negative. The Germans have World Cup outright winner odds of 5/1 with Paddy Power.
La Roja made a shock change of coach on the eve of the tournament. What impact replacing Real Madrid bound Julen Lopetegui with sporting director Fernando Hierro will have remains to be seen, because there are still several players from Spain’s 2010 World Cup winning vintage in their squad.
Much hinges on Brazil-born striker Diego Costa up front with the centre-forward position looking far weaker without Fernando Torres and David Villa, who fired La Roja to so much success between 2008 and 2012. Spain are 13/2 to win the World Cup again.
As Euro 2016 hosts, France just fell short on home soil two years ago. They have World Cup-winning captain Didier Deschamps still at the helm and he’s brought through younger legs in both defence and attack.
Les Bleus’ hopes seem pinned solely on Paul Pogba’s shoulders in midfield, while it’ll also be interesting to see how fresher faces fit in around Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud up front. France are also 13/2 to lift the World Cup for a second time.
Is this the last chance for Lionel Messi to take a World Cup by storm? Maybe. Barcelona’s magician has everything built around him for club and country and, if he is to be considered a true all-time football great, then winning this tournament is still on the to-do list.
At 10/1 to win the World Cup, Argentina must try and get the best out of Messi, but he’s far from their only star. Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero are other established attacking options to share that burden.
The Golden Generation of Belgian footballers complete the market principals to win the World Cup. Roberto Martinez must try and do what predecessor Marc Wilmots could not with this crop of hugely talented players and make them a team that wins, and in style!
Belgium have switched formation under Spanish coach Martinez, playing 3-4-3 in a bid to get the most out of their prized assets like Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. The Red Devils are also 10/1 to lift the World Cup.
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