A team-by-team look at the 2018 World Cup field

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Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Here is a team-by-team look, organized by group, at all 32 squads in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Click to jump to a specific group:



Briefly: Russia goes into its home World Cup with expectations at rock bottom. It’s the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, according to FIFA, but has a comparatively easy group. Russia’s best chance of a first World Cup win since 2002 is in the opening game June 14 against Saudi Arabia, the second-lowest ranked team at the tournament.


The key players: Captain and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev shot to fame as the 22-year-old goalkeeper who pulled off stunning saves on the team’s way to the semifinals at Euro 2008. He has a tendency to make errors in high-profile games, including an embarrassing fumble which let South Korea score at the 2014 World Cup . . . Central defenders Viktor Vasin and Georgy Dzhikiya both sustained severe knee injuries. Replacements like Ilya Kutepov and Vladimir Granat have struggled to settle and each made notable errors in recent friendlies. Former Chelsea wingback Yuri Zhirkov could start on the left, with Brazil-born Mario Fernandes a contender for a spot on the right . . . Roman Zobnin and Aleksandr Golovin are Russia’s main emerging talents. Golovin seemed overawed at Euro 2016 but now has more experience and was energetic in a 1-1 friendly draw with Turkey on June 5. Cherchesov hasn’t picked a dedicated defensive midfielder, which has often forced Zobnin to play deeper than he'd like.

Russia's goalkeepers Andrey Lunyov, Vladimir Gabulov, and Igor Akinfeev at a training session in Moscow ahead of the start of the World Cup.
Russia's goalkeepers Andrey Lunyov, Vladimir Gabulov, and Igor Akinfeev at a training session in Moscow ahead of the start of the World Cup.
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The coach: Stanislav Cherchesov. He has tried to refresh a team that was one of the oldest at Euro 2016. The former international goalkeeper made younger midfielders such as Zobnin and Golovin into key members of the team, but he’s yet to be rewarded with wins. Injuries have put his preference for three central defenders under strain, so he switched to a four-man back line for the 1-0 friendly defeat to Austria on May 30.

Group games: The hosts open the tournament against Saudi Arabia on June 14 in Moscow, near their training base. Russia, which reached the quarterfinals in 1958, 1962 and 1970 as the Soviet Union, then faces Egypt on June 19 and Uruguay on June 25.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Brugge), Andrei Lunyov (Zenit St. Petersburg). Defenders: Mario Fernandes (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Rubin Kazan), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Fyodor Kudryashov (Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrei Semyonov (Akhmat Grozny), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St. Petersburg). Midfielders: Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yuri Gazinsky (FC Krasnodar), Alexander Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Daler Kuzyaev (Zenit St. Petersburg), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Alexander Samedov (Spartak Moscow), Alexander Yerokhin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Yuri Zhirkov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Zobnin (Spartak Moscow). Forwards: Artyom Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Alexei Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fyodor Smolov (FC Krasnodar).


Briefly: Most of the squad heading to Russia doesn’t have any significant experience playing club football outside their homeland. And at No. 67, the Saudis are the lowest ranked of the teams that qualified for the World Cup.


The key players: A resurgent Yasser Al Mosailem and Abdullah Al Muaiouf appear to be vying for the starting role in goal . . . The back four is an experienced unit but with three likely starters over 30 they are susceptible to pace from opponents. The 34-year-old Omasa Hawsawi and 32-year-old Omar Othman are set to partner in the center . . . Much depends on Abdullah Otayf, a holding midfielder who has drawn comparisons with Luka Modric of Real Madrid. If Saudi Arabia can start to play out from the back, the 25-year-old Otayf can make the team tick . . . The team lacks a proven scorer at the top level against strong defenses. Mohammed Al-Sahlawi and Muhannad Asiri were picked up front. Fahad Al Muwallad, the most talented player available, provides much of the threat.

Abdullah Otayf at a news conference in Saint Petersburg.
Abdullah Otayf at a news conference in Saint Petersburg.

The coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. It won’t likely be easy for the Argentine to get his new team to play the same kind of high-octane, pressing style he used when he led Chile to the 2016 Copa America title. The 49-year-old coach’s target is making the round of 16. There have been signs so far of an attempt to introduce more of a passing style instead of the direct strategy used under his predecessor.

Group games: The Saudis will be based in St. Petersburg but will play their opening match against host Russia in Moscow on June 14. That will be followed by a trip to Rostov-on-Don to play Uruguay on June 20 and to Volgograd to take on Egypt on June 25.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Abdullah Al Muaiouf, Yasser Al Mosailem, Mohammed Alowais. Defenders: Mansour Al Harbi, Osama Hawsawi, Ali Albulayhi, Omar Othman, Mohammed Alburayk, Yasir Al-Shahrani, Motaz Hawsawi. Midfielders: Salam Al Faraj, Yahia Al-Shehri, Hatan Bahbir, Abdulmalek Alkhaibri, Mohamed Kanno, Abdullah Otayf, Abdullah Alkhaibari, Hussain Al Moqahwhi, Taiseer Al-Jassam, Salem Al Dawsari. Forwards: Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, Fahad Al Muwallad, Muhannad Asiri.


Briefly: Egypt qualified for the tournament for the first time in 28 years, and its chances in Group A mainly rest on the 25-year-old striker Mohamed Salah.


The key players: There can be no real substitute for Salah if he is not fit to play against Uruguay. In Salah’s absence, the team will most likely field a forward trio of Marwan Mohsen in the middle with Mahmoud Hassan, better known by his nickname Trezeguet, and Amr Warda on the flanks . . . At 45, goalkeeper Essam el-Hadary could become the oldest player to compete at a World Cup. Despite his vast international experience, El-Hadary must guard against some of the lapses of concentration and poor decision-making that surfaced in recent years . . . Ahmed Hegazy has been growing in confidence and the West Bromwich Albion center-back is the obvious choice in that position. Playing alongside him will likely be Ali Jabr, Ahmed Fathi, and Mohamed Abdel-Shafi . . . Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny’s has returned from an ankle injury, and will be joined in the midfield by Tarek Hamed. Both will play behind playmaker Abdalla Said, who positions himself closer to the forward trio.

Mohamed Salah reacts as he takes part in a training session on Monday.
Mohamed Salah reacts as he takes part in a training session on Monday.

The coach: Hector Cuper. Cuper took over in 2015. Not only did the Argentine lead the team to the 2017 African Cup of Nations, but they reached the final before losing to Cameroon. The accomplishments halted media criticism of Cuper’s tactics and turned him into a national hero. So much so that football federation officials are hoping Cuper reverses plans to leave the job after the World Cup. However, doubts persist over whether Cuper has done enough to improve a squad that is notorious for losing the ball, squandering chances in front of goal and aerial weaknesses.

Group games: Egypt, which didn’t advance past the opening round in its previous World Cup appearances in 1934 and 1990, will open against Uruguay on June 15. The team based in Grozny will then take on Russia on June 19 and Saudi Arabia on June 25.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Sherif Ekramy (Al Ahly), Essam el-Hadary (Al Taawoun), Mohamed el-Shennawy (Al Ahly). Defenders: Mohamed Abdel-Shafi (Al Fateh), Ayman Ashraf (Al Ahly), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa), Ahmed Fathi (Al Ahly), Omar Gaber (Los Angeles FC), Ali Gabr (Zamalek), Mahmoud Hamdy (Zamalek), Ahmed Hegazy (West Bromwich Albion), Saad Samir (Al Ahly). Midfielders: Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal), Abdallah El Said (Al Ahly Jeddah), Tarek Hamed (Zamalek), Mahmoud Kahraba (Al Ittihad Jeddah), Sam Morsy (Wigan Athletic), Shikabala (Al Raed), Ramadan Sobhy (Stoke City), Mahmoud Hassan (Kasimpasa), Amr Warda (Atromitos). Forwards: Marwan Mohsen (Al Ahly), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool).


Briefly: Uruguay’s priority will be keeping Luis Suarez tamed at this World Cup. After the striker was expelled from the 2014 tournament in disgrace for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini, Uruguay was eliminated by Colombia in the round of 16. After enduring four consecutive World Cup playoffs and only reaching three of the tournaments, Uruguay secured an automatic place in Russia by finishing second behind Brazil in qualifying.

The key players: Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera will be between the posts for his third World Cup . . . Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez anchor the heart of Uruguay’s defense. Godin has made more than 100 appearances since his debut in 2005. The 23-year-old Gimenez offers a solid companion to a player nine years his senior and already has one World Cup under his belt. Martin Caceres should also be sure of a starting spot unless there is a recurrence of one of his frequent injuries . . . While the midfielders have usually been capable of defending well, they have often struggled to generate chances for the forwards. During qualifying, the team called up several young players who improved in this area: Nahitan Nandez (22) and Rodrigo Bentancur (20) . . . Strikers are the team’s greatest strength. Suarez is Uruguay’s all-time leading scorer with 51 goals and is coming off the back of a strong season with Barcelona. Paris Saint-Germain forward Edinson Cavani is next on the list with 42, including a continent-leading 10 goals in 18 matches in South American qualifying.

Luis Suarez is Uruguay’s all-time leading scorer with 51 goals.
Luis Suarez is Uruguay’s all-time leading scorer with 51 goals.

The coach: Oscar Tabarez. He will lead Uruguay into his fourth World Cup after a first trip in 1990 followed by 2010 and 2014. A Tabarez team has always made it out of the group stage, including a semifinal appearance in South Africa eight years ago. A former school teacher and professional player, Tabarez led Uruguay to the Copa America title in 2011. The 71-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016.

Group games: Uruguay, which will be based in Nizhny Novgorod, will face Egypt in its first match on June 15. That will be followed by matches against Saudi Arabia on June 20 and Russia on June 25.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama), Martin Campana (Independiente). Defenders: Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid), Jose Maria Gimenez (Atletico Madrid), Maximiliano Pereira (FC Porto), Gastón Silva (Independiente), Sebastián Coates (Sporting Lisbon), Guillermo Varela (Penarol), Martin Caceres (Lazio). Midfielders: Carlos Sánchez (Monterrey), Matías Vecino (Inter), Nahitan Nández (Boca Juniors), Giorgian de Arrascaeta (Cruzeiro), Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria), Diego Laxalt (Genoa), Cristian Rodríguez (Penarol). Forwards: Luis Suarez (Barcelona), Cristhian Stuani (Girona), Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain), Jonathan Urretaviscaya (Monterrey), Maximilano Gomez (Celta).



Briefly: After an almost flawless qualifying campaign, Iran will find it far tougher at the World Cup. Iran was unbeaten in 10 qualifiers and did not concede a single goal in the first nine games. Contesting back-to-back World Cups for the first time, Iran will be aiming for a first appearance in the knockout stage in its fifth attempt.

The key players: Alireza Beiranvand is physically commanding, a fine shot-stopper and known for his distribution, especially with his long throws . . . The back four has been well-marshalled, and younger players including Rouzbeh Cheshmi are now getting a look in. Watch out for the speed of fullbacks Milad Mohammadi and Ramin Rezaeian . . . Ehsan Haji Safi, Masoud Shojaei and Ashkan Dejagah bring World Cup experience and scoring ability. Talented players such as Saeid Ezatolahi and Saman Ghoddos offer more energy . . . This could be the stage for Alireza Jahanbakhsh to secure a big-money move from AZ Alkmaar after rising to the top of the Dutch scoring charts . . . Sardar Azmoun is already accustomed to the World Cup hosts after spending the last five years playing in Russia.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh scored two goals in 14 games during World Cup qualifying.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh scored two goals in 14 games during World Cup qualifying.

The coach: Carlos Queiroz. Queiroz has now steered three teams through four World Cup qualification campaigns. The experienced tactician has been in charge of Iran since 2011 and has taken the team to new heights. On the field, he has produced a disciplined and well-organized team that has an attacking threat.

Group games: Iran opens on June 15 against Morocco before taking on Spain on June 20 and Portugal on June 25.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo). Defenders: Ehsan Haji Safi (Olympiakos), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende). Midfielders: Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK). Forwards: Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen), Mehdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan).


Briefly: Lacking a superstar, Morocco often finds its best players in France, the Netherlands and Spain, where their parents emigrated to.

The key players: Spanish-born Munir Mohamedi is likely to remain the No. 1 choice in goal. That’s the logical decision after he didn’t concede a goal in six games in the final round of qualifying . . . The entire team seems built around captain Medhi Benatia, the Juventus center back who was born in France but with Moroccan heritage. Romain Saiss, who has just led Wolverhampton Wanderers into the Premier League, partnered Benatia successfully during World Cup qualifying . . . Mbark Boussoufa is the heartbeat of the midfield and has a claim alongside Benatia to be the team’s most important player. Also expect Younes Belhanda to play a key role, with the pacey Nordin Amrabat, if he plays in midfield, and Hakim Ziyech of Ajax operating as wingers . . . With five in midfield, Khalid Boutaib might be the lone striker on the team sheet, although that didn’t bother him in the decisive round of qualifying with four goals in six games. Renard could be tempted, however, to play two up front and give the 24-year-old forward Ayoub El Kaabi a chance at the highest level after he scored an eye-opening nine goals in six games in his first international tournament, the African Nations Championship, earlier this year.

Defender Mehdi Benatia was born in France but with Moroccan heritage.
Defender Mehdi Benatia was born in France but with Moroccan heritage.

The coach: Herve Renard. Renard is capable of pulling a team lacking out-and-out stars together to form a formidable unit. The 49-year-old Frenchman has had success with far more underrated squads than Morocco's, leading unheralded Zambia to the African title in 2012. He also took Ivory Coast to victory in the same tournament three years later. While there’s no doubt Renard is a good tactician, he’s better known for his passion and flamboyant antics on the sidelines. Watch out for a possible revival of one of his superstitions for major tournaments: the lucky shirt.

Group games: After opening on June 15 against Iran, Morocco will take on its closest northerly neighbors, Portugal, on June 20. The team will then face Spain on June 25.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Munir Mohamedi (Numancia), Yassine Bounou (Girona), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger). Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus), Romain Saiss (Wolverhampton), Manuel Da Costa (Basaksehir), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid), Hamza Mendyl (Lille). Midfielders: Mbark Boussoufa (Al Jazira), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray), Faycal Fajr (Getafe), Amine Harit (Schalke). Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor), Aziz Bouhaddouz (St. Pauli), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Nordin Amrabat (Leganes), Mehdi Carcela (Standard Liege), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax), Youssef En Nesyri (Malaga).


Briefly: Portugal has received assistance from Real Madrid in its quest for a first World Cup title, even though it plays Spain in the opening game. By allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to sit out less meaningful matches, Madrid’s management of the 33-year-old forward in the twilight of his career means he should not be worn out in Russia. Portugal is not among the leading contenders for the title in Russia, even though there’s a familiar look about the squad.

The key players: Rui Patricio should be starting in goal for another tournament after keeping clean sheets in the semifinals and final at Euro 2016 . . . Expect to see veterans Pepe and Bruno Alves in command in central defense. Cedric Soares is preferred at right back, with Borussia Dortmund defender Raphael Guerreiro likely on the left . . . Joao Mario and William Carvalho are expected to anchor the midfield again, with Adrien Silva and Joao Moutinho fighting for a spot as attacking midfielders along with Bernardo Silva . . . After a slow start to the season, Ronaldo has rediscovered his scoring consistency at Real Madrid since January. Leading the attack with Ronaldo is likely to be 22-year-old Andre Silva, who made his tournament debut last year at the Confederations Cup when Portugal finished third.

2018 is Cristiano Ronaldo’s fourth World Cup.
2018 is Cristiano Ronaldo’s fourth World Cup.

The coach: Fernando Santos. The softly spoken Santos spent most of his career coaching clubs in Greece and Portuga before being handed the Greece national team job in 2010. As Portugal was failing to advance from its group in 2014, Santos was becoming the first coach to lead Greece into a World Cup knockout phase.

Group games: Portugal opens against Spain on June 15 and then plays Morocco on June 20 in Moscow, where the team is based. The Group B schedule will conclude against Iran on June 25.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Beto (Goztepe), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon). Defenders: Bruno Alves (Rangers), Cedric Soares (Southampton), Jose Fonte (Dalian Yifang), Mario Rui (Napoli), Pepe (Besiktas), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), Ricardo Pereira (Porto), Ruben Dias (Benfica). Midfielders: Adrien Silva (Leicester), Bruno Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon), Joao Mario (West Ham), Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Manuel Fernandes (Lokomotiv), William Carvalho (Sporting Lisbon). Forwards: Andre Silva (AC Milan), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Gelson Martins (Sporting Lisbon), Goncalo Guedes (Valencia), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas).


Briefly: Winning two European Championships and a first World Cup, the Spanish were unstoppable from 2008 to 2012. But they began to falter at the 2014 World Cup, failing to advance from the group stage, and were eliminated from Euro 2016 in the round of 16. The 2018 World Cup marks the team’s 11th straight.

The key players: Calls for the return of Iker Casillas in goal were quickly subdued as David de Gea impressed with Manchester United and the national team . . . This is likely to be the last World Cup for Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, whose central defensive partnership formed the bedrock of successes in major tournaments. Completing the back line will be Jordi Alba, Pique’s teammate at Barcelona, on the left and Dani Carvajal, Ramos’ teammate at Madrid, on the right . . . Andres Iniesta will be 34 when the World Cup starts and it’s likely to mark the masterful playmaker’s farewell to the international stage. With impeccable passes and smart ball control, Iniesta continues to control the midfield just as he did while winning three major tournaments . . . The team had doubts over his strikers, calling up 10 different players in the position in two years. Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa, Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas and Valencia’s Rodrigo made the 23-man squad, while Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata was dropped.

Julen Lopetegui took over as coach two years ago.
Julen Lopetegui took over as coach two years ago.

The coach: Julen Lopetegui. Lopetegui, who took over in 2016, successfully blended emerging talent with the experience provided by veterans to qualify for an 11th straight World Cup. The critics who questioned Lopetegui’s credentials were silenced when the mild-mannered coach took Spain on a 19-game unbeaten run.

Group games: Spain, which will be based in Krasnodar, opens against European champion Portugal on June 15. The team will then face Iran on June 20 and finish the group stage against Morocco on June 25.

Roster: Goalkeepers: David De Gea (Manchester United), Pepe Reina (Napoli), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao). Defenders: Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Nacho Fernandez (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad). Midfielders: Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Jorge ‘‘Koke’’ Resurreccion (Atletico Madrid), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), David Silva (Manchester City), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid), Francisco ‘‘Isco’’ Alarcon (Real Madrid). Forwards: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid).



Briefly: When Australia needs goals it turns to Tim Cahill, its all-time leading scorer. The veteran forward has scored almost half of the team’s World Cup goals: 5 of 11. The Socceroos have Cahill to thank for their first win at a World Cup after he scored late goals against Japan in 2006. Cahill scored both in Australia’s Asian playoff win over Syria late last year as the country’s place at a fourth consecutive World Cup was clinched.

The key players: Goalkeeper Mat Ryan has been Australia’s first-choice since 2012 and was voted goalkeeper of the tournament when the Socceroos won the 2015 Asian Cup on home soil . . . The most question marks over Australia’s formation will be at the back, with Van Marwijk dispensing with the 3-4-3 formation that exposed some defensive holes in the qualifying campaign and plenty of criticism for Postecoglou. Trent Sainsbury and Matt Jurman are expected to play important roles . . . Competition was most intense in the midfield, where skipper Mile Jedinak and Aaron Mooy have been steady regulars and Tom Rogic has been a reliable playmaker. Massimo Luongo has added another dimension recently with his timing and fast footwork. Daniel Arzani is the youngest player in the squad at 19 . . . The Australians will likely struggle to score in open play against quality defenses. Tomi Juric scored six in qualifying to top the Australian scoring list. Cahill and Matthew Leckie have established credentials.

Tim Cahill, Australia’s all-time leading scorer, leads the Socceroos into their fourth straight World Cup appearance.
Tim Cahill, Australia’s all-time leading scorer, leads the Socceroos into their fourth straight World Cup appearance.

The coach: Bert van Marwijk. He was appointed only in January on a short-term deal, saying his mission was to help Australia survive the group stage. He guided Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup final, and coached Saudi Arabia to an automatic berth in Russia from an Asian qualifying group that included Australia. He said that gave him a good idea of Australia’s strengths and weaknesses.

Group games: Australia will open Group C against France at Kazan on June 16, followed by Denmark on June 21 and Peru on June 26.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Mat Ryan (Brighton), Danny Vukovic (Genk), Brad Jones (Feyenoord). Defenders: Trent Sainsbury (Grasshoppers), Milos Degenek (Yokohama) , Matt Jurman (Suwon), Mark Milligan (Al Ahli), Josh Risdon (Western Sydney Wanderers), Aziz Behich (Bursaspor), James Meredith (Millwall). Midfielders: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield), Massimo Luongo (Queens Park Rangers), Jackson Irvine (Hull), Tomi Rogic (Celtic), Dimitri Petratos (Newcastle Jets), Mathew Leckie (Hertha Berlin), Daniel Arzani (Melbourne City). Forwards: Tim Cahil (Millwall), Tomi Juric (FC Luzern), Andrew Nabbout (Urawa Red Diamonds), Jamie Maclaren (Darmstadt), Robbie Kruse (Bochum)


Briefly: This will be Denmark’s fifth appearance at a World Cup and the team has got out of its group on three of the previous four occasions, reaching the quarterfinals in 1998. The Danes head to Russia in good shape: They are No. 12 in the FIFA rankings, making them the eighth best team in Europe at present.

The key players: Christian Eriksen is the fulcrum of the midfield, the player the team wants to get in space either out wide or centrally. Now he is at the peak of his career and so much is expected of him in Russia. Set-pieces, long-range shots, work rate, vision, Eriksen has the lot. Eriksen has talented players around him in midfield, particularly tricky winger Pione Sisto and central midfielder Lasse Schone . . . Now established as Denmark’s first-choice goalkeeper, Kaspar Schmeichel is a brilliant shot-stopper and a good organizer of the defense in front of him . . . Simon Kjaer is the captain and classy stalwart at center back, where he excels in the air and through his reading of the game. His natural heir might be Andreas Christensen, who broke through at Premier League team Chelsea this season. Concerns remain about Christensen’s fragility but he is comfortable on the ball and confident in bringing it out from the back . . . In front of Eriksen, Denmark does not have a prolific striker at the highest level. Nicolai Jorgensen started the season in red-hot form for Feyenoord but has cooled off since the turn of the year.

Christian Eriksen is the fulcrum of the midfield, the player the team wants to get in space either out wide or centrally.
Christian Eriksen is the fulcrum of the midfield, the player the team wants to get in space either out wide or centrally.

The coach: Age Hareide. The 64-year-old Norwegian succeeded Denmark’s longest-serving coach after the team’s failure to qualify for the 2016 European Championship and was initially received with skepticism. He’s happy to acknowledge his tactics revolve around getting Eriksen on the ball.

Group games: Based in Krasnodar, Denmark opens Group C against Peru on June 16 before facing Australia on June 21 and France on June 26.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester), Jonas Lossl (Huddersfield), Frederik Ronow (Brondby). Defenders: Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), Simon Kjaer (Sevilla), Mathias Jorgensen (Huddersfield), Jannik Vestergaard (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Henrik Dalsgaard (Brentford), Jens Stryger (Udinese), Jonas Knudsen (Ipswich). Midfielders: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham), Lasse Schone (Ajax), Lukas Lerager (Bordeaux), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Deportivo La Coruna), William Kvist (FC Copenhagen), Thomas Delaney (Werder Bremen), Pione Sisto (Celta Vigo). Forwards: Andreas Cornelius (Atalanta), Kasper Dolberg (Ajax), Martin Braithwaite (Bordeaux), Nicolai Jorgensen (Feyenoord), Viktor Fischer (FC Copenhagen), Yussuf Poulsen (RB Leipzig).


Briefly: The team has a forward department bursting with skill and speed and goals. Fans will be unforgiving if the squad doesn’t get the most out of the finest collection of attacking talent France has enjoyed in a tournament.

The key players: In a 4-4-2, France can use Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud as center forwards and complement them with the scorching pace of 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe down the right flank. A 4-3-3 also suits the same trio, albeit with Giroud in the lone central striker’s role and the other two switching and rotating around him . . . Hugo Lloris is the undisputed first choice in goal, and has been for many years. He remains as agile as ever on his line and unflappable on crosses . . . Raphael Varane-Samuel Umtiti will be France’s first choice as center half pairing. Varane’s pace and reading of the game are crucial. Umtiti is stronger on man-to-man marking and also quick . . . In the midfield, all eyes will be on Paul Pogba. N’Golo Kante is a sure starter in the holding role. Blaise Matuidi’s consistent season with Juventus may be enough to earn him a place alongside Pogba and Kante.

Didier Deschamps has ben France’s coach since 2012.
Didier Deschamps has ben France’s coach since 2012.

The coach: Didier Deschamps. Deschamps is six years into the job and has had long enough to find the right balance. Fans will be optimistic he can do so, on the 20th anniversary of France’s only World Cup triumph.

Group games: France will be based on the outskirts of Moscow in Istra and opens on June 16 against Australia in Kazan. It then faces Peru on June 21 and Denmark on June 26 for a likely group decider in Moscow.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Alphonse Areola (Paris Saint-Germain). Defenders: Djibril Sidibe (Monaco), Benjamin Pavard (Stuttgart), Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Adil Rami (Marseille), Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City), Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid). Midfielders: Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich), Blaise Matuidi (Juventus), N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Steven N'Zonzi (Sevilla), Thomas Lemar (Monaco). Forwards: Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Olivier Giroud (Chelsea), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona), Florian Thauvin (Marseille), Nabil Fekir (Lyon).


Briefly: While lacking stars, Peru, which qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 36 years, will be hoping its ability to adapt to different conditions serves it well across Russia. The players have already shown through qualifying that they can handle everything from the altitude of the Andean mountains to the heat of the Amazon. They also got a major boost after top-scorer and team captain, Paolo Guerrero, was recently cleared to play in Russia when a Swiss court agreed to temporarily lift his doping suspension.

The key players: Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, of Mexico’s Veracruz, will wear Peru’s No. 1 jersey after recovering from a right knee injury he sustained in February . . . Peru will be relying on two players who rarely feature for their clubs: Central defender Alberto Rodriguez and left back Miguel Trauco. At age 34, Rodriguez returned to training at Colombia’s Junior Barranquilla only in the middle of April after an injury to his right leg. Trauco played only three matches this year for Flamengo in Brazil . . . Renato Tapia of Feyenoord was integral during qualifying along with Yoshimar Yotun of Orlando City. Attacking midfielder Christian Cueva of Sao Paulo is known for his dribbling skills, precise passes and creativity . . . Guerrero, key to Peru’s success in the tournament, scored twice in a 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia in a World Cup warmup Sunday. Lokomotiv’s Jefferson Farfan and Raul Ruidiaz, from Mexico’s Monarcas, are the other goalscorers.

Paolo Guerrero tested positive for metabolites of cocaine at a World Cup qualifying game last October and might still have to complete a 14-month ban imposed by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. But the court has said that the ban should not apply until Guerrero’s appeal is heard in full after the World Cup.
Rodrigo Abd/AP/File 2017
Paolo Guerrero tested positive for metabolites of cocaine at a World Cup qualifying game last October and might still have to complete a 14-month ban imposed by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. But the court has said that the ban should not apply until Guerrero’s appeal is heard in full after the World Cup.

The coach: Ricardo Gareca. Gareca has restored the elegant ball possession and short passing style that carried Peru to the quarterfinals of the 1970 edition.

Group games: Based in Moscow, Peru opens on June 16 against Denmark, plays France on June 21, and Australia on June 26.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Pedro Gallese (Veracruz), Carlos Caceda (Municipal), Jose Carvallo (UTC). Defenders: Luis Advincula (Lobos), Aldo Corzo (Universitario), Miguel Trauco (Flamengo), Christian Ramos (Veracruz), Alberto Rodriguez (Junior), Miguel Araujo (Alianza Lima), Nilson Loyola (Melgar FBC), Anderson Santamaria (Puebla). Midfielders: Edison Flores (Aalborg), Paolo Hurtado (Vitoria Guimaraes), Renato Tapia (Feyenoord), Yoshimar Yotun (Orlando City), Pedro Aquino (Lobos), Christian Cueva (Sao Paulo), Wilder Cartagena (Veracruz). Forwards: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo), Andre Carrillo (Watford), Raul Ruidiaz (Morelia), Jefferson Farfan (Lokomotiv Moscu), Andy Polo (Portland).



Briefly: Argentina secured its spot in Russia in the last round of South American qualifiers thanks to Lionel Messi’s hat trick against Ecuador. The deficiencies in the team were underscored in a 6-1 loss to Spain in a friendly in March. The team’s destiny is more closely tied to the Barcelona forward than ever before.

The key players: Messi will turn 31 during the World Cup, and Russia might be his last chance to lift the coveted trophy. The team will work around its captain and all-time leading scorer. Gonzalo Higuain‘s dazzling skills and scoring ability with his club are unquestioned. But he has struggled with the national team, and his emotional frailty could play against him . . . The competition to replace Sergio Romero in goal will be between Franco Armani and Wilfredo Caballero . . . Center back Nicolas Otamendi is the stalwart of the backline, with a likely partner in the towering Federico Fazio. Gabriel Mercado is likely to start on the left, while Nicolas Tagliafico is expected to secure a spot on the right wing . . . In the midfield, the stakes will be higher than ever for Javier Mascherano, a veteran defender, if Lucas Biglia (back) is not fit. The lack of better options should present opportunities to Ever Banega and Manuel Lanzini.

This will be Lionel Messi’s fourth World Cup.
Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images
This will be Lionel Messi’s fourth World Cup.

The coach: Jorge Sampaoli. There are plenty of doubts for coach Jorge Sampaoli ahead of the tournament in Russia. The 58-year-old Sampaoli took over in June 2017 to replace Edgardo Bauza when Argentina was on the verge of missing a World Cup spot. Drawing inspiration from Marcelo Bielsa, Sampaoli likes his teams to attack as a block to impose their superiority. But Argentina is still to implement his style after 10 matches.

Group games: Based in the Moscow region, Argentina opens its Group D campaign in the capital against Iceland on June 16. Then there’s a trip to Nizhny Novgorod to play Croatia on June 21, followed by a meeting with Nigeria in St. Petersburg on June 26.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Wilfredo Caballero (Chelsea), Franco Armani (River Plate), Nahuel Guzman (Tigres de Mexico). Defenders: Cristian Ansaldi (Torino), Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Javier Mascherano (Hebei China Fortune), Federico Fazio (Roma), Marcos Rojo (Manchester United), Marcos Acuna (Sporting Lisbon), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax). Midfielders: Cristian Pavon (Boca Juniors), Maximiliano Meza (Independiente), Angel Di Maria (PSG), Giovani Lo Celso (PSG), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham), Ever Banega (Sevilla), Lucas Biglia (Milan), Eduardo Salvio (Benfica). Forwards: Paulo Dybala (Juventus) Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City).


Briefly: Even with the talent oozing through the squad, Croatia only squeezed through the playoffs to qualify for a second straight World Cup. Can they emulate the performance in 1998 when Croatia finished third at its first World Cup? In qualifying for the 2018 edition, Croatia was robust in defense but lacked consistency in attack. Only 15 goals were scored, the second-lowest after Ireland among the top two finishers from all qualifying groups in Europe.

The key players: Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic has become the first choice after conceding twice in eight qualifiers. Subasic, who has made 36 international appearances since his debut in 2009, might also be able to chip in with goals. He scored from a free kick while playing for Lyon in 2012 . . . Vedran Corluka is back at full strength after missing last year with an Achilles tendon injury. A veteran of 98 international appearances, the 32-year-old Lokomotiv Moscow center back has experience from the Premier League with Manchester City and Tottenham, where he played alongside Modric . . . In the midfield, Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric and Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic make a creative pairing . . . In the 4-2-3-1 formation, Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic leads the attack and scored five goals in qualifying, taking his tally to 30 in 82 appearances. With support from Inter forward Ivan Perisic and AC Milan’s Nikola Kalinic, they should pose a real threat. Keep an eye on Perisic’s head.

Mario Mandzukic netted five goals during qualying for this World Cup.
Mario Mandzukic netted five goals during qualying for this World Cup.

The coach: Zlatko Dalic. He took charge at a critical time with one game remaining in qualifying. The win over Ukraine carried Croatia into a playoff series against Greece that Croatia won 4-1 on aggregate. His immediate impact was called ‘‘phenomenal’’ by Modric.

Group games: Croatia opens its Group D campaign against Nigeria on June 16 before facing Argentina on June 21 and Iceland on June 26.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Lovre Kalinic (Gent), Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb). Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), Ivan Strinic (Sampdoria), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid), Josip Pivaric (Dynamo Kiev), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen), Duje Caleta-Car (Red Bull Salzburg. Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Mateo Kovacic (Real Madrid), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Filip Bradaric (Rijeka). Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan), Nikola Kalinic (AC Milan), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Marko Pjaca (Schalke), Ante Rebic (Eintracht Frankfurt).


Briefly: Any neutrals looking for a team to get behind at the World Cup shouldn’t look any further than Iceland, a feel-good story of international soccer that just keeps on giving, A hard-working, selfless group of mostly unheralded players who are simply living out their dream in front of the watching world. With about 330,000 inhabitants, the Nordic country is comfortably the smallest to ever qualify for the tournament. The Icelandic fairytale is made more charming by its vociferous and passionate fans, who made the ‘‘thunderclap’’ war chant the soundtrack of that summer in France in 2016. Don’t be surprised if it has the same impact in Russia.

The key players: Hannes Halldorsson is the undisputed No. 1 goalkeeper . . . The defense is held together by the center-back pairing of Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kari Arnason. They are close on the field and off it, having spent the summer of 2015 travelling around Thailand together . . . Bearded captain Aron Gunnarsson is the heartbeat of the team in central midfield. A tough tackler and fearsome-looking figure, he keeps his passing simple and lets the more creative players in the team — Gylfi Sigurdsson and Johann Berg Gudmundsson, for example — do their thing . . . Gylfi Sigurdsson is the star of Iceland’s team, but he has been out with a knee injury since early March and his condition remains a major concern. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Alfred Finnbogason to compete for the starting striker role at the World Cup.

Heimir Hallgrimsson combines managing the national team with running a dental surgery clinic in a small town in Iceland.
Heimir Hallgrimsson combines managing the national team with running a dental surgery clinic in a small town in Iceland.

The coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson. Hallgrimsson was the assistant to head coach Lars Lagerback at Euro 2016, and was promoted ahead of the World Cup qualifying campaign when Lagerback stood down. A modest and well-respected coach in Iceland, Hallgrimsson has managed to keep motivational levels high within the squad after the Euros. He has also stuck to his own unique approach — before every Iceland home game, Hallgrimsson meets up with a supporters’ group in a Reykjavik bar and discloses the team’s starting lineup and tactics.

Group games: Iceland, which will be based in Krasnodar, opens against Argentina on June 16. The team will then face Nigeria on June 22 and finish the group stage against Croatia on June 26.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Hannes Thor Halldorsson (Randers FC), Runar Alex Runarsson (FC Nordsjælland), Frederik Schram (FC Roskilde). Defenders: Kari Arnason (Aberdeen), Ari Freyr Skulason (K.S.C. Lokeren Oost-Vlaanderen), Birkir Mar Saevarsson (Hammarby), Sverrir Ingi Ingason (FC Rostov), Hordur Magnusson (Bristol City), Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson (Maccabi Haifa), Ragnar Sigurdsson (FC Rostov). Midfielders: Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Burnley), Birkir Bjarnason (Aston Villa), Arnor Ingvi Traustason (Malmo FF), Emil Hallfredsson (Udinese), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton), Olafur Ingi Skulason (Kardemir Karabukspor), Rurik Gislason (FC Nurnberg), Samuel Fridjonsson (Valerenga), Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City). Forwards: Alfred Finnbogason (FC Augsburg), Bjorn Bergmann Sigurdarson (FC Rostov), Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Reading), Albert Gudmundsson (PSV Eindhoven).


Briefly: Africa’s most populous nation flew through qualifying and was the first team to qualify from the region, seeing off continental champion Cameroon. Nigeria then showcased its qualities by winning a friendly last year against Argentina, its final Group D opponent at the World Cup. The challenge is to ensure the defense is similarly strong and the squad doesn’t get sidetracked by off-the-field issues that have undermined previous campaigns at major tournaments.

The key players: Goalkeeper has been an issue for Nigeria ever since regular No. 1 Carl Ikeme revealed last year that he had been diagnosed with leukemia. Rohr made Ikechukwu Ezenwa, the only Nigeria-based player in the squad, the new first-choice goalkeeper. But Rohr has recently been talking up 19-year-old prospect Francis Uzoho, who last year became the youngest foreign goalkeeper in La Liga when he made his debut for Deportivo La Coruna at 18 . . . Leon Balogun, born in Germany, and William Troost-Ekong, born in Netherlands, are the preferred central defensive partnership. Either side of them, places are up for grabs. Elderson Echiejile was the first choice at left back and Shehu Abdullahi at right back . . . Captain John Obi Mikel and vice-captain Ogenyi Onazi are the rocks of the team in central midfield and their diligence allows Nigeria to play three and sometimes four players in advanced positions . . . Nigeria has an array of attacking options that includes Premier League talent in Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Ahmed Musa.

For captain John Obi Mikel, this is his second World Cup.
Matt Dunham/AP
For captain John Obi Mikel, this is his second World Cup.

The coach: Gernot Rohr. Rohr has restored stability to Nigeria heading into the World Cup. The German brought a sense of calm to a team that went through five coaches in two years following the 2014 tournament in Brazil. Rohr has set out to experiment with various formations in an effort to make the team more tactically aware and versatile, and able to compete with the best in the world like Argentina.

Group games: Nigeria’s opening game is against Croatia on June 16, it then plays Iceland on June 22 before the big one to finish its Group D campaign, against Lionel Messi and Argentina in St. Petersburg on June 26.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna), Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United), Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba). Defenders: Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor), Tyronne Ebuehi (Den Haag), Elderson Echiejile (Brugge), Bryan Idowu (Amkar Perm), Chidozie Awaziem (Nantes), William Ekong (Bursaspor), Leon Balogun (Brighton), Kenneth Omeruo (Kasimpasa). Midfielders: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin TEDA), Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester), Oghenekaro Etebo (Las Palmas), John Ogu (Hapoel Be'er Sheva), Joel Obi (Torino). Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Leicester), Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Simeon Nwankwo (Crotone)



Briefly: Brazil is still shaking off the embarrassment of losing to Germany 7-1 in its home World Cup. Since Tite took over as coach in 2016, the five-time world champions have become a winning machine again and were the first to qualify for Russia. The Brazilians head into the World Cup looking more balanced and with a range of top players available in every position. Brazil should be even more dangerous in Russia if Neymar, who sustained a broken foot playing for Paris Saint-Germain in February, is fully fit.

The key players: Goalkeeper Alisson Becker’s skills with both hands and feet made Tite relegate Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson to the bench . . . The coach would have preferred to play with a solid back four featuring Paris Saint-Germain duo Dani Alves and Marquinhos, Inter Milan’s Miranda and Real Madrid’s Marcelo. But Alves will miss the World Cup because of injury and will be replaced by Manchester City defender Danilo. At the pre-World Cup training camp, Tite decided to move PSG central defender Thiago Silva to Marquinhos’s place . . . Philippe Coutinho could replace Renato Augusto, who is returning from injury, as the playmaker in the midfield. If that happens, Coutinho’s position on the left could be filled by Chelsea midfielder Willian. Fred is also in contention to start if he recovers from an ankle injury . . . If Neymar (foot) isn’t fit for the World Cup, Tite may have to resort to using Willian or Douglas Costa, who is also returning from injury, in his place. While Gabriel Jesus was Brazil’s top scorer in qualifying, the Man City player faces competition from Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino.

Neymar is returning from a broken foot suffered in February.
Andre Penner/AP
Neymar is returning from a broken foot suffered in February.

The coach: Adenor Leonardo Bachi, better known as Tite. In less than two years on the job, he has turned Brazil from a flop into a title favorite. A former pupil of defense-minded Luiz Felipe Scolari — the 2002 World Cup-winning coach who also presided over the Germany match — Tite has grown into a fan of Carlo Ancelotti and his well-balanced teams.

Group games: Brazil will have its base in Sochi despite playing no games near the Black Sea resort. The team will face Switzerland on Sunday in its Group E opener in Rostov-on-Don and then play Costa Rica on June 22 in St. Petersburg and Serbia on June 27 in Moscow.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Alisson (Roma), Ederson (Manchester City), Cassio (Corinthians). Defenders: Danilo (Manchester City), Fagner (Corinthians), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain), Miranda (Inter Milan), Pedro Geromel (Gremio), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid). Midfielders: Casemiro (Real Madrid), Paulinho (Barcelona), Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Fred (Manchester United), Fernandinho (Manchester City). Forwards: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Willian (Chelsea), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Douglas Costa (Juventus), Taison (Shakhtar Donetsk).


Briefly: After reaching the quarterfinals at the World Cup four years ago, Costa Rica has high standards to match in Russia. The Central American nation, with a population of just under 5 million people, won a group in Brazil that included England, Italy and Uruguay and only lost to the Netherlands in a penalty shootout. This time, on its fifth appearance at a World Cup, Costa Rica faces a tougher group road.

The key players: Goalkeeper Keylor Navas is Costa Rica’s best-known player and has the leadership qualities to match . . . Giancarlo Gonzalez and Bryan Oviedo are undisputed starters. Kendall Waston, who scored the qualifying goal in a last-gasp draw against Honduras in Central American qualifying, is likely to also be included in the starting lineup . . . Bryan Ruiz, now 32 but one of the team’s best players in 2014, is the captain and main attacking threat. Celso Gamboa, a defensive midfielder for Deportivo La Coruna, should also be confident of making the starting team . . . Joel Campbell, who is on loan at Real Betis from Arsenal, scored twice when Costa Rica beat the United States 4-0 in World Cup qualifying. Ramirez also searched for options in the Costa Rican league, including David Ramirez and Ariel Rodriguez, who play for Saprissa.

This is the second World Cup for goalkeeper Keylor Navas, helping Costa Rica advance to the quarterfinals in 2014.
This is the second World Cup for goalkeeper Keylor Navas, helping Costa Rica advance to the quarterfinals in 2014.

The coach: Oscar Ramirez. Costa Rica’s qualifying path to Russia was riddled with doubts when coach Paulo Wanchope resigned after being involved in a fight at an under-23 game. Ramirez, a former midfielder, took over, keeping the same base of players from the 2014 World Cup, even those that did not enjoy regular playing time in Europe. Ramirez’s main challenge will be finding a way to fit new players into this core group, especially in the attack.

Group games: Costa Rica’s biggest group game is against Brazil on June 22 in St. Petersburg, where it is also based for the tournament. The opener is against Serbia on Sunday in Samara. The team will also face Switzerland on June 27 in Nizhny Novgorod.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Vladimir Stojkovic (Partizan), Marko Dmitrovic (SD Eibar), Predrag Rajkovic (Maccabi Tel Aviv). Defenders: Antonio Rukavina (Villarreal), Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma), Milan Rodic (Red Star Belgrade), Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St. Petersburg), Uros Spajic (Anderlecht), Dusko Tosic (Guangzhou), Milos Veljkovic (Werder Bremen), Nikola Milenkovic (Fiorentina). Midfielders: Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Nemanja Matic (Manchester United), Marko Grujic (Liverpool), Adem Ljajic (Torino), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio), Dusan Tadic (Southampton), Filip Kostic (Hamburg), Andrija Zivkovic (Benfica), Nemanja Radonjic (Red Star Belgrade). Forwards: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle), Aleksandar Prijovic (PAOK Thessaloniki), Luka Jovic (Benfica).


Briefly: Ranked No. 6, the Swiss have enough talented players in the peak years of their careers to go far in Russia. Switzerland fans have waited a long time to see their expectations exceeded at a major tournament. The team appears good enough to do it this time, but it will be difficult in this group.

The key players: Yann Sommer has been the consistent first-choice pick in goal since taking over Diego Benaglio, who retired from the national team after the last World Cup . . . Switzerland gets its experienced full backs from Italy: Stephan Lichtsteiner, preparing for his third World Cup, on the right and Ricardo Rodriguez, who has become an increasingly important goal scorer, on the left. Fast-improving Manuel Akanji staked his claim for a starting place with impressive displays in the playoffs against Northern Ireland in November . . . A veteran midfield trio should be Valon Behrami, Granit Xhaka, and Blerim Dzemaili — all with more than 60 appearances . . . A central striker, perhaps the biggest question for the team, should be flanked by Xherdan Shaqiri to the right and whoever the team chooses to replace first-choice Admir Mehmedi, who will miss the tournament because of injury. Steven Zuber got the role against Spain.

Vladimir Petkovic has been Switzerland’s coach since 2014.
Vladimir Petkovic has been Switzerland’s coach since 2014.

The coach: Vladimir Petkovic. He was hired for the Switzerland job only when then-Austria coach Marcel Koller could not be tempted home to succeed Ottmar Hitzfeld after the 2014 World Cup. Seen as a second choice, Petkovic took time to grow into the role. Now, the Bosnian-born coach has asserted himself with a second straight tournament qualification.

Group games: Switzerland opens against the best team in qualifying, Brazil, on Sunday in Rostov-on-Don. Then there is a long trip west from its base in Tolyatti, Samara, to Kaliningrad to play Serbia on June 22. The team will complete its Group E schedule against Costa Rica in Nizhny Novgorod on June 27.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Roman Buerki (Borussia Dortmund), Yvon Mvogo (Leipzig), Yann Sommer (Borussia Moenchengladbach). Defenders: Manuel Akanji (Borussia Dortmund), Johan Djourou (Antalyaspor), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Michael Lang (Basel), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Jacques-Francois Moubandje (Toulouse), Ricardo Rodriguez (AC Milan), Fabian Schaer (Deportivo La Coruna). Midfielders: Valon Behrami (Udinese), Blerim Dzemaili (Bologna), Gelson Fernandes (Eintracht Frankfurt), Remo Freuler (Atalanta), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Denis Zakaria (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Steven Zuber (Hoffenheim). Forwards: Josip Drmic (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Breel Embolo (Schalke), Mario Gavranovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Haris Seferovic (Benfica).


Briefly: With a mandate to integrate the country’s promising young players into the squad, Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic was hired after the national team had already qualified for the World Cup. He has abandoned some of the caution shown by predecessor. The late shift in philosophy, however, has raised fears that Serbia’s consistent results could unravel. One of seven national teams created after the breakup of Yugoslavia, Serbia has never made it past the group stage at a World Cup.

The key players: The towering Vladimir Stojkovic was first choice in goal during the qualification campaign, which exposed the team’s irregular form . . . Branislav Ivanovic has long been a defensive rock, playing more than 100 times for his country while winning trophies with Chelsea. Captain and left back Aleksandar Kolarov, a seven-year Manchester City veteran, is admired by English fans for his reliable form and viral online Christmas videos . . . Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is a tall, fast, and versatile central midfielder. The 23-year-old is called ‘‘the sergeant’’ in Italy for his commanding style. The country’s second highly bankable star is another midfielder, Nemanja Matic, who has so impressed Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho that he’s a potential captain for next season . . . Aleksandar Mitrovic remains the preferred lone striker and he produced six goals in qualification. While his finishes often look unspectacular, the 23-year-old forward who plays at Fulham on loan has perfected close-range finishes.

Branislav Ivanovic has more than 100 caps for his country’s team.
Matt Dunham/AP
Branislav Ivanovic has more than 100 caps for his country’s team.

The coach: Krstajic was first brought in as a caretaker after Muslin’s dismissal, despite having never held a previous coaching position. But he has yet to calm the national anxiety after delivering highs and lows on the road to Russia.

Group games: Serbia will open against Costa Rica on Sunday in Samara. The team will then face Switzerland in Kaliningrad on June 22 before traveling to Moscow to face Brazil on June 27.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Vladimir Stojkovic (Partizan), Marko Dmitrovic (SD Eibar), Predrag Rajkovic (Maccabi Tel Aviv). Defenders: Antonio Rukavina (Villarreal), Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma), Milan Rodic (Red Star Belgrade), Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St. Petersburg), Uros Spajic (Anderlecht), Dusko Tosic (Guangzhou), Milos Veljkovic (Werder Bremen), Nikola Milenkovic (Fiorentina). Midfielders: Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Nemanja Matic (Manchester United), Marko Grujic (Liverpool), Adem Ljajic (Torino), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio), Dusan Tadic (Southampton), Filip Kostic (Hamburg), Andrija Zivkovic (Benfica), Nemanja Radonjic (Red Star Belgrade). Forwards: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle), Aleksandar Prijovic (PAOK Thessaloniki), Luka Jovic (Benfica).



Briefly: Defending World Cup champion Germany coasted through qualifying with a perfect 10-0 mark and a European record 43 goals. Then came a reality check. Germany drew friendlies against England, France and Spain, and Joachim Loew’s team lost 1-0 to Brazil to end a 22-game unbeaten run, and then came a defeat to Austria. The Germans didn’t win a game this year until last week’s 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia in Leverkusen. Now trying to become the first time since Brazil in 1962 to defend their World Cup title looks tricky for the Germans.

The key players: Captain Manuel Neuer has proved his fitness just in time. The Bayern Munich goalkeeper missed most of the season with a second hairline fracture in his left foot, but he played the full game Saturday against Austria . . . Bayern defender Jerome Boateng appears to have recovered from a thigh injury suffered April in the Champions League semifinals. Bayern teammate Niklas Suele can also step in to partner Mats Hummels in the center. Joshua Kimmich, another Bayern player, has emerged at right back . . . Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos is the driving force behind the side. He will likely be partnered by Juventus’ Sami Khedira, who provides more of a defensive presence, with Mesut Ozil in front, flanked on either side by Thomas Mueller and Marco Reus . . . Timo Werner seems assured of his starting place after another good season for Leipzig, albeit with most of his goals in the first half of the campaign. The team also has Mario Gomez, who has played in big tournaments before — at the World Cup in 2010 and three European Championships — and will hope to add to his 31 goals.

For Manuel Neuer, who won the Gold Glove award at the 2014 tournament, this is his third World Cup.
For Manuel Neuer, who won the Gold Glove award at the 2014 tournament, this is his third World Cup.

The coach: Joachim Loew. He favors a fast-paced possession-based game, pressing opponents to recover the ball and switching quickly from defense to attack. Loew has taken Germany to the final of the 2008 European Championship, a third-place finish at the 2010 World Cup, then the semifinals at Euro 2012 before the 2014 World Cup title in Brazil. Loew also has the unfortunate tendency to become an internet sensation among fans because the 58-year-old coach has been caught on camera picking his nose and in other compromising positions during games.

Group games: Germany kicks off its title defense near its tournament base in Moscow at the Luzhniki Stadium against Mexico on June 17. The side then faces a long trip south to Sochi for its second game against Sweden on June 23, before wrapping up Group F against South Korea in Kazan four days later.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Kevin Trapp (Paris Saint-Germain). Defenders: Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Jonas Hector (Cologne), Antonio Ruediger (Chelsea), Niklas Suele (Bayern Munich), Marvin Plattenhardt (Hertha Berlin), Matthias Ginter (Borussia Moenchengladbach). Midfielders: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Sami Khedira (Juventus), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Julian Draxler (Paris Saint-Germain), Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City), Leon Goretzka (Schalke), Sebastian Rudy (Bayern Munich), Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen). Forwards: Mario Gomez (Stuttgart), Timo Werner (Leipzig).


Briefly: The country has become accustomed to World Cup qualification since the 1982 failure and there is a desire to see more appearances in the knockout stage. Only twice have the Taeguk Warriors advanced from their group, in 2002 when they made the semifinals on home soil and in 2010 when they reached the round of 16. This will be South Korea’s ninth straight World Cup.

The key players: South Korea still lacks at a top-line goalkeeper. Viseel Kobe goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu is the No. 1 but could get competition from Jo Hyeon-woo and Kim Jin-hyeon . . . South Korea is traditionally strong in the fullback position with Lee Yong strong on the right. Kim Min-woo should be on the left with the injury to the other competitor for the spot, Kim Jin-su. Both can get forward and attack. Jang Hyun-soo is one likely starter in central defense with the other spot up for grabs . . . Ki Sung-yeung is the captain and the center of the attack. The other central midfield spot could go to fullback Park Joo-ho, who has been effective there at times . . . The challenge will be to get the best out of Son Heung-min. At times, the Tottenham forward he has featured on the left, as a second striker and as a lone striker. It looks as if Son will start as part of a two-pronged attack with the other forwards vying to partner him.

Shin Tae-yong may back off on his attacking game and focus on defense in Russia.
Shin Tae-yong may back off on his attacking game and focus on defense in Russia.

The coach: Shin Tae-yong. Shin Tae-yong took the job in July 2017 and did just enough to qualify. Shin likes to surprise tactically and he has experience in large tournaments: with the under-23 team at the 2016 Olympics, and at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup. In both events, South Korea advanced through the group stage before being eliminated in the first game of the knockout round. Shin may back off on his attacking game and focus on defense in Russia.

Group games: South Korea opens in Nizhny Novgorod against Sweden on Monday, followed by Mexico on June 23. South Korea will rely on getting points from those games before closing out Group F against Germany on June 27. None of South Korea’s group games are in St. Petersburg, where the team is based.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Kim Seung-gyu (Vissel Kobe), Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka), Jo Hyeon-woo (Daegu FC). Defenders: Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Jang Hyun-soo (FC Tokyo), Jung Seung-hyun (Sagan Tosu), Yun Young-sun (Seongnam FC), Oh Ban-suk (Jeju United), Kim Min-woo (Sangju Sangmu), Park Joo-ho (Ulsan Hyundai), Hong Chul (Sangju Sangmu), Go Yo-han (FC Seoul), Lee Yong (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors). Midfielders: Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea), Jung Woo-young (Vissel Kobe), Ju Se-jong (Asan Mugunghwa FC), Koo Ja-cheol (Augsburg), Lee Jae-sung (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Lee Seung-woo (Hellas Verona), Moon Seon-min (Incheon United). Forwards: Kim Shin-wook (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Hwang Hee-chan (Red Bull Salzburg).


Briefly: The Mexicans were consigned to their worst-ever loss in the 2016 Copa America Centenario quarterfinals, trounced 7-0 by Chile. In a pair of semifinals last year they were beaten 4-1 by Germany in the Confederations Cup and lost 1-0 to Jamaica in the Gold Cup. Progress for Mexico at the World Cup would be reaching the quarterfinals after failing to advance from the round of 16 at six successive editions. Only when the Mexicans hosted the World Cup did they make the last eight — in 1970 and 1986.

The key players: Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who has made 93 appearances since his international debut in 2005, is renowned in Mexico, but he might not be guaranteed to start every game. Osorio is considering using either Jesus Corona or Alfredo Talavera in the final Group F game against Sweden because Ochoa can struggle dealing with crosses . . . Hector Moreno, who plays for Real Sociedad after a brief stint with Roma, is the strongest component of the back line and is nursing an injury that has kept him out of the last two friendly matches . . . Hirving Lozano, who has scored 16 goals for PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch league, should start on the left wing. Carlos Vela, who joined Los Angeles FC from Real Sociedad last year, currently has the edge to start on the other flank . . . Javier ‘‘Chicharito’’ Hernandez remains the main striker heading into the tournament, but Raul Jimenez is having a strong season with Benfica. Oribe Peralta, who led Mexico to the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, is the third striker.

Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images
Entering his third World Cup, Javier Hernandez has three goals to his name in the previous two tournaments.

The coach: Juan Carlos Osorio. A different lineup has been deployed by Osorio in all 46 games in charge and now players are starting to question the tactical tinkering going into the World Cup. Osorio, who replaced fan favorite Miguel Herrera in 2015, isn’t budging. The Colombian has no plans to change his strategy because it carried Mexico to the World Cup as the top-placed team in CONCACAF qualifying for the first time in two decades. His 46 games with Mexico have seen 30 wins, nine draws and seven losses.

Group games: Mexico opens Group F against World Cup champion Germany on Sunday in Moscow, where it has its tournament base. The team will then head to Rostov-on-Don to face South Korea on June 23, followed by a match against Sweden in Yekaterinburg on June 27.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa (Standard Liege), Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca). Defenders: Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt), Diego Reyes (Porto), Hector Moreno (Real Sociedad), Hugo Ayala (Tigres), Edson Alvarez (America), Jesus Gallardo (Pumas), Miguel Layun (Sevilla). Midfielders: Rafael Marquez (Atlas), Hector Herrera (Porto), Jonathan Dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Andres Guardado (Betis), Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt), Giovani Dos Santos (LA Galaxy). Forwards: Javier Hernandez (West Ham), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Oribe Peralta (America), Jesús Corona (Porto), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC), Javier Aquino (Tigres), Hirving Lozano (PSV Eindhoven).


Briefly: Without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who retired from international play two years ago, Sweden plays more as a team and are a tighter and more efficient unit, proven when they kept two clean sheets against Italy to advance to the World Cup via the playoffs. Sweden beat France in its qualifying group and was undefeated at home. Once a lineup defined by one player, Sweden is now a team without superstars.

The key players: Robin Olsen has established himself as the starting goalkeeper heading into the World Cup . . . Andreas Granqvist is the experienced organizer of the defense, alongside the more youthful Victor Lindelof of Manchester United, and Granqvist plays for Russian club Krasnodar, where the Swedes will be based for the tournament . . . Emil Forsberg, a quick attacking midfielder who usually starts on the left wing, is the team’s standout player and has become a big name in the German league because of his form for Leipzig. Sebastian Larsson is the other high-profile player in the midfield, having played for the national team for a decade and in the Premier League with Birmingham and Sunderland after starting his professional career at Arsenal . . . Marcus Berg leads the forward line in the absence of Ibrahimovic and scored eight goals in qualifying. He remains key to Sweden’s plans despite being out of the limelight.

Marcus Berg, making his World Cup debut, scored eight goals in qualifying.
Antonio Calanni/AP
Marcus Berg, making his World Cup debut, scored eight goals in qualifying.

The coach: Janne Andersson. Andersson took charge of the national team after the European Championship in 2016. The 55-year-old coach values organization above everything and has made the national team defensively strong and a force on the counterattack.

Group games: Sweden opens Group F against South Korea on June 18. The team will then face Germany on June 23 and finish the group stage against Mexico on June 27.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Karl-Johan Johnsson (Guingamp), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Swansea), Robin Olsen (FC Copenhagen). Defenders: Ludwig Augustinsson (Werder Bremen), Andreas Granqvist (Krasnodar), Filip Helander (Bologna), Pontus Jansson (Leeds), Emil Krafth (Bologna), Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Victor Lindelof (Manchester United), Martin Olsson (Swansea). Midfielders: Viktor Claesson (Krasnodar), Jimmy Durmaz (Toulouse), Albin Ekdal (Hamburger SV), Emil Forsberg (Leipzig), Oscar Hiljemark (Genoa), Sebastian Larsson (Hull), Marcus Rohden (Crotone), Gustav Svensson (Seattle Sounders). Forwards: Marcus Berg (Al Ain), John Guidetti (Alaves), Isaac Kiese Thelin (Waasland-Beveren), Ola Toivonen (Toulouse).



Briefly: With a wealth of attacking options, Belgium should be a potent force going forward at the World Cup. They might need to be, because with injury and fitness clouds over key defenders, the team could be vulnerable at the back.

The key players: Romelu Lukaku, already Belgium’s all-time leading scorer with 33 goals, leads the attack. The team can also turn to Dries Mertens, the deft, diminutive winger-striker who was instrumental in Napoli’s pursuit of the Serie A title . . . The attack is supported by the creative genius of Eden Hazard and with Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings in midfield. The pair dazzles with sparkling moves and piercing passes. The team is hoping Adnan Januzaj’s his ability to beat defenders will carve out more chances for the strikers. . . . Having Thibaut Courtois in goal has made Belgium the envy of world football . . . Previously known for its dour defensive prowess, Belgium added flair with Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Meunier, and Jan Vertonghen. Kompany recently suffered a groin injury.

2018 is the second World Cup appearance for Romelu Lukaku, Belgium’s all-time leading scorer.
2018 is the second World Cup appearance for Romelu Lukaku, Belgium’s all-time leading scorer.

The coach: Roberto Martinez. Martinez, a Spanish coach with Premier League experience, led Belgium to the top of its qualifying group with an unbeaten record. But it’s unclear how a coach who spent most of his time with teams like Wigan, Swansea and Everton will fare at a World Cup.

Group games: After opening in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday against Panama, the second Group G game is close to its Moscow base against Tunisia on June 23. The group concludes on June 28 against England in Kaliningrad.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool). Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona). Midfielders: Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang), Nacer Chadli (West Bromwich Albion), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Thomas Meunier (Paris Saint-Germain), Youri Tielemans (Monaco), Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian). Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Borussia Dortmund), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Dries Mertens (Napoli).


Briefly: England is attempting to break a cycle of heartache and humiliation at major tournaments that plunged the birthplace of football to its lowest ebb. It’s no surprise that the nation’s expectations are low heading to Russia. England won the 1966 World Cup, but has only reached the semifinals of a tournament twice since then. What next for one of the underachievers of international football? Encouraging draws in recent friendlies against Brazil, Germany and Italy show the English are heading in the right direction but they have been here before in the run-up to tournaments.

The key players: Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, whose distribution is superior to Jack Butland's, is expected to begin the World Cup as first choice after being handed the No. 1 jersey . . . Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young — attacking fullbacks with good delivery and energy — look to be England’s starting wingbacks. Youthful duo John Stones and Harry Maguire are contenders to start as the center-back combination. Kyle Walker, a fast right back, has impressed in recent friendlies as a right-sided center back and looks set to start the tournament in that position . . . Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, and Fabian Delph will keep their shape in the midfield and allow the wingbacks and forward players to offer a goal threat. Creative responsibilities fall upon Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and wildcard inclusion Ruben Loftus-Cheek . . . Harry Kane will start as the central striker, with Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford as backups.

Gareth Southgate, England’s coach since 2016, has slowly changed opinions of his managerial skills.
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Gareth Southgate, England’s coach since 2016, has slowly changed opinions of his managerial skills.

The coach: Gareth Southgate. Southgate was promoted from England’s under-21 team to become coach of the senior side in September 2016, with the appointment widely viewed with skepticism because of his lack of managerial experience in top-level soccer. However, opinions are changing on the former England defender. He has made brave selection decisions — dropping Wayne Rooney, for starters — and has implemented a bold approach that has seen the team adopt a three-man defense and play the ball out from the back as much as possible.

Group games: England, which is based just outside St. Petersburg, opens Group G against Tunisia in Volgograd on June 18. The team then plays Panama in Nizhny Novgorod on June 24 and finishes against Belgium in Kaliningrad on June 28.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Burnley). Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Harry Maguire (Leicester), Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Ashley Young (Manchester United). Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea). Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal).


Briefly: Tunisia will be fielding a team at the World Cup of several foreign-born players after creative forward Youssef Msakni was sidelined with injury. Msakni carried the team to its fifth World Cup, and had a hat trick in the penultimate qualifier in Guinea, but he injured his knee while playing for his Qatari club. So Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul is expected to rely on foreign-born players in a move that could unsettle a team that went unbeaten in qualifying.

The key players: Goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi, an 11-year veteran, is beginning to show frailties and can no longer be certain of his starting spot. The team must figure out whether to drop the captain and sacrifice experience for 28-year-old Farouk Ben Mustapha, who has been highly-praised in the Saudi league . . . French-born Ellyes Skhiri, 22, could start in central defense. (He is an option in central midfield, too). Other contenders for center back are 24-year-old home-based player Yassine Meriah, the experienced Syam Ben Youssef, Mohamed Amine Ben Amor and Leicester’s Yohan Benalouane . . . France-born attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri played for the Tunisia and France youth teams before committing to Tunisia and made the World Cup squad despite a recent thigh injury. Khazri may be helped in midfield by Anice Badri and Naim Sliti . . . The absence through injury of striker Taha Yassine Khenissi has further limited Tunisia’s options up front and the forward line in Russia — as with recent games — may be based on the versatility of the four attacking midfielders.

This is Nabil Maaloul’s second year as Tunisia’s coach.
This is Nabil Maaloul’s second year as Tunisia’s coach.

The coach: Maaloul played for Tunisia for a decade until 1995. One of very few African coaches in charge of a national team, he has transformed Tunisia from a fairly dour, defensive outfit to one more willing to attack since he took over after the African Cup of Nations in early 2017.

Group games: Tunisia plays England on Monday, then faces Belgium on June 23 before finishing Group G against Panama on June 28.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab), Moez Hassen (Chateauroux), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Baten). Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa), Dylan Bronn (Gent), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek). Midfielders: Anice Badri (Esperance), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Al Ahli Riyadh), Ghaylene Chaalali (Esperance), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Saifeddine Khaoui (Troyes), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nasr), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier), Naim Sliti (Dijon), Bassem Srarfi (Nice). Forwards: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ittifaq), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Wahbi Khazri (Rennes).


Briefly: This is Panama’s first trip to the World Cup. The Central Americans aren’t complete unknowns. Twice runners-up at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, they qualified for the tournament in Russia by finishing ahead of the United States.

The key players: Roman Torres could be key to preventing Panama from leaking goals. The dreadlocked defender became a national hero after scoring the goal that clinched Panama’s World Cup place, leading to a national holiday being declared. He is set be joined in central defense by Fidel Escobar and Adolfo Machado. They will likely be flanked by Michael Murillo on the right and Eric Davis on the left . . . Jaime Penedo, who started in goal in the last three qualifiers, helped the team finish second at the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2005 and in 2013 . . . Gabriel Gomez and Anibal Godoy are expected to assume the defensive midfield roles. Edgar Joel Barcenas could play on the right or in the center behind the striker to create more scoring chances . . . Expect a sole striker for the Belgium and England games. The team will have to decide on 37-year-old Blas Perez or 29-year-old Gabriel Torres, who has had a successful season with Chilean club Huachipato.

Roman Torres became a national hero after scoring the goal that clinched Panama’s World Cup place, leading to a national holiday being declared.
Roman Torres became a national hero after scoring the goal that clinched Panama’s World Cup place, leading to a national holiday being declared.

The coach: Hernan Dario Gomez. Gomez is known for working his magic. After guiding his homeland of Colombia to the 1998 World Cup, he led Ecuador to the tournament for the first time in 2002. To avoid embarrassing defeats, he has experimented with five defenders and they limited the damage in a friendly against Denmark in March to a 1-0 loss.

Group games: Panama opens Group G in Sochi on Monday against Belgium, then plays England in Nizhny Novgorod on June 24 and finishes on June 28 against Tunisia in Saransk, where the team will be based for the tournament.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Jaime Penedo (Dinamo Bucarest), Jose Calderon (Chorrillo), Alex Rodriguez (San Francisco). Defenders: Felipe Baloy (Municipal), Harold Cummings (San Jose Earthquakes), Eric Davis (Dunajska Streda), Fidel Escobar (New York Red Bulls), Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls), Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo), Luis Ovalle (Olimpia), Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders). Midfielders: Edgar Barcenas (Cafetaleros), Armando Cooper (Universidad de Chile), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes), Gabriel Gomez (Bucaramanga), Valentin Pimentel (Plaza Amador), Ricardo Avila (KAA Gent), Jose Luis Rodríguez (KAA Gent). Forwards: Abdiel Arroyo (Alajuelense), Ismael Diaz (Fabril), Blas Perez (Municipal), Luis Tejada (Sports Boys), Gabriel Torres (Huachipato)



Briefly: Colombia has a lot to live up to in Russia after providing one of the standout moments of the last World Cup. James Rodriguez was catapulted to stardom when he took the ball on his chest and swiveled before smashing a volley in off the underside of the bar at the Maracana against Uruguay. It helped to secure Colombia’s spot in the quarterfinals in 2014. But James has struggled to live up to the highs of Brazil, where he scored a tournament-leading six goals. It was a struggle, too, for Colombia to even qualify for a second straight World Cup with a spot only sealed in the last match.

The key players: David Ospina is the undisputed choice in goal . . . Quality center backs have broken through: Yerry Mina of Barcelona, Oscar Murillo of Mexican side Pachuca, and Davinson Sanchez of Tottenham. Cristian Zapata is set for a second World Cup, along with right back Santiago Arias . . . In the midfield, James, Juan Cuadrado of Juventus, and Carlos Sanchez of Fiorentina are set for a second World Cup . . . Radamel Falcao is the only striker who looks certain of a starting spot while Duvan Zapata, Luis Fernando Muriel, Carlos Bacca, Miguel Angel Borja, Duvan Zapata and Yimmi Chara are competing for the remaining places.

This is James Rodriguez’s second World Cup. He scored six goals in the 2014 tournament.
This is James Rodriguez’s second World Cup. He scored six goals in the 2014 tournament.

The coach: Jose Pekerman. He has spent six years in charge of Colombia, following successes with his native Argentina. Pekerman has long had close ties to Colombia: He played with Independiente Medellin in the 1970s and Vanessa, his eldest daughter, was born in the capital in 1975.

Group games: Colombia opens Group H on Tuesday against Japan, plays the second game near its Kazan base against Poland on June 24, and concludes against Senegal on June 28.

Roster: Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Arsenal), Camilo Vargas (Deportivo Cali), Jose Fernando Cuadrado (Once Caldas). Defenders: Cristian Zapata (AC Milan), Yerry Mina (Barcelona), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham), Oscar Murillo (Pachuca), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), Farid Diaz (Olimpia), Johan Mojica (Girona), Jefferson Lerma (Levante). Midfielders: Carlos Sanchez (Espanyol), Abel Aguilar (Deportivo Cali), Mateus Uribe (America), Wilmar Barrios (Boca Juniors), James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich), Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate), Juan Guillermo Cuadrado (Juventus), Jose Heriberto Izquierdo (Brighton). Forwards: Luis Fernando Muriel (Sevilla), Radamel Falcao (Monaco), Carlos Bacca (Villarreal), Miguel Angel Borja (Palmeiras).


Briefly: While Japan secured qualification for Russia with a game to spare, the team was not always convincing. Former coach Vahid Halilhodzic tried to turn a Japanese team with a fluid passing tradition into a counterattacking unit. He also dropped the three leading players at times: Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki. By the time Halilhodzic was dismissed in April, the Samurai Blue had won only three of their last 10 games and the federation feared there would be a repeat of the 2014 World Cup when they collected only one point.

The key players: Eiji Kawashima, who played at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and is now 35, is likely to start in goal . . . Marseille defender Hiroki Sakai is one of Asia’s top right backs, while Yuto Nagatomo, who has been playing at Galatasaray, is set to start on the left. Expect to see Maya Yoshida of Southampton in central defense but the place alongside him is up for grabs . . . Makoto Hasebe is the midfield general who offers authority and coolness after a decade in the Bundesliga at Wolfsburg, Nuremberg and Eintracht Frankfurt. The captain likes to sit in front of the back four, often alongside Hotaru Yamaguchi, to dictate play and build passing moves . . . Honda hasn’t scored for Japan in two years but is still likely to lead the attack. Kagawa has struggled for national form but has a greater chance of playing under the new coach, while Okazaki, who won the Premier League title with Leicester, may get the nod to make the starting lineup.

Hiroki Sakai (top) has made 41 appearances for Japan since 2012.
Hiroki Sakai (top) has made 41 appearances for Japan since 2012.

The coach: Akira Nishino. He was given only two months to prepare Japan for the World Cup after the sudden dismissal of Vahid Halilhodzic. The hastily-appointed coach had the task of addressing the trust and communication issues swirling around the team. Considered a safe pair of hands, the 63-year-old Nishino has the Japan job until the end of the World Cup. Nishino had been working on the Japan Football Association technical committee when he was handed a first coaching job since 2015. In his coaching debut, Japan lost to Ghana 2-0 in Yokohama before departing for the World Cup.

Group games: Japan won’t play any Group H games in Kazan, where it has its training base. After opening against Colombia in Saransk on Tuesday, the team travels to Yekaterinburg to play Senegal on June 24 and then faces Poland in Volgograd on June 28.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Metz), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol). Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Wataru Endo (Urawa Reds), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers), Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers). Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca), Takashi Inui (Eibar), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Takashi Usami (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale). Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester), Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz).


Briefly: Poland is preparing for its first World Cup appearance since 2006.

The key players: Robert Lewandowski and Wojciech Szczesny will lead Poland’s World Cup campaign. Napoli forward Arkadiusz Milik, Monaco defender Kamil Glik, and veteran midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski are also in the squad.

The coach: Adam Nawalka. Nawalka has led this squad since 2013, guiding Poland to its first Euro qualifer in 2016 and its first World Cup appearance this year in 12 years.

Robert Lewandowski has nearly 100 caps under his belt for Poland.
Leszek Szymanski/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
Robert Lewandowski has nearly 100 caps under his belt for Poland.

Group games: Poland opens on Tuesday against Senegal before playing Colombia on June 24 and Japan on June 28.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus), Bartosz Bialkowski (Ipswich Town), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City). Defenders: Michal Pazdan (Legia Warsaw), Artur Jedrzejczyk (Legia Warsaw), Thiago Cionek (SPAL Ferrara), Jan Bednarek (Southampton), Kamil Glik (Monaco), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria). Midfielders: Jacek Goralski (Ludogorets Razgrad), Karol Linetty (Sampdoria), Grzegorz Krychowiak (West Bromwich Albion), Kamil Grosicki (Hull City), Maciej Rybus (Lokomotiv Moscow), Jakub Blaszczykowski (Wolfsburg), Slawomir Peszko (Lechia Gdansk), Piotr Zielinski (Napoli), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund), Rafal Kurzawa (Gornik Zabrze). Forwards: Arkadiusz Milik (Napoli), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Lukasz Teodorczyk (Anderlecht), Dawid Kownacki (Sampdoria).


Briefly: Senegal is making only its second World Cup appearance. The 2018 team boasts more recognizable players, led by Liverpool forward Sadio Mane. There’s also Monaco winger Keita Balde and Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly. Senegal’s preparations for the World Cup have not been perfect. Three recent friendlies, against Uzbekistan, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Luxemburg, ended in draws.

The key players: Goalkeeper Khadim Ndiaye was Cisse’s top choice by the end of qualifying . . . center back Kalidou Koulibaly is Senegal’s defensive titan. The wing back position appears solid with Moussa Wague, Lamine Gassama and Youssouf Sabaly. Senegal also hopes to have Kara Mbodji (knee) ready to play, possibly to partner Koulibaly in central defense . . . The captain is midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate of West Ham, who has drawn comparisons to Patrick Vieira. Another stalwart is Idrissa Gana Gueye of Everton. Cheikh Ndoye (Birmingham) and Pape Alioune Ndiaye (Stoke) were called up by Cisse in qualifying and should play important roles . . . Liverpool forward Sadio Mane, who recently became the highest-scoring Senegalese player in Premier League history, is the key to success up front. The trick will be who else to plays up front to get the best out of Mane. Monaco winger Keita Balde, another man on the mend from injury, is a possibility, as are Moussa Konate, Mbaye Niang and Diafra Sakho.

Sadio Mane has appeared in 49 matches for Senegal since 2012.
Darko Bandic/AP
Sadio Mane has appeared in 49 matches for Senegal since 2012.

The coach: Aliou Cisse. Cisse was the captain of the 2002 team that went to the World Cup and has now led Senegal to a second World Cup from the sidelines. When the team returned to Dakar following a 2-0 win over South Africa to clinch the spot, supporters at the airport picked up Cisse and threw him in the air while singing songs in his honor. So much more awaits Cisse, potentially.

Group games: Senegal starts in Group H against Poland on Tuesday in Moscow, then plays Japan on June 24 and Colombia on June 28.

Roster: Goalkeepers: Abdoulaye Diallo (Rennes), Khadim Ndiaye (Horoya), Alfred Gomis (Spal). Defenders: Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor), Moussa Wague (Kas Eupen), Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux), Kara Mbodji (Anderlecht), Saliou Ciss (Valenciennes), Salif Sane (Hanover). Midfielders: Cheihkou Kouyate (West Ham), Alfred Ndiaye (Wolverhampton), Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton), Cheikh Ndoye (Birmingham), Pape Alioune Ndiaye (Stoke). Forwards: Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Diafra Sakho (Rennes), Moussa Sow (Bursaspor), Moussa Konate (Amiens), Ismaila Sarr (Rennes), Keita Balde (Monaco), Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke), Mbaye Niang (Torino).