World Cup Wednesday

Hey everyone, welcome to World Cup Wednesday. It’s that special time in the world of sport that comes around every 4 years, where the entire world stops to watch the beautiful game on the world stage. This year, we will see 32 teams from countries all over the world battle it out in Russia for the Cup and the glory of becoming the greatest team in the world. We are now less than two days away from the first whistle, and the excitement is building up. The first round of the group stage begins at 12:55am on Friday morning Australian time. And so, in order to prepare for this exciting four-yearly event, let’s have a brief look at each of the 32 teams vying for glory at this year’s FIFA World Cup:

Group A:

Russia: The hosting nation of this year’s World Cup. They will be aiming to prove themselves in their own nation this year, doing all that they can to ensure that they take the Cup in their own country. Their fans will be lining the stands, cheering them on in their own country, so they will have the advantage of playing in their own home territory. This will be their 11th World Cup, their best result being 4th in the 1966 World Cup in England.

Current FIFA Ranking: 70

Star Player: Igor Akinfeev (GK, Captain)

Saudi Arabia: The Saudi Arabian national team will be out to do their absolute best this year. This will be their 5th appearance in a World Cup, with their best result being the Round of 16 at the 1994 World Cup in the US. They will have a decent challenge in their first match, playing against host team Russia. It will be quite interesting to see if they can manage to get through the group stage this year, considering they also have to play Egypt and Uruguay.

Current FIFA Ranking: 67

Star Player: Abdullah Otayf (Midfielder)

Egypt: Egypt don’t usually get much mention when it comes to the World Cup, but they have one player in their squad who will no doubt shine on the world stage. Mohamed Salah has been a force to reckon with at Liverpool, taking them all the way to the Champions League Final this year. But after an incident around 30 minutes in to that same Final which resulted in a shoulder injury for the star player, the question looked as to whether he will represent his nation at the World Cup. At this stage, he is hopeful of playing in their first match against Uruguay this Friday. This will be Egypt’s 3rd appearance in the World Cup, their best result being 13th in the 1934 edition.

Current FIFA Ranking: 45

Star Player: Mohamed Salah (Forward)

Uruguay: Uruguay are probably one of the teams that usually perform quite well at this tournament. Having won the World Cup twice (1930 and 1950), they will more than likely be looking to take home the Cup for a third time. They have played in the tournament 12 times already, making this their 13th World Cup appearance. With players like Diego Godín, Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani, this team will no doubt be playing top quality football.

Current FIFA Ranking: 14

Star Player: Luis Suárez (Forward)

Group B:

Portugal: One of the best international teams in the tournament. Portugal has one of the most well known and greatest players of our time, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo makes Portugal’s attack all the more greater than many of the other teams in the World Cup. In more recent World Cups, the team has managed to do quite well, getting through the group stage and the Round of 16 quite easily, often making it to the quarter and/or semi finals. They have featured 6 times in this tournament, making this their 7th World Cup. Their best result came from the 1966 World Cup in England, where they came third. They should perform quite well.

Current FIFA Ranking: 4

Star Player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Forward)

Spain: The Spanish international team are up there with the best. There are a number of top class players on the squad, with the likes of goalkeeper David De Gea, defenders Gerard Pique, Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, and Jordi Alba, midfielders Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Isco, and forward Diego Costa. Spain boast all these big names, and a lot of talent, and so it is no surprise that they usually get most of the way through the World Cup. This will be their 15th World Cup, having appeared 16 times previously, with their best result being Champions in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. They will be one to watch.

Current FIFA Ranking: 10

Star Player: David De Gea (Goalkeeper)

Morocco: Morocco were the first African team to win a group at the World Cup when they finished top of their group above Portugal, Poland and England in the 1986 World Cup. They made it to the Round of 16, being the first African team to do so, but unfortunately lost out to West Germany and were subsequently eliminated from the tournament. Since then they have had a rough patch of international football, and this will be their first World Cup in 20 years, and their 5th appearance at the tournament. Their best result came from the 1986 World Cup where they made the Round of 16, something they will surely be looking to repeat this year, but with a tough group to get through.

Current FIFA Ranking: 41

Star Player: Ayoub El Kaabi

Iran: Iran have always fought to get a place in the Round of 16, but have never managed to get out of the Group Stage. They’ve made 4 previous appearances in the tournament, their best result being the group stage. They will more than certainly make a good attempt to get out of their group this year, fighting for a spot in the Round of 16. However, they do have a tough group to get out of, with Portugal and Spain being major challenges. It will be interesting to see if they can hold out and push through, or if they will once again be lost to the Group Stage.

Current FIFA Ranking: 37

Star Player: Sardar Azmoun (Forward)

Group C:

France: The French National team are a top tier team. They play well, and they are very good at what they do. They also have probably one of the most noteworthy forward lineups you’ll see in international football with the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Alexandre Lacazette, Dimitri Payet, Anthony Martial and Olivier Giroud. And let’s not forget their very well known keeper Hugo Lloris. France have made 14 previous appearances in the tournament, making this their 15th, with their best result coming from the 1998 World Cup in their own country, in which they were Champions. They will more than likely be the stars of their group, and they will definitely be a challenge for each and every one of their group stage opponents.

Current FIFA Ranking: 7

Star Player: Antoine Griezmann (Forward)

Australia: Australia have had many highs and lows over the past few years. They’ve won the Asian Cup under coach Ange Postecoglou, and they’ve played in the Confederations Cup against some of the best teams in international football. But then they had one of the most extensive World Cup qualifying campaigns of the year, having to play in a series of play offs in order to actually make it to the World Cup. After two nail biting games against Syria, and then another two against Honduras, the team made the World Cup for the 5th time, having made 4 previous appearances. The Socceroos best performance in a World Cup came in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, when the team made it to the Round of 16. Aside from that one tournament, they have never made it out of the Group Stage. However, despite the competition in their group this year, this group may be their chance to get to the Round of 16 and maybe even further this year. With the resignation of their coach Ange Postecoglou earlier this year after qualification, and the subsequent appointment of seasoned coach Bert Van Marwijk to the position of head coach, the Socceroos are beginning to change. Van Marwijk has won the World Cup with the Netherlands before, and I’m sure he’ll be hoping to make that happen again, this time with Australia. And with young and new talent like Daniel Arzani and Andrew Nabbout, it looks like the Australian World Cup dream may once more be alive.

Current FIFA Ranking: 36

Star Player: Josh Risdon (Defender) (Keep an eye on Daniel Arzani though as well.)

Denmark: The Danes are going to prove to be contenders for making it out of their group this year. They do play well, and with players like Christian Eriksen and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, they will more than likely be a challenge for at least Australia and Peru. They have featured in the World Cup 4 times previously, making this their 5th appearance, their best result being the Quarter Finals in the 1998 World Cup in France. They will no doubt be looking to make it that far once again this tournament.

Current FIFA Ranking: 12

Star Player: Christian Eriksen

Peru: Peru are the team in this group that are not all too well known. They have somewhat slipped under the radar, until recent times. They had a very extensive qualifying campaign for this year’s World Cup, one that was parallel with Australia’s, with the team having to play a number of playoffs alike to the Socceroos. After winning those playoffs, the second two being against New Zealand in which there was controversy when the fans shone laser pointers in the New Zealand goalkeeper’s eyes, there was a period of time in which Peru’s spot in the Cup became questionable, with some political issues occurring and FIFA warning them against some changes, but they pulled through nonetheless. But then further controversy struck when Peru’s captain Paolo Guerrero was banned due to drug use, however he has since been cleared to play in the tournament. Peru will be a team to watch, having played in 3 previous World Cups, with their best result being the Quarter Finals in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, and they also made the Round of 16 again in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. It will be challenging for them, but they will more than likely fight to stay in the Cup.

Current FIFA Ranking: 11

Star Player: Paolo Guerrero

Group D:

Argentina: One of the top tier teams. Argentina are another team that boast one of the best attacking line-ups in national football, with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Pablo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria (a midfielder but an attacking one at that), and of course, the star of the squad and one of the greatest players of our time, Lionel Messi. This team always performs well at this tournament, proving to be one of the toughest teams to beat. Having made 16 previous appearances, this will be their 17th World Cup, their best results being the Champions of the 1978 and 1986 World Cups in their own country and in Mexico. They did have a shaky qualification process this year, almost missing out on playing World Cup football, however were spared by Chile bowing out in the qualifiers to see Argentina make it through. But they will more than likely fight hard and play top quality football once again at this World Cup to get deep in to the tournament.

Current FIFA Ranking: 5

Star Player: Lionel Messi (Forward)

Iceland: Now this is the team I’m excited about, and I’m sure many would agree. If you aren’t excited about Iceland being in a World Cup, you really should be. Iceland are one of the up and coming teams of our time. This is their first World Cup, and they will be out to prove themselves to the world on the world stage this year. This is only their second international tournament, their first being the UEFA Euro 2016 two years ago, in which they made the Quarter Finals, making an impact like no other on the world. And their fans will most certainly be behind them in this their first World Cup with their trademark Viking Clap. They will be looking to make their mark on the world, and I for one am quite excited to see just how far they will go. They will have to get through a fairly challenging group, but I’m sure they will perform well and play their best football at this tournament.

Current FIFA Ranking: 22

Star Player: Gylfi Sigurdsson (Midfielder)

Croatia: Croatia have made the World Cup a total of 4 times previously, making this their 5th appearance. Their best result came from the 1998 World Cup in France, where they placed third overall. With creative players like Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in midfield, and goal scorers Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic in the forward line-up, they will be likely contenders to make it out of their group and further into the competition. And they will more than likely be looking for their first World Cup championship.

Current FIFA Ranking: 20

Star Player: Luka Modric (Midfielder)

Nigeria: Nigeria aren’t one of the most well known team in international football, but they had a massive PR boost when their kit for this year’s World Cup debuted and sold out within 15 minutes upon its release. They have made 16 previous appearances in this tournament, making this their 17th World Cup, their best results being the Round of 16 in the 1994, 1998 and 2014 editions of this tournament in the US, France and Brazil. They will more than likely be looking to go further this year, and they have an interesting group to get out of.

Current FIFA Ranking: 48

Star Player: Ahmed Musa

Group E:

Brazil: One of the top tier teams in the world. Brazil has some of the greatest footballers to ever play in world football, being home to one of the greatest football cultures in the world. The players are highly skilled, and will be looking for retribution after their disastrous bowing out in their home country in the 2014 World Cup to Champions Germany. They will be out to prove they are back in it this year, and will no doubt fight the hardest they’ve fought. With players like Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marcelo, Dani Alves, David Luiz and Filipe Luis in defence, Fernandinho, Phillips Coutinho, Paulinho and Willian in midfield, and Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino, Douglas Costa and Neymar in attack, this team is looking to be one of the best at this World Cup. What’s surprising however, is the omission of winger Hulk from this year’s squad. Brazil, having played in every single World Cup in history (21 to be exact), are probably the most well equipped team in this tournament, and will more than likely go deep into the tournament. They have won the tournament 5 times, being crowned World Cup Champions in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002 in Sweden, Chile, Mexico, the US, and South Korea and Japan. You’ll notice they also have the rare achievement of winning back to back World Cups in 1958 and 1962. Despite Neymar being injured and out for around three months prior to the World Cup, Brazil will no doubt be looking to add the 2018 World Cup in Russia to their list of Championships. And with Neymar back and in top quality shape, they look to be ready to take off in this year’s tournament.

Current FIFA Ranking: 2

Star Player: Neymar (Forward)

Switzerland: The Swiss National team seem to always push through in this tournament, and have shown themselves to be fair contenders in the past. They will be making their 10th appearance in a World Cup at this year’s tournament, having made 9 previous appearances, with their best results being the Quarter Finals in the 1934, 1938 and 1954 World Cups in Italy, France, and their own country. They will be looking to do this again this year, and push even further to get to the Semi-Finals and maybe even the coveted World Cup Final. And they may just be able to do so with players like Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaquiri. They will be one to watch.

Current FIFA Ranking: 6

Star Player: Xherdan Shaquiri

Costa Rica: Costa Rica will be looking to make it further into the tournament this year, having made it to the Quarter Finals at the last World Cup in 2014. This will be their 10th World Cup, having appeared in the tournament 9 times previously, their best result being that of the Quarter Finals in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. They have many experienced players, some with over 100 caps for the squad. And players with experience will most likely be the key for their World Cup performance this year in Russia, as they look to go one better than 2014.

Current FIFA Ranking: 23

Star Player: Keylor Navas (Goalkeeper)

Serbia: The Serbian national football team is not all that well known to many, but is probably one of the most underestimated teams in the tournament. They have played at 11 previous World Cups, making this their 12th appearance, with their best result coming from the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, where they placed third overall. With experienced players like Branislav Ivanovic, who has 103 caps for the team, and Aleksandar Kolarov, who has 76, as well as somewhat seasoned players Nemanja Matic and Aleksandar Mitrovic, the Serbs will no doubt prove themselves fighters in this year’s World Cup. And they may just make it out of their group if they put up enough of a challenge.

Current FIFA Ranking: 34

Star Player: Nemanja Matic

Group F:

Germany: The current World Cup Champions. Germany will be looking to retain the World Cup Championship and go into the history books as one of the few teams to do so. They will more than likely make it deep into the tournament with the tenacity of the players they have. They are one of the top tier teams for a reason, and have proven themselves to be a force of nature, in particular at the 2014 World Cup in which they dominated Brazil in the Semi Final 7-1 to go to the Final and win the Cup. Boasting a team of top class players, including star goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, defenders Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, midfielders Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler , Ilkay Gundogan and Mario Gotze, and attackers Thomas Muller, Marco Reus, and Mario Gomez, this is one of the best teams in the tournament, and they will be a tough opponent to any team that faces them. They have made 17 previous appearances in the World Cup, making this their 18th appearance in the tournament, with their best results being four Championships, coming from the 1954, 1974, 1990 and 2004 World Cups in Switzerland, West Germany, Italy and Brazil. They will undoubtedly be a tough competitor in this year’s tournament.

Current FIFA Ranking: 1

Star Player: Manuel Neuer (Goalkeeper)

Mexico: Mexico are a team of experience, with a number of players having made over 100 caps for the national team, and two, Rafael Marquez and captain Andrés Guardado having made 145 caps for their national team. Mexico have featured in 15 previous World Cups, making this their 16th. Their best results came from the 1970 and 1986 World Cups, both held in their own country, with them making it to the Quarter Finals both times. They will most definitely be looking to reproduce that this year, and go even further into the competition, with hopes of winning the Cup. They should prove to be a fighting contender in this year’s battle for the Cup.

Current FIFA Ranking: 15

Star Player: Javier Hernandez (Forward)

Sweden: The Swedes will be looking to go one further than their best this year and win the Cup. They have made 11 previous appearances in the World Cup, making this their 12th appearance, their best result being Runners-up at the 1958 World Cup in their own country, in which they lost out to Brazil 5-2 in the Final. With a host of experienced players and some fresh blood, and after a fairly stable and decent run through their qualifiers to get to this tournament, they will undoubtedly be fighters in this tournament and will be looking to battle it out to get as far into the Cup as they can. They will not feature their star player, the world famous Zlatan Ibrahimovic this year, despite his request to be a part of the squad. So it will be interesting to see how they do without him, and to see if they can hold their own.

Current FIFA Ranking: 24

Star Player: Andreas Granqvist (Defender, Captain)

South Korea: South Korea are one of the most formidable teams in Asia, and probably the most successful. They have played in 9 previous World Cups, making this their 10th appearance, with their best result being in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, in which they placed 4th overall. They will be looking to be even better this year, and maybe even make history as an Asian team if they win the Cup. They have some highly experienced players on the squad, and will be looking to do all they can to get out of their group, which will be an interesting one to watch.

Current FIFA Ranking: 57

Star Player: Son Heung-min

Group G:

Belgium: Belgium are a team that could prove to be formidable opponents when they are performing at their best. With many experienced players in the side, many of whom are playing in the English Premier League, the squad have some of the best talent in the world of football. Players like Eden Hazard (FW), Kevin De Bruyne (MF), Vincent Kompany (DF), Jan Vertonghen (DF), Thibaut Courtois (GK), and Romelu Lukaku (FW) have all shown their talents in season matches within the Premier League, and will no doubt display their talents on the pitch in Russia. Belgium have made 12 previous appearances in the World Cup, making this their 13th, with their best result coming from the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, where they placed 4th overall. They will no doubt play top quality football at this year’s World Cup.

Current FIFA Ranking: 3

Star Player: Romelu Lukaku (Forward)

Panama: Panama are this year making their World Cup debut, this being their first time featuring in the tournament. With a nail biting finish in the qualifiers putting them through to the Cup, putting the United States out of the running for qualification completely, and forcing Honduras to play a series of two play off qualifiers against Australia, who would go on to defeat them, Panama only really just made it into the tournament, and so it will be interesting to see if they can hold their own against some of the best national teams in the world. The only other international tournament they have played in is the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a tournament of national teams in North and South America and the Caribbean, which they have played in 8 times, being Runners-up twice. With players unknown to many, yet very much experienced with a number of players having been capped for the team over 100 times, no one can be certain as to just how good Panama will be, and just how well they will play. They are definitely one to watch.

Current FIFA Ranking: 55

Star Player: Luis Tejada (Forward)

Tunisia: This is a team that, like Australia and Iran, have constantly struggled to get out of the Group Stage. They placed top of their group in the qualifiers to make it to the Cup, however, they once again find themselves in a tough situation, with their group being somewhat difficult to get through. Whilst they may be able to edge out Panama, it will prove highly challenging for them to hold out against the high quality footballers that make up the Belgium and England national teams. This will be their 5th World Cup, having made 4 previous appearances, with their best result always being the Group Stage. They will have to fight harder than ever before if they want to progress from this group.

Current FIFA Ranking: 21

Star Player: Wahbi Khazri (Midfielder)

England: This team will be very well known to many. One of the top tier teams in the world, England have produced some really high quality football in the past, and they will no doubt prove to be worthy contenders for the Cup this year. After a stellar qualifying campaign, which saw them be the first team to qualify for this year’s World Cup, England will undoubtedly be ready to take on the world, and will more than likely progress from the Group Stage this year, potentially even finishing at the top of their group. With players like Gary Cahill and John Stones in defence, Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard and Eric Dier in midfield, and a stellar forward line inclusive of Jamie Vardy, Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Marcus Rashford, and the star of the squad, Harry Kane, England will be a tough opponent, and will most certainly progress deep into the tournament. This will be their 15th appearance in the World Cup, having made 14 previous appearances, their best result coming from the 1966 World Cup in their own country, where they were Champions. They will undoubtedly be looking to reproduce that result at this year’s tournament.

Current FIFA Ranking: 12

Star Player: Harry Kane (Forward)

Group H:

Poland: Poland are quite underestimated in what they can do. There are some really top quality footballers on the squad, who have produced some spectacular moments in a number of competitions. The star of the squad is obvious however, that star being their legendary striker, Robert Lewandowski. The man who scored 5 goals in just 9 minutes back in September 2015, coming off the bench for Bayern Munich at half time to net goals at the 51st, 52nd, 55th, 57th and 60th minutes of the game against Wolfsburg. One of the greatest players of our time, Lewandowski will no doubt be looking to make his mark once again on the world stage. Having featured in the World Cup 7 times previously, this will be Poland’s 8th World Cup, their best results coming from the 1974 and 1982 World Cups in West Germany and Spain, placing third overall in both tournaments. They will undoubtedly be looking to go two better than that this year, and take home the Cup.

Current FIFA Ranking: 8

Star Player: Robert Lewandowski (Forward)

Senegal: Senegal have only played in the famous World Cup once before, this being their first time back in the competition in 16 years. After finishing safely on top of their group in the qualifiers, Senegal will be out to make their mark on the World Cup once again, and will be looking to go deeper into the tournament than they did last time. This is their 2nd World Cup, having made their one previous appearance at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, in which they made the Quarter Finals. It will be interesting to see how they progress in this year’s World Cup, their group being an interesting one.

Current FIFA Ranking: 27

Star Player: Moussa Konate (Forward)

Colombia: Colombia are somewhat of an unpredictable team. They have quite a few experience players on their side, including a highly experienced goalkeeper in David Ospina, who currently plays for English Premier League team Arsenal, and the highly skilled and experienced midfielder James Rodríguez, who currently plays for German side Bayern Munich, having previously made 77 appearances for Spanish side Real Madrid. This team has some highly skilled players, and some really fast paced play. They have featured in 5 previous World Cups, making this their 6th appearance, their best result coming from the more recent 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where they made the Quarter Finals. They will surely be looking to go further in this year’s tournament.

Current FIFA Ranking: 16

Star Player: James Rodríguez (Midfielder)

Japan: Japan is probably the most successful Asian team to feature in this tournament, which is surprising given that they are the lowest ranked team in this year’s tournament. They have qualified for the last 6 consecutive World Cups, and have some of the most experienced players in Asia on their side, a few having been capped over 100 times for the squad, and a number of players getting quite close to cracking the 100 caps mark. Having won the Asian Cup 4 times, Japan will be looking for their first World Cup Championship this year. This will be their 6th appearance at the World Cup, having featured in 5 previous tournaments, with their best result being the Round of 16 in both the 2002 and 2010 World Cups in South Korea and Japan and in South Africa. They will no doubt be looking to go further this year and be the first Asian team to take home the Cup.

Current FIFA Ranking: 61

Star Player: Shinji Okazaki (Forward)

And there you have it, all 32 teams at this year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia. I know this is probably one of the longest articles I’ve ever written, and trust me it’s taken a good few days to get through. But if you’ve made it this far, I really commend you for your dedication to this blog and it’s posts. And I thank you greatly for reading. Thanks, and enjoy the Cup!

JJ

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