The final few slots for the World Cup in Russia next summer have been finalised this week and all eyes are set for the showcase tournament, where 32 football teams will be eyeing their own levels of glory.
With the sides coming from across the world and having a different level of expectations, there’s plenty to look ahead to and there’s also some notable absentees; with Italy, Holland, Chile and the United States amongst those failing to qualify.
As we approach four years since Germany lifted football’s biggest prize in Brazil, we’re coming to a period of change in football. The long-established best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, are both approaching the twilight years of their career and a new batch of stars are ready to step-up.
Next summer’s World Cup could be the making of many young players, with Neymar and Harry Kane amongst those looking to prove themselves once again amongst the elite, but there’s plenty of others to consider and it’s a difficult tournament to predict.
Having blitzed their way through qualifying, defending champions Germany are expected to push for glory again next summer after establishing a very strong side. Losing a number of veterans after success in Brazil, Joachim Lowe has benefitted from having a number of able youngsters ready to step-up.
Further competition from Europe will likely come in the form of France, runners-up in the 2016 European Championships, and they’re another side with a wealth of talent- particularly in attack, where the likes of Anthony Martial, Antoine Griezmann, Alexandre Lacazette and Olivier Giroud are vying to lead the line.
Euro 2016 winners Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, will also be eyeing success, as will Spain- a side who have declined since winning the European Championships in 2012 and will look to make up for the disappointments of 2014.
The biggest threat to Germany’s crown may well come from South America. Brazil, looking for redemption after suffering a 7-1 semi-final defeat in their own World Cup finals in 2014, stormed through qualifying and look to be back at their best.
Elsewhere, Argentina, who narrowly sealed their place at the tournament after difficulties throughout their qualifying campaign, will eye glory. Messi, who has now lost in three major international tournament finals, has one last crack to prove to the doubters that he’s the best of all-time.
The dark horses
Every tournament there’s a side who step-up and surprise you, with next summer unlikely to be any different. In Europe, Belgium will look to get the best out of their squad of stars and Denmark, led by the sensational Christian Eriksen, are also ones to watch.
Poland, Croatia and Switzerland are all capable of causing an upset on their day, and could prove to be a thorn in the side of the major nations, whilst an entire continent will be rooting for the African teams and hoping this is the year where they finally shine.
Nigeria, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia are the sides taking part next year, with the Super Eagles looking strong after recently defeating Argentina 4-2 in a friendly, whilst Egypt and Senegal both have Premier League stars amongst their roster.
Elsewhere, Japan can be seen as one of the strongest nations from Asia and South American duo Uruguay and Colombia, both of whom have some stellar players in their ranks, will also hope to make a name for themselves.
Ones to watch
Showcasing the greatest footballers in the world, next summer’s World Cup will see the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and Griezmann looking to immortalise themselves as legends within their nation.
However, it’s worth noting that the stand-out player in 2014 was Colombia’s James Rodriguez and 2010 saw Diego Forlan shine- so it’s wise to look between the lines for other potential heroes coming into form.
Robert Lewandowski and Romelu Lukaku will be looking to succeed with Poland and Belgium, whilst Liverpool pairing Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have the weights of their nations on their shoulders- whilst the same can be said for Arsenal ace Alex Iwobi, who’s excelled with Nigeria and will look to emulate his uncle Jay-Jay Okocha, who established himself as a Nigerian legend.
There’s likely to be plenty of stories and talking points surrounding next summer’s World Cup and preparations will already be under way for fans looking to make their way to Russia. As such, it’s worth getting to grips with things early and starting to eye some promising bets which you will hopefully win big from.