By Rebecca Hawksworth

Four years after Germany lifted the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, the 2018 edition gets under way tonight in Moscow when hosts Russia take on Saudi Arabia. Rebecca Hawksworth, a BA (Hons) Multimedia Sports Journalism student, takes a look at each group to analyse the runners and riders ahead of the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup.

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Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay

Despite being the host nation, Russia are certainly not the favourites to progress out of this group. Currently 66th in the FIFA World Rankings, they’re the second lowest ranked nation in the competition.

Coincidently Saudi Arabia are the only team sat lower than Russia in the FIFA rankings at the tournament and the two sides will come head to head in the opening game at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

With the fire power of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani up top, two-time winners Uruguay will be expected to progress to the knock-out stages from this group, having also done well in recent tournaments.

There will also be a lot of eyes on Egypt too this summer as fans watch to see if Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah can carry his incredible club performances this season into the World Cup and overcome the injury he sustained in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran

Spain and Portugal will surely enter the tournament as heavy favourite to progress from this group. The two will face each other on the second day of the tournament, a fixture which will likely prove to be the decider in who finishes top.

Despite being the reigning European champions, Portugal are not one of the favourites to win the tournament. They have a lot of talent in their squad but are still heavily dependent on Cristiano Ronaldo, this year’s Ballon D’Or winner.

Spain are one of the bookies favourites to win the tournament due to their incredible strength in depth. However, it remains to be seen how the squad will cope with the shock departure of coach Julen Lopetegui just 48 hours before the start of the tournament.

Morocco’s appearance in this year’s World Cup is their first in 20 years and they do have the highly rated Juventus defender Medhi Benatia amongst their ranks. Meanwhile, this is Iran’s fifth time at the finals having never progressed past the group stages of the competition.

Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark

France are very much favourites to win the entire tournament. With talent such as Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann amongst their ranks you can expect Didier Deschamps’ side to score a flurry of goals throughout the competition.

It would have to be said that the Danish faithful’s hopes of doing well at this tournament rest largely on the shoulders of Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen. However, Denmark do have some talented youth amongst their squad and could prove to be the surprise package of the tournament.

Also in Group C is Peru, who have made it through to the finals of the competition for the first time in 36 years. Captain and all-time leading goal scorer Paolo Guerrero returns to the national set-up after the temporary lifting of his drugs ban.

The remaining side in Group C is Australia, who have an incredibly difficult task on their hands if they wish to progress from this strong group. The Socceroos are 36thin the FIFA rankings, while all three other teams within the group are inside the top 12.

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria

Argentina are firm favourites to progress from this group, with Lionel Messi a popular shout for being the Golden Boot winner. The strength of Argentina’s attacking options is so great that there was no place for Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi, who finished the Serie A season as the league’s joint top goal scorer.

Nigeria could look to provide an upset in this group with talent such as Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho on show, however they have never progressed further in the competition than the round of 16.

Iceland and Croatia were both in the same qualifying tournament for the finals, with Iceland topping the group. After knocking out England in the Euro’s just two years ago, Iceland will be optimistic of progressing out of Group D.

Meanwhile Croatia have had a bad run in recent years at the World Cup, but they do bolster some incredible talent such as the likes of Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic.

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

After the humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany on home soil in the semi-finals four years ago, Brazil will be keen to rectify the horror and go all the way this year. Neymar will once again lead the line for the Brazilians but with a host of top Premier League players in their squad there won’t be as much pressure on his young shoulders as there was in 2014.

There could be a real close battle on for second place in this group. Switzerland have risen to sixth in the world rankings and have undoubtedly one of their best squads for many years, with players such as Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri in the side.

Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic could be one of the stars at this year’s World Cup for Serbia, with his nation predicted to be one of the dark horses of the competition.

And of course, Costa Rica did an incredible job of seeing off Uruguay, England and Italy to top their group in 2014 and should not be ruled out of progressing to the knock-out stages again this time around.

Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea

After sailing through the qualifying stages with ten victories from ten games, reigning champions Germany would appear almost certain to qualify for a place in the knock-out rounds. Such is the talent among their squad that PFA Young Player of the Year and Manchester City star Leroy Sane was a surprise omission from Joachim Lowe’s selected team.

Sweden’s incredible route to the finals saw them dump out the Netherlands and Italy to qualify for the first time in 12 years. However, without Zlatan Ibrahimovic upfront since his retirement from international football, it remains to be seen where the Scandinavian side’s goals are going to come from.

A player to watch from this group could be South Korea’s Son Heung-Min who has had an outstanding season for Tottenham. However, the majority of Mexico’s talent are now also playing in Europe’s top leagues and Mexico haven’t failed to progress past the group stages of the competition since 1966.

Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England

Belgium have been incredibly underwhelming in recent competitions despite their “golden generation” tag. They bolster a host of the Premier League’s top talent such as Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard and will be hoping that this year they can finally live up to lofty expectations.

The final group fixture between Belgium and England could well decide who will finish on top of the group. England go into the tournament with a youthful squad and little pressure on their shoulders. Gareth Southgate’s squad selection is sure to be a key talking point of the competition, particularly the in-goal battle between Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland.

Tunisia and Panama are expected to pick up few points from this group, particularly with Tunisia missing their top scorer Youssef Msakni through injury and this being Panama’s first appearance in the finals.

Panama did however knock out the USA in what was one of the major shocks of the qualifying stages.

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Columbia, Japan

Poland have been on the rise in cup competitions in recent years, particularly with Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski leading the line-up front for them. Lewandowski scored ten goals during the qualifying stages and depending on how far into the tournament Poland go, could have a shot at winning the Golden Boot.

However, Lewandowski does find himself in the same group as the 2014 Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez, who scored six goals for Columbia in Brazil. Davinson Sanchez, Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado are other big names among the Columbia set-up.

Senegal could have an outside chance of progressing from Group H, with Liverpool star Sadio Mane being a key feature in their line-up.

However there’s little optimism for Japan, who despite qualifying for the sixth consecutive year, only fired their coach Vahid Halilhodzic back in March and it would be a particularly tough ask for them to progress from the final group.