World Cup 2018: Brazil’s bright young things to shine in Russia
We’ve taken an early look at the World Cup 2018 outright winner odds and are backing Brazil to lift the trophy for the sixth time.
The Selecao are the only South American team to have prevailed at a past tournament staged in Europe, having triumphed in Sweden back in 1958.
There will be strong opposition at the next finals in Russia, but Neymar and Co are in top spot in our World Cup 2018 outright winner power rankings:
The Samba Stars looked on course to prevail on home turf in 2014 until suffering a 7-1 drubbing against Germany in the semi-finals, but an injury to talisman Neymar played a big part in that meltdown.
Brazil’s poster boy has since matured into a global superstar and his move from Barcelona to PSG will only help him gain more experience of leading a team in major matches.
A strong supporting cast are poised to peak at just the right time for this tournament, with big-money Barcelona recruit Philippe Coutinho and former Liverpool teammate Roberto Firmino also in their mid-20s.
Alongside those established stars, 20-year-old Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus has already shown he can rise to the challenge in big games and is set to get better and better in the build-up to Russia 2018.
While Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Marcelo and David Luiz provide plenty of experience at the back, head coach Tite has the cool, calm and collected demeanour to keep everything on track.
Few would argue with the defending champions being quoted as favourites as they seek to come out on top for what would be a record-equalling fifth time.
Die Mannschaft are past masters at producing on the biggest stage and Joachim Low has great strength in depth judged on a Confederations Cup success gained with mostly fringe players.
Technical ability, team spirit and work-rate are the plus points for this side and it’s hard to see them not reaching the semi-finals at least.
Fell just short of Euro 2016 glory on home turf but have a number of exciting players who will only benefit from that experience and other young prospects just waiting to break out on the international stage.
Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, PSG striker Kylian Mbappe and Barcelona duo Samuel Umtiti and Ousmane Dembele are just four progressive individuals to have Les Bleus dreaming of success.
Antoine Griezmann and Alexandre Lacazette should be at the peak of their powers and Hugo Lloris is as safe as any goalkeeper competing, but there are just a few concerns in defence.
The 2010 champions are back on track judged on an impressive qualifying campaign which saw them concede just three goals in 10 games.
La Roja may lack the star quality of some teams but it’s hard to score against them when you can’t get the ball off the likes of Isco, Andres Iniesta and David Silva.
David de Gea can deal with anything that does get through, while getting strikers Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata up to speed could be the final piece of the jigsaw.
La Albiceleste again made a mess of qualifying and are still heavily reliant on Lionel Messi, who has so often failed to find his best form at World Cup finals.
Angel Di Maria seems destined to be a nearly man and it’s hard to see ageing strikers Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain being able to sparkle at this stage.
Jorge Sampaoli has a couple of aces up his sleeve in Juventus playmaker Paulo Dybala and Inter Milan forward Mauro Icardi but seems reluctant to give youth a chance.
Everything is in place for Belgium to progress from pretenders to contenders, with star names such as Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku becoming influential figures at elite clubs.
We’re not convinced that the supporting cast is strong enough, though, especially if Vincent Kompany isn’t fit to lead a solid, but unspectacular defence.
Belgium must also overcome the psychological factor of feeling like they don’t really belong among the favourites and there are too many ifs and buts for us.
Any team that includes Cristiano Ronaldo must be respected and their Euro 2016 triumph is another obvious positive.
Unfortunately, this tournament may come a few years too early for hot prospects Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva.
The Three Lions once again made smooth work of qualifying and will travel to Russia with a genuine goal threat in Harry Kane, backed up by plenty of energy and athleticism around the Tottenham striker.
However, it is a big ask for youngsters such as Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling to compete at this level, while Gareth Southgate also has issues at the back and between the posts.
La Celeste can call on two of the most feared strikers on the planet in PSG star Edinson Cavani and Barcelona ace Luis Suarez.
A solid defence, marshalled by Atletico Madrid stalwart Diego Godin, helped them to finish second in the South American qualifying section and 70-year-old manager Oscar Tabarez is as cagey as they come.
10 CROATIA 40/1
The midfield trio of Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric, Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic should ensure Croatia see plenty of the ball.
Laboured through their qualifying pool but impressed when brushing aside Greece in the play-offs and look well drawn in Russia alongside Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland.
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