Germany, Mexico, South Korea, Sweden
Sweden produced a huge upset in reaching Russia 2018 by eliminating Italy in the play-offs; the first time that the Azzurri failed to reach the World Cup in 60 years. This was preceded by an impressive group showing with the Scandinavians finishing second to France and eliminating the Netherlands.
South Korea finished second in Group A in the third round of AFC qualification and advanced to Russia relatively comfortably ahead of Syria. Iran claimed first place and were dominant with an unbeaten record – they were seven points ahead of the Koreans.
CONCACAF saw Mexico come out on top with six wins from 10. With the top three teams all heading automatically to Russia, a place at the finals was never really in doubt. The North Americans recorded the best attacking and defensive records in their section.
Germany completed their qualifying matches with a 100% record, easily finishing clear of Northern Ireland. Joachim Low’s team scored 43 times in 10 games and were seldom troubled by any of their opponents.
Previous World Cups
Die Mannschaft are, of course, the reigning champions following their controlling performances in Brazil four years ago. That was their fourth title following successes in 1954, 1974 and 1990, and they have reached at least the quarter-finals at each of the tournaments since 1982.
Russia 2018 is the first World Cup since 2006 that Sweden will be appearing at and they have got to the semi-finals on four occasions – 1938, 1950, 1958 and 1994.
Mexico have appeared at 15 of the 20 World Cups but despite being regulars they have reached the last-eight on just two occasions, and that was in their home tournaments of 1970 and 1986. They have, though, reached the second round six times in a row.
As joint-hosts in 2002 South Korea upset the odds to reach the last-four, eventually finishing in fourth place. The Asians have qualified for each of the tournaments from 1986 onwards and reached the last-16 in 2010.
Joachim Low took charge of his home country after the 2006 World Cup and has impressed with his tactical ability as well as a willingness to make bold decisions. As well as the 2014 trophy, the 58-year-old has won the Confederations Cup and got Germany to the Euro 2008 final.
Uli Stielike was sacked as South Korea coach a year ago and replaced by Shin Tae-yong. The incumbent made 23 appearances internationally as a player but is relatively inexperienced at the top-level. Securing qualification is the 49-year-old’s biggest achievement since taking over, though he won the 2010 AFC Champions League with Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma.
Janne Andersson has had a relatively low-key career but leading Sweden to the World Cup from a tricky group and then beating Italy shows that he is able to get the best out of his squad, who have moved on well from the retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Juan Carlos Osorio held a variety of positions before taking over as Mexico coach, including managing the New York Red Bulls and being an assistant at Manchester City, and the Colombian’s experience saw his team top their qualification standings for the first time since 1997.
The biggest surprise from Germany’s selection was that Leroy Sane was left out despite scoring 14 times for Manchester City last season, though is form has generally been better for club than country. Mario Gotze, who scored the winning goal in 2014, was also not included with Marco Reus given an opportunity after recovering from another serious injury.
Sweden, without Ibrahimovic, play with a better fluidity and are less reliant on one star than previously. The Nordic outfit still boast some established talents, including Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof and RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg. Marcus Berg has 18 goals and is the only proven source of quality in front of goal.
South Korea are captained by Ki Sung-yueng who played for Swansea City in the Premier League until they were relegated last season, with Tottenham Hotspur winger Son Heung-min undoubtedly the country’s star man and his form is likely to be crucial to their success in Russia.
Hirving Lozano heads to the 2018 World Cup on the back of an excellent first season for PSV Eindhoven and the 22-year-old has seven goals in 28 appearances for Mexico. Javier Hernandez is his country’s record scorer with 49 goals and will always be a threat despite a poor season at West Ham United.
Germany’s pre-tournament form has been worrying but the world champions seem to always step up when it matters. Therefore, they are among the favourites with Tipbet to win the trophy and navigating Group F should be relatively straightforward. Picking a runner-up is not easy and each of the three sides have the quality to finish second a book a place in the last-16, with South Korea the underdogs.