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World Cup guide: Groups A-D analysed

Hosts Russia get the tournament under way when they face Saudi Arabia in Moscow.

The 2018 World Cup Finals kick off in Russia on Thursday. Here, we take a look at Groups A to D.

Group A

Russia

Russia qualified automatically as hosts, but the side ranked 70th in the world by FIFA have not won a match at the finals of a major tournament since 2012 and have not made it out of their group at the World Cup since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov
Key man: Igor Akinfeev
Best World Cup performance: First round 1994, 2002, 2014 (Soviet Union finished fourth in 1966

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia missed out on the 2010 and 2014 finals after making it to four consecutive tournaments and will hope to announce their return in style after edging out Australia to qualify as runners-up to Japan in their group.

Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi
Key man: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi
Best World Cup performance: Second round, 1994

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Egypt

After making it to the African Nations Cup final – where they lost to Cameroon – last year, Egypt will hope to further enhance their reputation on the world stage after clinching qualification for just the third time in their history.

Coach: Hector Cuper
Key man: Mohamed Salah
Best World Cup performance: First round, 1934 and 1990

Uruguay

Only Brazil made it to Russia from South America with a better qualifying return than Uruguay and although they lost five of their 18 games, one more than third-placed Argentina, they will be a threat with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani among their ranks.

Coach: Oscar Tabarez
Key man: Luis Suarez
Best World Cup performance: Winners, 1930 and 1950

Group B

Portugal

The reigning European champions fought a tooth-and-nail battle with Switzerland to clinch their ticket to Russia and with inspirational captain Cristiano Ronaldo still at the peak of his powers, will hope to carry that form into the quest for world glory.

Coach: Fernando Santos
Key man: Cristiano Ronaldo
Best World Cup performance: Third place, 1966

Spain

A first-round exit in Brazil four years ago was followed a last-16 departure from Euro 2016, but Spain qualified from a group which also included Italy unbeaten and trounced Argentina 6-1 in a March friendly to underline their return to form.

Coach: Julen Lopetegui
Key man: Sergio Ramos
Best World Cup performance: Winners, 2010

Morocco

Morocco have made the finals for the first time in 20 years, and did so by emerging from their group unbeaten and four points clear of the Ivory Coast.

Coach: Herve Renard
Key man: Medhi Benatia
Best World Cup performance: Second round, 1986

Iran

Six victories and four draws in their 10 qualifiers saw Iran top their final qualifying group ahead of South Korea by seven points to make the finals for the fourth time, although they have only one win to date on the big stage.

Coach: Carlos Queiroz
Key man: Sardar Azmoun
Best World Cup performance: First round 1978, 1998, 2006 and 2014

Group C

France

A 2-1 reverse in Sweden represented France’s only defeat in qualification as they finished four points clear in their group, and with the attacking prowess of Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud, Kylian Mbappe and Nabil Fekir at their disposal, the Euro 2016 runners-up will be confident of an extended stay.

Coach: Didier Deschamps
Key man: Antoine Griezmann
Best World Cup performance: Winners, 1998

Australia

The Socceroos secured their berth with a play-off victory over Honduras, but manager Ange Postecoglou stunned the nation six days later when he resigned, and former Holland boss Bert van Marwijk will be in charge in Russia.

Coach: Bert van Marwijk
Key man: Aaron Mooy
Best World Cup performance: Second round, 2006

France v Republic of Ireland – International Friendly – Stade de France
France starlet Kylian Mbappe in action against the Republic of Ireland (Adam Davy/PA)

Peru

A fifth-place finish in the South American group handed Peru a play-off showdown with New Zealand in which they claimed a 2-0 aggregate victory to make it to the finals for the first time since 1982.

Coach: Ricardo Gareca
Key man: Jefferson Farfan
Best World Cup performance: Quarter-finals, 1970

Denmark

Runners-up to Poland in European Group E, the Danes thumped the Republic of Ireland 5-1 in the second leg of their play-off clash in Dublin after a 0-0 home draw in the first to progress in emphatic style and suggest they could ruffle a few feathers at the finals.

Coach: Age Hareide
Key man: Christian Eriksen
Best World Cup performance: Quarter-finals, 1998

Group D

Argentina

The 2014 beaten finalists needed a final day 3-1 victory in Ecuador to ensure they would join Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia in Russia after a tense campaign, although with superstar Lionel Messi among their ranks, anything is possible once hostilities begin.

Coach: Jorge Sampaoli
Key man: Lionel Messi
Best World Cup performance: Winners, 1978 and 1986

Iceland

The surprise package at Euro 2016, Iceland eased past Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to make the finals for the first time and are the smallest nation by population ever to get there, although Gylfi Sigurdsson’s continuing battle for fitness after a knee injury is a concern.

Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson
Key man: Gylfi Sigurdsson
Best World Cup performance: None

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Croatia

The Croatians finished two points behind Iceland and defeated Greece 4-1 on aggregate in a play-off to book another World Cup trip, although they have not made it out of their group at the finals since 1998.

Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Key man: Luka Modric
Best World Cup performance: Third place, 1998

Nigeria

Nigeria came out on top of the pile as they battled with Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria in their last group to maintain an impressive record which has seen them miss out on the finals only once in seven attempts, although they have won just one tournament game in the last 20 years.

Coach: Gernot Rohr
Key man: Victor Moses
Best World Cup performance: Second round, 1994, 1998 and 2014

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