Russia 2018 powerlist
Champions top the 23 qualifiers
Coach Joachim Löw has a glittering career ahead at just 21, and the in-form Isco, who scored twice against the Italians, has been given room to express himself by Julen Lopetegui. Spain have emerged from their rough period to look a major force once again. Silva and André Silva to perform on the highest stage, and whether Cristiano Ronaldo – who will be 33 when Russia 2018 comes around – can handle a game every three or four days for, potentially, a month. Should Santos succeed then Portugal ought to be more fluid than the team that did not win too many friends in taking the European title.
There is a strut to Poland under Adam Nawalka and they fit neatly into any “dark horse” assessment – not least because the world’s sixth-ranked side will be one of the eight seeded teams in Russia. That is almost entirely down to their outstanding form during qualifying, marred only by a puzzling 4-0 defeat in Denmark. Goals are not usually a problem and especially not for Robert Lewandowski, who scored 16 of their 28 in Group E. They are fast and assertive at their best but the worry would be that, as seemed to be the case at Euro 2016, Lewandowski may try to do too much and blunt his own effectiveness in the penalty area.
Coach Juan Carlos Osorio
The urbane Juan Carlos Osorio may not be universally popular in Mexico but his team barely had to break sweat in a poor qualifying group, an irrelevant (to them) late defeat away to Honduras notwithstanding. The Colombian Osorio has been criticised for his rotation of players, among other things, but play with clarity and, with Carlos Vela and Javier Hernández, pictured, both in their prime, carry a serious threat. It is still hard to see them mustering a performance that can overthrow one or more of the favourites, though.
Nigeria have started to get their house in order and there is distinct optimism around a generation of players that looks their best hope of a last-eight spot in some years. Victor Moses, Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi add Premier League quality and the coach, the German Gernot Rohr, has moulded a balanced and organised side that can be lethal on the counterattack and maybe, after a series of nondescript World Cup appearances, Nigeria are now equipped for something more.
The one guarantee with Uruguay is that they will always hang in there and second place in the South American qualifiers was a pleasant tonic after a run of three consecutive defeats either side of Christmas. Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani always give you a decent chance and they have an exceptional midfield talent coming through behind them in Federico Valverde. They finished up in good form with a 4-2 win over Bolivia although, with 20 goals conceded, Óscar Tabárez, pictured, may be concerned that some of their time-honoured solidity needs recapturing.