With Peru's victory over New Zealand on Wednesday night, the 2018 World Cup field is finally set, with 32 ready to duke it out for the grandest prize in all of soccer.
The 32-team field is complete for the World Cup! 🏆 pic.twitter.com/OdAtTQTBM1- B/R Football (@brfootball) November 16, 2017
Looking at who will be in Russia next summer, there are some major names missing. Obviously, the United States failed to qualify. But so did Italy. And the Netherlands. And Chile. And the Ivory Coast. Between those big names missing and an expanded field that includes many teams that are making their first-ever World Cup or first in quite a while, this is the most interesting group of countries in the World Cup in quite some time.
There are still seven months until World Cup 2018 kicks off, and there will be plenty of time to break down the nuances of each and every team. But with the field finally set, let's take a look at 10 teams you should keep an eye on, from the tournament favorites to the squads just happy to be there, and everything in between.
Germany, The Favorite
Germany is the reigning World Cup champion and the betting favorite to win again in 2018. As expected, it dominated its qualifying group with a perfect 30 points from 10 matches. And as it does every four years, Germany has replenished its roster with a gaggle of young stars, many of whom won the 2017 Confederations Cup as part of the B-team. It could probably call in that B-team again and make a run deep into the tournament, but its A-team has the capability to dominate almost every squad in its path.
France, The Other Favorite
France is nipping right at Germany its heels. Les Bleus will come in with a point to prove after failing to win Euro 2016 on their home turf. France's youngsters from 2014 -- Paul Pogba, Raphael Varane, Antoine Griezmann -- have graduated to veteran status as they enter the prime of their careers. But France has even more young talent coming in behind. More than perhaps any other nation at the World Cup, France will rely on a group of prodigious young stars. Between the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Moussa Dembele, Adrien Rabiot and Kingsley Coman -- none of whom were on the squad in Brazil -- France has enough fantastic youngsters to win this World Cup and the next few to come.
Poland, The Dark Horse
After an 12-year layoff, Poland is returning to the world's grandest tournament with what is being hailed as the greatest team in Polish history. Poland was lights out in qualifying, with eight wins, a draw and a baffling 4-0 loss to Denmark. Poland plays fast and asserts itself on its opponents, dictating play with an aggressive attacking style. The key to the squad is Robert Lewandowski, who scored 16 of Poland's 28 goals in the group stage. The team will go as he goes. Luckily for them, most days he goes straight for goal.
Belgium, The Dark Horse No More
It may just be a small nation from the lowlands of Europe, but Belgium has more talent than 80 percent of the countries who will compete in Russia. Over the past decade, Belgium has forged a reputation for itself as one of the top producers of young talent in the world. The Red Devils are still churning out talented youngsters, but the players who helped them earn that reputation -- Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois -- have matured and entered the peak of their powers. There was a time when Belgium was considered an upstart soccer nation with hopes of surprising fans on the international level. Those days seem long gone.
Brazil, Ready for a Revenge Tour
Brazil was all set for a storybook 2014 World Cup on its home soil. Then Germany's 7-1 win happened, and it threw everything Brazil thought it knew about itself as a soccer nation out the window. Brazil has spent the past four years trying to repair a broken psyche. Some of it was repaired with a gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics, but nothing compares to a World Cup. Until Brazil is crowned best in the world for a sixth time, it won't be able to put that debacle behind it.
Spain, Somehow Flying Under the Radar
When you're the best team in the world for a half-decade, dropping to fourth or fifth best can seem like a massive shift. But Spain is still plenty good enough to win the World Cup. La Roja will be coming to Russia with a little extra motivation as well, having failed to move beyond the group stage last time. While players such as Xavi, Iker Casillas, David Silva and Xabi Alonso may have aged out of the national setup, Spain has reloaded with plenty of fantastic players. Alvaro Morata, David De Gea, Marco Asensio and Isco have taken the baton and are ready to move Spain out of this rough patch and create a winning legacy of their own.
Argentina, Trying to Strike Before the Window Slams Shut
The last time Argentina had the best player in the world -- when Diego Maradona was a member of the Albiceleste -- it won the World Cup. But it hasn't been able to repeat the feat with Maradona's spiritual successor, Lionel Messi. Argentina was close in 2014 but lost to Germany 1-0 in the final. Since then, it's failed to win two Copa Americas and was knocked out of the Olympics in the group stage. It even struggled to qualify for this World Cup. But qualify it did, and between Messi and a stellar supporting cast, Argentina is immediately one of the favorites. Messi could probably play until he's 50, but he's already spoken about the possibility of international retirement. Argentina is one of those countries that will always have a shot at winning the World Cup, but it'll never have as good of chance as it has with Messi.
Senegal, The Comeback Kids
This is Senegal's first appearance in the World Cup since 2002, when it made a run to the quarterfinals. The Lions of Teranga have had their share of tribulations in qualifying, including a match against South Africa replayed because of a referee who was subsequently banned for life for match manipulation (Senegal won the replay). Senegal still managed to finish at the top of its group. Like the 2002 squad that made the run to the quarters, this Senegal squad is young. The squad lacks some experience, but it has plenty of talent between the likes of Sadio Mane, Keita Balde and Kalidou Koulibaly. It's also managed by Aliou Cisse, who was part of the last World Cup run, so the spirit of 2002 is still with Senegal.
Panama, Just Happy to be There
Los Canaleros are making their first ever appearance at the World Cup, and they made it, in part, because of the USMNT's failure to defeat Trinidad and Tobago on the last day of qualifying. Nothing is expected of Panama, so a draw or a win would send its supporters over the moon. If you're looking for a team to root for the in the group stage instead of the U.S., Panama is as good a pick as any. A successful run by Panama will serve to make CONCACAF look better and make America's failure to qualify slightly better. Plus, how can you not love the passion Panamanians showed after qualifying?
Iceland, The Team You Don't Know You Love
Iceland was the darling of Euro 2016 and it will be the darling of World Cup 2018. But the nation of 300,000 -- the smallest to ever make the World Cup -- is not surprising anyone this time around. Not only did it have a fantastic run at the Euros a few years ago, finishing in the final eight, it also won its World Cup qualifying group. Iceland will be far from the most talented squad at the World Cup -- Gylfi Sigurdsson excluded -- but it always works as a team, plays within itself and plays with confidence. Iceland is a lovable underdog that will capture the imagination of fans around the world. They do that Viking Clap thing, too, which is pretty sweet.
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Cy Brown writes about football, golf, soccer and other stuff for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @CEPBrown.