Peru last to seal World Cup spot as 32 team field for Russia 2018 confirmed.

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Peru were the last side to secure a spot at this summer’s World Cup finals in Russia with a 2-0 play-off win over New Zealand. This means that all 32 spots at the tournament have been claimed.

The 32 teams that have secured qualification for the tournament are of course hosts Russia as well as Australia, Peru, Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Egypt, England, France, Iceland, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia and Uruguay.

There are however some very high profile absentees from that list. The Netherlands who have now failed to reach back to back major tournaments after missing out on Euro 2016 in France. Italy who’s failure to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 1958 was billed as the apocalypse by the countries press. Wales who reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016. Chile who were the unlucky ones to suffer from Argentina’s late resurgence to just about reach the finals and Austria who have one of the most highly touted players in David Alaba.

However out of the 32 sides who are guaranteed their places at the finals who is most likely to be the biggest dangers in the summer.

Current World Champions Germany are one of the favorites for the crown in Russia. Germany once again have an excellent looking squad on paper with a great mix of youth and experience. Some of their younger players such as Joshua Kimmich and Leroy Sane are enjoying fantastic seasons so far for their clubs and the likes of Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos and Mezut Ozil continue to be consistent. This is no guarantee that it will all fall into place for Germany when the tournament begins however you certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Germany retaining their crown.

Brazil who have won the World Cup on five separate occasions will surely be a force aswell. The likes of Roberto Firmino, Phillipe Coutinho and Willian who continue to light up the Premier league. However Brazil’s main threat surely has to be the world’s most expensive player Neymar who has been electric since his record move to Paris Saint Germain. The forward has scored seven goals in eight appearances in the league and a further four in the Champions League giving him a total of 11 goals in just 12 appearances for PSG. Neymar in this kind of form will be a devastating weapon and one which Brazil will be chomping at the bit to release on the world stage in Russia.

Argentina can never be discounted in major tournaments. Even though they had in truth an awful qualifying campaign by their standards which saw them only just sneak through in their last game they still have several world class players in their ranks. Sergio Aguero has been in relentless form for Manchester City of late, Gonzalo Higuain is still getting goals at Juventus and Angel Di Maria has been racking up the assists and goals at PSG. However the one that the Argentine’s will undoubtedly look to is Lionel Messi. Messi was the one who’s hat-trick in the final qualifying game ensured Argentina made this tournament and the little magician will be desperate to banish the memories of the 1-0 defeat to Germany four years ago by guiding his country to victory here.

Belgium are another side who will feel they have a great chance of World Cup glory. They have been talked about as potential winners for the last two tournaments however they have seemingly struggled to gel as a team. However this time round they have their record goalscoring striker in Romelu lukaku, Eden Hazard who looks to be getting back to his best with Chelsea, Kevin De Bruyne who has been sublime so far for Manchester City this season. As well as the ever reliable trio of Jan Vertonghen, Toby Aldiriweld and Thibaut Courtois at the back. Certainly when you look at Belgium’s squad on paper it is arguably one of the best around at the present moment. However it will all depend on whether they can play as a team but if they can then they will without doubt be a force to be reckoned with.

Even though their qualifying group was won with a great deal of ease England will feel they are in the best position for years to mix it with the big boys. The squad is arguably the most exciting England have ever assembled. Players such as Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford, Kyle Walker and Jamie Vardy among others have been on excellent form for their clubs in recent times and will be key to England’s chances of an overdue success in Russia. However the main man for the three lions this summer without a doubt will be striker Harry Kane. The forward has been in incredible goalscoring form for Spurs this campaign and is capable of winning sides matches on his own. Despite this if he is going to succeed in Russia he will need help form the creative sparks in the side. However one thing is for sure if England can get him in the kind of goalscoring form he has shown at club level in Russia then they will certainly have half a chance.

France who narrowly missed out to Portugal on their own soil in the Euro 2016 final will be another side who feel they have a shot. They have certainly got a proven goalscorer at major tournaments in forward Antoine Griezmann and enigmatic midfielder Paul Pogba who has already shown his quality at Manchester United. Arsenal forward Alexandre lacazette is another source of goals they could call upon. It wouldn’t be unbelievable if France ended up lifting the cup this time around but it would be a bit of a surprise.

Spain have fallen from their previously great heights in recent times. They failed to really make a huge impact at Euro 2016 and went out in the group stage of the last World Cup after just two matches.However the Spanish look a much stronger side now than they did back then. They too have a potential source of goals up front in Alvaro Morata, with midfielders Pedro and David Silva showing their form in recent weeks. Defender Cesar Azpilicueta has been a revelation for Chelsea recently. Football might not be top of Spain’s agenda as a country at the moment with the raging dispute over Catalonia independence but when the team come together on June 14th they will certainly be in the mix for this tournament.

You would think that that these are the sides in with a real chance of success. However there will be others such as Euro 2016 champions Portugal, the ever solid Croatia and possibly Poland who feel they could do some damage in Russia this summer.

The draw for the group stages of the 2018 World Cup in Russia takes place on 1st December with every side involved nervously waiting to see who they are drawn against.

Andrew Hall.

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