The 2018 World Cup is under a month away, and though the tournament will be missing some big-name teams – the United States, Italy, Netherlands, and Chile -- an estimated three billion T.V. viewers are expected to tune in as 32 teams battle for the most coveted sports trophy in the world.
Host Russia kicks off the action June 14 in Moscow with a game against Saudi Arabia. The 32-day tournament, played in 11 cities, ends on July 15.
As usual, the list of favorites includes five-time winner Brazil, defending champion Germany, Spain, France and Argentina. Belgium, stacked with English Premier League stars, is a popular dark horse. Plucky Panama and lovable Iceland make their World Cup debuts.
Argentine star Lionel Messi will try to win the only trophy missing from his resume. Brazil hopes to redeem itself after a humiliating 7-1 loss at home to Germany four years ago. Spain’s aging superstars and young talent should be fun to watch.
The USA did not qualify for the first time in three decades. Four-time champion Italy is also a notable absentee, missing the Cup for just the second time in their history. Chile, the two-time Copa America winner, is the best South American team that didn’t make it.
As the teams begin to gather to prepare for the World Cup, here is a group-by-group preview of what to expect, and predictions of which teams will advance.