The four-year countdown is over, the World Cup finally kicks off on Thursday and it promises to be yet another scintillating tournament.
Sportsmail’s MARTIN KEOWN gives his rundown of each team in Group F, including the manager, the man to watch out for, their strength and their biggest weakness.
FIFA ranking: 1 Odds: 5-1
World Cup best: Four-time winners (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)
THE BOSS: Joachim Low
Germany’s World Cup-winning boss has reached at least the semi-finals in his five major tournaments in charge. He has put extra pressure on himself by axing Leroy Sane, voted the Premier League’s best young player by his peers.
THE STAR: Mesut Ozil
I have been critical of Ozil’s displays for Arsenal this season. It feels as if he has been saving himself for the World Cup. If he performs the way we know he can, Ozil can be Germany’s star man. He is the glue that holds everything together.
THE PROSPECT: Timo Werner
The 5ft 11in forward, 22, is an ice-cool finisher. He scored 21 goals in all competitions for RB Leipzig despite a season disrupted by illness and injury. Werner already has eight goals in his first 14 caps.
Everywhere you look, there are top players. Such is Germany’s strength that the likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Julian Draxler and Antonio Rudiger may have to settle for a place on the bench. Marco Reus is back, too, after missing both the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 through injury. Germany always arrive at tournaments supremely confident.
It is hard to pinpoint a single weakness, but the Germans have only won one of their last six games — albeit facing the likes of France, Spain and Brazil in that run. Yet how often do we see this winning machine turn up at tournaments and hit top gear?
FIFA ranking: 24 Odds: 150-1
World Cup best: Runners-up (1958)
THE BOSS: Janne Andersson
Led Norrkoping to the Swedish title in 2015 before taking the reins after Euro 2016. He is a strong personality, recently rubbishing talk of a comeback for retired striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He said: ‘If you rejected the team, I do not think you should come back.’
THE STAR: Emil Forsberg
Sweden will be looking to the RB Leipzig winger, who has been linked with a move to Arsenal this summer, to provide the attacking impetus.
THE PROSPECT: Victor Lindelof
Heads to Russia with a point to prove after the centre back failed to make an impact in his first season at Manchester United.
By seeing off Italy in the play-offs, the Swedes have proven they can rise to the occasion in do-ordie matches.
Biggest weakness Without Ibrahimovic, Marcus Berg will be their main goal threat. While the 31-year-old top-scored in qualifying with eight, he now plays for Al Ain in the UAE.
Victor Lindelof heads to Russia with a point to prove after his first season at Manchester United
FIFA ranking: 15 Odds: 100-1
World Cup best: Quarter-finals (1970, 1986)
THE BOSS: Juan Carlos Osorio
While studying at John Moores University in 1997, the Colombian lived near Liverpool’s training ground and would peer over the wall to watch sessions.
THE STAR: Javier Hernandez
He may not have enjoyed the best season at West Ham but Chicharito’s pretadory instinct could be crucial if Mexico are to get out of a tricky group.
THE PROSPECT: Hirving Lozano
Nicknamed Chucky after the doll in the horror films, the PSV winger, 22, will be out to scare defences.
Plenty of experience. Three players — Hernandez, captain Andres Guardado and former Tottenham midfielder Giovani dos Santos — each have a century of caps.
Choking in the knockout stages. Their last World Cup quarterfinal was in 1986 and they were hammered 7-0 by Chile at the same stage of the Copa America two years ago.
PSV winger Hirving Lozano, 22, will be out to scare defences in Russia this summer
Chicharito’s pretadory instinct could be crucial if Mexico are to get out of a tricky group
FIFA ranking: 57 Odds: 500-1
World Cup best: Fourth (2002)
THE BOSS: Shin Tae-Yong
Likes to watch from the stands and relay instructions to his coaching staff.
THE STAR: Son Heung-Min
Tottenham forward with excellent close control who scored 18 goals this season.
THE PROSPECT: Lee Jae-Sung
Versatile midfielder, 25, was the K League’s Most Valuable Player for 2017.
In Son, they have one of the Premier League’s most improved players. He can be their Harry Kane.
Poor recent form, including defeats by Northern Ireland and Poland.
Tottenham forward Son Heung-Min has excellent control and scored 18 goals this season
Author: Nancy Parker
Nancy Parker is a five time Emmy Award winning journalist and seven time Emmy nominee who has spent almost twenty five years covering news in South Louisiana. She has anchored every prime time newscast at WVUE FOX8 during her twenty year tenure in New Orleans.