The four-year countdown is over, the World Cup finally kicks off on Thursday and it promises to be yet another scintillating tournament.
Group G contains England, Belgium, Tunisia and Panama.
Sportsmail’s MARTIN KEOWN gives his rundown of each team in Group G, including the manager, the man to watch out for, their strength and their biggest weakness.
12: Dele Alli’s assist for Danny Welbeck against Costa Rica means Spurs players have now scored or assisted 12 of England’s last 16 goals
FIFA ranking: 12= Odds: 16-1
World Cup best: Winners 1966
THE BOSS: Gareth Southgate
When I went to World Cups with Gareth, he was like a sponge — soaking up all the information he could. Now, he is in the position to put everything he has learned into practice. In the first half against Nigeria, England always seemed to have options on the ball. They could not handle our pack of four forwards — Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling up front with Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard joining attacks from midfield. The big question now is how quickly can we adapt tactically? When Nigeria copied our system in the second half, it seemed to upset us. England’s opponents will try to do the same so it is good they have had that experience in a friendly.
THE STAR: Raheem Sterling
The Manchester City forward’s development has been remarkable. It is not just his pace that is impressive but his intelligence of movement. He knows when to drop deep and help build attacks and when to run beyond and add numbers in the final third.
THE PROSPECT: Trent Alexander-Arnold
What a season he has had. Aged just 19, he is heading to the World Cup after playing in a European Cup final. Alexander-Arnold is competing with Kieran Trippier to start at right wingback but Gareth should not be afraid to play him. England took Luke Shaw in 2014 to give him experience. The best experience is to play.
The partnership of Alli and Lingard in midfield. They are like greyhounds in the way they cover so much ground. They flood the box when England are attacking and give their opponents no space when they have the ball.
We lack a quarterback to play those killer passes in midfield. Jordan Henderson offers more going forward and, while Eric Dier gives you more defensively, I would like to see him play with more urgency.
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling’s development has been truly remarkable
FIFA ranking: 3 Odds: 10-1
World Cup best: Fourth (1986)
THE BOSS: Roberto Martinez
The former Everton and Wigan boss is under more pressure than any manager at the World Cup. He has an embarrassment of riches in his squad but has to work out his best formula if Belgium are to go far in Russia.
THE STAR: Kevin De Bruyne
After a sensational season with Manchester City, De Bruyne should be Belgium’s star. He is most dangerous in a midfield three but the manager’s back-five formation can stifle his creativity. De Bruyne is expected to be more workman-like in midfield — and that means we see less of the artist.
THE PROSPECT: Leander Dendoncker
The 23-year-old, who can play in midfield or at centre back, is highly rated by Anderlecht.
In Eden Hazard they have a proven match-winner. Martinez sets up his team the same way as Chelsea last season with his captain in a front three behind a centre forward. This team is geared for Hazard to thrive.
With very few full back options, Martinez plays with a back five but two of the five centre backs in his squad have suffered injuries. Thomas Vermaelen is recovering from a hamstring injury while Vincent Kompany is a major doubt.
After a sensational season with Manchester City, Kevin De Bruyne should be Belgium’s star
FIFA ranking: 21 Odds: 500-1
World Cup best: Group stage (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006)
THE BOSS: Nabil Maaloul
Now in his fifth spell with Tunisia, winning the Africa Cup of Nations as assistant in 2014.
THE STAR: Wahbi Kazri
The forward scored nine goals in 17 games on loan at Rennes from Sunderland this season — though he is recovering from injury.
THE PROSPECT: Dylan Bronn
French-born defender, 22, who models his game on Brazil’s Thiago Silva.
Their whole back four are so big physically they could pass as centre halves. England’s forwards may find them difficult to break down.
Their most creative player, Youssef Msakni, is injured. Maaloul said recently: ‘It’s as if Argentina was playing without Messi.’
Wahbi Khazri scored nine goals in 17 games on loan at Rennes from Sunderland this season
FIFA ranking: 55 ODDS : 500-1
World Cup best: Debutants
THE BOSS: Hernan Dario Gomez
On the touchline leading Colombia when David Beckham’s freekick helped England to a 2-0 win at France 98. I was on the bench, too!
THE STAR: Blas Perez
Veteran 37-year-old striker with 43 goals who made his Panama debut in 2001.
THE PROSPECT: Michael Amir Murillo
Pacy New York Red Bulls full back, 22, who likes to get forward and has been linked with a move to PSV.
The core of this squad have a great understanding. Six players have won a century of caps.
They’ve won one match in seven, drawing with Wales and Northern Ireland and losing 6-0 to Switzerland.
Veteran 37-year-old striker Blas Perez has 43 goals and made his Panama debut in 2001
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.