As we wait for the December 1 group stage draw in Moscow, NE examines the 32 teams that booked their place in Russia.
Russia, ranked 65th in the world by FIFA, will hope to avoid the fate that struck South Africa in 2010, when the host nation failed to reach the knockout stage for the first time. With experienced attackers like Alan Dzagoev and Fyodor Smolov, the hosts can outperform that ranking in front of a spirited home backing.
Brazil eased to first place in CONMEBOL's World Cup qualifying table, led by attacking talents like Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho and a manager, Tite, who has reinvigorated the international powerhouse.
Team Melli is back on the World Cup stage for the fifth time after winning its group in the Asian Football Confederation qualifying tournament. Goal-scoring threat Sardar Azmoun is one to watch, and the 22-year-old will be comfortable in Russia, having played his professional club career there.
The Samurai Blue are back at the World Cup for a sixth straight tournament. Japan has alternated exiting in the group stage and round of 16 since 1998 and went out in the group stage at Brazil 2014.
Mexico coasted through CONCACAF to return to the World Cup stage, where it will look to finally get over the round of 16 hump–the stage in which it has been eliminated in each World Cup dating back to 1994. Its best finish, reaching the quarterfinals, took place on home soil on both occasions it happened.
Boasting some of the world's preeminent attacking talent–Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku to name a few–Belgium has the talent to compete with anyone on the top stage, but it did at Euro 2016, too, and succumbed to a quarterfinal exit vs. Wales.
Back in the World Cup for a ninth straight time, 62nd-ranked South Korea may not be as feared as in past editions and it scored just 11 times in 10 qualifiers. It has a bonafide star in Tottenham's Son Heung-min, though, who is poised for an even bigger breakout on the world stage.
After a two-tournament hiatus, the Saudis are back on the World Cup stage, competing there for a fifth time. Now coached by former Argentina manager Edgardo Bauza after Bert van Marwijk departed despite managing the side to Russia, 63rd-ranked Saudi Arabia will be an undoubted underdog at the tournament.
The defending champions may have lost some veterans, but they've reloaded and are poised for another deep run. With experienced stars such as Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos and new talents like Timo Werner and Leon Goretzka, Germany remains a force. That much is evidenced by its 10-0-0 record and astounding +39 goal differential in qualifying.
The Three Lions eased their way through qualification but still have plenty of questions to answer, especially in the attack. Tottenham stars Harry Kane and Dele Alli will be counted on to lead the charge under manager Gareth Southgate.
Blessed with an infusion of young, up-and-coming talent to go along with the cavalcade of Barcelona and Real Madrid stars who have been staples for years, Spain can be as much of a threat to win it all in 2018 as it was when it reached the mountaintop for the first time in 2010.
The Super Eagles are back and have the attacking pieces to make some noise in Russia after going unbeaten in Africa's final round of qualifying and averaging two goals per game in a tough group that included Cameroon and Algeria. Featuring the likes of Victor Moses, Kelechi Iheanacho, Ahmed Musa and Alex Iwobi, Nigeria will make for a difficult opponent. The world will also be waiting to see the fantastic and colourful Nigerian football supporters light up Russia.
Los Ticos won't be sneaking up on anyone in 2018 after a shocking run to the quarterfinals in 2014, but they'll be bringing another talented, experienced team to Russia, one that is surely capable of another knockout stage run.
Poland finds itself in the top pot for the World Cup draw after coasting to an 8-1-1 mark during qualifying. At the forefront of the impressive run was Bayern Munich superstar Robert Lewandowski, whose 16 goals led all UEFA players in World Cup qualifiers.
The Pharaohs are back in the World Cup for the first time since 1990, thanks in large part to Liverpool standout Mohamed Salah. His five goals–and clinching penalty kick–sent Egypt on its way to Russia.
The Euro 2016 darlings have taken it one step further, reaching the World Cup for the first time by winning a group that featured the likes of Croatia, Turkey and Ukraine. The spirited, talented bunch will have their Viking-clapping nation behind them in Russia, where they'll hope to embark on another galvanizing run.
Serbia returns to the World Cup after missing out in 2014 (it also missed Euro 2012 and 2016), but it enters with a massive amount of uncertainty. Its manager, Slavoljub Muslin, was shown the exit despite qualification, and no permanent manager has been hired to replace him yet. Muslin was criticized for his tactics and player selection, and there's minimal time to build stability between now and June.
Perhaps no nation is as loaded with talent, both young and experienced, as France. Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, Ousmane Dembele, N'Golo Kante and Thomas Lemar represent just a fraction of the star power Les Bleus boast. The big question: Can Didier Deschamps make the right moves to ensure France's collective unit is as good as its individual talent?
The 2016 European champions went 9-1-0 through World Cup qualifying, only conceding four times, while Cristiano Ronaldo scored 15 goals in group play. Portugal proved it can win without Ronaldo by beating France in the Euro 2016 final with him injured early in the title bout, but it'll likely take another heroic showing from the Real Madrid sensation to add to the trophy case.
Los Canaleros are on the World Cup stage for the first time, thanks to Roman Torres's heroic goal in the final match of the CONCACAF Hexagonal. After being so close to reaching the 2014 World Cup only to miss out after Graham Zusi's dagger in Panama City, the appearance is a just reward for a veteran group of players who have pushed CONCACAF's finest only to usually fall just short. Not anymore.
Where would the 2014 World Cup finalist be without Lionel Messi? His heroic hat trick in Argentina's qualifying finale against Ecuador saved his nation from embarrassment and lifted it to the World Cup. There's no doubting Argentina's individual talent–Messi, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, for example–but can Jorge Sampaoli extract the most out of this bunch that underachieved mightily in qualifying?
The dancing kings are back for more in Russia after surviving South America's gauntlet. Familiar stars like James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado, while young defensive standouts Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez have injected youth into Jose Pekerman's veteran-laden side.
Luis Suarez & Co. return after a tumultuous 2014 campaign in which the Barcelona forward bit into Giorgio Chiellini. Uruguay was ultimately bounced in the round of 16 by Colombia without Suarez, and will surely hope he sticks around for the duration of the 2018 competition.
The African nation has only qualified once before, when it made its stunning run to the 2002 quarterfinals. Is another shock run in the making? With Sadio Mane at the wheel, anything is possible. Senegal did endure controversy on its road to Russia, with a qualifying loss to South Africa nullified after a referee was found guilty of manipulating the match. Senegal won the replay and wound up winning its group by five points.
Morocco is in a World Cup for the first time in 20 years, outlasting Ivory Coast in their qualifying finale to punch its ticket and completing the qualifying round without conceding a goal in six games. Coaching Morocco is Herve Renard, who won the Africa Cup of Nations with both Zambia and Ivory Coast and adds this latest accomplishment to his resume.
A participant at the World Cup for the fifth time, Tunisia has just one World Cup victory to its name–and it came in 1978. The largely domestic-based squad is not expected to add much to that tally in Russia, where it will be one of the chief underdog sides despite its 28th-placed ranking in FIFA's October standings.
The Swiss were cruelly dumped into UEFA's playoff round after winning its first nine qualifiers only to lose to Portugal at the last hurdle and settle for second in its group. It took care of business against Northern Ireland, though, and heads to Russia on the strength of a talented nucleus featuring Xherdan Shaqiri, Breel Embolo, Granit Xhaka, Ricardo Rodriguez, Haris Seferovic and captain Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Those glorious checkered kits are bound for the World Cup after Croatia outlasted Greece in the UEFA playoff round. There's no denying the talent on Croatia's roster–Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic and Nikola Kalinic make for as fearsome an attacking group as there is. There remains skepticism that Croatia can have its talent perform to its potential on the grand stage, though.
The Swedes upstaged mighty Italy in the UEFA playoff round to return to the World Cup, doing so without the retired Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Instead, it was Marcus Berg who shouldered the scoring burden, tallying eight times in group play, while Jakob Johannsson delivered the decisive goal in the playoff. The question plenty are pondering now, even with the team's success: Will Zlatan ponder a return for his country's first World Cup since 2006?
The Danes have a superstar in Christian Eriksen, and it was his hat trick in the playoff second leg vs. Ireland that punched Denmark's ticket to Russia. After missing out on Brazil 2014, Eriksen, Nicklas Bendtner and younger rising talents like Andreas Christensen and Kasper Dolberg have Denmark feeling it can make an impact in 2018.
The Socceroos required an intercontinental playoff victory over Honduras to punch their ticket to Russia, but Mile Jedinak's hat trick in the second leg provided all the clout the Aussies needed. Little will be expected of Australia next summer, where it will take place in its fourth straight World Cup.
Peru ended a lengthy World Cup qualifying drought, reaching the final stage for the first time since 1982 after outlasting New Zealand in an intercontinental playoff. La Blanquirroja was able to clear the final hurdle without the banned Paolo Guerrero, but it will need its all-time leading scorer and captain to make some more noise in Russia.