South Korea (61)
Germany - The number one ranked team in the world and defending champions will fancy their chances again in Russia. Their squad is as strong as four years ago with many of them returning to defend the title, but also an exciting group of young players who are making their mark in top European leagues.
I love watching Leroy Sane play for Manchester City. His pace is outstanding, but he is so direct running with the ball, makes good runs without the ball and has the composure in the final third. Fellow 22 year old winger Julian Brandt has been a regular for Leverkusen for four years now, providing goals and assists from right wing. They can both have a huge impact this summer with their pace and quality in the final third.
Joshua Kimmich has proved at Bayern Munich that he is one of the best right backs in the world this season, a replacement for club and country for Philipp Lahm who retired after the last World Cup. He is only 23 years old, and will have Leon Goretzka, also 23, joining him at Bayern next season. Goretzka has been a regular at Schalke for five years, and he has developed into a strong central midfielder with an eye for goal and great ability with the ball. The future for Germany looks very strong, and the young players in the squad keep the more experienced players on their toes and battling for their positions in the starting 11.
One issue Germany might have is with their star keeper Manuel Neuer. He last played a game in September, when he fractured his foot for the second time, and his recovery has been longer than expected. He was the best keeper in the world at the last World Cup, but now he is out of game practice it could affect him. Marc Andre ter Stegen is an able replacement, but he doesn't have the same presence in goals as Neuer.
The spine from the squad four years ago is still in place, with Hummels, Kroos, Khedira, Mesut Özil and Thomas Muller all very much part of a team that looks as strong as anyone else in the competition. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Germany defending their title, but they have to get through the group first unlike Spain last time out, when they failed to defend their title.
In qualifying they won every game, scoring 43 goals and conceding only four. This team looks strong and ready to go in Russia.
Mexico - As the strongest team in the CONCACAF region it is no surprise Mexico qualified easily topping the final group stage, now going to their 7th tournament in a row. Every time in that run they have been knocked out in the last 16 stage, which they will be looking to better this time around. They have an experienced squad with 14 players having more than 50 caps, including 39 year old Rafael Marquez, who if he plays, will be playing in his fifth World Cup, becoming only the third player to do so after Lothar Mattheus(Germany) and fellow Mexican Antonio Carbajal.
Marquez might not be a guaranteed starter, but other players with over 100 caps, Andres Guardado, Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos certainly will be. Guardado has had a good first season at Real Betis after his move from PSV, and despite not featuring regularly, Hernandez did score eight goals for a defensive West Ham team. He is a poacher so is their main goal threat. Dos Santos, along with his brother Jonathan, plays for LA Galaxy now and are both regulars which will give them confidence as they head to Russia. Giovani is an excellent dribbler and although his career didn't quite take off as expected he still possesses the ability to create and score important goals.
Strong defender Diego Reyes hasn't been a regular this year with Porto, starting only nine league games. He is crucial to the defense with his height and strength needed in a defense lacking real presence.
Teammate at Porto, Hector Herrera is a dynamic midfielder that likes to get forward and help the attack, but can also put his foot in at the other end. He has been a regular for Porto since they signed him in 2013. He is the best central midfielder in the squad and gives strength and energy to a midfield allowing the creative players ahead to create chances.
Since moving to the new Los Angeles team this year, Carlos Vela has scored goals that will give him the confidence he needs to showcase his talents on the world stage. He is another Mexican that hasn't quite lived up to potential throughout their career, but if they play to the best of their ability Mexico could get themselves to the last 16 again, then try and go further.
One to Watch - Top scorer in qualifying, and for PSV this season in the Eredivisie, Hirving Lozano helped his club to the title with some sparkling displays. At only 22 he has a big future, and the pacey winger is a big goal threat from the left hand side for Mexico. He likes to cut in on his right foot and with a great first season at PSV behind him, we can expect him to be an important player in Russia.
Sweden - Since finishing third in 1994 Sweden haven't been past the last 16, failing to qualify for the previous two tournaments. This time around they managed to get the better of The Netherlands in group A, losing out to France as they went to the playoffs. They were handed a tough draw against Italy, but got the better of the Italians with a 1-0 home win proving good enough as they held out in Milan. With Zlatan retired from international football Sweden has been left without a star name in the squad, perhaps helping them become a more solid team all working with each other.
Marcus Berg has been the main beneficiary. Now playing in Abu Dhabi at Al Ain, Berg was the top scorer for Sweden in qualifying with eight goals. He is 31 years old and now a regular starter for his country since Zlatan stopped.
Victor Lindelof was a big summer signing for Manchester United last year after some impressive performances in Europe with Benfica. He has however fallen out of favour and been publicly criticised by Mourinho during his first season. He is a good defender, especially in the system that Sweden will play. He can be exposed playing in a team who dominate the ball, but Sweden are likely to sit deep and counter attack, so he will be crucial with his physical presence defending the box.
Long time Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson retiring has left an open position that three have the opportunity to fill. The three 28 year olds, Olsen, Johnsson and Nordfeldt have 29 caps between them, and this is clearly a position that Sweden are weak.
55 year old manager Janne Andersson will be going to his first major tournament with Sweden with a squad that doesn't look good enough to compete. They will be relying on a strong base and hoping to grab a goal on the break.
Star Man - The undoubted star of this team, and a player who has been in outstanding form in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig the last two seasons, is Emil Forsberg. The 26 year old is a target for Arsenal this summer after four years in Germany. The winger was voted in the Bundesliga team of the season last year, and was top of the assist charts in the league. The right footer generally plays on the left hand side, and as well as an eye for a pass likes to cut in and shoot, and also arrive in the box to get on the end of crosses. He is comfortable running with the ball and a player that Sweden will need to be at his energetic best to give them a chance of progressing.
South Korea - Since a high ranking of 17 in 1998 and a fourth place finish in their home World Cup in 2002, South Korea have now dropped to 61 in the world and have only got six players in the squad playing outside of Asia. They qualified through their AFC group in second place, well behind group winners Iran. Failing to win away from home was their big problem, which included defeats to footballing minnows Qatar and China. They only just stayed ahead of Syria on the final day thanks to Iran drawing with the Syrians while South Korea played out a goalless draw with Uzbekistan.
The Koreans defensively are relying on mostly home based players, with a few playing in China and Japan. Park Joo-ho(Dortmund) and Kim Jin-Su(Hoffenheim) were recently on the books and played a handful of games in Germany with their respective clubs, but both have now found themselves back playing in Korea. Defense is certainly a weak area in this team.
It s midfield that Korea have more recognisable names to choose from. Ki Sung-Yeung since he arrived at Celtic and subsequently moved to Swansea, has always looked an accomplished player. He is both footed, very calm in possession and can score goals from outside of the box. He doesn't get around the pitch as much as others, but he is an important player and will earn his 100th cap on his next appearance.
Followers of Bundesliga football will know of Augsburg midfielder Koo Ja-cheol. Although not a regular, he has an eye for goal and is a hard working attacking midfielder. He was the scorer of Augsburg's first ever Bundesliga hattrick, and has 19 goals for his country in 65 games.
Manager Shin Tae-yong has certainly favoured the Asian based players, and also going to his first World Cup he has an almost impossible job to take the Koreans past the group.
Star Man - The only star name in the Korean squad is Son Heung-min. Four years ago I said I would like to see him playing in the Premier League, and since he signed for Spurs in 2015 he has improved every year. He is very direct running with the ball, makes good runs off the ball and has great energy. But his big strength is his ability to hit shots with both feet equally powerfully. He can sometimes lack composure with his shots, but on his day he is a lethal finisher and the 25 year old will be looking to add to his total of 21 goals in Russia.
Predictions - Germany look nailed on to win this group. They will likely beat Mexico and Sweden then go on to rest players against South Korea. Even with a weakened team I expect them to win all three games. Mexico versus Sweden in the final game could well be the decider for second place. For me Mexico have more quality and are a bigger goal threat. It will be a tight game but I think they can win it and progress in second place.
What to Bet on - Germany will win this group, but Mexico are 6/4 to finish second. Worth a bet.
World Klutz - In 1974, Zaire(now DR Congo) qualified for their one and only World Cup. In their final game against Brazil, Mwepu Ilunga did something that nobody had seen before on the world stage...
Zaire went on to lose 3-0, giving themselves a record of 3 games, 3 defeats, no goals scored and 14 against. Although it was perceived at the time to be an example of African football's naivety and indiscipline, Ilunga has claimed that he was quite aware of the rules and was hoping to convince the referee to send him off. The intended red card would have been a protest against his country's authorities, who were alleged to be depriving the players of their earnings in an era when Zaire was run by the Mobutu regime.
Not so funny in reality, but when taken in the context of the game, quite amusing to watch.