Fifa World Cup 2018 - Group E
Iceland are the fairytale of this World Cup. A country with a population of less than 350,000, Iceland will be making its debut at the world stage of football. In the qualifying round, they topped their group, no mean feat.
They not only qualified for Euro 2016, but also caused a major upset by beating England to advance to the last eight. Skipper Aron Gunnarson will inspire a team that has English Premier League players like Johan Berg Gudmundssson in attack and Gylfi Sigurdsson in midfield.
The first team to qualify from Africa, Nigeria could be a handful for their opponents. Qualifying for their third consecutive World Cup, the Nigerians have attacking talents like Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho, while John Obi Mikel will try to keep the midfield stable.
Nigeria's match against Croatia could well settle the second spot in this group and so Nigeria has everything to play for. It looks like Argentina and either Croatia or Nigeria will get into the last 16.
Five-time champion Brazil with Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland make this one of the most exciting groups.The good news for Brazil is Neymar is now fit after his injury scare, but the injury to Dani Alves which resulted in his exclusion from the squad is a big blow to the team. In a recent match, Neymar seemed to regain his old form and was also among the goals.
Coach Adenor Bacchi has been able to assemble a team that is all about organisation and flair. Danilo and Fagner could feature prominently in the Brazilian side. Barring any mishap, Brazil is likely to top the group and is a strong contender for a sixth title.
Costa Rica are undoubtedly a talented side. Appearing in World Cup for the fifth time, Costa Rica reached the last eight in 2014 going down to the Netherlands on penalty shootout.
Their coach Oscar Ramirez has players with immense experience and this could count in their progress in this World Cup. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas will play a prominent role as will talented attacking players Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz. Their must win match will be the one against Serbia.
After becoming an independent nation in 2006, Serbia are appearing in the World Cup for the second time. Their last appearance was in 2010. How this talented side will fare after coach Slavoljub Muslin was relieved of his responsibilities is yet to be seen.
Key players to watch would be 23-year ols midfielder Milinkov Savic, their leading goal scorer Aleksander Mitrovic and Branislav Ivanovic who will have the responsibility of holding the defence together. Their first match against Costa Rica could well decide their fate in this group.
Switzerland have built their team predominantly with the core players of the team that won 2009 under-17 world championship who have good experience of tournaments.
The key players coach Vladimir Petkovic would be looking forward to are central midfielder Granit Xhaka who would be leading the midfield and hopes to be supported by players like Shaqiri and Embolo. Senior player Valon Behrami who will be playing his fourth consecutive World Cup will also play a vital role.
But, pitted in a group with Brazil, Serbia and Costa Rica, it will be extremely difficult for Switzerland to get into the last 16. So, it has to be Brazil and one else. And that one else could very well be Costa Rica given their experience.
The writer is a senior journalist, political
commentator and sports analyst