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The draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup took place in Russia on Friday. Several notable countries were not present to take part in the festivities.

USA will miss their first World Cup since 1986. Two-time defending Copa America champion Chile have missed out on a trip to Russia. Netherlands, a traditionally strong European side won’t be there either.

However, perhaps the most surprising team to not qualify for Russia is the Italians.

Italy are four-time World Cup champions and haven’t missed out on a World Cup since 1958. While a Group of these four nations at this summer’s World Cup would surely be considered a “Group of Death”, Russia won’t be short on talent or excitement.

Every four years, the world gathers around their televisions and at local bars to watch the biggest sporting event in the world. Brazil 2014 offered us some breathtaking moments.

James Rodriguez announced himself on the world stage with six goals and a stunning strike versus Uruguay. Costa Rica made a Cinderella run to the quarterfinals. Germany thrashed Brazil 7-1 on their home turf in the semifinal before going on to raise the World Cup trophy.

Here are a few things we can look forward to this summer: 1) Lionel Messi, perhaps the world’s best player looks to win his first International tournament with a strong Argentina side that struggled during qualification, 2) Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal look to build on their successes at the 2016 European Championships, 3) A South American team has never won a World Cup that wasn’t held in South America and Brazil look like early favorites to end that streak this summer.

Let’s take a look at the groups and who should advance to the Round of 16:

Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay

Hosts Russia got perhaps the most favorable draw in the entire tournament. Their first game against Saudi Arabia is a matchup between the two lowest ranked teams in the entire draw. South Africa are the only hosts to not advance out of the group. Even with a favorable draw, Russia may join them this year.

Advancing to the Round of 16: 1) Uruguay, 2) Egypt

Player to Watch: Mohamed Salah, Egypt.

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran

Group B offers the best game of the Group Stage in Portugal– Spain. This game alone may cause some to call this the “Group of Death”, but frankly games against Morocco and Iran should be six points for each.

Advancing to the Round of 16: 1) Spain, 2) Portugal

Player to Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark

France should be a popular pick to win the whole thing. Group C shouldn’t offer many challenges for the French. Denmark and Peru will provide the toughest test to France.

Advancing to the Round of 16: 1) France, 2) Peru

Player to Watch: Paul Pogba, France

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria

Messi and Argentina highlight Group D, but don’t overlook the other three teams. Croatia beat Italy to claim their place and Iceland will be tough to breakdown. Argentina should advance, but it won’t be easy.

Advancing to the Round of 16: 1) Argentina, 2) Croatia

Player to Watch: Lionel Messi, Argentina

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

Brazil are the class of the Group and should come out on top. However, the other three teams match up fairly evenly and will fight for points against each other to advance. Brazil will not be short on talent in the attacking third with the likes of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, and Philippe Coutinho. However, Casemiro in midfield may be the key to Brazil making a long run

Advancing to the Round of 16: 1) Brazil, 2) Switzerland

Player to Watch: Casemiro, Brazil

Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea

Mexico get a tough draw in World Champion Germany who will win the group. While Sweden and South Korea will be tough points to get, Mexico is confident in their chances.

Advancing to the Round of 16: 1) Germany, 2) Mexico

Player to Watch: Toni Kroos, Germany

Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England

England hope to see their World Cup fortunes turn around, but this will not be without a tough test from Belgium. Belgium have an incredibly talented team, but have had trouble making deep runs at tournaments. This could be the year they change that narrative.

Advance to the Round of 16: 1) Belgium, 2) England

Player to Watch: Eden Hazard, Belgium

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

Poland and Colombia are two teams confident in their ability to make a deep run. The two should feel comfortable with their draw. Japan and Senegal will look for three points against each other in hopes of getting past one of Poland or Colombia.

Advancing to Round of 16: 1) Poland, 2) Colombia

Player to Watch: James Rodriguez, Colombia

Takeaways: While the likes of USA and Italy will miss out, top-tier games and the best players in the world highlight Russia 2018. The top teams in the world are set up with great opportunities for long runs toward the title. After an embarrassment in Brazil four years ago, look for Neymar to lead a strong Brazil team to Moscow for the final and lift the trophy.

World Cup Champions: Brazil

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