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Those last four years went by pretty fast… Well, it’s time for the FIFA World Cup again. This year Russia is the host country and it’s their first time doing so. But the World Cup is no stranger to Europe as this will be the 11th time that this part of world is staging soccer’s biggest event. Although this event still has another few days before kickoff (June 14th), we have some intriguing storylines taking place.

Team USA will not be participating for the first time since 1986, they had played in the last seven World Cups before hand. Some countries are returning to the World Cup after a long drought, others are joining the field for the first time, some looking to make history, and then the familiar faces. It should also be noted that 17 players from Major League Soccer will be participating. It comes as no surprise that Latino America continues to have strong presence in this event.

Here’s a breakdown of those teams and who they’ll be competing against…..

Lionel-Messi-adidas-soccer-jerseys

Argentina
16th World Cup Appearance (42-14-21 all-time record)
Best Finish: Champions in 1978 and 1986
2018 Draw: Group D

All eyes are on Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria again as Argentina is under a heavy microscope for this World Cup. After losing the championship game to Germany four years ago, Messi –a five-time Ballon d’Or winner- continues to take the heat for the fact that “La Albiceleste” hasn’t won an international championship since taking home the gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Some also blame Di Maria for not being more productive thus putting all the pressure on Messi.

Argentines are tired of losing to their regional rivals. Since those 2008 Olympics they’ve had to watch Brazil and Chile win a combined six championships and medals between the Olympics, Copa America, and the Confederations Cup. If they want to regain momentum in the race for CONMEBOL supremacy, they’ll first have to navigate a series of what some call “trap games” in Group D.

That group includes a Croatian team that’s been making noise in Europe, an upstart Iceland side that’s making it’s first World Cup appearance and playing in just it’s second international event overall (they’ve gone 8-1-6 in their
last 15 international matches), and Nigeria who’s playing in their third straight World Cup.

Panama
1st World Cup appearance (48-11-38 all-time record in other international competitions)
Best Finish: TBD (they have two combined championships in other tournaments)
Draw: Group G

Outside of Central America nobody knows what to expect from Panama. While they are a heavy underdog they come in tow with two excellent offensive players. Luis Tejada and Blas Perez have combined for 86 international goals. “Los Canaleros” scored 12 total goals during the CONCACAF portion of World Cup qualifying, Tejada and Perez accounted for four of those goals. They’ll be heavily leaned on as they’ve been placed in one of the more difficult groups with World Cup regulars in England, a Belgium team that’s looking to build upon it’s quarterfinals appearance from 2014, and Tunisia who’s making their first World Cup appearance in 12 years.

Brazil
Have played in every single World Cup (70-17-17 all-time record)
Best Finish: Champions in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002
2018 Draw: Group E

It’s just another day at the office for “Selecao” as they’ve never missed a World Cup. Their worst finishes came in 1930 and 1966 when they failed to make it out of group play. Star forward Neymar, playing in just his second World Cup, is looking to add his name to the list of Brazilian legends such as Ronaldo, Kaka, and Ronaldinho among others that have hoisted the World Cup Trophy. While they haven’t won the big one since 2002, they’ve collected a host of other championships in that time.

That collection includes three Confederations Cups (2005, 2009, 2013), two Copa America titles (2004 and 2007), and they’ve medaled in the last three Summer Olympic Games (gold in 2016, silver in 2012, bronze in 2008). Neymar was the star for the 2016 and 2012 teams. Brazil is never short on talent or experience and they are a favorite to win. But winning a sixth World Cup will be easier said than done as their Group E draw contains Switzerland (who’s reached the Round of 16 in two of the last three World Cups), Costa Rica (who’s won eight Copa Centroamerica championships since making their World Cup debut in 1990), and Serbia (making just their second World Cup appearance since separating from Yugoslavia).

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About The Author

Gabe Salgado

Gabe is a sports journalist of Puerto Rican and Spanish decent who's worked in media for over 15 years. He also writes for Fox News Latino and The Sports Journal. You can also hear him on the radio via Chicagoland Sports Radio and Logik Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82

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