The group-stage draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup takes place on December 1. All 32 teams participating have been decided, with Peru the last to join the party, and it's time to turn our attentions to the permutations on offer.
Here we look at what could unfold in Russia and which teams could be pitted against one another in potential groups of death, groups of life and groups of raw entertainment—plus a few club-themed bonus balls at the end.
Feel free to design your own, but remember the following rule: No two countries from the same qualifying zone can be placed together, with the exception of UEFA, where the maximum is two.
Group of Death 1
Brazil, Spain, Denmark and Nigeria
There's always a Group of Death; four teams always draw the perceived short straws. It's simply the nature of the beast.
The hardest possible group could well include Brazil, who walked an incredibly tough CONMEBOL qualifying zone, leaving the likes of Argentina and Chile to fret as they conquered the group with ease.
Adding Spain to this mix would automatically make it a saliva-inducing prospect, as that would pit two genuine contenders for the trophy against one another early on.
From Pot 3 comes Denmark, and with them an exciting team including Christian Eriksen, Pione Sisto and Andreas Christensen. If the Danes are paired up with strong sides, that might be a win for them because they are less likely to dedicate resources solely to stopping their own talisman.
Rounding things off are Nigeria. They have moved from strength to strength in 2017, looked imperious during qualifying and have Premier League star quality in their ranks.
Group of Death 2
Germany, Spain, Egypt and Japan
A second Group of Death scenario sees three potential changes, with Spain the clear team to avoid from Pot 2.
Germany replace Brazil as Pot 1 representatives, and it's hard to pick between the two when it comes to naming just one as the pre-tournament favourite. The world champions and FIFA world-ranking toppers qualified for the tournament with a flawless record.
Mohamed Salah's Egypt are likely to be many people's dark-horse pick in this tournament, and their counter-attacking prowess will make life uncomfortable for even the best of sides.
Japan complete the second Group of Death. They are always a difficult one to measure due to their presence in the AFC qualifying zone, but with so many technically gifted players who ply their trade in Europe's top leagues, they're not the side you want from pot four.
Group of Death 3
Argentina, Spain, Senegal and Serbia
Varying things up a bit for our third Group of Death, it's Argentina who come in from Pot 1, and because they are South American, it gives us flexibility in the lower reaches.
They may not look the strongest Albiceleste side in recent years, having struggled immensely to score goals during qualifying, but hands up who wants to face Lionel Messi next summer? Exactly.
Senegal are a dangerous side when Sadio Mane and Keita Balde line up for them, making them an awkward proposition from Pot 3. Argentina, with no proper full-backs, would find this matchup rather difficult.
Our final representative is Serbia, who will do more than just make up the numbers. Anyone feeling blase about facing a midfield of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Nemanja Matic needs to reconsider a few things.
Group of Life
Russia, Switzerland, Iran and Panama
If you're in Pot 2, 3 or 4, you are hoping you land Russia in the group stage. Sure, there's a threat because they are the home nation, enchanting the crowd and upping their level in the moment, but you would rather risk that than face Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar.
Pot 2's feeblest offering is probably Switzerland. While they are fairly solid in midfield, they have an age-old striking problem that no one has been able to fix. That means they will struggle to hurt teams—just as they did at UEFA Euro 2016.
Iran are one of the weakest sides in the tournament on paper, so they feature from Pot 3, but we know they will make things difficult for their opponents. Still on a talent vs. talent basis, they are lacking.
Completing the Group of Life is Panama, who many will feel are the weakest team heading to the finals as things stand.
Group of Raw Entertainment
Brazil, Mexico, Egypt and South Korea
If you're an advocate of great entertainment, searching for your fix at the group stage, then pray the cards fall as follows:
- Mexico are drawn into Brazil's group, and El Tri's relentless, pacy attack—starring Hirving Lozano—takes it to their three opponents in fearless fashion.
- Egypt arrive from Pot 3. Salah and Ramadan Sobhi's speed and relentless running pose the ultimate counter-attacking threat and create end-to-end games.
- South Korea complete the setup, with Heung-Min Son finding his Tottenham Hotspur form for his country to make them a formidable proposition.
Group of Raw Entertainment 2
Brazil, Croatia, Denmark and Nigeria
If the above doesn't unfold, here's another scenario that will tickle everyone's fancy:
- Croatia's brilliant attacking talents, such as Ivan Perisic and Luka Modric, are matched up against Brazil's in Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho.
- The Christian Eriksen-led Denmark fall in from Pot 3. And because they won't be labouring against defensive teams, their star can shine.
- Nigeria's speedy, incisive outlook completes the set. Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho blitz on the counter.
There are four notable European clubs that could be represented by every nation in a single group should the cards fall right.
Real Madrid have Pot 2 nailed thanks to their glut of Spanish stars, and they make it a full house thanks to Raphael Varane (France) and Toni Kroos (Germany) in Pot 1, Keylor Navas (Costa Rica) in Pot 3 and Achraf Hakimi (Morocco) in Pot 4.
Chelsea can boast David Luiz and Willian (Brazil) in Pot 1, Alvaro Morata (Spain) and Gary Cahill (England) in Pot 2, Christensen (Denmark) in Pot 3, and Victor Moses (Nigeria) in Pot 4.
Tottenham Hotspur's Belgian defence sorts Pot 1, Davinson Sanchez (Colombia) ticks Pot 2 off, Eriksen (Denmark) nails Pot 3 and finally Son (South Korea) takes it home in pot four.
Arsenal boast Alex Iwobi (Nigeria) in Pot 4, Joel Campbell (Costa Rica) in Pot 3, Granit Xhaka (Switzerland) in Pot 2 and Mesut Ozil (Germany), Olivier Giroud and Alexandre Lacazette (both France) in Pot 1.
All statistics via FIFA.com