Predicting World Cup Starting XIs for All 32 Teams Post-Provisional Squads
World Cup fever is setting in.
With nations releasing their preliminary squads for the summer tournament—or, in select cases like Brazil, confirming the 23 who will go, excitement is building around the event that is now under a month away.
Here, B/R has taken on the almighty task of predicting the starting XI for every country attending the competition, giving you a feel for who might and might not be taking to the pitch in Russia come June.
Some were easy to select, barring the odd 50/50 choice (Spain, Brazil, Germany fall into this category); while others were near-impossible, with recent managerial changes, unsettled squads or injuries throwing too many things into question (England, Saudi Arabia and Russia, we're looking at you!).
Goalkeeper: Sergio Romero
Defenders: Gabriel Mercado, Federico Fazio, Nicolas Otamendi, Nicolas Tagliafico
Midfielders: Javier Mascherano, Ever Banega, Manuel Lanzini
Forwards: Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero
Argentina seem one of the least-prepared sides for this tournament. It is entirely unclear who Jorge Sampaoli will field, as he has difficult questions to answer at every turn.
At full-back, does he opt for older, underwhelming heads, or give someone like Tagliafico a chance? In central midfield, will Lucas Biglia feature, or is Ever Banega the choice? Has Lanzini done enough, or will Paulo Dybala—who has never scored for his nation in 12 attempts—book his place on reputation?
Aguero missed the last month of Manchester City's season in an attempt to find peak shape ahead of the finals. If he suffers a set-back, Gonzalo Higuain will likely step in...but Mauro Icardi might not even make the squad.
Goalkeeper: Mat Ryan
Defence: Josh Risdon, Mark Milligan, Trent Sainsbury, Aziz Behich
Midfield: Mile Jedinak, Aaron Mooy, Mathew Leckie, Tom Rogic, Robbie Kruse
Forward: Tom Juric
There are plenty of question marks surrounding Australia's XI, with only Ryan, Sainsbury, Jedinak, Mooy, Leckie, Rogic and Juric seeming certainties. This is what happens when you change manager in a World Cup year.
Tim Cahill will travel to the tournament and represent quite the option off the bench. He's 38 years of age now, but send a good cross his way, and it still nestles in the back of the net.
Milos Degenek, Andrew Nabbout and Massimo Luongo are all in with a shout of starting.
Goalkeeper: Alisson Becker
Defence: Danilo, Marquinhos, Miranda, Marcelo
Midfield: Casemiro, Paulinho, Renato Augusto
Forwards: Philippe Coutinho, Neymar, Gabriel Jesus
Brazil's first XI has been so settled for so long, Tite's plan so clear. Unfortunately, an injury to Dani Alves has disrupted that at the last moment, throwing the right-back situation into uncertain waters.
There are many potential solutions here: Fagner, who plays for Corinthians, has made a fair few recent squads, but Danilo also has a case. Rafinha is a steady head, while Marquinhos could switch to the right, creating a spot for Thiago Silva in the centre.
That really is the only question Tite must answer ahead of the tournament. Everything else is sorted.
Goalkeeper: David Ospina
Defence: Santiago Arias, Yerry Mina, Davinson Sanchez, Frank Fabra
Midfield: Abel Aguilar, Carlos Sanchez, James Rodriguez, Edwin Cardona, Juan Cuadrado
Forward: Radamel Falcao
Colombia manager Jose Pekerman likes to shift formation, doing so liberally at the last World Cup and during qualifying for this one, but the 4-2-3-1 is a shape he comes back to quite a lot.
Perhaps Wilmar Barrios has a legitimate claim for the central midfield role alongside Sanchez, but Aguilar's experience could prove valuable. Edwin Cardona is the likely pick to share the creative load with James, but if Colombia go 4-2-2-2, he's the one who is sacrificed for another striker.
Goalkeeper: Keylor Navas
Defence: Cristian Gamboa, Kendall Waston, Johnny Acosta, Oscar Duarte, Bryan Oviedo
Midfield: Bryan Ruiz, David Guzman, Celso Borges, Joel Campbell
Forward: Marcos Urena
There is one expected change to Costa Rica's starting XI when comparing this team to the one that shocked the world in 2014: Guzman should start in midfield instead of Yeltsin Tejeda.
Everything else is largely the same—including the formation (and manager)—though how they deal with a thoroughly enhanced reputation, inclusive of far more respect from opponents, will be interesting.
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois
Defence: Thomas Meunier, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany, Yannick Carrasco
Midfield: Axel Witsel, Mousa Dembele, Kevin De Bruyne
Forwards: Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku
Belgium's first XI looks much the same as it did for Euro 2016, though the formation has been tweaked under Roberto Martinez's stewardship.
The Spaniard has made up for a lack of good Belgian full-back stock by instilling a three-man defence and using Carrasco as a wing-back. It's bold, it's brave, but it should be fun.
There aren't really any question marks surrounding the team heading into the finals. They have very good players such as Radja Nainggolan in the squad, but there's little expectation that they breach this setup.
Goalkeeper: Danijel Subasic
Defenders: Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic
Midfielders: Milan Badelj, Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric
Forwards: Andrej Kramaric, Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic
Croatia have a new coach, so it's very hard to predict what he'll do.
Most signs point toward a 4-3-3 formation, with Rakitic and Modric free to roam the centre from it. Who he fields as the holder, though, is the subject of some debate.
Up top there's a chance Mandzukic plays wide (as he has done for Juventus over the last year), creating room for Nikola Kalinic, but that would remove Kramaric from the equation, and he suits the shape very well.
In defence, Vida is the leader, while Lovren is still battling it out with Vedran Corluka for the other spot.
Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel
Defenders: Henrik Dalsgaard, Simon Kjaer, Andreas Bjelland, Jens Stryger Larsen
Midfielders: William Kvist, Thomas Delaney, Christian Eriksen
Forwards: Yussuf Poulsen, Pione Sisto, Nicolai Jorgensen
Denmark may only have one bonafide star in Eriksen, but they have a number of very handy players and a pretty deep squad too.
Andreas Christensen looks set to miss out on the starting XI due to Age Hareide's preference for a left foot-right foot partnership (Kjaer, the captain, fulfilling Christensen's prospective role).
There's a mass of midfield talent—Lasse Schone, Daniel Wass and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg among it—that seems unlikely to see much time on the pitch.
Goalkeeper: Essam El-Hadary
Defenders: Ahmed Fathy, Ali Gabr, Ahmed Hegazi, Mohamed Abdel-Shafy
Midfielders: Tarek Hamed, Mohamed Elneny, Abdallah El-Said, Mohamed Salah, Trezeguet
Egypt have no dilemmas in goal or in midfield, but predicting who turns out at full-back and up front has proved a challenge for anyone who has tried.
Fathy and Abdel-Shafy, the projected right- and left-backs, are past 30 years of age and on the decline. None of the strikers are particularly potent, but their chief concern is to play as a foil for the electric Salah. Kouka, Marwan Mohsen and Amr Gamal are all on relatively equal footing in the race to start as it stands.
They're very strong on the wings, though, and boast a West Bromwich Albion double in central defence.
Goalkeeper: Jordan Pickford
Defence: Kyle Walker, John Stones, Eric Dier, Harry Maguire, Danny Rose
Midfield: Jordan Henderson, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling
Striker: Harry Kane
England seem guaranteed to play a three-man defensive line under Gareth Southgate, and it looks as though he will opt for fresh blood in Harry Maguire or James Tarkowski, rather than experience in the form of Gary Cahill.
The central midfield options are extremely weak due to injuries—both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Harry Winks' ailments have cut Southgate short in this area—but he loves Loftus-Cheek and could well see him as that dynamic piece required.
The friendly against the Netherlands in March showcased the option to shift to a 3-5-2 shape, with perhaps Jesse Lingard in the centre, then Sterling playing in a free role off Kane.
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris
Defence: Mathieu Debuchy, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Digne
Midfield: N'Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi
Forwards: Dimitri Payet, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe
France have an embarrassment of riches to choose from in some areas, but in others they seem sorely lacking.
Midfield, centre-back, wing and striker fall into that former category, with the likes of Olivier Giroud, Corentin Tolisso and Thomas Lemar not guaranteed starters, while both full-back slots fall into the latter category.
Mathieu Debuchy's strong half-season with Saint-Etienne has given him a chance of turning out on the right, while Lucas Digne may feature on the left due to Benjamin Mendy's lack of minutes.
Goalkeeper: Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Defenders: Joshua Kimmich, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Jonas Hector
Midfielders: Ilkay Gundogan, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler, Thomas Muller
Forward: Timo Werner
Germany and Bayern Munich continue to send out positive messages regarding Manuel Neuer’s fitness, but it’s getting tougher and tougher to believe he’ll be in a position to represent his nation in Russia next month.
The good news, though, is that in terms of deputies, it doesn’t get much better than Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
There are two other boxes Joachim Low is yet to fill in: who plays central midfield next to Toni Kroos and who plays on the flank opposite Thomas Muller. Sami Khedira and Ilkay Gundogan are vying for the first berth; Julian Draxler, Marco Reus and Leroy Sane are in direct competition for the second.
Goalkeeper: Hannes Halldorsson
Defenders: Birkir Mar Saevarsson, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Sverrir Ingi Ingason, Hordur Bjorgvin Magnusson
Midfielders: Birkir Bjarnason, Aron Gunnarsson, Emil Hallfredsson, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Johann Berg Gudmundsson
Forward: Alfred Finnbogason
The entirety of Iceland will cross every finger and toe in the hope Sigurdsson can return to fitness in time for the World Cup. He's their best player, their talisman, the man who makes the difference so often.
There's a tight call at centre-back, with Kari Arnason—so often so impressive for his country—a definite contender for Ingason's place in defence, but otherwise the World Cup debutants look fairly set.
Goalkeeper: Alireza Beiravend
Defence: Ramin Rezaeian, Jalal Hosseini, Morteza Pouraliganji, Milad Mohammadi
Midfield: Saeid Ezatolahi, Masoud Shojaei, Mehdi Taremi, Ehsan Hajsafi, Alireza Jahanbakhsh
Forward: Sardar Azmoun
Those who followed Iran's fortunes at the 2014 World Cup will recognise a few names here—Hosseini, Shojaei and Hajsafi among them—but it's Team Melli's youthful inductees that really catch the eye.
B/R's Dean Jones reported Azmoun is attracting interest from around Europe at the moment, so a strong showing in Russia could tip a transfer over the edge, while Jahanbakhsh is a star in the making in midfield.
Goalkeeper: Eiji Kawashima
Defence: Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Tomoaki Makino, Yuto Nagatomo
Midfield: Makoto Hasebe, Hotaru Yamaguchi, Genki Haraguchi, Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa
Forward: Yuya Kubo
Japan sacked Vahid Halihodzic—the man who led them to World Cup qualification—as recently as March. The board were unimpressed by the friendly results and decided to make a change.
As a result of this, new coach Akira Nishino is yet to take charge of a match with The Samurai Blue—competitive or otherwise. It means any predicted Japan XI is, truly, a shot in the dark.
Goalkeeper: Guillermo Ochoa
Defence: Miguel Layun, Hector Moreno, Rafael Marquez, Carlos Salcedo
Midfield: Andres Guardado, Jonathan dos Santos, Hector Herrera
Forwards: Hirving Lozano, Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela
On paper, Mexico are thrilling. Lucky for us, that quality translates to the pitch too.
Lozano, Hernandez and Vela offer speed and excitement, the midfield is nicely balanced with goalscoring potential, and Layun is an ultra-attacking full-back when given license to go.
One of the few question marks over El Tri's XI is centre-back Marquez. His Mexico career looked finished after being linked to drug trafficking in 2017, but he hasn't been convicted of anything and has been named in the preliminary squad. If he takes part, it will be his fifth World Cup!
Goalkeeper: Munir Mohamedi
Defenders: Nabil Dirar, Medhi Benatia, Romain Saiss, Achraf Hakimi
Midfielders: Mbark Boussoufa, Karim El Ahmadi, Hakim Ziyech, Nordin Amrabat, Younes Belhanda
Forwards: Khalid Boutaib
If Herve Renard lets Morocco play to their attacking potential they be a lot of fun. Sadly, he's a renowned defensive coach and may put the brakes on a little. We'll have to see where he draws the line.
Hakimi is naturally a right-back so to put him on the left might feel a little risky; Hamza Mendyl is another option there, but he's only a year older than the Real Madrid man. It's rookie or rookie!
Goalkeeper: Ikechukwu Ezenwa
Defence: Shehu Abdullahi, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun, Elderson Echiejile
Midfield: Wilfred Ndidi, Ogenyi Onazi, John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi
Forward: Odion Ighalo
Nigeria's XI feels largely sorted but for a couple of question marks here and there.
Vincent Enyeama wasn't named in the preliminary squad, leaving a battle between Ezenwa, Francis Uzoho and Daniel Akpeyi for the goalkeeping spot.
Elderson's fitness has been a worry of late, meaning Brian Idowu—who has been steady in his limited exposure to international football so far—is on standby at left-back. Swapping Ola Aina to that flank is an option too.
Alex Iwobi faces serious competition from Moses Simon for a wing slot, but the latter's tailing form (and Iwobi's starting experience for Arsenal) might earn Iwobi the nod.
Goalkeeper: Jaime Penedo
Defence: Luis Ovalle, Fidel Escobar, Roman Torres, Michael Murillo
Midfield: Gabriel Gomez, Anibal Godoy, Armando Cooper, Alberto Quintero
Forwards: Blas Perez, Gabriel Torres
Panama utilised a consistent 4-4-2 formation during qualifying, but since then they have trialled a 5-4-1 shape that seems intended to combat increased competition. Which one manager Hernan Dario Gomez pushes ahead with is anyone's guess.
If they do shift to the 5-4-1 variant, Felipe Baloy might step in to the defensive line, but Adolfo Machado is another option. Edgar Barcenas might be turned to in midfield.
Goalkeeper: Pedro Gallese
Defenders: Christian Ramos, Alberto Rodriguez, Miguel Trauco, Luis Advincula
Midfielders: Renato Tapia, Edison Flores, Yoshimar Yotun
Forwards: Jefferson Farfan, Raul Ruidiaz, Christian Cueva
Peru's plans for the World Cup have received a potentially debilitating blow with the news that Paolo Guerrero cannot take part. His ban for doping has been upheld.
No Peruvian can replicate the power and aggression he offers up top, but that mission will likely now fall to Ruidiaz—and he'll have to do his best.
Jefferson Farfan becomes the most recognisable face in this team in Guerrero's absence, but if you're looking for another potential difference-maker, Cueva is worth your attention.
Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny
Defence: Lukasz Piszczek, Kamil Glik, Michal Pazdan, Maciej Rybus
Midfield: Grzegorz Krychowiak, Karol Linetty, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Piotr Zielinski, Kamil Grosicki
Forward: Robert Lewandowski
Most of this team is set in stone. You'll recognise that spine of Szczesny, Piszczek, Blaszczykowski and Lewandowski from Euro 2012. Glik, Pazdan, Krychowiak and Grosicki are all Euro 2016 stalwarts, too.
The only real fresh face is Napoli's Zielinski, a talented, attack-minded central midfielder who looks to have won the "Supporting Act" role for Lewandowski. Arek Milik, as at Napoli, would usually call this role his own but has had rotten luck with injuries over the last 18 months.
Goalkeeper: Rui Patricio
Defence: Cedric Soares, Pepe, Ruben Dias, Raphael Guerreiro
Midfield: William Carvalho, Joao Moutinho, Joao Mario, Bernardo Silva
Forwards: Andre Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo
Decisions, decisions for the Euro 2016 champions—some of them forced by dire circumstance, some by the luxury of choice.
Ruben Dias hasn't even been capped yet, but it's clear Fernando Santos would love to get him into this side if possible. The other options alongside Pepe—Bruno Alves, Jose Fonte—are not inspiring.
In midfield there might well be room for Ricardo Quaresma or Bruno Fernandes, but Bernardo has largely usurped the former, and Moutinho's steadiness might be valued ahead of the latter.
Goalkeeper: Igor Akinfeev
Defence: Mario Fernandes, Vladimir Granat, Ilya Kutepov, Fyodor Kudryashov, Yuri Zhirkov
Midfield: Roman Zobnin, Aleksandr Golovin, Alan Dzagoev
Forwards: Aleksei Miranchuk, Fedor Smolov
Russia's build-up to the World Cup has been marred by a litany of issues, ranging from management-player disputes to debilitating ailments.
Georgi Dzhikiya and Viktor Vasin seemed certain to start at centre-back until injury struck, while Alexander Kokorin has also been ruled out due to torn ligaments. Igor Denisov won't feature due to a long-standing disagreement with the coach.
They've been very consistent with their formation and defensive shape under Stanislav Cherchesov, but given all of the issues, the matter of who actually takes to the pitch is almost impossible to call.
Goalkeeper: Abdullah Al-Mayouf
Defenders: Mohammed Al-Breik, Osama Hawsawi, Motaz Hawsawi, Yasser Al-Shahrani
Midfielders: Abdullah Otayf, Salman Al Faraj, Salem Al Dawsari, Nawaf Al Abed, Yahya Al-Shehri
Forward: Mohammed Al-Sahlawi
Saudi Arabia have sacked two managers since qualifying for the FIFA World Cup, and it has become incredibly difficult to anticipate what they will do.
An incredible number of players have been cycled through over the past year, with constants few and far between. What we can bank on is veterans Hawsawi and Al Abed to lead the team.
Goalkeeper: Khadim N'Diaye
Defence: Kara Mbodji, Youssouf Sabaly, Kalidou Koulibaly, Saliou Ciss
Midfield: Cheikhou Kouyate, Idrissa Gueye, Badou Ndiaye
Forwards: Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Moussa Sow
Alioue Cisse may not like tampering with his team very much, but he's been forced to on several occasions over the last two years. It makes for a very cloudy picture as to what he might do at the finals.
You'd bank on a fit Kara to partner Koulibaly, but Salif Sane could step in if not—or they could utilise a three-man defence and play the trio. The situation at left-back isn't much clearer either.
The midfield three seems set, as do the wide men, but it's one of four or five options when it comes to the central striker, with M'Baye Niang, Diafra Sakho, Oumar Niasse and even Mame Biram Diouf representing options.
Goalkeeper: Vladimir Stojkovic
Defenders: Antonio Rukavina, Branislav Ivanovic, Matija Nastasic, Aleksandar Kolarov
Midfielders: Nemanja Matic, Luka Milivojevic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Dusan Tadic, Adem Ljajic
Forward: Aleksandar Mitrovic
Serbia's national team has undergone surgical changes since qualifying for the World Cup, doing away with manager Slavoljub Muslin and with him the three-man back line.
New coach Mladen Krstajic favours a 4-2-3-1 that should allow national gem Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to take centre stage. He'll be allowed some freedom by a rock-solid midfield base of Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic.
Moving from a back three to a four likely reduces Dusko Tosic's role to substitute, though he'll have to step back in should Matija Nastasic fail to find fitness ahead of the tournament—he missed the end of the season with a knee injury.
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Defence: Dani Carvajal, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba
Midfield: Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Thiago Alcantara, Isco, David Silva
Striker: Diego Costa
Nine of Julen Lopetegui's starters are seemingly locked in, with just the identity of the third central midfielder and the striker up for debate.
We've picked Thiago for the XI, but it could easily be Koke. That decision may just be dependent on whether or not Spain are up against a top team or a poor one.
Up front, Costa's half-season with Atletico Madrid makes him a logical pick, but Iago Aspas, Alvaro Morata and Rodrigo are all gunning for that spot.
Goalkeeper: Kim Seung-Gyu
Defence: Lee Yong, Kim Young-Gwon, Jang Hyun-Soo, Kim Jin-Su
Midfield: Kwon Chang-Hoon, Ki Sung-Yeung, Park Joo-Ho, Lee Jae-Sung
Striker: Son Heung-Min, Hwang Hee-Chan
South Korea are expected to rock a 4-4-2 formation as standard but retain an ability to shift to 4-3-3—or even 3-4-3—if required.
It's a tough choice between Park Joo-Ho and Koo Ja-Cheol in central midfield, but we've swung for the former, also opting for Hwang Hee-Can up front instead of Kim Shin-Wook—nicknamed "Wookie" due to his (relative) overbearing size.
Goalkeeper: Robin Olsen
Defence: Mikael Lustig, Victor Lindelof, Andreas Granqvist, Ludwig Augustinsson
Midfield: Viktor Claesson, Sebastian Larsson, Albin Ekdal, Emil Forsberg
Forwards: Marcus Berg, Ola Toivonen
Sweden are another nation who seem fairly set on their path. It seems as though only injuries or fitness concerns could tamper with this selection now.
There are concerns over one player: Ekdal. If he fails to make it, then it's probably Gustav Svensson takes his place, the formation unchanged. The highlight names here are Forsberg (RB Leipzig) and Lindelof (Manchester United).
Goalkeeper: Yann Sommer
Defence: Stephan Lichtsteiner, Fabian Schar, Manuel Akanji, Ricardo Rodriguez
Midfield: Granit Xhaka, Valon Behrami, Blerim Dzemaili, Xherdan Shaqiri, Admir Mehmedi
Forward: Haris Seferovic
There are high hopes that Vladimir Petkovic mixes youth with experience and goes on the offensive with Switzerland this summer, but it's been in their very nature to be rather cautious, and those habits can be difficult to shake.
Denis Zakaria, Remo Freuler, Breel Embolo and Dimitri Oberlin represent the future of this national team and should all nick playing time here and there. But from the start it'll be the same old faces, and the Swiss will have to figure out how they're going to score enough goals to be a legitimate threat.
Defence: Hamdi Nagguez, Syam Ben Youssef, Yassine Meriah, Ali Maaloul
Midfield: Ellyes Skhiri, Mohamed Amine Ben Amor, Ferjani Sassi
Forward: Anice Badri, Naim Sliti, Wahbi Khazri
Those who don't follow Tunisia's international fortunes will be surprised to learn Khazri—the former Sunderland winger—has been reinvented as a forward and is proving extremely effective.
He, Sliti and Badri are still forming their relationship on the pitch, but the early signs are good.
In defence there is one question mark, which hangs over Ben Youssef's place in the team.
Formation: 4-4-2 (Diamond)
Goalkeeper: Fernando Muslera
Defence: Guillermo Varela, Jose Gimenez, Diego Godin, Martin Caceres
Midfield: Matias Vecino, Nahitan Nandez, Rodrigo Bentancur, Giorgian De Arrascaeta
Striker: Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani
There's a chance Uruguay roll out their old flat 4-4-2 formation, likely featuring Cristian Rodriguez at the expense of De Arrascaeta, but in the group stage at least, Oscar Tabarez is expected to open up a bit.
That should lead to the diamond formation we've seen drip-fed into this setup being utilised, with a youthful revolution in central midfield making La Celeste a much easier watch.
With more control being exerted in midfield, Suarez and Cavani chase fewer punts and long balls, conserving their energy for when it matters the most.