As we countdown to Russia 2018, we take a look at all 32 teams and suggest a reason to back them. With 31 days to the big kick-off it is the turn of Argentina.


Yet again Leo Messi is the bookies favourite to land the Golden Boot, but do Argentina possess enough collective quality to succeed in Russia?

The jury is still out as the Barcelona forward seeks what would be a first international trophy as he has already lost a World Cup final (2014) and consecutive Copa America finals to Chile in 2015 and 2016.

While their squad contains a whole host of familiar names - Javier Mascherano, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Nicolas Otamendi to name just a few - their ranking of fourth in the world doesn’t begin to tell the tale of their qualification.

They finished third in the South America qualifying section and entered the final game away to Ecuador without a win in four games and on the verge of elimination.

At altitude they conceded a goal in the first minute, but cometh the hour, cometh the man. Messi’s hat-trick, one of the most important of his career, propelled them to victory and with other results going their way, avoided the embarrassment of failing to qualify.

Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli

Coach Jorge Sampaoli has said that he doesn't think he has enough time to get this team playing exactly the way he likes, which seems understandable given the recent 6-1 reversal against Spain. His penchant for attacking full-backs can leave Mascherano and Otamendi in central defence a little exposed in front of goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Few teams however have the attacking choices Sampaoli has at his disposal. So great are his forward options that there are strong suggestions that Icardi– the second top scorer in Serie A this season – may be surplus to requirements.

Four years on from their extra-time heartache against Germany, Argentina fans will be dreaming of going one step better and joining the ionic teams of 1978 and 1986, in what is being billed in some quarters as Messi’s final chance at winning the World Cup.

The fact that the Barcelona star will be just 34 next time around means that could be a little wide of the mark, but at any rate, the country’s all-time top goalscorer will be the driving force behind their latest quest for glory.

Aguero and Messi at national team training

He scored at least five more goals than any other Argentinean in qualification, but Higuain, Dybala, Aguero and Di Maria should cause opposition trouble in Russia.

Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria will provide the opposition in Group D and if they tighten up in defence, should take their place in the second round. From there it will be a case of just how well they can balance defence and attack and extract the most from their offensive weapons.

Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Manchester United), Wilfredo Caballero (Chelsea), Franco Armani (River Plate).

Defenders: Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla), Cristian Ansaldi (Torino), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Federico Fazio (Roma), Marcos Rojo (Manchester United), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Marcos Acuna (Sporting Lisbon).

Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Hebei China Fortune), Eduardo Salvio (Benfica), Lucas Biglia (AC Milan), Giovani Lo Celso (Paris Saint-Germain), Ever Banega (Sevilla), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham), Maximiliano Meza (Independiente), Angel di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Cristian Pavon (Boca Juniors).

Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City).

You can follow the FIFA World Cup from 14 June with RTÉ. Live blogs of every game on RTÉ.ie and the News Now App, with 56 games live on RTÉ television and all 64 games available on the RTÉ Player.