As we countdown to Russia 2018, we take a look at all 32 teams and suggest a reason to back them. It was 10 days to the big kick-off on the Bank Holiday Monday, so it was the turn of hosts Russia (who turn up 24 hours late).


And so it's Russia's turn to host this sporting spectacular. Seven-and-a-half years on from their bid being successful, they will kick off the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup with a game against Saudi Arabia on 14 June. After that comes Egypt on 19 June and they finish their Group A campaign against Uruguay.

On paper you could deem it a 'handy' group, but the Russians stock has fallen in recent times. There's no great confidence that they can top this group and one wonders how they would have fared if they actually had to qualify for these finals.

Recent history at major tournaments does not inspire confidence either as they have not won a match since Euro 2012 and have failed to get out of the group stage at the World Cup since the break up of the old Soviet Union.

Igor Akinfeev could be busy between the posts

And what of their squad? Whether or not he is as good as the legendary goakeeper Lev Yashin is open to debate, but skipper Igor Akinfeev has now spent over 13 years between the posts for the Russians. He has over 100 caps to his name and has kept a total of 245 clean sheets for club and country so far.

Akinfeev's performances in the recent warm-up defeats to Brazil and France underline his importance to the team, more so when you consider that injuries have curtailed the side's defensive options.

Georgy Dzhikiya and Viktor Vasin, both absent with after tearing their cruciate ligaments add to Russia's woes at the back, though there is talk that veteran Sergey Ignashevich could possibly feature again after retiring from the squad two years ago.  

In attack,  Zenit St Petersburg's Alexander Kokorin will miss the tournament after undergoing cruciate surgery earlier this year. Kokorin was prolific in front of goal for Zenit at the back end of 2017. FC Krasnodar striker Fyodor Smolov is now the man entrusted to lead the attack.

Stanislas Cherchesov

In Denis Cheryshev, Russia possess a very stylish winger and his recall to the squad is one of the few positives for coach Stanislas Cherchesov.

As well as having to deal with injuries, Cherchesov has fallen out with a few players, most notably with Igor Denisov when he was a manager of Lokomotiv Moscow. Denisov, regarded as the best midfielder in Russia, has not featured in a Russian squad since Cherchesov took over in September 2016.

The manager, who kept goal for his country in the 1990s, now oversees a squad whose chances of lifting the trophy are seen as close to nil after computer analysis by a top bank.

Expectations are low. Advancing to the last 16 would indeed be one of the stories of the tournament for the hosts, whose current ranking of 66 is the lowest of all the nations at this World Cup.  

Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Brugge), Andrei Lunyov (Zenit St Petersburg)

Defenders: Mario Fernandes (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Rubin Kazan), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Fyodor Kudryashov (Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrei Semyonov (Akhmat Grozny), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St Petersburg)

Midfielders: Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yuri Gazinsky (Krasnodar), Alexander Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Daler Kuzyaev (Zenit St Petersburg), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Alexander Samedov (Spartak Moscow), Alexander Yerokhin (Zenit St Petersburg), Yuri Zhirkov (Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Zobnin (Spartak Moscow)

Forwards: Artyom Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Alexei Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fyodor Smolov (Krasnodar)

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.