Comment and Analysis @p_smith86
How are the World Cup contenders shaping up?
Last Updated: 04/06/18 2:32pm
The 2018 World Cup is fast approaching - so how are the contenders for the crown shaping up?
Each country will have to name their final 23-man squad for the tournament on Monday June 4, but preparations are already well underway, with training camps and warm-up fixtures taking place across the globe.
Here, we take a look at how the favourites to win the World Cup are getting on…
Brazil - 9/2 to win the World Cup with Sky Bet
Four years on from their humbling at home, Brazil are out to win the World Cup for a sixth time and put the horror show of their 2014 tournament behind them - and they're looking in good shape to do just that.
Under new manager Tite, Brazil were able to partly avenge their 7-1 semi-final drubbing by Germany with a 1-0 win over Joachim Low's side in March and they kicked off their final World Cup preparations with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Croatia at Anfield on Sunday.
Forget the victory, though, the key factor in that win over Croatia was the goal-scoring return of Brazil talisman Neymar. The world's most expensive player has been out injured since fracturing a metatarsal playing for Paris Saint-Germain in February, but returned to action and scored a stunning goal to boost Brazil's World Cup bid.
Tite - a coach renowned for his tactical ability - has a talented squad to count on and that blend of coaching and creativity should produce exciting results in Russia. The manager will have a chance to further refine his plans against Austria on Sunday, in Brazil's final warm-up fixture before their World Cup opener against Switzerland on June 17.
Germany - 5/1
There's certainly no panic in the Germany camp right now - but there may just be a few concerns. The World Cup holders have, on paper, a strong squad capable of retaining their title but their recent form has hardly been inspiring.
In fact, Germany are on a five-game run without a win, having drawn with England, France and Spain and lost to Brazil and Austria. Their last win came in October, in their final qualifier against Azerbaijan.
"The defeat angers me," said boss Low after Saturday's comeback defeat to Austria. The match had been delayed by 100 minutes due to heavy rain but when it got underway the world's No 1 ranked team were far below their best and conceded twice in the second half after Arsenal's Mesut Ozil had put them ahead.
Manuel Neuer's first start since September was a positive as he continues his recovery from a broken foot and Germany will expect to get back to winning ways when they host Saudi Arabia at the BayArena on Friday. But the title-holders have work to do before they kick-off against Mexico on June 17.
Spain - 11/2
Since winning Euro 2012 Spain have been way below the levels expected of them in the subsequent major tournaments, failing to make it out of their group at the previous World Cup and losing to Italy in the last 16 of Euro 2016.
But a 6-1 hammering of Argentina in March, on the back of a draw in Germany, was a reminder of the talent they can still call on - as were the omissions of Premier League stars Cesc Fabregas, Alvaro Morata, Pedro, Marcos Alonso and Hector Bellerin from their World Cup squad.
Boss Julen Lopetegui, who took over after the Euro 2016 exit and led Spain through a dominant qualifying campaign, has the 2010 champions believing again. They may not have been firing on all cylinders in the 1-1 with Switzerland on Sunday night, but they have a final run-out against Tunisia on Saturday to get up to speed, before facing Portugal in a tough World Cup opener on June 15.
France - 6/1
France rarely go into a major football competition without some kind of off-field controversy surrounding their camp and it looks as though this year will be no different, after Paul Pogba was jeered by his own supporters during the 3-1 win over Italy on Friday night.
The Manchester United midfielder, who has struggled for form this season, drew whistles from the French fans after a mis-placed pass and when he was substituted in the second half, forcing boss Didier Deschamps to call on the country to get behind his players.
In terms of their form on the pitch, the Euro 2016 finalists are certain to be a threat in Russia. Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele, who both found the net against Italy, will cause problems and Liverpool target Nabil Fekir, who capitalised on a Republic of Ireland error to score in France's first warm-up game last week, is among a number of players who will excite.
They finish off their preparations with a game against USA on Saturday, before their World Cup begins with Australia a week later.
Argentina - 8/1
Lionel Messi is fit and in form. That alone will make Argentina a major contender at the World Cup. But the more general view on the South Americans is less clear.
This is a squad brimming with attacking talent: Messi, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and fit-again Sergio Aguero will arguably be the best front four in Russia. But a World Cup-ending knee injury to No 1 goalkeeper, Sergio Romero of Manchester United, underlines defensive concerns for the 2014 runners-up.
Former Manchester City man and current Chelsea back-up Willy Caballero is likely to step in between the sticks, but after shipping four goals against Nigeria in November and six against Spain in March this Argentina team, which only scraped through qualification, comes with weaknesses.
They beat Haiti 4-0 last week - largely thanks to a Messi hat-trick - and were given a heroes send off as they flew to Barcelona to finalise their preparations. Their final warm-up fixture against Israel on Saturday should better hint at their progress, with Iceland their first World Cup group game taking place on June 16.
Belgium - 10/1
Belgium are England's much-feared final group game opponents. Yet, despite the concerns on these shores about what would happen to Gareth Southgate's side if they were left needing a result to reach the knockouts in that fixture, Belgium's preparations for the World Cup aren't going quite as well as they'd have hoped.
There has been off-field issues for Roberto Martinez to deal with, from the fallout from Radja Nainggolan's non-selection and subsequent international retirement to mattress-gate which, we're told, definitely didn't prematurely reveal Belgium's final 23-man squad for Russia.
But more serious on-field concerns came on Saturday in the shape of a below-par 0-0 draw with Portugal in Brussels which led to the team being whistled off by their own fans, after captain Vincent Kompany had limped off with a groin injury.
Romelu Lukaku stepped up his recovery from his own injury with 45 minutes of football in that match and Martinez will hope there will be more positives to take from the final two warm-up games with Egypt and Costa Rica before his men face Panama on June 18.
England - 16/1
Despite expectations back home being fairly low, England still sit among the favourites according to the bookies. Their warm-up win over Nigeria perhaps indicated why there are those contrasting views.
An encouraging first-half performance featured the youthful attacking flair at their disposal and the goal-scoring threat of Harry Kane, but the second 45 was a reminder of how tactical changes and pressure from the opposition can knock the Three Lions off their stride.
Raheem Sterling, who will be one of England's key men in Russia, has made headlines recently for the wrong reasons and Southgate and his players will have to get used to dealing with the media attention their World Cup quest will attract.
But with a so far fully fit squad at his disposal, a refreshing tactical approach, and a hungry, young group of players, Southgate will go into England's final warm-up with Costa Rica looking to refine his plans for the World Cup opener with Tunisia, rather than desperately searching for a solution.
Portugal - 25/1
Portugal are the reigning European champions and have a five-time Ballon d'Or winner in their ranks, so why are they so lowly ranked by the bookies? A toothless draw against Belgium on Saturday, when Cristiano Ronaldo was rested, and other recent underwhelming friendly performances hint at why.
Like Argentina, they will be able to cause most teams problems if their main man is on fire, but there are weaknesses in other areas of the pitch which can be exposed - just as the Netherlands did in a 3-0 win in March.
Portugal followed that defeat up with a win over Egypt - but only after Ronaldo's two injury-time goals cancelled out Mohamed Salah's opener. They then threw away a two-goal lead to draw with Tunisia last week.
There is plenty for boss Fernando Santos to ponder then. He must find a way to get the most out of Ronaldo while at the same time creating a team performance capable of giving the five-time Champions League winner the platform to make the difference.
Portugal's final friendly comes against Algeria on Thursday, when Ronaldo is expected to return to the team, and he'll have to pick up the pace quickly: they kick off the World Cup against Spain eight days later.
Arsenal v Everton
Pick your Sky Sports Six-a-Side team for a chance to win the guaranteed £1k jackpot.