OPINION: A motley roundtable of Newshub football tragics brainstorm the key questions of 2018 World Cup and make fearless predictions about the outcomes:
Richard Wain (RadioLIVE sports reporter): Anyone other than Germany or Brazil please. They've got enough World Cup Trophies.
I'm backing Denmark, the Danes! Though, admittedly, unlikely.
Otherwise, Argentina would be nice, I have a few football teammates over the years from that neck of the woods. All mad, of course.
Andrew Gourdie (Newshub sports presenter): I like the look of France.
They should have won Euro on home soil two years ago and they’ve since filled their problem position at number nine with one of the most gifted young strikers on the planet, Kylian Mbappe.
Add Ousmane Dembele to the mix and, along with Antoine Griezmann, they boast the most fearsome attacking trio in Russia.
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They’ll have learned from their experiences two years ago and so long as Didier Deschamps can figure out his best midfield combination, they can definitely win it.
Henry Rounce (The AM Show sports producer): Germany have got a lovely, well-balanced squad, stacked with world-class talent like Neuer, Hummels, Kroos and Muller.
They know how to deliver on the big stage.
Simon Hampton (Newshub sports contributor): France have a very doable path to the final four and I think Paul Pogba is going to really kick on into the game's elite at this tournament.
Michael O'Keeffe (Newshub sports reporter): History has shown it’s difficult to defend the World Cup - only Brazil have ever done it - so that rules out Germany.
Spain aren’t what they used to be. Hugo Lloris is bound to throw one in that will cost France and Belgium are yet to live up to their hype on the big stage.
For me, that leaves Brazil.
Matt Burrows (Newshub digital news editor): As much as I'd hate to see Germany win the thing again, there's no doubt they have by far the strongest squad in the competition.
The fact they left Leroy Sane back home speaks volumes about the attacking threats in their side. Spain and France are the only teams capable of challenging them.
Chris Forster (RadioLIVE sports reporter): Brazil have God-given talents to burn as usual, and a wealth of the squad play in the Premier League and Europe.
Coutinho, Neymar, Jesus, Marcelo and that bloke called Fred can and will conjure up some samba magic.
They'll also be driven by the ghosts of their semi-final debacle on home soil four years ago.
They could be derailed along the way by the impressive squads from France, Belgium, Spain and the champion Germans.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Wain: As well as Danish goalie Kasper Schmeichel, I'll be closely monitoring England's Jamie Vardy (hope he gets some game time) and Harry Maguire - Leicester's finest.
But Spurs' Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen will be worth watching too, the guy's a magician.
Gourdie: I'm picking Frenchman Kylian Mbappe to have a breakout tournament, but similar pressure may fall on Timo Werner to deliver for Germany, if they’re to defend their title.
Isco will be key for Spain, while Neymar must perform, if Brazil are to continue their blistering form in qualifying and bury the ghosts of their disappointing display at home four years ago.
So there are four.
Rounce: Real Madrid youngster Marco Asensio has a piledriver of a left foot, pace to burn and is magic with the ball at his feet.
Hampton: Peruvian captain Paulo Guerrero has had to watch on from the sidelines for some time now and after missing the qualifier win over the All Whites, but will return to lead Peru to a memorable fourth place finish at Russia.
O'Keeffe: We saw first-hand in the Champions League just how much Bayern Munich rely on shot-stopper Manuel Neuer for success.
Germany is the same. Coming off an injury, will he be at 100 percent?
If he is, Germany will go deep. If not, their defence is over.
Burrows: David Silva has massive boots to fill after the retirement of Spanish legend Xavi.
But if he can replicate the form he showed for Manchester City this season, his name will be heard in the same breath as the midfield maestro - and Spain could just win the whole damn thing.
Forster: French winger Antoine Griezmann is the star man at Atletico Madrid and gets a chance to shine with his brilliant teammates on the world stage, after his fine form at the Euro championship two years ago.
Wain: Denmark, see above. What self-interest?
Gourdie: I have a greater sense of optimism for England's performances in Russia.
Part of that is because, for the first time in as long as I can remember, the talking point leading into the tournament isn’t about injuries to key players or how the overpaid, big-name manager will pick all of the overpaid, big-name players in the same XI, resulting in complete and utter failure.
This England team lacks superstar names, which could work in their favour, as unfashionable manager Gareth Southgate tries to pick the best XI, rather than simply the best players, for their matches.
I’m picking England to finish second in their group behind Belgium, before reaching the quarter-finals. Given England’s horribly underwhelming record in major tournaments, that would have to rate as a surprise.
Once you’re in the last eight, anything can happen.
Rounce: Colombia have a good group and should easily advance.
They've got dangerous weapons, including the star of the last World Cup, James Rodriguez, and striker Radamel Falcao, who's keen to prove a point, after missing Brazil with injury.
Hampton: Buoyed by the return of their captain Paulo Guerrero, Peru will qualify second out of Group C, knocking out Group D winners Argentina in the Round of 16 and defying the odds to defeat Portugal in the quarterfinals, before falling to Germany in the semis, ultimately finishing fourth.
A memorable return to the World Cup for Peru.
O'Keeffe: Can I pick the world’s 11th-ranked team, Peru, as a surprise package?
Grouped in the pool of death, the South Americans have been impressive in their warm up matches. Captain Paolo Guerrero is back and will inspire his side into the top eight.
It will make me feel better about the All Whites not being there if they do well also.
Burrows: Uruguay have an easy group, and the goal-scoring qualities of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani cannot be overstated.
They're capable of toppling many of the world's top sides on their day.
Forster: Gareth Southgate has got his best possible England team on board and Harry Kane could thrive on the captaincy.
They also have a classy group of defenders and a relatively easy passage into the knockout stages.
Peru have the incentive and talent to advance to the quarterfinals too.
TEAM MOST LIKELY TO TANK
Wain: Brazil, please.
Loved watching that poser Neymar lose the Olympic 2012 final to Mexico at Wembley, after having to see him beat the Oly Whites at St James Park.
Also enjoyed seeing the Brazilians cop that 7-1 hiding last time in Rio.
Plus, my Argie mates would love it.
Gourdie: Perennial underachievers at major tournaments until two years ago, I expect normal service to resume for Portugal in Russia.
I expect them to finish behind Spain in Group B, before bowing out at the hands of Uruguay.
Also not expecting great things from Argentina - Russia might be one to forget for Messi and Ronaldo.
Rounce: Yes, Argentina have Messi, but that's about it.
None of their goalkeepers have more than 10 caps, their defence of Fazio, Otamendi and Rojo is shaky, and their midfield can be dominated.
The Cleveland Cavaliers of the World Cup.
Hampton: Argentina didn't have Lionel Messi when they were thumped 6-1 by Spain in a friendly back in March, but even putting the 10 in the side won't stop a round-of-16 exit, likely ending Messi's hopes of winning a World Cup.
O'Keeffe: Russia are not a top team, but in terms of teams failing to meet expectations, they are the top of my list.
They’re set to become just the second host nation in history not to progress out of the group stages - after South Africa.
Burrows: It's a toss-up between England and Argentina for me - but I've got to go for the South Americans, as I think England’s youthful side may just come right in this tournament.
Argentina were mainly awful in their World Cup qualifiers and despite their glut of options up front, they don't score nearly as freely as they ought to. Feel free to prove me wrong, Messi and co.
Forster: The 2014 runners-up, Argentina.
Lionel Messi's brilliance may be overshadowed by a shaky defence. They're in a tough group with Nigeria and Croatia too.