The World Cup draw is almost here. Qualification began more than two and a half years ago, and after 872 games the 210 countries that started out have been whittled down to a final 32.
There will be debuts for Iceland and Panama, while four-time winners Italy miss a first tournament since 1958 and there is also a Dutch-shaped hole in the pot. On Friday, 1 December at 15:00 GMT, representatives from every country will gather at Moscow’s State Kremlin Palace concert hall waiting to see who they will face in Russia next summer. You can watch the draw live on BBC Two and the BBC Sport website and app, and listen on BBC Radio 5 live. But how much do you know about the nations who will be competing in Russia and how they made it to World Cup 2018?
TOP NEWS WORLD CUP RUSSIA 2018
The Spanish FA may have sacked him as coach on Wednesday morning, but Julen Lopetegui still wants Spain to win the World Cup.
The man who has just been hired by Real Madrid admitted that he is disappointed to have been sent home from Russia early, but he wishes his former colleagues all the best.
"I am very said, but wishing that we have a magnificent World Cup and that we win," he told Cadena SER and COPE journalists at the airport in Krasondar, before boarding a flight for Madrid.
"We have a magnificent team and I hope that we win the World Cup."
During his time in charge, Lopetegui didn't lose a single game with Spain and he led them through qualifying comfortably.
World Cup: Is Russia 2018 the last chance for Messi and Ronaldo?
The Russia 2018 World Cup is loaded with fascinating plot lines on and off the pitch. Names like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah lead a chorus of superstars striving to be crowned the kings of football.
Messi: I hope football pays its debt to me
In the end it was just a scare. Argentina qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ following a traumatic campaign in which no one suffered more than Lionel Messi.
The undisputed leader of the side and their mainstay throughout the preliminaries, only Messi knew where his international future would have lain had his side not made it to Russia. Since qualifying, Argentina have been drawn in Group D with Iceland ("might seem easy, but they are tough and well organised on defence"), Croatia ("they give you more room to play, but have great players") and Nigeria ("one day they score four goals, the next one, they leave plenty spaces for you to do anything").
Secure in the knowledge that he had done his job, the Argentina captain spoke to FIFA.comabout La Albiceleste’s qualifying travails, his decisive contribution in the final match against Ecuador, how he sees the team evolving and the debt the game owes him.
FIFA.com: Looking ahead to Russia, where are Argentina in relation to teams like Germany and Brazil?
Lionel Messi: We’ll be in good shape when we get there because we’re still growing. We had to go through something that we didn’t expect or deserve, because we had earlier matches against Venezuela and Peru that we could have won easily. If we had, then we wouldn’t have had to go through what we did at the end. We’ve had four competitive matches with a new coach, but the national team’s going to change now that the Ecuador game’s behind us. It’s going to grow and it’s going to get rid of all the tension and fear it felt because of that match and because of the risk of not achieving our objective. The national team’s going to change a lot.
Were you surprised Chile failed to qualify?
Yes, like everyone else. After all, Chile won the last two Copas America and they’re a side that’s grown used to winning. They’re a great team with very good players. But it just goes to show you how difficult the South American qualifiers are, because nobody gives you anything. It’s not easy to go and play away in Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and all the other places where you have to go, not least Brazil. There’s less and less of a gap between teams and it’s getting more and more difficult to reach the World Cup.
Have the wounds of Brazil 2014 healed?
No! I don’t know if they’re ever going to heal. We’re just going to have to live with it. It’s going to be there forever. The World Cup is a very happy memory and a bitter one too because of how it ended, how it all worked out. But it’s always going to be there.
World Cup 2018: Zinedine Zidane will manage France in future, admits Didier Deschamps
France coach Didier Deschamps fully expects Zinedine Zidane to take charge of Les Bleus one day, but is not letting that prospect distract him from his World Cup mission.
Zidane is now a free agent after stepping down as Real Madrid boss just days after leading the Spanish giants to a third successive Champions League title.
Deschamps, who along with Zidane helped France win the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, was asked if Thursday’s surprise development had put him under any extra pressure – positive or negative – as he prepares the highly-fancied French for a tilt at glory in Russia. The former Juventus boss’ response was to insist he remains completely focused on the task at hand.
“Positive pressure? I don’t know,” a smiling Deschamps told a press conference, as reported by the French media, ahead of Friday’s international friendly against Italy in Nice. “I’m here, immersed in my group. My energy is focused on the major event that awaits us.
“There will be a post-World Cup certainly. But I don’t ask myself that question. I remain focused and focused on what lies ahead with this group of players.”
Nevertheless, Deschamps is convinced that his former team-mate will inherit his position – be it directly or further down the line – as France coach.
Deschamps, who is under contract until 2020, added: “It’s not me who holds the keys (to the national team), it’s my president. “I don’t know what he (Zidane) has decided. For now, I think he wants to enjoy his rest, his family and loved ones. He will be coach at some point. When? I cannot say, but that seems logical to me. It will happen when it happens.”
Deschamps was also asked whether he had thought about following in Zidane’s footsteps and going out on a high this summer, should France claim only their second World Cup crown. “I don’t think about it. It doesn’t matter, nothing can make me lose my calm and serenity. But I hope that you will have the opportunity to ask the question at the end of the competition,” he said with a smile. “I do not dream, I do not imagine. I make everything happen in the best possible way.”
25,000 euros a minute: Messi the highest earner in world football
Lionel Messi has overtaken Cristiano Ronaldo as the highest earner in world football while Jose Mourinho tops the managers' chart, according to France Football magazine.
The Barcelona attacker is a long way ahead in the figures for the current season, pulling in 126 million euros (US$154 million) in salary, bonuses and commercial revenue while his great Real Madrid rival is making 94 million euros.
Last season 'CR7' led with 87.5 million euros with Messi on 76.5 million euros.
That works out at 25,000 euros per minute pitch time this season for Messi in La Liga, the Champions League, the Spanish Cup and Supercup and four international appearances for Argentina this season, and assuming he plays all of Barcelona's five remaining games.
The two players who have split the last 10 Ballons d'Or are followed by Paris Saint-Germain's Brazilian star Neymar on 81.5 million euros in the calculations to be published by France Football on Tuesday and released to AFP Monday.
There is a big gap to Ronaldo's Real teammate Gareth Bale on 44 million euros and Barca defender Gerard Pique on 29 million euros.
Among coaches, Manchester United's Mourinho remains the biggest earner with 26 million euros.
Next comes China boss Marcello Lippi on 23mn euros, follwoed by Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, Zinedine Zidane, who has won the last two Champions League titles at Real and Pep Guardiola, who has just led Manchester City to the English Premier League.
Top 5 player earners (gross wages, bonuses and commercial revenue in the 2017-2018 season):
1. Lionel Messi (ARG/Barcelona): 126 million euros, 2. Cristiano Ronaldo (POR/Real Madrid: 94 million euros, 3. Neymar (BRA/Paris Saint-Germain): 81.5 million euros, 4. Gareth Bale (WAL/Real Madrid): 44 million euros, 5. Gerard Pique (ESP/Barcelona): 29 million euros
Top 5 coaches (gross wages, bonuses and commercial revenue in the 2017-2018 season):
1. Jose Mourinho (POR/Manchester United): 26 million euros, 2. Marcello Lippi (ITA/China): 23 million euros, 3. Diego Simeone (ARG/Atletico Madrid): 22 million euros, 4. Zinedine Zidane (FRA/Real Madrid): 21 million euros, 5. Pep Guardiola (ESP/Manchester City): 20 million euros.
World Cup 2018: All the confirmed squads for this summer's finals in Russia
With the 2018 Fifa World Cup fast approaching, all 32 competing nations have now named their final squad for Russia.
BBC Sport list the final 23 selected by each nation, including the England squad named by Gareth Southgate on 16 May. Push and select your perfect team!!Do my Perfect Team