The skinny: This Colombian team will play a lot like the one that followed Rodriguez to the quarterfinals four years ago. Coach Jose Pekerman allows his playmaker the freedom to drift wide, drop deep or push forward, depending on his mood. That allows Colombia to play in a number of formations. And with the return of Falcao, who missed the last World Cup with an injury, Colombia should have even more options offensively. But to really make things click, the team will need more production out of the rest of the midfield.
The skinny: Germany has the deepest squad in the tournament, but it faces several questions regarding injuries. Coach Joachim Low said goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who has not played a competitive match since fracturing a foot in September, will be his starter in Russia. That will send Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who played well at Barcelona this season, back to the bench. But can Neuer stand up to the World Cup grind? Midfielder Mesut Ozil, meanwhile, is in a race to heal his knee before next weekend’s opener with Mexico. Another worry: Germany, which went 10-0 with a plus-39 goal differential in World Cup qualifying, was winless in its next five.
Bradley soon moved, coaching in Norway, France and England before taking over LAFC for its inaugural MLS season. But the team he left behind finally grabbed that elusive World Cup berth last year, and Salah, who became a national team regular under Bradley, broke the English Premier League scoring record this year while leading Liverpool to the Champions League final. (He sustained a shoulder injury in that game but is expected to play in Russia, where he’ll be supported by Hegazi, Elneny and midfielder Ramadan Sobhi, all of whom also played in the Premier League.)
The skinny: Like Portugal, Spain is either old or experienced, depending on your point of view. Four of its starters — Pique, Iniesta, Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets — also started for Spain’s title-winning team in 2010. Spain still plays the same possession-oriented, short-passing game the 2010 team perfected. Because of that the midfield can dominate games, but Spain appears to lack a strong finisher, and Diego Costa’s poor season with Atletico Madrid did nothing to change that.
The skinny: The world may be watching and cheering for Iceland, and if it is, it’s likely to nod off while doing so. Because while Iceland has the tournament’s most compelling backstory, it also has a plodding, unattractive style of play that puts as many as 10 men behind the ball. The attack is often limited to cautious counterattacks and set pieces, on which Iceland, with as many as eight starters taller than 6 feet, is exceptional. That makes every free kick and corner kick a scoring opportunity. But Iceland can’t control the ball and if it loses possession repeatedly in its own end, defensive breakdowns are inevitable.