After qualifying for the Confederation Cup by winning the Asian Cup in 2015 on home turf, expectations for this tournament and the 2018 World Cup were high. We were looking to emulate or surpass the golden era of 2006. But reality has hit hard since then, with only a few players kicking on in their careers while others from the squad and the fringe have stalled.
Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup has proven more difficult than first expected, as the hard-fought 3-2 win over Saudi Arabia last week proved, and we were completely undone by Brazil, losing 4-0 in a friendly earlier this week. Right now I would take a win over Cameroon and hope to avoid any embarrassments against Germany and Chile.
A lot of the hype around the national side has centred around Aaron Mooy’s rise at Huddersfield Town, but the player who can make the biggest difference to the Socceroos’ hopes is Celtic attacking midfielder Tom Rogic. He missed out in the World Cup in 2014 and the Asian Cup in 2015 due to injury but his mercurial touch and long-range finishing will be central to Australia’s hopes this time around. THOM KELLY
We’re going into this tournament on the back of a 4-0 friendly drubbing against an impressive Colombia side, which is a cause of concern. Before that our form had been decent. A Vincent Aboubakar strike was enough to beat Morocco in the first game of the World Cup qualifying campaign, and we’re still riding high from winning the African Cup of Nations earlier this year.
A lot of our hopes rest on young Christian Bassogog, who was the best player at the 2017 African Cup of Nations by a long way. But I’m not confident of taking too much from this tournament, but expect to see us play with pride represent Africa with dignity. The hooliganism and racism could also knock us. I’m not at all sure Russian officials have done enough to combat this.Botsalo Potso
I’ll be following the tournament from home in Santiago de Chile, and have been supporting my nation since travelling to the 1993 Copa America in Ecuador as a child. Our fortunes have changed significantly since finishing bottom of our group in that tournament, and the 2015 Copa America victory over Argentina will always be with me. If Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Eduardo Vargas are on their game, Chile will be facing Portugal or Germany in the final. But against either of those two anything could happen.
All eyes will be on fans favourite Sanchez. Despite the long season in the Premier League, he is expected to deliver. Hopefully Arsenal’s FA Cup triumph will have motivated him to pick up more silverware this summer for his country. Christian Salgado
Expectations need to be simmered down a little bit, as we are sending a very young squad to this tournament. There is a distinct lack of big names who have tournament experience. Not much can be expected from the side, but I hope they gain as much experience as they can. We have the luxury of developing players through this tournament and that can only be useful for the World Cup next year.
We might be relying on youngsters, but I doubt there are many better more exciting youngsters than Joshua Kimmich, Julian Draxler, Julian Brandt, Leroy Sané, Niklas Süle, Timo Werner and Leon Goretzka. Our future looks very bright indeed and I look forward to seeing how they cope with the pressures of tournament football. Harald
We are the current Gold Cup champions and I’m delighted to see my country involved in this World Cup warm-up show. We should have enough to beat the hosts, Russia, and New Zealand, but Portugal will surely be a stern test. I’m hoping for a semi-final spot at the very least. After that it may get tricky, depending on what mood Germany are in.
There are plenty of players to look out for and be excited about: the frighteningly fast Hirving Lozano, the experienced Carlos Vela, the solid Carlos Salcedo at the back, and the guileful midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos. We’re top of our qualifying group for the World Cup too, with rivals USA six points behind us, so it would take something disastrous for this not to be our first of two visits to Russia. I hope they treat us well. Gonzalo
I’ve lived in Christchurch my whole life and been supporting the All Whites since I was very young. My favourite moment is when we beat Bahrain to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. We did ourselves proud in that tournament – going undefeated in a group with Paraguay, Italy and Slovakia – but we have stagnated since then unfortunately.
We arrive at this tournament with no pressure on us. We must be considered the weakest of the eight teams. I’d like to see us win a game and not lose too badly in the others. I think we can push Russia and Mexico pretty close but Portugal might have too much for us. If Chris Wood shows the goalscoring form he did at Leeds last season, we might well be able to nick a result from somewhere. Sam Coughlan
I’ve been hooked on Portugal ever since we came from two goals down against England in Euro 2000 to win 3-2. Winning the Euros last summer was a fantastic experience. We’ll adopt the same approach for this tournament as we had in France: stay solid, work hard and get the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo. This tournament might also be the one where we see the best of midfielder Bernardo Silva. He doesn’t naturally fit into Fernando Santos’s side, but the manager must be made to accommodate such a talented player.
I’d like Portugal to win the tournament. Why not? Germany are taking an experimental side and Chile might not have the legs for yet another summer tournament, so we could capitalise on a golden chance to win another international title. If we can avoid any slip-ups against Mexico, New Zealand and Russia, we have a great chance of lifting the trophy at the end of it.
I lived in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup and have seen the belittling of future tournament hosts first-hand. It went off without a glitch back then and I expect the same from Russia. Paulo Dias
Having supported Russia for the last 15 years, my favourite moment is still the wonderful team we had at the Euros in 2008, when Roman Pavlyuchenko and Andrey Arshavin introduced themselves to the world. Since then happy moments have been in short supply, but that could be about to change this summer. We have a great chance of winning the Confederations Cup. We have a quality team with new stars, such as Fyodor Smolov and Aleksandr Golovin, and experienced guys, such as Igor Akinfeev, who will be looking to perform better than in the Euros last summer.
Stanislav Tchertchesov has done well as Russia’s coach so far. He has had to build a new defence, as the old guard of Vasili Berezutski and Sergei Ignashevich are struggling with fitness. Fyodor Kudryashov and Viktor Vasin are part of a new defensive structure that could work well.
I’m delighted that Russia’s moment to host an international football tournament has finally arrived. It’s been a long wait. It’s incredible to think that Ronaldo and Alexis Sánchez will be playing on our football pitches. We are ready and we are hospitable. Welcome to Russia! Paul Ali-zade