Ilya Sokolov
Ilya Sokolov Photograph: Ilya Sokolov

Moscow can... surprise you every day. It’s an ideal city for sports fans as it has 11 professional football teams and four in the Russian Premier League. Expectations are pretty low for the hosts. Fans don’t consider Stanislav Cherchesov a good coach and we are worried about Russia’s inexperienced defence.

Russia will... qualify from the group. But only if Cherchesov finds a way to get the best from a talented squad and understands how to defend without the retired Berezutski brothers. If Russia can avoid Spain in the first knockout match, there is a chance we can go even further.

Keep an eye out for... Alexey Miranchuk, an intelligent player who can create the moments that matter. Striker Fyodor Smolov could have a decent tournament too. He wants to leave Krasnodar and move abroad, so he needs good performances this summer. Ilya Sokolov


Ahmed Aly
Ahmed Aly Photograph: Ahmed Aly

The general mood is... one of excitement. Egypt haven’t been at a World Cup since 1990, so we seem to have forgotten how to celebrate qualification. The streets are draped in red, white and black, and everyone has now become a football analyst. We should just be happy we are at the party.

Egypt is... not Liverpool. Mo Salah reached the final of one major tournament this year, but no one seriously expects him to reach another. We just want to see our team play exciting football as representatives of Africa. I would be content if we can get out of the group.

Look out for... Ahmed Hegazi and Ramadan Sobhi. Relegated with West Brom and Stoke this season, they will be keen to redeem themselves on the international stage. Legendary 45-year-old goalkeeper Essam El Hadari will hopefully fulfil his dream of captaining Egypt in a World Cup. Ahmed Aly


Natalia and her son Mateo with Edinson Cavani.
Natalia, her son Mateo and Edinson Cavani. Photograph: Natalia Tassino

The country’s emotional state is... euphoric and anxious. Great things are expected. Businesses around Montevideo have decorated their offices in light blue colours and there are World Cup sweepstakes taking place everywhere.

Uruguay has... A good chance. There’s a healthy mix of experienced professionals and promising young talents. Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani carry most of the weight of expectation but we have a very united team and the country has a lot of faith in them.

When I was younger... I promised myself that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Celeste in honour of the national team. Last year Micaela Celeste was born. Natalia Tassino

Saudi Arabia

Sarah Algashgari
Sarah Algashgari Photograph: Sarah Algashgari/Twitter

Allowing us to watch football was... about women finally achieving one of their demands. Next up we’ll be able to drive. It’s so amazing to finally see all this empowerment for girls in Saudi Arabia.

The country is... very excited about taking part in the World Cup again. Twelve years is a long time to wait for another chance.

The Saudi player I’m most excited by is... all of them. We don’t have any star players and go into the tournament with a group mentality. This unity will be the key if we are to go through.

Saudi Arabia should be targeting... the heroics of USA 94. Reaching the second round in our first World Cup was incredible. The three group-stage exits that followed were so disappointing in comparison. Sarah Algashgari


Payam Kalantar
Payam Kalantar Photograph: reader

The World Cup... means a lot to us. We have a large population with a strong sense of identity and history, but as a footballing nation we are still relatively inexperienced. Young Iranians feel oppressed and isolated at home, while also constantly misunderstood and stereotyped around the world. Cheering on “Team Melli” is an opportunity to express ourselves.

We will... go past our group for the first time. The superb talents of Sardar Azmoun, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Saman Ghoddos and Masoud Shojaei should give us a chance. It’s hard to look beyond the 2-1 win over USA at France 98 as my favourite World Cup memory. There aren’t that many to choose from. Payam Kalantar

Sardar Azmoun of Iran
Sardar Azmoun of Iran. Photograph: Amin Mohammad Jamali/Getty Images


The last time we qualified... I was 10 years old. Back in 1998 we were so close to progressing to the last 16, but Brazil somehow lost to Norway.

I fancy our chances... against Portugal and Iran but Spain will be on their own planet. Making it out of the group would be a huge success, but not much of a surprise.

Our key player will be... Hakim Ziyech, an attacking midfielder who plays for Ajax. Salim Choudart


The mood is... uncertain. The joy of winning Euro 2016 is still there, giving us hope, but the fact that we just aren’t very good still doesn’t sit very well with many.

The minimum expectation is... quarter-finals. Getting out of the group with Spain should be a given but I expect the team to buckle against Argentina or France, the most likely opponents in the quarter-finals.

Our creative force in the national team should be... Bernardo Silva. Portugal have lacked a proper attacking playmaker since Deco retired. Ronaldo should play a massive part too, unless he’s fatigued after another long season. Joao Melo


Javier Perez
Javier Perez Photograph: Javier Perez

Brazil 2014 was... very disappointing. We’ve only just recovered but, if we start well this summer, the belief is La Roja will soon be back.

It’s difficult to say... where Spain will end up in the World Cup. There are many wonderful teams and they all want their hands on the trophy. If players such as David Silva, Andrés Iniesta and Isco start on the front foot, we won’t be too far away. Javier Perez


Australia will... never again reach the heights of the performance in 2006, when we were spectacular in Germany. The aim this summer is to get through the group. If the team give their all we shouldn’t be too far away. France are the only team that look unbeatable.

The beating heart of our midfield is... Aaron Mooy. His tactical and physical approach shouldn’t be underestimated. He is one of the main reasons Huddersfield remain a Premier League side. His craftsmanship in midfield won’t go unnoticed. James Gough


Emil Christensen
Emil Christensen Photograph: Emil Christensen

Qualifying was... a relief as it is never guaranteed. Our goal is to do better than last time. South Africa in 2010 was a real disappointment but we can definitely make the knockout stages this summer. Then we will probably be destroyed by Argentina.

The man with the X-factor is... Christian Eriksen. He’s been on fire for our national team during qualification and inspires younger players such as Pione Sisto, Thomas Delaney and Andreas Christensen. Our team is based around these youngsters. Emil Christensen


The only thing that can stop us is... overconfidence. We have huge talents but a lack of cohesion. The national team has not evolved as much as we should have since Euro 2016. Didier Deschamps did a very average job with our young players. There’s no real back up for Olivier Giroud; our full-backs are not so good; and we rely on individual talents to win us games. I’m not sure if that’s enough to win the World Cup.

I would be happy to reach... the semi-finals. Spain, Germany, Belgium and even Brazil look more organised than us.

The player who excites me most is... Kylian Mbappé. He already has so much experience and can do a lot of damage with Ousmane Dembélé up front. Antoine Griezmann will be his usual threat. Thomas Kamdem

France’s forward Kylian Mbappé versus Italy
Kylian Mbappé playing for France against Italy. Photograph: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images


Miguel Payet
Miguel Payet Photograph: Miguel Payet

The country is... feverish with anticipation. We’re ecstatic about our first World Cup appearance since 1982. The results are almost inconsequential. I just hope we avoid any embarrassments.

Peruvians... Don’t follow rules easily. We work hard and never give up. We’re eternally optimistic.

Our national side is... a scrappy team. There are no outstanding players, but Ricardo Gareca has moulded them into a tight, disciplined unit. We go into the tournament hoping for results against Australia and Denmark. France will prove too talented.

Our strikers are... near the end of their careers. Paolo Guerrero and Jefferson Farfán can be a potent strike force if they click. Farfan has had a great season in Russia, while Guerrero needs to prove that he still has it after his recent suspension. At the back we rely a lot on centre-back Alberto “el mudo” Rodríguez. Miguel Payet


Maria Photograph: Maria

The mood is... cautiously optimistic, but I don’t think anyone is very reassured by how Argentina have been playing lately.

My favourite thing about Argentinian football is... the fans. When I go to see La Albiceleste play, there are always a huge number of enthusiastic and friendly supporters.

The most negative thing about the national team is... the high turnover of players and managers. José Pékerman was given far too little time. He would have developed a consistent and mature style of play eventually.

I’ve never cheered so loudly as when... Argentina knocked England out on penalties in 1998 – although beating the Netherlands in the 2014 semi-finals came close.

If we don’t win the tournament... I hope we bow out gracefully after some memorable performances. Maria


My first World Cup memory... is also my favourite one. Our brave team that lit up France 98 will always be the benchmark for any Croatia team. That was a big thing for an eight-year-old boy. Will we ever finish third again?

We should aim for... the semi-finals. There is talent all over the squad, with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Dejan Lovren and Mario Mandzukic the big stars. If they stay fit, another World Cup adventure is very much on. Luka Ivezic


Tryggvi Kristjansson and his family at Euro 2016.
Tryggvi Kristjansson and his family at Euro 2016. Photograph: Tryggvi Kristjansson

If we can get a result against Argentina... you never know what will happen! We are typically optimistic. Iceland doesn’t do national pessimism.

Keeping an eye on... Albert Gudmundsson. The winger hasn’t featured much for PSV this season, but he’s our only real alternative to Gylfi Sigurdsson. Tryggvi Kristjansson


The mood is... the usual clash of overblown optimism and deep pessimism. Some always choose to believe we are due an adventurous tournament, while others expect us to crash and burn. I fear it might be the latter.

I’d be surprised... if we make the second round. We look unlikely to match Argentina and Croatia for quality, while Iceland’s resolve seems to surpass our own.

Our key player is... Wilfred Ndidi. He is an efficient, unfussy footballer. If fully fit, he might earn himself a big move this summer. Kia

Wilfred Ndidi of Nigeria versus Serbia
Wilfred Ndidi of Nigeria versus Serbia Photograph: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images


Pedro Henrique Heinzen
Pedro Henrique Heinzen Photograph: Pedro Henrique Heinzen

The streets of Brazil are... full of green, blue and yellow. Schools are letting students go to classes in their football kits, and classes are cancelled when Brazil are playing.

This World Cup... means a lot to us. After all the recent political unrest, corruption and economic uncertainty, the Seleção is not just a team but a symbol of hope.

The greatest thing about this team is... we do not depend on just one player. We have Neymar, Coutinho, Firminho, Marcelo, Fernandinho and Thiago Silva. We have a better team than the 1982 one, which was considered the best in our history.

Brazilians are... expecting a reaction from the disastrous defeat to Germany four years ago. Every minute of this tournament will be watched. If there’s a ball rolling, we’ll be watching. Pedro Henrique Heinzen

Costa Rica

Daniel Villalta with friends after watching Costa Rica beat Italy 1-0 in 2014.
Daniel Villalta and his friends watching Costa Rica beat Italy 1-0 in 2014. Photograph: Daniel Villalta

The mood is... cautious. The national team is not in its best form and the toughness of the group also increases the uneasiness among the more skeptical fans. We want to be competitive. I hope we make it to the second round. Getting though such a difficult group will lift our players and we could go even further if confidence grows. Commitment and dedication is a must.

The players carrying the hopes of a nations are... Bryan Ruiz, Joel Campbell and Oscar Duarte. If they play well, Costa Rica will have a chance against Switzerland and Serbia.

We’ve come a long way since... missing out on the knockout stages of the 2002 World Cup on goal difference. I never though I’d see Costa Rica in a World Cup quarter-final, so the efforts of four years ago will be hard to match. Daniel Villalta


The Serbia squad is... the most talented in years. Coach Mladen Krstajic has made a positive impression. We haven’t reached a World Cup since South Africa in 2010 and this team is seen as far more promising than the one eight years ago.

We should... reach the knockout stages. We can get past Switzerland and Costa Rica, and go through with Brazil. That would likely see us face Germany in the second round. The journey will end there.

What excites me most about the team is... the midfield. Luka Milivojevic and Nemanja Matic are already proven high-quality holding midfielders. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has been one of the most dynamic young goalscoring midfielders in Europe, and Dusan Tadic was unplayable at times during World Cup qualification. Oskar


Nischal Schwager-Patel
Nischal Schwager-Patel Photograph: Nischal Schwager-Patel

The mood is... one of excitement. There is a real buzz among Switzerland fans. The dream is to reach the quarter-finals for only the fourth time. In the last two international tournaments we were agonisingly knocked out at the second round stage after an 118th-minute goal and a penalty shootout. This time we may have to overcome Germany in the first knockout stage, but we could do that on our day.

My favourite player is... Xherdan Shaqiri. He grabbed a hat-trick at the last World Cup against Honduras and scored the goal of Euro 2016. Youngsters such as Manuel Akanji, Steven Zuber and Breel Embolo are continuing to show their promise as well. Nischal Schwager-Patel


Gina Maya
Gina Maya Photograph: Gina Maya

Germany’s problem in Euro 2016 was... the lack of cutting edge up front. Julian Draxler and Thomas Müller are too slow against faster full-backs. I’m hoping Timo Werner can step into Miroslav Klose’s shoes up front. Germany’s midfield and defence will continue to dominate possession and wear down opponents.

If Germany play to their potential, they will... win the World Cup. France and Spain have a crazy amount of talent but Die Mannschaft will be tough to beat.

The impact players to watch will be... Leon Goretzka, Timo Werner, Joshua Kimmich and Niklas Sule. I’m excited to see how the Bayern Munich players will gel with the other players. I would also love to be proved wrong about Marco Reus and see him emerge as the world class forward so many people claim he is. Gina Maya


The main concern for Mexico is... the coach. People are optimistic about us making it further than our usual second-round exit but Juan Carlos Osorio may cause us to fail miserably.

Brazil 2014 was... a very good tournament for us. We were minutes away from beating the Netherlands in the knockout stages. Our main hope this time is PSV winger Hirving Lozano. I’m excited to see how this young talent will make a mark on the tournament. Joaquín Sánchez

Mexico winger Hirving Lozano
Mexico winger Hirving Lozano. Photograph: Hector Vivas/Getty Images


Morris Andersson
Morris Andersson Photograph: Morris Andersson

People were far from optimistic...when we ended up in the same qualifying group as France and the Netherlands. It was nearly impossible to think we’d be going to Russia. Most of our experienced players retiring after Euro 2016 also darkened the mood. But a younger generation of players have performed above expectations and here we are.

Our coach Jan Andersson has proved... a team without stars can still make a great impact. Former coach Erik Hamren centred Sweden’s whole gameplan around Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Andersson has been a lot braver and has been justly rewarded.

We should... progress from the group with Germany. South Korea and Mexico should not be underestimated, but if we perform like we did in qualifying this could be a very memorable tournament.

Look out for... Emil Forsberg and Victor Lindelof. An injury-free Forsberg is as close as we have to a superstar. He is expected to pull the strings in the final third. Lindelof may have had some difficulties adapting to the Premier League with Manchester United, but he is still young. In the national team he has captain Andreas Granqvist at the back to guide him. Morris Andersson

South Korea

South Korea fans are... not very optimistic. We are in a tough group and are fearing the worst after the national team made hard work of qualifying. The country will be behind them, but they do not expect much.

There is a lot of pressure on... Son Heung-min. Off the scale performances will be required from him. No one else can be relied upon to score the goals needed.

My favourite World Cup memories revolve around... Park Ji Sung. I still remember the mood of the nation when his goal eliminated Portugal and sent South Korea through to the knockout stages in 2002. Jevon Ryan


We have yet to see the best of our... golden generation. We have a number of great players who are hitting their peak at club level, but they have not yet convinced for the national team.

I still have doubts over... Roberto Martínez. The coach hasn’t proved anything yet and has caused quite a stir by leaving one of our best players, Radja Nainggolan, at home.

I hope we can make it past the... quarter-finals. It will be hard if we come up against Germany or Brazil. I also expect most of our injury-prone defenders such as Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld to have limped off by then.

Our most enjoyable player is... Eden Hazard. I hope he has an inspired tournament and gets the best out of Michy Batshuayi up front. Joren Pelfrene


Jack Roe
Jack Roe Photograph: Jack Roe

The mood is... one of tired resignation. The realignment of English footballing ambition since the golden generation has been slow and pretty painful. The way we massively underestimated a passionate and well drilled Iceland team at Euro 2016 showed we hadn’t quite lost our flair for hubris just yet.

My main hopes rest on... Gareth Southgate. He hasn’t seemed overawed yet and we have a bunch of exciting young players. With expectations curbed slightly, this might be the time for us to take our cue from other minnows in the competition and enjoy the ride whatever happens.

The player I expect to shine is... Marcus Rashford. He’s going to be fresher than some of the others in the squad after José Mourinho’s man management last season. Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker and John Stones should benefit from having been part of a Manchester City team that has enough confidence to take on the entire world – which is exactly what they will be doing in Russia. Jack Roe


Our first World Cup qualification was... not for the faint-hearted. The last-minute goal that sent us to Russia at the expense of USA was just the last of many nervy moments in a hard-fought group. But it’s been like a carnival celebration ever since.

Our expectations are... grounded. We’re conscious about the level of the other teams, but hope to show the world the qualities that got us here: intensity, rhythm and unity.

We’ll be the team most likely to... finish games with 10 or nine men. Discipline is our biggest challenge and has been a contributing factor in our previous failures.

The soul of our team is... Our captain Roman Torres. He is our leader. I also expect good performances from veterans Blas Perez and Gabriel Torres.

Football in Panama is... not the main sport in the country, especially when I grew up. Baseball was and still is the crowd favourite.

Getting through the group stages would... extend the carnival celebrations by another couple of months. Amir Sanchez


The country is buzzing to have... reached our first finals since 2006. We were so disappointing 12 years ago, despite nearly getting something against Spain. One point against Saudi Arabia and Ukraine sealed our fate before the party had really started.

We are... among the weaker nations in Russia. But, while we’re in a tough group, I know we can turn a few heads. I hope we can hold our heads high after the three group games and somehow manage to upset Belgium’s golden generation.

Look out for... Naim Sliti, an attacking midfielder who should keep us ticking. Kerym Baccouche

Naim Sliti of Tunisia
Naim Sliti of Tunisia. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images


Pedro Gallo with his girlfriend Bec
Pedro Gallo with his girlfriend Bec. Photograph: Pedro Gallo

My favourite thing about Colombia is... the warmth of the people. People genuinely seem to care for you, despite the great difficulties the country is facing. We’re passionate and sometimes a bit overdramatic, but still fun!

My first World Cup memory is all about... Carlos Valderrama. His goal against the UAE in Italia 90 meant we could celebrate our first ever World Cup victory. Freddy Rincón’s late equaliser against Germany in the same tournament, which helped us progress through the group, comes a close second.

This summer we should... build on the successful 2014 tournament. The majority of the squad from that World Cup is still here and new talents such as Yerry Mina, Davinson Sánchez, José Izquierdo and Mateus Uribe should make us even stronger.

I look forward to seeing... James Rodríguez scoring another of the most sublime goals in our short World Cup history. Pedro Gallo


Eiko Yoshizumi
Eiko Yoshizumi Photograph: Eiko Yoshizumi

The mood is... nothing like the football fever that swept Japan in 1998, when we qualified for the first time. There have been too many setbacks since and people just aren’t that excited this time. The main reasons are Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic being dismissed right before the tournament and the worrying dwindling popularity of our domestic league.

Everything rests on... our match against Colombia on 19 June. The Japanese media expect a positive result will get more people excited about the World Cup.

I hope we can... get out of the group. We have an experienced coach in Akira Nishino. He coached Gamba Osaka successfully for many years. We need the communication between the players and the coaching team to be spot on. A strong sense of solidarity is a must if we are to progress.

I’m very excited to watch... Takashi Usami. He is becoming a leading midfielder of the national team and learned the ropes under Nishino at Gamba Osaka before moving to Fortuna Düsseldorf. Eiko Yoshizumi


Kuba Witkowski
Kuba Witkowski Photograph: Kuba Witkowski

The mood in Poland is... quietly expectant. A fine qualifying campaign, backed up by some cleverly scheduled friendlies, ensured we were given a reasonably kind draw. But there’s no point getting carried away. We failed miserably at Euro 2012 when co-hosting, in a group which could not have been weaker.

Reaching the knockout stages of Euro 2016... was a massive success. While we lacked a Plan B at times in that tournament, our first XI was a sound mixture of solidity and flair. Question marks hang over the form of key players from that tournament, as well as the suitability of the recently tested formation with three centre-backs.

It’s hard not to get excited when... Robert Lewandowski is near a football. With Arek Milik’s injury problems, we’ll need him on top form in Russia. Kuba Witkowski


Charles Adome
Charles Adome Photograph: Charles Adome

In 2002... Senegal carried Africa’s hopes in Japan and South Korea, with all other African nations crashing out at the earliest opportunity. But for poor refereeing decisions, Bruno Metsu’s side would have progressed even further.

Sixteen years later... our aim is to progress from the group and pursue the semi-final dream. Why not? Senegal will be one of the hardest working teams in Russia, and the refereeing will hopefully be a lot better than it was in 2002.

The player I’m most excited about is... Sadio Mané. After a terrific season with Liverpool it’s time for Mané to shine on the biggest stage of all for his country. Charles Adome


Guardian readers and Tom Stevens

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