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World Cup 2018: How top five favorites are gearing up for the final battle

The phoney war is over and most of the big guns have arrived in Russia ahead of the start of the World Cup

AFP | PTI  |  Moscow 

FIFA World Cup 2018: Imaging: Ajay Mohanty
FIFA World Cup 2018: Imaging: Ajay Mohanty

The phoney war is over and most of the big guns have arrived in ahead of the start of on Thursday. AFP Sport takes a look at how the favourites are shaping up.

Brazil 

In 2014, were being widely tipped for success on home soil but their campaign unravelled in spectacular fashion with a 7-1 semi-final defeat to eventual winners Now the five-time champions look the real deal again. has transformed their fortunes and they are confident mood.

Brazil Football Team. (Photo: @CBF_Futebol)

The absence of the injured at right-back is a blow but Neymar has proven his fitness in recent friendly matches, scoring in wins against and His goal in on Sunday, after his first start following a three months ago, was stunning.

City's has been the most prolific goalscorer during Tite's time in charge, in which the team have won 17 out of 21 matches.

"We are handling the expectation. It's good. We are going to challenge ourselves," said the after Sunday's final warm-up game. "There is only one little detail. A new stage begins now."

Germany

are the holders and their reputation as a team that always delivers on the big stage tempers the doubts arising from their performances in recent friendlies.

Joachim Loew's side went five games without a win before labouring to a 2-1 victory over in their final warm-up in Leverkusen on Friday.
 

How the World Cup favourites are shaping up

The fact that has hardly played since September after is a concern but the Germans have made at least the semi-finals in each of the past four World Cups and are bound to feature prominently again in

And their recent friendly results?

"I am conscious of the fact that in friendly matches it is not necessarily about the result," Loew -- who has left City's behind -- reminded

Spain 

Like Brazil, have come to with something to prove after a poor showing in 2014, when they were knocked out in the group stage.

They are yet to lose in two years under Julen Lopetegui, completing their preparations with a 1-0 win over on Saturday in Krasnodar.
 

How the World Cup favourites are shaping up

It was not the most convincing performance but Iago Aspas advanced his case for a starting role in attack in Friday's Group B opener against with a late winner.

Rodrigo of and the bruising are the other options up front for

The coach has overseen changes but there are still likely to be as many as seven starters against who also started the 2-0 defeat against at Euro 2016.

"Whatever we happen to do in this will depend on the answers we give on the field. We are going with a ticket to play three matches and the rest we have to earn," told

France

Optimism has been growing in about the prospects of Les Bleus, but Saturday's 1-1 draw with the was a timely reminder for Didier Deschamps' side that they still have work to do.

They needed a late Kylian Mbappe goal to earn a draw in their final friendly, which followed wins against and Sports daily L'Equipe called it a "cold blast" before the French travelled to Russia on Sunday.
 

How the World Cup favourites are shaping up

Paul Pogba's performance in that game was a boost, though, and Deschamps appears to have found a formation that suits him.

A diamond midfield accommodates Pogba and allows to play just behind Mbappe and Olivier Giroud up front, but there is maybe a worry in goal, where no longer looks so reliable.

Nevertheless, they are capable of reaching the last four.

Argentina

are lucky to be in Russia at all after a chaotic qualifying campaign and their build-up to the finals has been far from smooth.

The cancellation of last week's friendly against in brought bad publicity and also denied Jorge Sampaoli's side much-needed match practice.
 

How the World Cup favourites are shaping up

The build-up has been further hampered by the loss to of and critics say are relying solely on Lionel Messi for success.

That may be unfair though. Sampaoli has talent in his squad, including the exciting Giovani Lo Celso in midfield and an attack also featuring Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, and

However, even if they manage to win a challenging group, could lie in wait in the quarter-finals for the 2014 runners-up.

First Published: Mon, June 11 2018. 21:34 IST