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Panama, Iceland and more: World Cup new boys & surprise packages

Can Hallgrimsson’s men repeat Euros heroics?

The World Cup countdown continues, with just 26 days until Russia and Saudi Arabia face off in the curtain-raiser.

There are two new faces in the 2018 edition, with Euro 2016 heroes Iceland and rising stars Panama in action.

The Coral News Team have the lowdown on the first-timers, as well as the surprise packages who’ve qualified for the first time in decades…

Iceland

The tiny nation of just 350,000 souls produced a mighty feat in the last European Championship, reaching the Quarter-Finals in France, knocking England out along the way.

Iceland were hugely impressive again in World Cup qualifying, topping a tough group ahead of Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey. Along the way, they recorded five clean sheets.

In attack, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Alfred Finnbogason produced seven goals in qualifying. However, a recent injury may hamper the former’s performances in Russia.

But, this isn’t a team of stars. Iceland’s success has come largely from a well-organised and tough side overseen by boss Heimir Hallgrimsson. Since taking the job in 2013, he’s crafted a side far stronger than the sum of their parts.

The Nordic side are in a tough group alongside 2014 finalists Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria. They’re 11/4 to make it through the group.

Panama

While few expected Los Canaleros to be playing at this summer’s World Cup, their rise hasn’t happened overnight.

They reached the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final in 2013, and took the Bronze Medal in 2015, beating Trinidad and Tobago and the USA along the way.

Qualification was a tight squeeze, with only goal-difference securing an automatic spot at the World Cup. Panama finished third in the region, behind Mexico and Costa Rica.

There aren’t too many household names in their ranks, though centre-back Roman Torres is a key man for MLS side Seattle Sounders. Meanwhile, Gabriel Torres (no relation) is probably their biggest goal threat.

However, they’re hardly a high-scoring side – netting just nine in their last 10 qualifiers. It’s 7/1 for Panama to be the lowest scoring team in Russia.

Peru

While it’s not a first trip to the World Cup for Peru, it will be a new experience for much of their fanbase. Los Incas haven’t graced the big stage since 1982.

Goal-difference secured fifth spot in the CONMEBOL qualifying this time around, and set up a play-off against New Zealand. They masterminded a deserved 2-0 aggregate win, with experienced winger Jefferson Farfan getting on the scoresheet.

He’s probably the biggest name in their ranks, though Watford’s Andre Carrillo and versatile Feyenoord man Renato Tapia are also key men.

They’re in Group C, alongside France, Denmark and Australia. Their opening game is against the Danes, with 5/2 for a Peru victory.

Egypt

There’s no doubt who The Pharaohs’ key man is. Liverpool hitman Mohamed Salah has scored an incredible 44 times for the Reds this season. And he’ll be hoping to continue that form for Egypt in their first World Cup since 1990.

They comfortably topped their qualifying group, winning all three home games – including an impressive 2-0 defeat of Ghana.

Unsurprisingly, five of their eight goals were netted by Salah. But while he’s comfortably their biggest talent, it would be wrong to call Egypt a one-man team.

Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny is a key man in midfield, whilst the defence is marshalled by 124-cap veteran Ahmed Fathy.

The odds have Egypt at 9/4 to be the Top African Team in Russia this summer.

Click here for the latest World Cup odds from Coral.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing