Who is the best team at the World Cup?
The World Cup is not only football’s most prestigious tournament but also the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world, with an even greater reach than the Olympics.
The first World Cup in 1930 featured 13 teams and it has expanded to the current structure of 32 teams. The 2026 tournament will grow further to include 48 teams. But which sides have triumphed at the previous tournaments?
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World Cup wins: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 21
Most Goals: Ronaldo (15)
Brazil are the only side to have taken part in every World Cup so far. Tite has combined Brazil’s traditional flair with defensive organisation to turn the current side into a very impressive unit.
They racked up 41 points during qualifying, the highest tally in CONMEBOL since Argentina got 43 for the 2002 edition.
Neymar is the team’s undisputed star player. He’ll be aiming to follow in the footsteps of Pele, Romario and Ronaldo and fire the Selecao to glory in Russia.
The Paris Saint-Germain star scored five goals in the last tournament. He was also involved in more goals in CONMEBOL qualifying than any other player (six goals and eight assists).
Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho add further attacking threat, while the defence will feature the likes of Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Marcelo. Tite is split for choice in goal – he has Roma’s Alisson and Manchester City’s Ederson to choose from.
Germany (including West Germany)
World Cup Wins: 4 (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)
World Cup appearances: 19
Most Goals: Miroslav Klose (16)
Germany trail Brazil by one in terms of World Cup titles, but they dominate the individual records. Lothar Matthaus captained Germany to victory in 1990 and has made more World Cup finals appearances than any other player (25). Miroslav Klose has also scored the most goals (16).
The current side are one of the favourites in Russia too. The holders could become the first team to defend the title since Brazil in 1962.
Die Mannschaft qualified for Russia with a perfect record – 10 wins out of 10. Having led Germany to glory last time, Joachim Low knows exactly is required from his team. This will be his sixth major tournament in charge.
Germany have a good blend of experience and youth. They have world-class talent such as Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller, as well as exciting talents like Joshua Kimmich. Kimmich delivered more assists than any other player in European qualifying (nine).
World Cup wins: 2 (1978, 1986)
World Cup appearances: 17
Most Goals: Gabriel Batistuta (10)
Lionel Messi is arguably the best football player in the world and unquestionably one of the best footballers ever. But he has yet to win a major international tournament.
If it wasn’t for Messi though, Argentina probably wouldn’t have even made it to Russia. La Albiceleste picked up 21 points from the 10 qualifiers that he appeared in. And only seven from the eight games that he missed. The Barcelona star struck a hat-trick in their final qualifier against Ecuador to secure their place.
Jorge Sampaoli has a squad packed with attacking talent, but it’s not anywhere near as impressive further back. Messi may need to follow Diego Maradona’s example in 1986 and carry them all the way if they’re going to win this time.
World Cup wins: 2 (1930, 1950)
World Cup appearances: 13
Most Goals: Óscar Míguez (8)
There won’t be too many expecting Uruguay to lift the trophy this summer, but they’ve got real World Cup pedigree. They hosted and won the first tournament in 1930, then followed that up with another triumph on their second appearance in 1950.
This will be the South American side’s 13th World Cup. It’ll also be their third straight appearance at football’s showpiece event, which is their longest streak since 1962-1974.
This will be their last tournament with Oscar Tabarez in charge. The 71-year-old has overseen his national team for 14 years across two spells, setting a new record for most games managing a single international side.
Uruguay can call upon Diego Godin in defence, but their main strength is the strike duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Cavani scored more goals in CONMEBOL qualifying than any other player (10).
World Cup wins: 1 (1998)
World Cup appearances: 15
Most Goals: Just Fontaine (13)
France lost out to Portugal on home soil in the Euro 2016 final. They’ll be determined to go one better in Russia.
Their sole World Cup triumph so far came when they hosted the tournament in 1998. Zinedine Zidane’s double in the final against Brazil sparked wild celebrations.
The current side may not have a player of Zidane’s quality, but it’s packed with talent in every position. Antoine Griezmann is the star man, with Olivier Giroud, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele providing support in attack.
Midfield features the likes of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi, while Raphael Varane leads the backline.
Didier Deschamps side won seven of their 10 qualifiers on their way to Russia. They’ll fancy their chances of topping a group featuring Australia, Peru and Denmark.
World Cup wins: 1 (2010)
World Cup appearances: 15
Most Goals: David Villa (9)
After a very disappointing 2014 tournament, Spain are back amongst the major contenders this time under Fernando Hierro.
Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and David Silva remain from the squad that went all the way in 2010. Silva was their joint-top scorer on the road to Russia with five goals, level with Diego Costa, Isco and Alvaro Morata.
La Roja are known for their quality on the ball, but they had the joint-best defensive record amongst European sides in qualifying for the tournament (three goals conceded).
For all of Spain’s technical ability, there are question marks over who’ll play up front for them. Costa has struggled to adapt to their intricate passing moves so far. They could do with David Villa in his prime. The former Barcelona and Valencia star has scored nine of Spain’s last 20 World Cup goals.
World Cup wins: 1 (1966)
World Cup appearances: 15
Most Goals: Gary Lineker (10)
Will England end 52 years of hurt this summer?
The Three Lions shared the joint-best defensive record in qualifying with Spain and were one of only four teams to go through the process unbeaten.
However, they’ve only got past the quarter-finals once since winning it in 1966. They’ve also won just one of their last eight World Cup games and have failed to score more than once in their last nine.
This may not be a Golden Generation for England, but David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and the rest failed to deliver at major tournaments.
There are reasons to be optimistic this time. The lack of experience could prove to be a benefit for many – they won’t be burdened by negative memories. Harry Kane has grown into one of the best strikers around. Raheem Sterling played a crucial role in Manchester City’s historic campaign. And Gareth Southgate has a clear idea of how he wants his team to play.
Portugal have never won the World Cup before, but anything is possible with Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch. He inspired them to victory at Euro 2016 two years ago.
Belgium are another side to watch out for. Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Toby Alderweireld and Thibaut Courtois are just a selection of the top-class players in Roberto Martinez’s squad.
Russia don’t have anywhere near that array of options, but they do have home advantage. How far could that take them this summer?
Italy’s tournament record would have had to be taken seriously, but they failed to qualify for this summer’s World Cup. It was a huge shock when the four-time winners lost to Sweden in the play-offs.
Keep track of the latest news at this year’s World Cup from Shearer’s thoughts to previews and more.