The groups stage is over – results and knock out stage

Brazil and France are favourites to lift the famous trophy, but there is plenty of football to play before we discover who will be crowned as champions.

The first stage features eight groups containing four teams, with just the two top in each progressing to the knockout rounds.

We look at each group and predict who will come out on top to set themselves up nicely for the critical part of the tournament.

Group A

Uruguay are the favourites to finish top of Group A and they appear to be an easy World Cup group winner prediction to make. They finished second behind Brazil in the South American qualifiers and their squad looks a cut above the rest of this group.

Hosts Russia are aiming to bounce back from a disappointing showing at the 2016 European Championships and they will hope that playing on home soil gives them an advantage.

If there is to be a surprise package in this group it is likely to be Egypt. Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is Egypt’s talisman and their most potent weapon, scoring five of his country’s eight goals in the final round of qualifiers.

Saudi Arabia look out of their depth and the World Cup odds suggest they are certain to finish bottom of the group.

Group B

With both sides prominent in the World Cup winner betting market it is no surprise that Spain and Portugal are fancied to progress from Group B.

Who finishes top of the group is likely to determined when the two sides meet in Sochi on June 15. Spain beat Portugal 1-0 in South Africa eight years ago and knocked them out of the competition at Euro 2012. They should be able to claim top spot in the group.

Cristiano Ronaldo heads into the tournament with a point to prove for Portugal. Ronaldo has scored just three goals in the World Cup finals and he will be eager to add to his tally in Russia. However, his team may have to settle for second place in the opening phase.

The European sides are joined in Group B by Morocco and Iran, but neither appears to possess the quality to trouble the big two.

Group C

France have an impressive looking squad, but they have imploded at big tournaments before and they will be eager to avoid a similar fate in Russia as they bid to become a World Cup winner for the second time. However, they looked impressive during qualifying and should finish top of Group C.

Denmark are favourites to progress to the knockout stage alongside France. They beat Republic of Ireland in the play-offs to reach the finals and should have enough about them to finish second ahead of Peru and Australia.

Peru sneaked into the World Cup after beating New Zealand 2-0 on aggregate in a play-off and it’s difficult to imagine them troubling the European sides. Australia are expected to finish bottom of the group.

Group D

Argentina are the firm favourites to win Group D, but Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria will not be pushovers. This tournament is likely to be Lionel Messi’s last chance of winning the World Cup and he is expected to inspire them to the top of this group.

Croatia are tipped to take second place in the group qualification betting market and with the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in their team they could go a long way in the tournament.

Iceland were the surprise package at Euro 2016, defeating England in the round of 16 before losing to Netherlands in the quarter-finals. They will hope to spring another shock in Russia.

Nigeria have never made it past the round of 16 at the World Cup, but they did defeat Argentina in a recent friendly and should not be underestimated.

Group E

Many World Cup group winner prediction lists have tipped Brazil to sweep to the top of Group E and we simply have to agree. With the likes of Neymar and Gabriel Jesus prominent in the top goalscorer market, Brazil are banker material to win this group.

Switzerland qualified after finishing second in their group behind Portugal. They’ve reached the last 16 in two of the last three World Cups and could improve that record in Russia.

Serbia finished top of an easy qualifying group and this represents a big step up in class, while Costa Rica have won just one of their last seven games and the could struggle this summer.

Group F

Another surefire World Cup group winner prediction is Sweden to finish top of Group F. They are aiming to be the first country since Brazil in 1962 to retain the trophy and should breeze through the first stage.

The battle for second place between Sweden and Mexico could be close, but the European side’s superior defensive ability could see them through.

Korea Republic failed to win a match in 2014 and it’s hard to see them causing an upset in this tough group.

Group G

Belgium are the favourites to win Group G, closely followed by England. The Belgians’ World Cup odds have tumbled down after an impressive qualifying campaign where they scored 43 goals.

The likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will be a handful for most teams and that could give them the edge over England in this group.

Gareth Southgate’s side have been steadily improving and friendly draws against Brazil and Germany should give them confidence that they can be competitive at this tournament. Harry Kane could be a decent outside bet to be the top goalscorer this summer.

England have only ever won one World Cup all the way back in 1966 and they will be hoping to take second place in Group G. They have Harry Kane who is also in the running for the top goalscorer prize.

Tunisia and Panama face an uphill task and are unlikely to progress beyond the first stage.

Group H

This is one of the most difficult World Cup group winner predictions to make and the closeness of the group qualification odds highlight what a tight battle this could be.

Columbia are the favourites to win Group H followed very closely by Poland. The bottom two teams are expected to be Senegal and Japan, but it would be unwise to rule out either side.

James Rodriguez claimed the Golden Boot in 2014 and the Colombian star has regained his form again after a difficult spell. He should lead his country to top spot in the group.

Poland dominated their group during the qualifiers and striker Robert Lewandowski is man to be feared. Senegal reached the quarter-finals in 2002 and they will hope to spring a surprise again, while outsiders Japan are playing in their sixth successive World Cup. They have never progressed beyond the first knockout stage.