The 2018 World Cup begins Thursday with host Russia taking on Saudi Arabia, and everyone wants to know who will conquer world soccer this year.

While the first match pits the competition's two lowest-ranked teams against each other, plenty of intriguing matchups await. The field seems pretty open this year, but Germany remains among the favorites to repeat as champions.

Here's a look at the World Cup's favorites, and how they win or lose the competition:


How they can win it — The Germans, led by Joachim Low, have the physicality, speed and depth to win a tournament of this prestige. Led by mass goalscorer Thomas Muller, who has 10 goals combined in the last two World Cups, returns to sit in behind forward Timo Werner and pick up goals. The defense, energized by pass-master Joshua Kimmich, is staut and dynamic. Germany also has two of the best keepers in the world in Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer. If Germany can hold up in the midfield they should again reach at least the final four.

How they could lose it — Sometimes having too much depth can be a bad thing. Germany already decided to leave Manchester City star Leroy Sane off the final squad, and a number of high-profile players could find minutes hard to come by. Camp discord could be an issue, but the Germans run a tight-knit ship. There are few weaknesses in this team, but a lack of a proven forward could be an issue.


How they can win it — Speaking of depth, Brazil has some intriguing scoring options coming off the bench. Neymar's health will be key for Brazil. The PSG star missed the second half of his club season with a leg injury, but he returned this month to score in a friendly. If Neymar is near top form Brazil will be in the hunt.

How they could lose — Brazil has improved playing without Neymar under Tite, but they could still struggle to score should anything happen to their star. Guys like Willian and Douglas Costa had indifferent club seasons, which means guys like Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino could be key. Brazil also relies on a young defense that will need to hold the line following their free-flowing midfield and attack.


How they can win it — Manger Didier Deschamps has had trouble maintaining team unity in recent major competitions, so what did he do? He eliminated the most obvious threats to peace at camp. Having a unified team, led by blistering forward Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba, should help Les Blues make a deep run. Deep and aggressive, France should be one of the most fun teams to watch.

How they could lose — Any time guys like Karim Benzema, Anthony Martial, Adrien Rabiot and Alexandre Lacazette are left at home questions will be asked. France has a lot of inexperience on its roster. defensively they look solid, but the wingers and forwards are fresh to international football, meaning they could balk under the bright lights.


How they can win it — Arguably the deepest midfield in the World Cup, Spain has creative wizards like Isco and David Silva in front of Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta. in recent years, Spain has abandoned the tiki-taka strategy that helped them win the 2010 World Cup, which has produced a much more attractive style of football. If Diego Costa puts on the same scoring boots he often dons at club level, Spain could find themselves with another international trophy.

How they can lose it — Spain has crashed out of the last two major tournaments (2014 World Cup, 2016 Euros), so they are entering the competition a bit wounded. If the defensive partnership of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique fails to regain cohesiveness, this team could be in trouble. Spain will likely control possession, but they are susceptible to the counter attack.