The World Cup kicks off June 14 in Moscow with a meeting between the two lowest-ranked teams in the field, which, in some ways, is quite appropriate. The competition is meant to be a crescendo, one whose drama and defining moments don't occur until the very end. With the way the draw and schedule worked out, that's precisely how Russia 2018 is shaping up to play out.
Russia vs. Saudi Arabia will be a massive 90 minutes for the host nation, which can set its tone for the tournament in front of its partisan crowd. But once it's over, the focus will shift to the traditional powers and the individual superstars who figure to have plenty of say in determining the 2018 world champion.
At least that's how we see things going. In anticipation of the 32-team, month-long battle for international supremacy, SI's Avi Creditor, Luis Miguel Echegaray, Brian Straus, Grant Wahl and Jonathan Wilson size up the tournament field and make their picks for who will get out of each group and how the knockout stage will unfold–from the round of 16 to the moment the trophy is lifted July 15 at the same Luzhniki Stadium where all of the drama will kick off.