With the 2018 FIFA World Cup getting under way in Russia on Thursday, the Swindon Advertiser has been canvassing opinion on who will lift the trophy on July 15, the prospects for England and who may prove the surprise packages.

Alan McLoughlin, Swindon Town U18 manager and player in two World Cups with Republic of Ireland

Winners - France: "They have a very good frontline and are great in midfield too, it just depends whether they can do it at the back, that's the only question mark."

England - Last eight: "I think they will do well. Of what I have seen in the last four or five months, the players look comfortable. They have played some exciting football and its progressive."

Dark horse - Belgium: "They would be everyone's choice really. There are a lot of individuals in the group but they'll be there or there about."

Lee Spalding, Swindon Supermarine manager

Winners - Spain: "I think they know how to win the tournament, they have great experience and they have great players. I fancy them to be fair."

England - Last 16: "They'll do well to get to the quarter finals. I think the expectation will be too much for them again, and we don't think we have any real world-class players at the moment.

Dark horse - Uruguay: "I'll pick them because I'm a Liverpool fan and they have Luis Suarez."

Mark Collier, Chippenham Town manager

Winners - Brazil: "By the looks of what I have seen, I would go for Brazil due to what they have got. Germany will go close due to the fact that they always do and if they can afford to leave Sane out of their squad then it can't be too bad a team, they're the two I'd be backing."

England - Last 16: "I think it is important they win the first two games. The criteria in World Cups are don't lose your first game, but England need to be brave and win the first two. That should get them through and then it's one-offs but if they were to go much further than that they'd need big performances to progress but weather we have the know how to progress, I'm not sure."

Dark horse - Belgium: "I think it would be Belgium, whether they are a dark horse or not I don't know - with the players that they have. It depends whether they can put that side out on the pitch? Who knows."

Gareth Davies, Shrivenham manager

Winners - Germany: "My head says Germany. I know they are very young but there is just something about them isn't there when they go to tournaments. They'll probably go out in the first round now."

England - Last eight: "You always hope they'll do well. I would say quarter finals for the semi-finals, I don't think they have enough."

Dark horse - Peru: "I know Lee Spalding quite well and he is always right so I'll go for another South American team."

Kieran Baggs, Melksham Town manager

Winners – England: “I can’t say anyone else, you’ve got to support your home nation. We’ve been good in the friendlies and I’m excited to watch all the games and forget about being a manager.”

Brazil – Runner Up: “You have to watch out for the top teams, Brazil and Germany are always going to be favourites. You’ve got to be realistic but I’m 100 per cent behind England.

Dark Horse – Belgium: “In our group Belgium look very strong, France too I believe could go all the way but they do have a strong side available.”

Owen Houlihan, Swindon Advertiser sports editor

Winner - Brazil: Germany and Spain are both ridiculously strong - and France and Belgium dangerous - but I do like the look of Brazil's squad and wouldn't bet against them bouncing back from their semi-final horror show four years ago.

England - Last eight: A favourable draw means there is reason to believe they could not reach the quarter-finals, although in all honesty, the last 16 would count as progress after recent tournaments. I really like Gareth Southgate's approach both to squad selection and playing down the whole general frenzy surrounding the World Cup but there are glaring weaknesses in the squad and it remains to be seen if they can deliver something tangible on the biggest stage.

Dark horse - Argentina: Are you allowed to call Argentina 'dark horses'? The two-time winners and finalists from four years ago don't appear to be in the reckoning with anyone this time around, thanks mainly to an unbalanced squad (fantastic attackers, iffy defenders) and some less-than-stellar pre-tournament form. But they do still have the magnificent Lionel Messi - and coach Jorge Sampaoli has tournament-winning experience with the 2015 Copa America with Chile.

Harry Abbott, Swindon Advertiser deputy sports editor

Winner - Spain: Made a dismal defence of their title four years ago and it is impossible to see them falling so short again. Some of the iconic names are gone but they seem to have a good blend of experience and youth. Known for their free-flowing football but also have the best goalkeeper in the world in David De Gea. It could be an unbeatable combination.

England - Last eight: Gareth Southgate seems to have found some sort of identity with England and there should be some quiet optimism in the camp. The squad is raw and has its weaknesses so winners they won't be, but Belgium aside, the group is favourable so the knockout rounds await. On paper, it looks to be either Germany or Brazil in the quarter-finals and that is likely to be the stumbling block.

Dark horse - Colombia: In one of the weaker groups so should fancy themselves to progress. Could feasibly do so with three wins from three and enter the knockout rounds full of belief and momentum. Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez are perhaps not in the best form of their careers but it is still an attack to strike fear into most opponents.

Matthew Davies, Swindon Advertiser sports writer

Winner - Spain: As always, the Spanish are strong but other than Germany, I think they are the only other side to have a wealth of experience at international tournaments. While they might have missed a goal scorer since the decline of David Villa and Fernando Torres, Diego Costa could prove a handful, if he manages to control that inflammatory temperament.

England - Last eight: Getting out of the group is no guarantee, but should England do that I think they could potentially make it through to the last eight. If England were to win their group, they would face a favourable draw in the next round, which would be the runner up of Group H – either Poland, Colombia, Japan or Senegal.

Dark horse - Poland: Not only do they have one of the more negotiable groups, Poland have a fairly solid squad, with lots of international experience. With an impressive group of players such as Robert Lewandowski, Wojciech Szczesny and Jakub Blaszczykowski all in their squad, in addition to some added depth, they could be surprise package.

Shaun Reynolds, Swindon Advertiser chief sports writer

Winner - Spain: It's hard to look past Spain not coasting to Group B success with Portugal, Morocco and Iran their rivals. Add to that a potential last 16 clash against either hosts Russia or Uruguay, Julen Lopetegui's men already look assured of a quarter final spot - sounds easy doesn't it?

England - Last 16: England haven't won a game at the World Cup since 2010. Pressure, hype, expectation - so much weights on Gareth Southgate's shoulders, even if he doesn't seem to show it. It's yet to be seen what style of football Panama and Tunisia will play, they may be content with sitting back and playing on the counter - restricting England to a frustrating draw. And we've all seen that before.

Dark horse - Croatia: A great country, and one that deserves some international success having not reached past the group stage since France '98. A tidy midfield combination of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will cause problems for their opposition in the group stage, which is very much winnable - as would be their last 16 contest whoever they may face.

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