Wednesday 29 November 2017, 10:00

Excitement high for debutants and returning heroes

  • Iceland, Panama set to make their World Cup bow

  • Egypt, Morocco & Peru returning after absences of at least two decades

  • Qualifying campaigns, star men and World Cup thoughts in focus

After a qualifying campaign that encompassed a record 871 matches and 208 teams, the 32 finalists will learn their FIFA World Cup™ group rivals on Friday.

While that Final Draw will feature plenty of familiar names, added excitement and freshness is guaranteed by the presence of two debutants and several sides returning after lengthy absences. With this in mind, took a closer look at the five teams either making their first World Cup appearance, or their first in a generation.

EGYPT The Pharaohs are back at the World Cup for the first time since 1990. They qualified with a game to spare, but in dramatic circumstances all the same, with Mohamed Salah sealing their place with a 94th-minute penalty winner against Congo.

The star Having netted a staggering 71 per cent of Egypt’s goals during Russia 2018 qualifying, and scored in every one of their third-round victories, the speedy, skilful Mohamed Salah is firmly established as Egypt’s key man.

The stat Essam El Hadary will turn 45 in January and could become the oldest player to participate at a World Cup. The Egypt goalkeeper is one of only seven players to have appeared in six different preliminary competitions.

The quote “We will not go to the World Cup just for the sake of being there - we want to qualify and play good football. We believe in ourselves and in what we can do.” Hector Cuper, Egypt coach

ICELAND The Nordic nation is comfortably the smallest ever represented at the World Cup, with its population of 335,000 dwarfed by the 1.3 million of the previous record-holder, Trinidad and Tobago. The debutants qualified in style too, topping a formidable section that included Croatia, Turkey and Ukraine.

The star Iceland’s player of the year for the last five years running, Gylfi Sigurdsson – a midfielder who can create and score spectacular goals - was the team’s top marksman in Russia 2018 qualifying.

The stat Iceland were one of three teams to qualify without using a single domestic-based player. The others were Sweden and group rivals Croatia.

The quote "We’ll have to see what sort of group we get but I think we’ll have a good chance of making it through. We haven’t got anything to lose and we’ll go into the World Cup with the same mentality we had at the EURO. We’ll be looking forward to going to Russia and obviously seeing the hand clap at a World Cup!" Gylfi Sigurdsson, Iceland midfielder

MOROCCO The Atlas Lions are back at the World Cup for the first time in two decades, having topped and emerged unbeaten from a group that included Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon and Mali.

The star In captain Medhi Benatia, a powerful and composed centre-half, Morocco possess one of the best defenders in Africa.

The stat The Moroccans have registered two victories and four draws at the World Cup, and all six of these have come against European opposition.

The quote "We don't fear anyone. I want my side to be drawn in the same group as France. It would be a great honour for me to face France in the World Cup." Herve Renard, Morocco coach

PANAMA Los Canaleros clinched qualification in fairy tale fashion, edging out World Cup veterans USA thanks to a dramatic late winner from Roman Torres in a 2-1 victory over Costa Rica.

The star He might be 36, but forward Blas Perez – a veteran of well over 100 international appearances – will bring vital experience to the Central Americans at Russia 2018.

The stat With an average age of 29.4, Panama were the oldest team in qualifying. The second oldest, coincidentally, were fellow debutants Iceland (29.0).

The quote "The World Cup seemed like a dream, like a fantasy, but I never lost hope." Hernan Dario Gomez, Panama coach

PERU La Blanquirroja are back at the World Cup for the first time in 36 years, having seen off New Zealand in an intercontinental play-off – this after edging out the likes of Chile and Paraguay in South American qualifying.

The star Another evergreen attacker, Jefferson Farfan proved his worth again during qualifying with vital goals - including the winner against New Zealand.

The stat Peru scored 27 times in the South American qualifiers - their highest-ever tally.

The quote "It's a child's dream. It's a big emotion, beyond making history. This has been a wait of 35 years; we didn't deserve to be away from the World Cup for so long.” Christian Cueva, Peru midfielder