Soccer fever can start pretty early. Its symptoms can spread all over the world and see people talking about winners, losers, strategies, strong teams and many, many things. So you really should not be surprised to find that many camps and even families have aligned themselves with one team or the other even though the year is only 2016 and the World Cup is going to take place only in the year 2018!

So how can we be far away and removed from all the building excitement? Everywhere one goes; there is a smattering of conversation that has to do with the top teams and contenders for 2018 World Cup. So which teams are our favorite picks? Here is the list: Germany, Brazil, Argentina and France.

The world of soccer can cause many an upset, as with any other sport but here is why we think the countries listed above have a bit of an edge over the many other champions out there.

Champion Germany

Yes, indeed, Euro 2016 was not a dream run for this country but this is a team that can look beyond its ‘failures’ and get even stronger for the next match. In a recent press conference, the head coach for the team, Joachim Loew said that he has told the team that he will be happy only if they get maximum number of points in the next two games in the World Cup Qualifiers. Die Mannschaft comes across as very motivated and has mounted a 2-year campaign for the World Cup. They will have a tough task defending their title but this is a team that is used to getting even stronger when faced by tough opponents so it should make for interesting times ahead.

Brazil

This team has a phenomenal record that consists of being the only country to have played in every FIFA Tournament and having won 5 times – the highest there is. Brazil is also coming off an astounding win in the 2016 Olympics. They won their first ever gold medal and actually beat out Germany in a penalty shootout. They have quite a few stars in the seleção– Willian, David Silva and the inimitable Neymar and their attacker Douglas Costa. Tite, the team’s new coach has set his team the target of qualifying for the 2018 event and is realistic and driven at the same time. Tite has already led the team through 3 consecutive WC qualifying victories and that has energized the players immensely.

Argentina

Post-Messi – that’s what everybody says when they talk about Argentina but this country has some stalwarts and champions of the highest order. Bookmakers place Argentina as favorite for the second place (the predicted winner being Germany). LaAlbicelesteis also hard at work trying to convince Messi to come out of retirement and take up the battle in 2018. That would be an interesting turn of events indeed. Coach Edgardo Bauza has been juggling the line-up in the qualifier after Messi retired hurt. But they have Nicolas Gaitan who is said to have the ability to cover more ground. Injuries seem to plague the line up here but it is something that Argentina can handle too.

France

If you watched the World Cup qualifying Group A Match between France and Holland, then you would have seen the long-range shot taken successfully by Paul Pogba. France also lost out to Portugal in the UEFA Euro 2016 by a narrow margin and by an extra-time goal. Les Bleusand its coach Didier Deschamps have a pretty strong relationship going. The team has a pretty impressive set of notches on its belt and one of the notches is that it has won the three titles recognized by FIFA as the most important –  World Cup, Confederations Cup, and the Olympics.

While this should be where the list ends, it is hard to ignore the presence being built by Portugal. Against all odds, they went and won the Euro 2016 and thanks to that win they have now soared to 6th position in the FIFA Coca-Cola World Rankings. A Seleção das Quinas is built around Ronaldo but they also have Fernando Santos who has earned the reputation of being a formidable manager. Portugal has been pretty consistent in reaching the final stages of major tournaments. Theirs is also a pretty young team. You simply have to see what their Under-21 team did in the Under-21 European Championship.

All said and done, the world of FIFA and of sport itself is full of big wins, big losses and big upsets. While many of us are rooting for the favorites, there are so many others who believe that the under-dogs have a fabulous chance too. Statistics, analyses and past performance aside, World Cup 2018 in Russia will be the grand stage that it always has been.