Ever since FIFA World Cup (WC) 2018 schedule timetable was announced, loyal football followers have anxiously been waiting for the event to kick start.
The 21st edition of FIFA World Cup taking place in Russia will see a participation of 32 nations who had all arrived in Russia.
Russia, the host nation for the quadrennial is poised to lift the trophy.
After the long qualification campaign spread over the respective continents, 32 nations were able to book their chance for the tournament. Panama from the CONCAF federation will make its World Cup debut in Russia while Iceland became the smallest country by population to qualify for the finals.
Interestingly, some notable football countries will miss this year’s World Cup. They include former champions Italy, Netherland, Ghana, Turkey, USA and Chile.
Of the 32 countries that have made it to the finals of Russia 2018 World Cup , 14 are from Europe, 5 from Africa, 4 each from Asia and South America and 3 from North America. The participating nations are divided into eight groups namely A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H.
A total of 12 venues in Russia have been approved by the FIFA Technical Committee to hold 65 matches that will be played throughout the tournament.
The opening ceremony is set to take place at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow today. FIFA has also decided to keep VAR (Video Assistant Referee) technology at the World Cup and in the process making the 2018 event as the first FIFA competition to use the highly debatable video assistance.
Wolf Zabivaka designed by student Ekaterina Bocharova has been chosen as the official mascot of the World Cup 2018.
Russia’s hosting right makes it the first time the country has won a bid to host such a major football tournament.
The tournament commences with Russia taking on Saudi Arabia in Moscow with the home side being tipped as favourites for the match.
Group A will be interesting from a neutral point of view as it looks to be a three-way horse with Uruguay and Egypt in the fray along with Russia to advance.
Group B match between Spain and Portugal on 15thJune in Sochi may well decide who tops the group as they both should edge out Morocco and Iran. Spain after failing to defend the 2010 World Cup they won in South Africa are eager to make amends even when their head coach has been sacked by the Spanish Football Federation.
In Group C, France with the wealth of attacking prowess at its disposal should top the group and it will be left with Peru, Australia and Denmark to decide who follows France into the knockout stage
Lionel Messi will lead his Argentinian side knowing well this may be his last World Cup and the Group D clash between Argentina and Croatia on June 21 in Nizhny Novgorod will be the telling clash. For Iceland and Nigeria, their fans should not expect much. Defending champions Germany start their title defence against Mexico in Moscow on the 17th of June.
The Germans have Mexico, South Korea and giant killers Sweden to deal with in Group F. For Brazil, the availability of Neymar is a big boost for them after his ankle surgery. The South American giants open their campaign against Switzerland in Rostov-On-Don on June 17, 2018.
European heavyweights Belgium and England are clubbed in Group G along with Tunisia and debutants Panama. After winning the 1966 World Cup, the Three Lions would hope their current generation of superstars would bring glory to the Queen while Belgium would depend on their generation talented footballers to make history.
The two nations will clash on June 28 in Kaliningrad in a match that will decide the course of the group.
Group H is the group of unpredictable teams with Japan, Poland, Senegal and Colombia. Each one on a good day is capable of beating the other. Senegal will seek to emulate the courage of their 2002 World Cup squad to raise the image of Africa high.
The fans too are gearing up for the mega event with large volumes of tickets being sold each day. While World Cup football has been criticized in the past for defensive displays by teams, the visual treat only on offer for the travelling fans makes it more than a tournament. Get ready for the most extravagant event of the year – 2018 FIFA World Cup.
…with Gottlieb Baako (firstname.lastname@example.org)