The anxious wait for the 2018 FIFA World Cup is finally over as the tournament kicks off today at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia. The 32 teams for the competition have all arrived and the first match of this year’s most-anticipated tournament kicks off at 4 pm (Nigerian time) between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The competition ends on July 15.
Five countries from the Asian Confederation, five from Africa, five from South America, three from North America and 14 from Europe will contest for the title in Russia.
When the Russians launched their bid to host the World Cup for the first time, they were on a high after reaching the semi-finals at the 2008 European Championship. Fortunes have changed for Russian football and though not one of the favourites, the world’s focus is on the Eastern European country to deliver the best-ever football spectacle in the next one month.
With 12 stadiums across 11 Russian cities to host the 64 matches, fans across the world will witness one of the biggest tournaments in the history of the World Cup as the 736 players do battle for the world’s most-coveted football honour.
The host cities are Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan, Sochi, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Ekaterinburg and Saransk.
Before Russia, European countries have hosted the most World Cup tournaments. They have hosted the world 11 times while South America has hosted the competition five times. Africa and Asia have only hosted once each, while North American countries have hosted twice.
Of all the continents, most winners of previous editions of the World Cup have come from Europe (11), while countries from South America have won it nine times. In all, eight countries have won the past 20 editions of the World Cup.
Record winners Brazil, who have won five tournaments, are seeking to further extend their dominance on the world scene while defending champions Germany are also in the race to add a fifth title to the four they already have. The German Machines are seeking to equal the number of titles already won by Brazil – five.
Outside the two, other past winners like Uruguay and Argentina, who have won it twice each, and France, Spain and England, who have won it once, would also be hoping to add to their titles in Russia. But an interesting fact about the competition is that every World Cup winning country has been coached by their countrymen – no foreign coach has won the tournament for another country.
Apart from the past winners, Russia 2018 is witnessing the debut of two countries – Iceland and Panama. The tournament is also witnessing the return to the tournament of long-term absentees like Peru, Egypt, Morocco and Senegal.
It the first time the football’s showpiece event is taking place in Eastern Europe, as well as the first time the Video Assistant Referee would be used at a World Cup following its trial, and controversial acceptance by some of the world’s major football leagues.
At Russia 2018, Egypt’s 45-year-old goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary will become the oldest player to feature at the World Cup, if he plays in their opening match against Uruguay on Friday. He takes over from Colombia’s Faryd Mondragon, who played against Japan in their 4-1 win at the Brazil 2014 World Cup at 43 years. Mexico’s Rafael Marquez is the oldest outfield player – he is 39-years-old. The youngest player at the tournament will be Australia’s Daniel Arzani. He is the only player who was born in 1999 or later.
Nigeria will be parading the youngest team at the tournament with an average age of 25.9 years. However, there are seven teenagers at the 2018 World Cup: Kylian Mbappe, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Achraf Hakimi, Francis Uzoho, Jose Luis Rodriguez, Moussa Wague and Arzani. The Panama and Costa Rican teams, however, have the oldest players with an average age of 29.6 years.
England boast of the only home-based squad in Russia. The hosts are close to the Three Lions as they have 21 of their 23 players who play club football in Russia, while Saudi Arabia and Spain are not far behind. Nigeria, Belgium, Switzerland and Iceland have just one player each playing in their domestic leagues while Sweden and Senegal have no home-based players in their squads.
Football clubs from England account for 124 of the 736 players in Russia while clubs from Spain have 81. German clubs have 67 players at the World Cup while 58 of the players in Russia ply their trades in Italy and 49 do business in France. The biggest surprise is the Saudi Arabian league, whose league boasts 30 players at the competition.
However, none of the players from Costa Rica, Iran, Panama, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay play league football in England.
Every four years, the World Cup is always home to the game’s mega and superstars; Russia isn’t different. In terms of financial rating, Brazilian Neymar is the most expensive player at the 2018 World Cup. Clubs have paid a combined €310m (U$366m) to sign the PSG forward so far.
Kylian Mbappe (France, $213m), Angel Di Maria (Argentina, $211m), Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina, $167m), James Rodriguez (Colombia, $165m), Romelu Lukaku (Belgium, $163m), Philippe Coutinho (Brazil, $161m), Ousmane Dembele (France, $154m), Luis Suarez (Uruguay, $137m) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, $133m) complete the top 10 most expensive stars in Russia.
Making their sixth appearance in the 2018 tournament, some argue that Nigeria’s Super Eagles are arguably Africa’s best chance of winning a World Cup out of the five sides presented by the continent — they come into the tournament as one the toughest sides in it and can be considered the dark horses.
Led by experienced captain John Obi Mikel, the Eagles will be banking on their seasoned players — who play their football abroad among the elite teams in Europe to break their quarter-final jinx in five previous appearances. The Eagles haven’t reached the last eight since their debut in 1994.
The Egyptians are playing in the World Cup for the first time in 28 years and will be buoyed by the fact that the mercurial Mohammed Salah will be fit to play after he suffered a shoulder injury in the 2018 Uefa Champions League Final in May.
The Pharaohs come into the tournament as the most successful African nation in terms of continental titles, winning a record of seven African Cup of Nations trophies.
Senegal’s Teranga Lions are playing in the World Cup for only the second time, but will forever be remembered for their 2002 heroics — when they eliminated then-defending champions France and made it all the way to the quarter-finals.
This Senegalese team are an unpredictable side, spurred on by their Liverpool talisman Sadio Mane.
For Morocco, it’s the fifth time the Lions of the Atlas have made the tournament and will be led by two-time AFCON winning coach Hervé Renard.
Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles head into the 2018 World Cup as the highest-ranked African side (41) after an impressive 2017 — and their momentum is likely to continue into the tournament.
They are making their fifth appearance — but their first since 2006. Coach Nabil Maaloul, who is in his third spell as Tunisia coach, has built a solid, spirited team worthy of going all the way.
The cost of hosting the FIFA World Cup in Russia will reportedly exceed $14 billion, making it the most expensive football competition in history.
It’s the first time Russia will host the World Cup, and the country’s former Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich estimated that preparations for the championship had contributed $14bn, or around one per cent, to Russia’s GDP over the last five years.
Altogether, Russia will spend 883bn rubles ($14.2bn) to host the World Cup, several billion more than the official cost of 683bn rubles ($11bn), according to calculations by the RBC business portal.
Transport infrastructure ($6.11bn), stadium construction ($3.45bn) and accommodation ($680m) are the biggest line items.
Over half of official World Cup-related costs fall on the federal budget. Since Russia won the hosting bid in 2010, the official budget for the tournament has been amended 12 times.
Analysts surveyed by RBC forecast that any economic growth from the World Cup would quickly dissipate, despite the influx of government spending.
“We spent a lot of money and we need to make sure that all this infrastructure works first and foremost for the development of sport,” President Vladimir Putin said at an annual call-in show on Thursday.
Eleven cities, namely Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Saransk, Rostov-on-Don, Yekaterinburg and Sochi, will host the championship’s matches, and the hosts are hoping that the 2018 FIFA World Cup will have a long-term positive effect on Russia’s tourism industry and may even positively influence the Russian economy.
More than 1.5 million foreign tourists are expected to visit Russia during the World Cup, the head of the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism, Oleg Safonov, said.
“We believe that about 1.5 million people will visit us. The figure may be even revised upward,” he said.