The beautiful game, soccer, to those of us on the other side of the Atlantic, and the leading soccer championship is upon us once again.
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Which country is the host of the World Championship 2018?
The WC 2018 is hosted by Russia. There will be 64 games played in 12 different stadiums in 11 different cities.
In what cities are matches played?
There will be 11 host cities. In alphabetical order: Kaliningrad, Kazan, Mordovia, Moscow (x2) Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov, Samara, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, and Yekaterinburg.
What countries have won the previous tournaments?
The first edition of the World Championship took place in 1930 in Uruguay who would also go on to be the first-ever winners. Since then, Brazil have won the tournament a record five times, followed by Italy and Germany, both with four wins, respectively. Listed below, you’ll find a list of winners:
1954 West Germany
1974 West Germany
1990 West Germany
How many teams participate in WC 2018?
32 countries, each fielding their own teams, battle it out in an elimination style tournament that first begins with a group stage. Teams will be divided into eight wc groups (A-H) with four teams in each group. These groups were picked at random in a lottery style event before the tournament. The two teams that finish at the top of the group will go on the Round of 16 where knockout play begins. Teams will move through the quarter, semi, and the eventual finals before deciding a winner.
When does the tournament start and end in 2018?
The tournament starts on June 14, 2018 and ends on July 15, 2018.
Where is the final?
The WC 2018 final will take place in Moscow at the Luzhniki stadium on July 15, 2018.
The tournament will feature 64 games that will be played out across 11 cities in 12 different stadiums. Each with its own history and challenges. Listed below, you’ll find a detailed breakdown of each venue and the matches taking place.
The Luzhniki Stadium
Rebuilt for the WC 2018, the Luzhniki stadium is the largest sporting hub in Moscow. At a whopping 80,000 seats, it is by far the biggest venue in Russia and will feature seven games including the final. The following matches will take place at Luzhniki:
14/6: Russia – Saudi Arabia
17/6: Germany – Mexico
20/6: Portugal – Morocco
26/6: Denmark – France
01/7: Round of 16
15/7: The final
Otkritie (Spartak) Arena
The second stadium based in Moscow, Otkritie is home to Spartak Moscow, a professional soccer team playing in the Russian Premier League. It has been rebranded the Spartak Stadium for the 2018 world championship. While not as big as the Luzhniki stadium, Spartak has a capacity of 45,360. The following matches will take place at Spartak:
16/6: Argentina – Iceland
19/6: Poland – Senegal
23/6: Belgium – Tunisia
27/6: Brazil – Serbia
03/7: Round of 16
Nizhny Novgorod Stadium
Relatively new, this stadium was opened in 2015 and was named after the city. As it’s been recently built, it features a sleek modern design with a capacity of 44,899. The following matches will take place at Nizhny Novgorod:
18/6: Sweden – South Korea
21/6: Argentina – Croatia
24/6: England – Panama
27/6: Switzerland – Costa Rica
01/7: Round of 16
Mordovia Arena, home to FC Mordovia Saransk of the Russian Premier League, is a stadium in the city of Saransk. The stadium has a capacity of 44,442 persons. The following matches will take place at Mordovia:
16/6: Peru – Denmark
19/6: Colombia – Japan
25/6: Iran – Portugal
28/6: Panama – Tunisia
Aptly named after the city of Kazan, the Kazan arena is home to Rubin Kazan of the Russian Premier League. Opened in 2013, the stadium has a capacity of 45,379 persons. The Kazan arena features the biggest outdoor screen in Europe and is a hotspot for fans and tourists. The following matches will take place at Kazan:
16/6: France – Australia
20/6: Iran – Spain
24/6: Poland – Colombia
27/6: South Korea – Germany
30/6: Round of 16
Samara (Cosmos) Arena
The Samara Arena, more commonly referred to as the Cosmos Arena, is located in the city of Samara. A newer stadium, that was completed in 2014 in preparation for the WC 2018. The following matches will take place at Samara:
17/6: Costa Rica – Serbia
21/6: Denmark – Australia
25/6: Uruguay – Russia
28/6: Senegal – Colombia
02/7: Round of 16
Central stadium, located in Yekaterinburg, has a capacity of 35,696 but will be reduced to 23,000. One of the oldest stadiums, it was originally built in 1957. The following four matches will take place at Central:
15/6: Egypt – Uruguay
21/6: France – Peru
24/6: Japan – Senegal
27/6: Mexico – Sweden
The Spectacular Krestovsky stadium, located in Saint Petersburg, is a magnificent feat of architecture. Opened in 2017, the stadium is reported to have cost $1 billion and was a key part of Russia’s World Cup bid. Zenit St. Petersburg of the Russian Premier League will call Krestovsky home after the world championship. The stadium has a capacity of 64,287 persons and will be one of the key venues in the tournament. The following matches will take place at Krestovsky:
15/6: Morocco – Iran
19/6: Russia – Egypt
22/6: Brazil – Costa Rica
26/6: Nigeria – Argentina
03/6: Round of 16
14/7: Third place play-off
Remodelled after the Allianz Stadium in Germany, home to Bundesliga club Bayern Munich, The Kaliningrad stadium is located on the island of Oktyabrsky. Opened in 2018, the stadium was initially meant to feature more in the championships but was marred by controversy throughout its constructions. At a capacity of 35,212, it’s one of the smaller stadiums in the tournament. The following matches will take place at Kaliningrad:
16/6: Croatia – Nigeria
22/6: Serbia – Switzerland
25/6: Spain – Morocco
28/6: England – Belgium
Another of the recently built arenas, The Volgograd Arena was opened in 2018 and has a capacity of 45,568 persons. Russian Premier League team FC Rotor Volgograd will move into the stadium after the world championships. The following matches will take place at Volgograd:
18/6: Tunisia – England
22/6: Nigeria – Iceland
25/6: Saudi Arabia – Egypt
28/6: Japan – Poland
A Soccer-specific stadium, the Rostov Arena has a capacity of 45,000 persons and will be the future home of FC Rostov of the Russian Premier League. The following matches will take place at Rostov:
17/6: Brazil – Switzerland
20/6: Uruguay – Saudi Arabia
23/6: South Korea – Mexico
26/6: Iceland – Croatia
02/7: Round of 16
Fisht Olympic Stadium
A stadium built for the world stage, the Fisht Olympic Stadium opened in 2013 and featured both the 2014 Winter Olympics and the Paralympics. It has a capacity of 40,000 persons and is the only outdoor stadium in the tournament. The following matches will take place at Fisht Olympic:
15/6: Morocco – Iran
18/6: Russia – Egypt
23/6: Brazil – Costa Rica
26/6: Nigeria – Argentina
30/6: Round of 16
Predicting a winner is always difficult because there are so many variables that play into the equation. The form of individual players is important, but the coach leading the team is also a major factor, as is the group the team starts in, and so forth. That said, some teams tend to do consistently well in big tournaments, and a team’s performance during the qualifications is a good indicator of future success. So, here are our top 7 picks of strong contenders for the title.
In the lead up to the WC 2018 in Russia, few teams are better positioned than Argentina to have a major showing and once again claim the top spot in global football. Runner-ups in the 2014 edition, Argentina will need the firepower of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero to carry the team through the group stage and use their momentum to push on into the knockout phase. While La Albiceleste success is dependent on Messi, crucial interventions from the likes of Gonzalo Higuaín and Nicolas Otamendi will also be a key factor in their success within the tournament.
The Belgians will feel hard done if they don’t have a great showing in this year's tournament. Boasting one of the most talented squads in Europe, the triumvirate of Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will terrorize opposing defences and should lead the goal charts. The key return of Toby Alderweireld from injury and the return to form of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, the Red Devils should be secure enough at the back even with the absence of Captain Vincent Kompany. Whether or not coach Roberto Martinez will drop the ball again is anyone's guess.
Brazil had the easiest route to Russia, flying through their wc qualifiers and scoring goals for fun, it’ll be interesting to see how the team reacts to the pressure of knockout soccer. The shining star of the tournament, Neymar, is currently battling his way back from injury and hasn’t played a minute of competitive soccer since late February. If can’t return to form in time, coach Tite will have to lean on the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino, and the imposing Hulk for goals and creativity. If the goals are there, Brazil shouldn’t have an issue making a deep run into the later rounds.
After a lacklustre showing in 2014, Les Bleus are poised to breakout after a stellar campaign at the 2016 European Championships. Reaching the finals of the tournament, the French were knocked out by a miracle goal by Portugal Eder. Nevertheless, the likes of Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, and N'golo Kante annoched themselves on the world stage and marked France as a team to beat in future tournaments. It’s unlikely that Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema will feature in the tournament, but the French should have enough firepower to get by in the championship.
The masterful Germans return after a marvelous showing at the 2014 World Championship and were unbeaten in 2017 during both the qualifiers and friendlies. Winning the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia in 2017, the Germans fielded a mostly “B” team and were still the dominant force we’ve come to expect. The stars will be on display with the return of Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller, and the mercurial Mesut Ozil. The Germans are set up to be the favorites, however, a setback in the rehab of star goalkeeper Manuel Neuer could see Germany fall prey to a high-power offence in the knockout phase of the tournament.
CONCACAF’s leading side, Mexico will go into the tournament with a team featuring a number of players who ply their trade in Europe and should expect to do well with their above-average squad. After a disappointing showing in the 2017 Confederations Cup, Mexico will recall their star players in the hopes of reasserting themselves on the world stage. Led by the likes of Javier Hernandez, Hector Moreno, and the promising Hirving Lozano, Mexico will play with blistering pace and a ferocious press that’ll weaken the resolve of their opponents.
Winners of the 2016 European Championships, Portugal will look to rebound after a poor qualifying campaign that forced the team to earn their World Championship spot through the playoff rounds. Once again, Cristiano Ronaldo will take center stage, the focus of the world’s attention and opposing defences. He’ll need to depend on his supporting cast heavily with defender Pepe leading the back and Joao Moutinho controlling the midfield. Rising star Andre Silva could have a breakout tournament and will be one to watch as the team progresses.
The Group of Death
The Group of Death is a moniker given to the most competitive group that usually comprises of four high caliber nations pooled together with no inkling of which team will come out on top. A favorite of both fans and casuals, the matches tend to draw in the largest viewers and are fodder for media attention. This year’s tournament doesn’t feature a standout group. However, Group D looks to feature the most punishing path out of the group stage with heavyweights Argentina mixed in with Croatia, Nigeria, and Iceland. The Nigerians are severely undervalued and surprisingly off the radar of pundits and journalist. If they’re able to make it out of their group, the Super Eagles could very well find themselves on their way to the final in Moscow.