We are less than two months away from the first game of the World Cup.
The 21st edition of FIFA’s World Cup will go underway on the 14th of June at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow with the game Russia-Saudi Arabia.
Russia won the bid to host the tournament in 2010, beating England and the joint Belgium-Netherlands and Portugal-Spain candidacies to the spot.
This is the first time the World Cup will be hosted by an Eastern European country.
The awarding of the bid to Russia has been marked with controversy.
Last Tuesday, David Cameron speaking to the Chatham House think tank, claimed that the Russia won the bidding process by corrupt means, adding to the increasing tension between England and Russia.
“We wanted to lead the world in great sporting events that bring people together. Yet how did Russia end up winning the bid for the 2018 World Cup? I will let you fill in the blanks on that one,” the former PM said.
Also, in response to the Skripal poisoning, this summer will also be the first time that no senior member of the Royal family will support England in person.
Other controversial issues have included the level of racism in Russian football and the discrimination against LGBT people in Russian society.
Russia’s involvement in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has also caused calls for the tournament to be moved, particularly following the annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Eastern Ukraine.
Two out of the 32 teams that are travelling to Russia, will participate in the tournament for the first time.
Panama and Iceland qualified directly through the North, Central American and Caribbean qualifiers and the European qualifiers, respectively.
With a population of just 348,500, Iceland will also be the smallest nation ever to compete in the tournament.
The biggest absence is, of course, Italy. The Azzuri who are second only to Brazil in times lifting the trophy, will miss out of the tournament for the first time since 1958.
Other notable absentees are the Netherlands (three times finalists), Chile and the USA.
As for the usual suspects, Germany, Brazil, Spain, France and Argentina will all try to add another cup to their trophy cabinet.
For many, this is Lionel Messi’s last chance to win that World Cup which still separates him from reaching the heights of Maradona and Pele-like divinity.
The dark horses of the tournament will be Belgium and Portugal.
Messi’s nemesis, Cristiano Ronaldo fresh from the 2016 European Cup victory, and in scintillating form (after this goal) will try to lead his team to World Cup glory for the first time.
As for every football hipster’s favourite team, Belgium which is ranked third in FIFA rankings, will try to finally capitalize on its golden generation. Luckily for Roberto Martinez, some of his best players are coming up to the tournament in their best form.
Kevin de Bruyne, one of the MVP’s of this year’s Premier League campaign has managed to get 12 goals and 19 assists so far under his belt, while Romelu Lukaku has already scored 28 goals.
The tournament will conclude on the 15th of July with the final in Moscow.