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 4pm (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 the South America, three from the 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: KylianMbappe, Trent Alexander-Arnold, AchrafHakimi, Francis Uzoho, Jose Luis Rodriguez, MoussaWague 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.