The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia

Lekan Sowande, Abuja

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As the 21st FIFA World Cup gets underway in Russia today, the drums are rolling.

Football fans across the world are either in a carnival mood in Russia or getting set to stay glued to their television sets for the greatest sports spectacle of all times.

The attention of the world for the next one month will be on Russia where 32 teams will compete for honours in eleven different cities of the country.

The FIFA World Cup is a football competition contested by the senior men national teams which made it through a qualification process to the finals.

The championship is held every four years since the inaugural tournament in 1930 in Uruguay, except in 1942 and 1946 when it was not held as a result of the Second World War.

The World Cup is the biggest and most prestigious individual sporting event in the world, next only to the Olympic Games.

In terms of Television viewership the FIFA World cup has surpassed the Olympic Games. The cumulative audience of all matches of the 2006 FIFA World Cup for instance was estimated to be 20.29 billion viewers for all the matches played with an estimated seven hundred and 15.1 people watching the final match between Italy and France, a ninth of the entire population of the world.

The past 20 World Cup tournaments have been won by eight countries. Brazil has won it five times, and they are the only team to have played in every tournament. The other World Cup winners are Germany and Italy, with four titles each.

Argentina and inaugural winner Uruguay are with two titles each, while England, France and Spain have all won the title once.

This year’s tournament in Russia will see the use of video assist referee technology and as has been the case in recent years, involve thirty-two teams, with thirty-one of the teams determined through a qualifying competition in all FIFA Confederations. They are joined by the automatically qualified team of the host country.

Europe produced 14 qualifiers, Africa has five teams, the South American Football Confederation has five representatives, the Asian Football Confederation, five teams and the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football Association produced three teams.

Nigeria, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco, and Tunisia are the five African representatives. These teams and other qualifiers have been drawn into eight groups of four teams each. The two best teams in each group will qualify for the knock-out stage of 16 teams.

Current champion, Germany, five time winners, Brazil and European giants, France and Spain have been tipped by analysts as favourites to win the 2018 edition of the tournament. Apart from the coveted trophy and monetary reward, the winners of the World Cup will also qualify for the 2021 FIFA Confederations Cup.

Players like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Antoine Griezmann, and Eden Hazard amongst many other stars are the players that football fans would like to see in Russia.  One of these players could be lucky to either be the highest goal scorer or his team will be the tournament winner.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup will also see quite a few rising stars that will be raring to leave their mark on the tournament. The likes of Marco Asensio of Spain, Alex Iwobi of Nigeria, Youri Tielemans of Belgium, Joshua Kimmich of Germany and Davinson Sanchez of Colombia. These youngsters among others have the potential to take the FIFA World Cup by storm.

To prepare for this tournament, the Russian government earmarked a budget of around $20 billion which was later slashed to $10 billion. Half of this has been spent on transportation infrastructure. A total of 12 stadia in eleven Russian cities have been built and renovated for this global football fiesta.

As hostilities begin in Russia, a total of 64 matches will be played across the venues. The whole world is therefore waiting to see which team will emerged victorious in the final match on 15 July at the 80,000 sitting capacity Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

The bookmakers are not giving any African country a chance to progress beyond the group stages forgetting that football is not mathematics where one plus one gives two. Who knows, one of these African countries could spring a surprise by going all the way to the final on July 15, 2018. Only time will tell.