Following on the soccer fest that was 2016, Euros thoughts are already turning to Russia and the 2018 World Cup. With over a year to wait, players’ and managers’ and of course fans’ hopes are already on the thrills and spills that may unfold at the Russian tournament. While fans are already looking at how they will come by the money to take them to the event, managers and team bosses are calculating how they will put the best teams together.
But as with all great tournaments the thrill of the unpredictability is what is leading the build up of interest in Russia 2018. Loyal followers of the beautiful game will point to the surprises thrown up at Euros 2016. Spain, twice winners of the European Cup, lost out early in France 2016. And France themselves, playing on their home turf at Stade de France in the July final with shouts of “les Bleus” reverberating over the City of Light, urging them on to victory, held their ground against Portugal only to be defeated 1-0 in extra time. Throw 32 countries into the pot for the Russia matches and add in the hosts to make up 33 competing nations and the possibilities for surprises are endless. Not surprising then that matches being played at the moment are being closely watched by those who are saving their funds or have an obliging bank manager to allow them get to Russia for the June 14th 2018 kick off at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
According to Betstars nations across Europe and the Globe are currently engaging in competitions at both national and international levels. Contenders for a place at Russia 2018 will undoubtedly show their mettle in these competitions and all eyes will be on the big performers in the Europa League and the African Cup of Nations as well as the Australian A League. Pundits are already commenting wisely on who should be on their home team’s panel for the Moscow fest and as with all good pundits, advising on who should be left at home.
Russia 2018 may still be a little way off, but the groundwork is already laid. Competition for qualification is currently underway with the first qualifying rounds already being played, now that weaker nations have already lost their placing and competing nations struggling to fight their way to the top of their groups. In the early qualifying games which began in Autumn 2916 some nations from the global pool have already shown themselves worthy of attention with resounding wins for Portugal the European champions, Germany, always a strong contender and England in their respective groups. But these are early days.
The hard slog of climbing up the groups to reach full qualifying stage has to take place far from the glory stage of playing in the World Cup stadia. Those qualifying games, even at their early stages are throwing up names of the teams who could win a chance to compete in the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on 15th July 2018 when the competition reaches its crescendo and the next winner of the quadrennial World Cup is known. In qualifying matches played already nations who have shown their capabilities are strong European nations but with the games including teams from Africa, Asia. North and Central America and the Caribbean as well as Oceania and South America the possibilities for upsets when the games reach the world stage are huge.
And still with 17 months to go pundits and bookmakers are throwing out the names of likely winners. European teams have been mentioned in a case of “round up the usual suspects”, with Brazil and Argentina thrown into the mix as well. But in the words of commentators it is still too early to call and may well go down to the wire. And in the world of soccer that at least won’t be surprising.
As in all sport, teams excluded from competing have surfaced too, but not because of their football talent or lack of it. No, they have disgraced themselves in FIFA’s eyes, and FIFA takes its role in maintaining standards seriously. Notable among those countries that have drawn disgrace on themselves are Zimbabwe who failed to pay their coach (and even coaches have to eat too) and Indonesia, when government interference was detected in the Football Association of Indonesia. But with the attention now on qualifying for Russia 2018, those nations have lost their chance of a moment in the sun, for the foreseeable at any rate.
Players of interest have begun to surface too. Players of drawing attention who may hope to hear their names called from the crowds include the Brazilians, Thiago Silvia, Fernandino and William. With regulations limiting the number of players to represent their country, playing for your nation in the World Cup is a coveted and hard earned role and many players careers have started from watching World Cup games and stating “That is what I am going to do,”.
But what of the host nation? Winning their bid to host the upcoming World Cup in 2010 and having defeated England in the bidding process, they automatically qualify to play in the tournament. Russia will open proceedings with the first game in Luzhniki stadium Moscow on June 14th 2018. But before all that can happen Russia has to satisfy FIFA’s regulations for hosting the games. And FIFA don’t want any embarrassing debates about conditions for the players. Their experience in Saipan when the Irishman, Roy Keane, got a flight home because of the condition of the pitches, among other things, is not one to be repeated.
Stadia had to be selected and with the vastness of Russia it was no easy job to find locations that were relatively close together. The final choices list 12 stadia, among them the already mentioned stadium in Moscow, Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi and Central Stadium in Yekaterinburg. FIFA had to be assured of crowd capacity levels and preparations are ongoing. To make travelling to the games easier for teams and their coaches and managers as well as fans Russia has planned to relax visa rules for games’ attendees and the general consensus seems to be that a superb event is promised.
And will fans travel to the games or will they consider Russia a step too far from their usual sporting grounds? Well, they travelled to France at the height of a terror alert and to far flung corners of the globe regardless of climate or expense. When it comes to the beautiful game no journey is too long or stadium too far. While players sweat it out in the qualifying games, all that remains for fans to do is to calculate the cost of the ruble and keep in the bank manager’s good books.