The lowdown on Cup of highs

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | T.N. RAGHU
Published Jun 14, 2018, 2:11 am IST
Updated Jun 14, 2018, 2:11 am IST
There isn’t a more beautiful game than football, which brooks no barriers.
It’s the first World Cup in Eastern Europe where communism ruled not long ago.
 It’s the first World Cup in Eastern Europe where communism ruled not long ago.

What? 
The 21st Fifa World Cup. Two teams of 11 muscular men each will vie to kick a spherical ball through a rectangular post guarded by an opponent. The group that does it best will be crowned champions.

Where? 
In 11 cities across Russia. It’s the first World Cup in Eastern Europe where communism ruled not long ago.

 

When? 
From June 14 to July 15.

Kick-off times
They are dynamic resembling a railway chart: 3.30 pm, 5.30 pm, 6.30 pm, 7.30 pm,8.30 pm, 9.30 pm, 11.30 and 00.30 am. Both semi-finals will kick off at 11.30 pm and the final is scheduled to start at 8.30 pm.   

Why should we watch it? 
There isn’t a more beautiful game than football, which brooks no barriers. Neither is there a more democratic, simple and inclusive sport. The Olympics is also a fantastic spectacle but the Fifa World Cup is less cluttered and more engrossing. And, no sporting event arouses as much raw emotion and tribal loyalty.

Nerve-centre
Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, which has a capacity of 80,000. It will stage the tournament opener and the final besides five other matches including a semi-final.

Hosts 
Russia, the lowest ranked team of the tournament at 70, aren’t brimming with stars. President Vladimir Putin is the most famous Russian. He is a judoka, unfortunately. Getting out of their group would be an achievement for the home team.

Debutants 
Iceland and Panama. With a population of 3,50,000, Iceland are they smallest country to qualify for the World Cup. Don’t more people use Victoria Terminus in Mumbai every day?

Luis Suarez watch 
Nobody entertains like the Uruguayan at the World Cup. He volleyed the ball, with his hands, to deny Ghana a certain goal in 2010 before sinking his teeth on an Italian defender four years later. Life is never boring when Suarez is around.

Missing countries
Italy (four-time champions), the Netherlands (three-time nearly champions) and the USA. The only Dutchman to make it to Russia is Australia coach Bert van Marwijk.

Missing stars
Gareth Bale (Wales), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden) and Mauro Icardi (Argentina).

Potential winners
Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina and France (in that order). Esta blished countries hold sway in the business end. Sorry minnows.

Dark horses
Belgium, England, Portugal and Uruguay. Belgium have been dark horses in so many tournaments that they must be the darkest in the quartet. 

Front runners for the highest scorer award 
Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar (all usual suspects), Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Muller, Luis Suarez and Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane.

Break-out stars could be 
Timo Werner (Germany) and Gabriel Jesus (Brazil).

What does the tournament mean to Messi and Ronaldo?
Now or never.

Trivia 
1. No foreign coach has ever won the World Cup. 
2. Argentina is sending the most number of coaches to the WC: 5 teams (Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Saudi Arabia and Egypt).

Europe vs South America
Brazil are the only non-European team to have gone all the way in a World Cup staged in Europe (Sweden, 1958). Europe leads South America 11-9 in the overall title tally.

Explosive? 
An Iran vs Saudi Arabia second round contest will be West Asia’s biggest geopolitical battle on a football field.  

Mascot 
Zabivaka, the wolf. The name translates into “the one who scores.” We hope there are many Zabivakas on the pitch from June 14 to July 15.
The most common formation
4-2-3-1. Lo and behold: we are living in an era of two holding midfielders.

Major innovation
Video Assistant Referee. He can alert the on-field referee about mistakes on goal, penalty, red card and mistaken identity. In other words, losers will have fewer excuses.

Group of death
Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria.

Don’t miss in the group stage
Portugal vs Spain (June 15, 11.30 pm), Argentina vs Croatia (June 21, 11.30 pm) and Belgium vs England (June 28, 11.30 pm).





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