World Cup 2018 Guide

FIFA World Cup Russia 2018

It’s nearly upon us - the greatest event in sport and the most-watched sporting spectacle on the planet - the football World Cup. This year’s event comes from the controversial location of Russia - a land dogged by sporting fiascos after their Olympics team were accused of state-sponsored doping in the buildup to the Olympic Games in 2016. Russian sports fans and officials will be hoping to put that behind them when they host their first World Cup.

As always, the competition promises huge quality, excitement and the chance for players and coaches to become national heroes and legends of the game. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are still yet to win the prestigious trophy - the one gap in an outstanding CV for both.

Of course, there will also be plenty of intrigue around the English national team, with opinion divided on whether the young lions can feature prominently at the World Cup or if it is too soon for a team in the foetal stages of their international careers.

As hosts, there will be a huge thirst from home supporters that Russia can compete successfully and they are helped by the traditional placement of the hosts as first seeds, making their passage to the knockout rounds much simpler. The favourites will likely be Brazil and Germany, but the likes of France and Argentina with their star-studded lineups will also be expected to compete well at the world’s biggest football event.

Russia 2018 Dates and Schedule

The tournament gets underway on June 14th, with Russia opening the tournament with a match against Saudi Arabia in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Viewers will be treated to 64 total games across 31 days with the final being played on the 17th July at the same stadium as the opening game.

If you were hoping that you would be able to plan your days around the games with some degree of consistency each day, then unfortunately this isn’t the case, mainly because of the four different time zones that will be used during the tournament. Those different locations mean that we have games kicking off at wildly different times each day, ranging from 10am to 6pm. Luckily none of the hours is at all unsociable, but it might be trickier to plan your days off from work if there are certain matches that you want to watch. The semi-finals will be played in evening kickoffs for British fans, and the final will be on Sunday afternoon, so there is no need to worry about the biggest games. England are especially lucky having been drawn to play two evening matches, and with a game on Sunday afternoon sandwiched in between - so no need to book any days off work just yet!

Here are the details on the most major games:

Round

Date

Location

Time (GMT)

Opening match

Russia vs Saudi Arabia

Thursday, 14 June

Moscow, Luzhniki Stadium

16:00

Quarter-finals

Friday, 6 July

Nizhny Novgorod, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium

15:00

Quarter-finals

Friday, 6 July

Kazan, Kazan Arena Stadium

19:00

Quarter-finals

Saturday, 7 July

Samara, Samara Arena

15:00

Quarter-finals

Saturday, 7 July

Sochi, Fisht Stadium

19:00

Semi-finals

Tuesday, 10 July

Saint Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Stadium

19:00

Semi-finals

Wednesday, 11 July

Moscow, Luzhniki Stadium

19:00

Third place playoff

Saturday, 14 July

Saint Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Stadium

15:00

Final

Sunday, 15 July

Moscow, Luzhniki Stadium

16:00

Qualifiers

This year sees two countries make their debut in the competition, with Iceland, who have been on the rise for some time, and surprise entrants Panama making their first appearances at the finals. The biggest absentees are by far Italy, while the Netherlands failed to qualify for a second consecutive major tournament after having missed out on Euro 2016. Copa America champions Chile also failed to qualify, while the USA are surprise absentees with their passage to the finals usually safe given their poor-quality CONCACAF qualifying region. Argentina were close to a shock having only qualified from South America by the skin of their teeth. Brazil continue their tradition of having appeared at every tournament in World Cup history since the inaugural competition in 1930.

Flag

Country

Confederation

Australia

Australia

Asia (AFC)

Iran

Iran

Asia (AFC)

Japan

Japan

Asia (AFC)

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

Asia (AFC)

South Korea

South Korea

Asia (AFC)

Egypt

Egypt

Africa (CAF)

Morocco

Morocco

Africa (CAF)

Nigeria

Nigeria

Africa (CAF)

Senegal

Senegal

Africa (CAF)

Tunisia

Tunisia

Africa (CAF)

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

North/Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF)

Mexico

Mexico

North/Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF)

Panama

Panama

North/Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF)

Argentina

Argentina

South America (CONMEBOL)

Brazil

Brazil

South America (CONMEBOL)

Colombia

Colombia

South America (CONMEBOL)

Peru

Peru

South America (CONMEBOL)

Uruguay

Uruguay

South America (CONMEBOL)

Belgium

Belgium

Europe (UEFA)

Croatia

Croatia

Europe (UEFA)

Denmark

Denmark

Europe (UEFA)

England

England

Europe (UEFA)

France

France

Europe (UEFA)

Germany

Germany

Europe (UEFA)

Iceland

Iceland

Europe (UEFA)

Poland

Poland

Europe (UEFA)

Portugal

Portugal

Europe (UEFA)

Russia

Russia

Europe (UEFA)

Serbia

Serbia

Europe (UEFA)

Spain

Spain

Europe (UEFA)

Sweden

Sweden

Europe (UEFA)

Switzerland

Switzerland

Europe (UEFA)

Groups and Fixtures

World Cup Groups

Group A

Russia’s group looks, as expected, the weakest in the tournament, with the hosts taking the place of one of the top-ranked teams in the group. Russia’s World Cup will open with a match against Saudi Arabia. It is the Saudis’ first tournament since 2006 and they haven’t won a game since their debut in ‘94. Two-time winners Uruguay provide the biggest test for the hosts, while Egypt, the first African side to compete in a World Cup in 1934, make up the final spot having never won a game at the finals.

 

Group B

The headline of the draw was the matchup between two classic Iberian rivals with Spain facing Portugal in the opening match of Group B. The group looks the standout candidate to become the group of death with Iran qualifying for the tournament unbeaten and in doing so creating a new record with 12 consecutive clean sheets. Morocco only conceded a single goal themselves in qualifying, so the two top seeds of the group will know that nothing is guaranteed - making that cracker of an opening game look extremely important.

 

Group C

France are the seeded team in Group C and will begin their campaign against Australia, who came through two playoffs to qualify from the Asian federation. France will be happy with their group having also drawn Peru and Denmark, although both of those sides are well capable of causing an upset. The Danes, in particular, caught fire towards the end of their qualifying campaign and sliced through the Irish in the European playoff. Even so, the French look strong favourites to qualify as comfortable group winners.

 

Group D

Another tough looking group, and Argentina will not be best pleased with their draw despite perhaps not drawing a true ‘big name’ team alongside them in the group. An opening match against Iceland looks like a potential banana skin with the debutants showing at the Euros that they can outcompete any side (just ask any England fan!). Nigeria beat Argentina in a friendly recently, scoring four goals in the process, and Croatia are a dangerous side with quality all over the pitch. Not quite a group of death, but a difficult one for Argentina with every side highly competitive.

 

Group E

The favourites for the tournament, Brazil, have been given a fairly straightforward draw in Group E, with Switzerland a strong side but having struggled when faced with the very best teams in the world. Costa Rica proved no mugs in the previous tournament, topping the so-called ‘Group of Death’ containing England, Italy and Uruguay, and can’t be underestimated, while Serbia were the team from the 4th pot that many wanted to avoid. Not an easy group by any means, but Brazil are strong favourites to progress. Switzerland might struggle to join them, though, with the third- and fourth-seeded sides both capable.

 

Group F

World champions Germany have been drawn in Group F with an opening match against Mexico in Moscow. The Mexicans are one of the perennial attendees in the history of the World Cup, appearing in 15 previous tournaments. They’ve been knocked out in the last 16 of the last six tournaments, so look for them to progress from the group here. It won’t be easy for them this year, with Sweden, who surprisingly dumped out Italy in the playoffs, and 2002 semifinalists, South Korea, in the group with them.

 

Group G

We get to Group G and England who have drawn Belgium as their top-seeded rivals in a fairly favourable draw. England begin their campaign as they started the 1998 World Cup with a fixture against Tunisia. They won that game 2-0 and will be hoping for similar with England desperate to get points on the board before playing Belgium in the final rubber. Panama are the final team in the group and are not expected to pull up any trees in their surprise debut in the tournament.

 

Group H

The final group and probably the lowest quality barring the first group containing the host nation. Poland are the seeded team having plotted their route into the first pot by avoiding friendly matches on the advice of a Romanian mathematician. They are joined by three fairly strong teams from separate continents, with Colombia looking dangerous going forward and Japan very experienced at this level, and perhaps underrated. Senegal are the final team in the group and are one of the more dangerous of the African nations in the tournament despite having not played at the World Cup since their debut in 2002 - where they reached the quarter-finals having beaten the then champions France in the group stage.

World Cup Venues and Stadiums

The stadiums in action for the World Cup look top drawer, with five new stadiums being purpose-built for the occasion, another being rebuilt and another being upgraded. The size of the country means there is a big distance between stadiums, with locations as far west as Kaliningrad, going down as far as Sochi, and to the east in Yekaterinburg.

It means we have games being played across four different time zones, and there will be plenty of travelling for fans and players going to the World Cup in Russia this summer.

Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

Luzhniki Stadium

The centrepiece for the Russian bid was the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, which will host the opening ceremony, the first match and the final of the tournament. The stadium will become the first to host the finals of the Champions League, World Cup and the summer Olympic games. The attendance is 81,000 and the stadium isn’t the home of any domestic sides, instead often playing host to the Russian national team.

 

Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi

The Luzhniki isn’t the only olympic stadium on the map for Russia 2018, with the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi hosting the key game between Spain and Portugal as well as one of the quarter-finals. The current attendance is near to 48,000, making it one of the larger stadiums at the World Cup, while it is also the furthest south of any of the venues at the tournament.

 

Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg

The only stadium to come close to the 81,000 capacity of the Luzhniki is the Krestovsky Stadium, home of top Russian Premier Division side Zenit St Petersburg, which can hold over 68,000 people. It will host one of the semi-finals as well as the third-placed playoff.

 

Otkrytiye Stadium, Moscow

Moscow is the only city to have two stadia hosting games at the World Cup, with the Otkrytiye Stadium, home of Spartak Moscow, hosting several games including Argentina’s opener against Iceland and one of the last 16 matches. It holds over 45,000 people.

 

Kazan Arena, Kazan

The Kazan Arena is one of the nicest stadiums at the World Cup, and is the regular home of Rubin Kazan. It has a capacity of over 45,000, as well as having the largest outside screen in Europe, so fans who aren’t able to get a ticket can still feel part of the atmosphere. Visitors to the Kazan Arena will get to see France, Spain and Germany in the group stages, plus a last 16 and quarter-final match.

 

Samara Arena, Samara

One of the stadiums under construction for the World Cup, the Samara Arena will be able to hold nearly 45,000 spectators and will also become the new home of Russian Premier League side Krylia Sovetov. It has cost around $320 million to build and is scheduled to host one of Russia’s games, against Uruguay, as well as last 16 and quarter-final matches.

 

Mordovia Arena, Saransk

Another new stadium and also able to host around 45,000 spectators, the Mordovia Arena is scheduled to host four group games but no games during the knockout rounds. It will play host to FC Mordovia Saransk after the tournament is completed, with the capacity set to be reduced to around 28,000. An estimated cost of $300 million is cited for the project.

 

Rostov Arena, Rostov

The new home of FC Rostov after the tournament, the Rostov Arena is another of the newly built stadiums at the World Cup and is again able to hold around 45,000 fans. It will host four group games including Brazil’s opening match of the tournament, while it will also be the venue for one of the last 16 ties.

 

Ekaterinburg Arena, Yekaterinburg

Ekaterinburg Arena

The existing multipurpose Central Stadium in Yekaterinburg has been reconstructed especially for the World Cup, with an extra 12,000 temporary seats having been added to conform to FIFA’s requirement of a minimum of 35,000 capacity. It makes the stadium look rather odd, with the strange temporary stand having been built outside the perimeter of the stadium making it something of an eyesore. It was a stadium many were wanting to avoid as the furthest east at the World Cup and the furthest from the popular basecamp locations in Moscow and St Petersburg. It will host four group games at the tournament.

 

Volgograd Arena, Volgograd

The Volgograd Arena is another newly built stadium for the World Cup, but is different in that it is actually being rebuilt on the site of what was a derelict Central Stadium, and it is another with a 45,000 attendance. It is of note to England fans as it hosts the opening match for the English team against Tunisia. It will become the new home of FC Rotor Volgograd after the tournament has finished.

 

Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny

Another host of the England national team will be Nizhny, with the purpose-built Nizhny Novgorod Arena the venue for the second game against Panama. It will cost in excess of $300 million to complete, and will also host a last 16 and quarter-final match during the tournament. Although not yet confirmed, it is believed that the stadium will become the new home of FC Olympiyets Nizhny Novogorod after the tournament is completed, and has an attendance of (you guessed it!) 45,000.

 

Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad

The final England game will be played in Kaliningrad, the furthest west of the World Cup stadiums. It is another newly built stadium for the tournament, but only holds the minimum of 35,000 people and at a cost of over $250 million. It is the only newly constructed stadium not to be hosting a Russian Premier League side after the tournament, with the local team, FC Baltika Kaliningrad, playing in the Russian National Football League. It is a strange location at the tournament as it is not part of the main block of Russia, instead located in a Russian territory between Poland and Lithuania.

Players to Watch

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar

Cristiano Ronaldo

CR7 has been at the top of the game for what seems like an eternity now, with the Portuguese robotic in his consistency and ability to avoid injuries. After leading his side to victory in the Euros, there is fresh belief that the Portugal side, with his goals and leadership, have a chance in this tournament. Ronaldo’s record in World Cup finals is actually rather mediocre, with only three goals scored in 13 games spread across the last three tournaments. He’ll be hoping to replicate his club form (where he scores upwards of a goal per game) for Portugal in Russia this year.

 

Lionel Messi

The other leading player in world football over the last decade had been Messi, who, like Ronaldo, will go down as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. For his national side, Messi operates as the metronome, orchestrating his side’s attacking plays and ball possession. With the talent that Argentina have in attack, Messi is sure to play a big part in both providing and scoring goals in Russia. He’ll just have to hope their defensive players put up their end of the bargain after having struggled during qualification.

 

Neymar

The new kid on the block is Neymar. His world record transfer to PSG from Barcelona made world headlines, and Neymar has lived up to the hype with his performances in France and on the continent so far. For Brazil, he is the main man and the poster boy of this talented generation of players, and his skill on the ball makes him a breathtaking player to watch in full stride. He, as well as the rest of the Brazilian team, will be desperate to put right the 7-1 hammering from Germany in their own World Cup four years ago.

World Cup Favourites

As with most World Cups, there are a select few teams that will be heavily expected to feature in the latter stages and potentially go on to win the tournament:

Brazil

Brazil - The most successful side in World Cup history, Brazil have won five times and they are the favourites, with the shortest odds to win in Russia, with Tite having guided them comfortably through qualification and with a style and swagger not seen from a Brazil side for several tournaments. Led by Neymar, they have a strong chance to win a sixth tournament.

Germany

Germany - You can never write off the current champions, especially when they are the Germans. Probably the side with most strength in depth in every position, Germany have a strong chance and are quite short odds, but, with only two teams having every successfully defended a World Cup, they have history against them if they are to join Brazil with five wins.

France

France - France reached the final of the Euros in their home country in 2016, and are in the midst of a golden generation - the best French team since the team of the late ‘90s which won both the World Cup and European Championships. With quality in every position, they are going to be a hard team to beat in this tournament.

Argentina

Argentina - One of the favourites in every tournament, but not convincing in their qualification and struggling to find an identity under the management of Jorge Sampaoli. The team look more reliant than ever on Lionel Messi, and will do well to repeat their performance in 2014 when they reached the final. They certainly wouldn’t be among our top betting tips.

Of course, it is not all about the teams, with the World Cup the biggest stage for individual players, and creating a stage that has springboarded multi-million-pound transfers that will change the careers of many players. James Rodriguez was a surprise winner of the Golden Boot in 2014, and that saw him given a huge move to Real Madrid after completion of the tournament. The main favourites to win both the Golden Boot (awarded to the top goalscorer) and the Golden Ball (awarded to the best player) are the same as those players highlighted above, with Messi (Golden Boot winner in 2014), Ronaldo and Neymar the leading favourites in the current football betting odds. However, with plenty of great players, and great goalscorers in the tournament, there are plenty to choose from including several Premier League players.

Looking Ahead to Russia 2018

Expectations are mixed ahead of a controversial World Cup in Russia, but after the draw, the excitement is building and the fervour of the tournament has overwritten any conspiracy or concern over the rights of the Russians to host the games. With not long to go before the tournament starts, and the tournament taking shape with teams setting their bases and knowing their initial fixtures, there is no stopping the momentum as we head into the next World Cup.

The ball has been chosen with Adidas doing the honours with their Telstar 18 ball going back in time to take influence from the original, iconic, Telstar ball used in the 1960s and 70s.

One of the most amusing caveats of a World Cup is the choice of mascot with some shocking previous editions that have included an orange, a chilli pepper and a weird concoction of bricks with a football for a head. The last few haven’t been quite so bad, and the Russians have gone with a safe option with their wolf, Zabivaka, which translates as “The one who scores”. Russia will be hoping their strikers follow his example in Group A.

Russia World Cup 2018 mascot Zabivaka

The fate of Russia, England and all of the top teams will soon be discovered with the tournament kicking off in June, and some great fixtures are already pencilled in after the groups were drawn. With so many great games and a huge focus from bookmakers on the event, be sure to make the most of your World Cup betting by using Top 10 Sports Betting Sites to find the best offers, promotions and the best World Cup bookies by using the reviews by our sports betting experts ahead of the big tournament in the summer.

About the Author

Dan Bradley

Ever since he was 6 years old and made the fatal mistake of asking his Dad, 'What's that on the TV?', Dan has been engrossed by football, and many other sports have since had a similar impact on him. Sadly, he was never good enough to open the batting for England, or to don the famous number 7 shirt for Southampton, but his love for sport remains. Dan has been blogging and writing about sport for the last few years, usually looking at things from the perspective of a bettor, but most of all as a true sports fanatic. From golf to ten pin bowling: You name it, Dan’ll have an opinion on it.

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