Finally! THE 2018 WORLD CUP has dawned upon us. read more from our keen football expert about the teams competing, their status and what this year’s event has in store for us.
“It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming…” England fans have been singing since France ’98. I’ve never known fans to sing so enthusiastically about a team bus. Not unless you follow Jose Mourinho’s bus parking tactics.
The quadrennial cup features long-term absentees Peru and Egypt. I was in the womb the last time the latter appeared. The road to the finals started in March 2015 with minnows Timor Leste. The 209 possible clubs have been eliminated down to a rounder 32. Perennial underachievers Germany join 31 countries with hopes of avoiding a wooden spoon. 11 host cities with 12 venues will feature nations such as Iceland and other Nordic-noir peddling nations in Denmark and Sweden. I expect a few cult-shows to be made around the World Cup in the same vein as The Killing. They’ll no doubt feature Ibrahamovic volleying a bag of air over a lost England keeper. Proper murder.
The quadrennial cup features long-term absentees Peru and Egypt. I was in the womb the last time the latter appeared.
Iceland make up the smallest nation by population, and Panama the place with the most tailors per square kilometer. Neither have been to the finals previously. The middle-east is strongly represented by Mo Salah’s The Pharaohs (Egypt), Lions of the Atlas (Morocco), The Falcons (Saudi Arabia), The Eagles of Carthage (Tunisia) and Team Melli (Iran). Iran will be looking to build on their sole win in France ’98 (over Team USA). 23-year old striker Sardar Azmou, who plays at Rubin Kazan in Russia, is the man to watch. He wins my vote for Golden Boot contender at Russia 2018. Egypt are expected to better their record of 13th and neither Tunisia or Morocco (African Nations Champions 2018) will be expecting a champagne-finals.
The cup of cups will draw out some fantastic games, and some utterly dire nil, nil draws. It is inevitable that the word “anti-climax” will be printed in the world’s press until one team, perhaps South Korea or Japan, shows some skill and really goes for their opponent’s jugulars. The Telstar 18 match ball will inevitably find the net, especially as teams move from the eight group stages to the all-important knock out rounds.
Australia, as 2015 AFC Asian Cup winners, needed extra time to eliminate Syria (a country that only plays away games). They are expected to hop back down under faster than Skippy the bush kangaroo. Deepest darkest Peru qualified 233 days after Brazil had reached the finals. Not bad for a place renowned for evicting marmalade-eating bears. With goal scorers such as Cristiano Ronaldo playing for UEFA European Champions Portugal, and reigning Champions Germany unbeaten in competitive games since July 2016, expect to see the retro-shirts of Spain (or Iceland), Brazil, Portugal and Argentina in the semi-finals.
Much has been made of Russia’s security and safety of the fans at the tournament itself. Doping concerns, alleged espionage poisonings, terrorist threats, a domestic financial crisis and bidding process corruption claims aside, the teams flying to Russia will all be aiming to clash at the Luzhniki Stadium on July 15th. The soap opera moves on. The lucrative prize on offer is a place in the 2021 FIFA Confederations Cup, not to be held in Qatar because it is inhumanely hot there in summer. The final will be watched by huge audiences around the world, and an anthropomorphic wolf called Zabivaka (“The one who scores”). I won’t expect Russia or Saudi Arabia to score many. They are the two lowest ranked teams—and both meet in the opening game, a month before the final, in an effort not to bore neutral onlookers.
The 21st World Cup will not be attended by China, Ireland, Kosovo, Italy, Chile (Copa America winners 2016), and U.S.A. (2017 Gold Cup winners). Their presence will instead be felt in sponsors’ names (notably Mengniu Dairy, Wanda, Vivo and Hisense), commercialism and hair gel. They can all enjoy days out in Shui Lian Shan park and watch the tournament on the big screens at various bars and such across town.