World Cup diary 2018 – Introduction
Here we are again…another World Cup…the 21st staging and the first to be held in Eastern Europe.
Am I excited? To be honest, not really. I’ve never known a build-up to a Finals that has been so quiet. Is it the influence of the Premier League and the Champions League, in that they are now such global events? Or is it that there isn’t the same hype from the English press and fans alike?
In all fairness, it probably is a bit of both. Perhaps though once the Opening Ceremony is over, Robbie Williams et al, and Russia and Saudi Arabia get onto the pitch and get the first ninety-minutes out of the way I may feel differently.
And that is part of the problem, because invariably until the action starts at the Luzhniki Stadium, the focus tends to be on the external factors around the tournament. In the case of Russia 2018, this has been the old problems of racism, homophobia and hooliganism.
It was of course mightily depressing to read that Tottenham and England defender Danny Rose has told his family to stay away from Russia for fear of the treatment they may receive and of his father responding that it saddened him that because of the threat of racism in the country he may never get to see him son play live in the Finals.
The reality is that nobody can predict whether there will be huge issues until the tournament gets underway.
Changing track though and to the opening game on Thursday in Moscow, which sees hosts Russia in Group A action against Saudi Arabia, who qualified via the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). These two teams have never met before, and it will be interesting to see how Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana deals with the pressure of a packed stadium dominated by home fans. Result-wise I can’t see anything other than a win for Russia to kick-start the tournament.
Finally though, on the last day before the football actually starts, there were two big World Cup stories. The first saw FIFA award the 2026 World Cup to a combined bid that will see the games played across the USA, Canada and Mexico and the second saw Spain sack head coach Julen Lopetegui after he was named the new Real Madrid boss, just two days before their opening World Cup match with Portugal. Taking over will be Fernando Hierro, an ex-Spanish international who most recently was the Sporting Director of the national team, with a playing career that included a spell in 2004/05 at Bolton Wanderers. With their opener against Iberian neighbours Portugal, it could be some baptism for the new manager.
Seems like the drama has started before a ball has even been kicked!