There are 20 days to go until the FIFA World Cup 2018 kicks off in Russia. Here is everything you need to know, from key dates and figures to why you should pay attention to the predictions of a deaf cat from St. Petersburg.
1. This will be the 21st FIFA World Cup 2018.
2. This will be the penultimate World Cup with 32 nations. From 2026 onward there will be 48 teams.
3. Iceland and Panama have qualified for their first ever World Cup.
4. One hit wonders. The list of teams to play one World Cup makes for great reading. Some of the nations not often heard of in world sport, let alone on its biggest stage: Wales, Jamaica, Cuba, Kuwait, Iraq, Indonesia, Haiti and Canada.
5. The distance between the easternmost (Kaliningrad) and westernmost (Ekaterinburg) host cities in Russia is about the same as the distance between Moscow and London! (2,424 kilometers,1,500 miles).
6. Brazil is the only nation to have played in every World Cup and have won the most titles. Number six could follow in Russia.
7. Germany are aiming to become the first nation to win back-to-back titles since Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
8. Germany have scored the most goals at the last three tournaments (18 in 2014, 16 in 2010 and 14 at home in 2006).
9. Russia’s Oleg Salenko holds the record for most goals in a World Cup game (five vs. Cameroon in 1994).
10. Around 3.2 billion people watched the last World Cup. That’s nearly half of the planet’s population.
11. Of all current players, Germany’s Thomas Müller has the most goals (10) and assists (6) in the World Cup.
12. 2018 will be Nigeria’s sixth World Cup. No African country has qualified as often since the Super Eagles made their debut in 1994.
13. Russia (not the USSR) have never made it out of the group stage at a World Cup. Perhaps home advantage will help?
14. South Korea have qualified for their 10th World Cup – more than any other Asian country.
15. Iceland are the smallest nation to qualify for a World Cup (just 334,000 inhabitants). Size doesn’t matter though.
16. Italy failed to qualify for the first time since 1958 and are the only previous winners not to qualify.
17. Some other familiar World Cup nations who will be watching from home this summer include: Chile, Turkey, Cameroon, Ghana, Algeria, Ecuador, Venezuela and the Republic of Ireland.
18. The iconic makers of the black-and-white ball of the 1970s have made the ball for the 2018 tournament. Apparently there’s a chip in the ball that allows fans to interact with it using their smartphones. I don’t know what to say. The main thing is, we won’t have a repeat of the 1930 World Cup final where Argentina used their ball for the first half (and led 2-1) before the Uruguayans used their ball for the second (and won 4-2).
19. This is the first time a tournament has taken place across two continents – Europe and Asia.
20. The Luzhniki Stadium has almost the same capacity as the Signal Iduna Park and will be remembered by many European football fans as the stadium in which Manchester United beat Chelsea in the 2008 Champions League final. Fit for the big game, the Luzhniki will also host the FIFA World Cup final.
21. In terms of dates: The Last 16 starts on June 30th, the quarterfinals on July 6 and the semifinals on July 10. Mark those dates in your diary.
22. The 2018 opener will make history, perhaps not for intended reasons, as it becomes the first World Cup opener to be played by the two lowest-ranked teams in the competition (Russia 65th, Saudia Arabia 63rd)
23. Sochi’s Olympic stadium – the Fisht Olympic Stadium – was used to open the Winter Olympics in 2014, and will be a venue at the 2018 football tournament. This is only the second stadium ever to have done both – Stadio Olimpico in Turin, Italy is the other.
24. Referees will also have the right to stop or abandon a game if racist or other discriminatory incidents occur.
25. Apparently, there will be over 17,000 volunteers (around 2,000 more than in Brazil) at the World Cup in Russia – from over 176,000 applications. Interestingly enough, 64 percent of the volunteers are female. Volunteers include the captain of an oil tanker, a world champion dragon-boat racer and a man from New Zealand who will have to travel over 16,000 kilometers for the honor. World Cups eh? Everyone gets involved.
26. A deaf cat called Achilles who resides at a St. Petersburg museum is to predict the outcomes of World Cup games, after getting all but one right at the Confederations Cup last year. How cool is that?
27. Ticket prices range from €85 ($105) to €892 for the final. Russian residents will be able to obtain cheaper tickets with prices starting at €19. This is higher than four years ago – with the cheapest group stage matches in Brazil costing €69 and the most expensive final tickets costing €730.
28. The World Cup is expected to cost Russia close to $12 billion. This is still a couple billion fewer than Brazil spent four years ago, but is over half a billion more than they expected to spend. Who knows what the final bill will look like?
29. Hard to imagine now but: every match in the first World Cup was hosted in one city. In Montevideo, Uruguay, 13 teams played out the 1930 tournament.
30. Aged 45, legendary Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary is set to become the oldest player ever at a World Cup. He played and captained in all but the final game of qualifying, has 156 caps for his country and Russia will be his World Cup debut. Age ain’t nothing but a number.
31. If Nigeria select striker Mohammed Nur for the tournament, Norman Whiteside’s record as the youngest player (17 years, 41 days) back in the 1982 tournament will be broken. Nur was born in December 2002. He would be just 15 years old at the tournament
32. Winning the World Cup final means $38 million in prize money. To be fair, losing it means $28 million so, that’s some consolation. Just making the group stage is worth $8 million. All in all, there’s 12 percent more prize money on offer than for the 2014 tournament. Where does it all come from?
33. World-famous coach Jose Mourinho will be the expert for state-funded Russian network RT at the tournament. Expect headlines from him.
34. VAR will be used at thet World Cup for the first time after the IFAB (International Football Association Board) approved the use of the technology on a permanent basis. Expect more controversy.
35. The chance to see Lionel Messi (30) and Cristiano Ronaldo (33), perhaps for the final time at a World Cup. Honestly, what a joy it is. Iran head coach Carlos Queiroz has said Messi should be banned for the tournament until it can be proved he is human. Fair enough.
36. Farewells? This could be the last time we see the likes of Luis Suarez (31), Andreas Iniesta (33), Luka Modric (32), Thiago Silva (33), Rafa Marquez (39), Vincent Kompany (31), Jakub Blaszczykowski (32), Keisuke Honda (31), Falcao (32).
37. Russia is the world’s largest country in terms of area, spanning across 11 time zones. Only four will be relevant for the World Cup though.
38. Reports of state-sponsored doping in Russian sport, the country meddling in foreign elections and huge question marks over racism, homophobia, and LGBT and human rights abuse, have set the scene for this tournament to be the most politically charged ever. Apparently, Vladimir Putin doesn’t really like football. Perhaps it’s best the US didn’t qualify.
39. In preparation of the tournament, the Russian government has spent millions on eliminating the public health threat of stray animals by killing stray dogs in all 11 of the Russia cities set to host games. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has reported that between $107-$142 is being paid for each dog corpse. The same was done ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
40. From lions to jalapenos with a mustache, there have been World Cup mascots since the 1966 tournament. After an armadillo in Brazil, Russia’s is, rather unsurprisingly, a wolf called Zabivaka (The goal scorer).
41. One million international fans are expected to visit Russia for the World Cup and with so many anticipated, Russia’s has done away with visas for football fans (so long as they have valid ID).
42. Warning for Germany: The last two defending champions were knocked out in the group stage. Surely not again?
43. The Golden Ball – the award for the tournament’s best player – has been awarded to an attacker on all but two occasions. The first-ever winner was Uruguay’s defender Jose Nasazzi in 1930, and the second was Germany’s Oliver Kahn in 2002. Another year for the attacker in Russia?
44. In 2001, Australia beat American Samoa 31-0 on their way to qualifying for the 2002 tournament. For context, the highest score in qualifying this year was a 15-0 win for Qatar against Bhutan. Goals are harder to come by these days.
45. Germany and Sweden are in the same group. In 1958 they played against each other in the semifinal, with the Swedes winning 3-1. Afterwards, the wheels of Swedish cars in Hamburg were slashed and a popular Swedish dish was removed from restaurant menus. Let’s hope things are a bit more civil this time around, eh?
46. India qualified for the 1950 World Cup but withdrew after FIFA said they couldn’t play barefoot. Having never qualified since, they are the only country to qualify but never play a game. Barefooted football. Is that the way to level the playing field against Messi perhaps?
47. There were more goals scored in the 2014 World Cup by substitutes (32) than in any other tournament. More super subs this time around?
48. France’s Just Fontaine holds the record for most goals scored at a single World Cup (13 in 1958). Can that record be broken in Russia?
49. Architects who designed the Kazan Arena also designed Wembley and the Emirates.
50. Winning the World Cup trophy is one of those unforgettable moments, but when the party is over FIFA takes the real trophy and hands over a cheaper replica. Only heads of state or World Cup winners are allowed to touch the real trophy.
51. Not one English referee was appointed to officiate at the 2018 World Cup. Do they know something we don’t?
52. Uruguay’s head coach, Oscar Tabarez, will be at his fourth World Cup – more than any other coach at the tournament
53. The amazing tournament poster, which is a throwback to legendary Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin. He played in the 1958 and 1970 World Cups and is still the only keeper to win the Ballon d’Or.
54. A fourth substitute will be allowed in extra time. All this pressing is just tiring the players out.