Fans around the world have been anxiously waiting for another World Cup. It’s been four years since Germany won in Rio de Janeiro. The 2018 contest brings us to Russia. The game is to be held in 11 different cities across the country. The games are slated to kickoff on Thursday June 14th. The opening game is between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The two should make quite a pair; presumably giving quite a different show than Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez’s performance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The Russian take on an opening ceremony should no doubt have a different feel than the party from four years ago but is nonetheless a spectacle to look forward to. The gymnasts and musical performances crescendo into a fireworks spectacular and then the match begins.
The Saudi Squad
Saudi Arabia has had some difficulty keeping a head coach. Last year, the team was coached by Bert van Marwijk, who was able to get them into the World Cup (the last time was 2006). But in September he was replaced by Edgardo Bauza. Bauza lasted up until this past week when amazingly, right before the Cup, he was fired as well.
Now the Saudi side is managed by Juan Antonio Pizzi. He has the difficult task of coming in at the last minute to ready the team for soccer’s biggest stage. It is not likely that the Saudi Arabian team is going to advance far. In the history of the country they have not made it past the second round, their best performance being in 1994, when they were eliminated by Sweden in round two.
The 1994 World Cup was played in the United States. Now, in 2018, Saudi Arabia is going to faceoff against the only team with any kind of home field advantage: Russia.
The Russian Side
10 years ago, when Russia was vying for a chance to host the World Cup, things were looking a bit better. In recent years the team has not been fairing so well. They are coming into the tournament after five straight losses. In fact, they haven’t won a game since October 2017, against South Korea.
This being said, Russia is still expected to win the opening game. According to the FIFA rankings, Saudi Arabia is 67th best in the world while Russia is slightly below at 70. But the Russian side should have more supporters at the game, while Saudi Arabia is still adjusting to a new head coach.
In any case, you need to see the start of the Cup. Between the festivities beforehand and the Russian squad kicking it off in their home country it should be a sizzling start to the competition.
What’s Different This Year?
This is the first year that the World Cup is going to use Video Assistant Referees or VAR. This means that there is going to be be a team of referees watching the games from a video room. This team, based in Moscow, is there to support the head referee.
Before you get all up in arms about referees making calls away from the game, know this: only the head referee on the field has the ability to make calls. The VAR team is there only to help out on difficult decisions.
The point of VAR is to make sure that the most important calls are being made correctly. This means that every goal and play leading up to a goal is reviewable. This is true for penalties, red-cards, and off-sides calls as well.
So VAR is not be taking over the game. It is merely an assistant to the regular on-filed referees.
If everything goes smoothly, VAR will only serve to make the competition better. And who is going to be left standing at the end of it all? Well, four years ago it was Germany. And once again the Germans have a powerful squad. They are second only to Brazil in World Cup Championships with four. Brazil has five.
Germany, according to the FIFA rankings and many experts is the best team in the world. They have a total of 1,558 points. The next on the list is defending champions Brazil, with 1,431.
Look for France and Spain to make a splash as well. But Portugal, with Cristiano Renaldo is certainly a contender, as is Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
Soccer fans worldwide are going to have their TVs and radios ready to go on Thursday for the first game. With 38 million dollars and world-wide glory on the line, there’s no telling what’s in store. We can all look forward to another exciting summer of soccer.