Today is the start of one of the world’s biggest sporting festivals, the FIFA World Cup.
In terms of viewership, the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games sit neck and neck with the previous FIFA World Cup hosted in Brazil in 2014 reaching 3,2 billion viewers and the last Olympic Games held in Rio in 2016 reaching 3,5 billion people. That’s effectively half the globe tuning in.
The same number is expected for this year’s World Cup in Russia.
In order to be an active part of the 3,2 billion viewers that will be watching at least some of the action scheduled over the next month and a bit, we at Establish Africa put together an ‘all-you-need-to-know’ bite size guide to the FIFA World Cup so you can know who to get excited about and what to watch out for.
THE HOME NATION – RUSSIA
Russia is the host of the 21st FIFA World Cup. After having their 2008 bid to host accepted by FIFA, Russia have prepared 12 stadiums in 11 cities to host games throughout the competition, with the opening ceremony and the final being hosted in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow which can seat 81,000 people.
THE TOURNAMENT FORMAT
The tournament will take place over 32 days with 64 games hosted and 32 teams competing. Each team had to qualify from their respective regions with 14 teams from Europe; 5 teams from Africa, Asia and South America each; and 3 from North and Central America.
The first round of the tournament sees the 32 teams split into 8 groups of 4 teams each. The teams in each group play against each other with the top 2 teams qualifying for the next round while the bottom 2 teams are eliminated.
The second round, or round of 16, is the first knock-out phase. The top 2 teams from each group are divided up and play a once off knock-out game against each other, the winner proceeds to the quarter final, the loser is eliminated. The quarter-finals and the semi-finals follow this same structure, until the last 2 teams remaining play-off in the final. The 2 teams that lose in the semi-finals also play-off to determine who finishes 3rd and receives the bronze medal.
The Favourites – Brazil
It seems like the pre-tournament favourites are all the familiar faces, with Brazil leading the way. The quality of their squad and their pre-tournament form suggests that not reaching at least the semi-finals would be considered a shock.
Europe’s big hope would fall on reigning World Champions Germany and current European Champions Portugal, with star Cristiano Ronaldo hoping to fire his Portugese team to their first FIFA World Cup trophy ever.
To disregard Germany in any major competition would be foolish, and considering that they are the current reigning champions should give ‘Die Mannschaft’ considerable motivation.
Other teams that could be considered favourites would be Argentina and Spain.
The Outsiders – Belgium
These are the far more interesting of the lot, and if you are looking to pick an underdog for the tournament then these teams might suit you well. However, being outsiders means that they could quite easily fail dismally and exit the tournament early. But that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?
The darkest of the horses in this year’s tournament must be Belgium. Their squad is packed full of world class players, and it can be argued that on paper they should be among the tournament’s favourites. However, Belgium have only made it to the semi-finals once before in 1986, and they have also made a nasty habit of falling out in the round of 16, when they have actually managed to get through the group stages.
That being said, if their current squad does click together then they have the potential blow any team out the park. It was also this very squad that managed to get to the quarter finals of the last World Cup in 2014, before losing to eventual finalist Argentina in extra-time.
Other teams that could go all the way if they manage to get to latter stages of the tournament are Uruguay, France, Senegal and possibly host nation Russia if home ground advantage means anything these days.
The No Hopers – England
The perennial underachievers who even their own countries won’t be expecting much from and will have neutrals or non-football watchers asking “aren’t they supposed to be good at football?”
Leading this pack must be England with their fellow underachievers the Netherlands and Italy not even qualifying for the tournament at all.
England have a youthful squad and, with manager Gareth Southgate, they are finally breaking some of the traditional shackles of the past. However, this is still England at a major tournament, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them exit early. A favourable group draw means they should at least qualify to the round of 16 or possibly the quarter finals. But going further than that would be a shock if not a miracle.
Others that you might consider big names with no real hope of major success would be Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and Croatia.
The Also Runs
The rest of the pack that always seem to qualify for the tournament but never really make it anywhere: Japan, South Korea, Australia, Nigeria, Mexico, Columbia, Poland, and Serbia.
If we were to choose one to follow from here it would be Nigeria, for no reason other than that they are African and because their wardrobe and kit designs for this tournament have been nothing short of fabulous.
The ‘We’re Just Happy To Be Here’ Teams
These teams could just consider themselves fortunate just to be there, and maybe if we are lucky they could cause a major upset here or there.
Iran, Egypt, Morocco, Costa Rico, Panama, Tunisia, Peru, Iceland and Saudi Arabia are all nations that have already surpassed expectations by simply qualifying.
Enjoy the trip lads, have fun and who knows, maybe you’ll give your countries something to shout about.
The Great African Hope – Senegal
African teams don’t have a great record at World Cup tournaments, only Cameron (1990), Nigeria (1998), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) have ever made it as far as the quarterfinals.
Still there is some hope that this tournament could be different.
With Egypt sweating on the fitness of their major star, Mohamed Salah, and Morocco having to negotiate Spain and Portugal just to qualify from their group. The hope to see a ‘Ghana-style’ run in this tournament will surely fall on Senegal, Nigeria or Tunisia.
Nigeria do have the talent but a tough group draw and their inconsistent nature could see them struggle to qualify from their group. If they make it work, it would be fun to see how far they can go. The same could be said for Tunisia.
Of the five teams representing Africa, Senegal does seem in the best position to advance deep into the tournament.
Senegal skipped through qualification quite easily and a favourable group draw means they won’t meet any of the major tournament favourites until at least the quarter finals. If their stars, Sadio Mane (Liverpool FC – England) and Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli – Italy) can hit form and galvanise belief during the group stages, Africa could have cause for celebration this time around.
Player to Watch Out For – Neymar (Brazil) & Eden Hazard (Belgium)
Neymar (Brazil), Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) will again be the focus of the tournament with all of them fit and again in incredible form going into the tournament. However, it is Neymar that will feel he has the most to prove after the disappointment of Brazil 2014, and if his form during the pre-tournament friendlies is anything to go by he is hungrier than ever to lead Brazil to their first title since 2002.
Edin Hazard of Belgium is another player the world will be expecting big things from and, if Belgium are going to finally fulfil their undoubted potential, Hazard will need to put in big performances.
For Africa, it’s all about whether Mohamed Salah will be fit enough to make a big impact. After setting the English Premier League alight last season and spearheading Liverpool FC’s drive to the final of the UEFA Champions League, if he is fit and firing, then anything is possible for the Pharaohs.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
When all is said and done the best outcome we can hope for from this year’s 2018 FIFA World Cup is the unexpected. New stars will be born, old stars will fade, sure favourites will disappoint and underdogs will surprise us.
This is the way it should be. This is the great attraction of such a sporting festival and in the end history will again be made in whichever way.
Let’s hope the African boys can do us proud and give us cause for celebration in the next month and a half.
ADDED EXTRA – Best Application to Follow the Action
If you are looking for the a great portal to gain info and keep updated with all the scores and highlights, Established Africa will be posting daily fixtures, results and round up’s throughout the tournament via our Twitter feed and webpage.
Alternatively we would recommend that you download the official FIFA World Cup app. It’s free, easy to use and available in all the major operating systems.