Football is no ordinary sport. It is an experience that involves every possible human emotion. Matches can turn into clashes in the blink of an eye and such clashes can have far-reaching consequences on and off the field. Therefore, hosting the world’s most popular sporting event is not only a oppurtunity Russia has been waiting for but it also entails real risks for the Russian government. In previous tournaments, football has become a backdrop for political and social protests. In Brazil in 2014, President Dilma Rousseff was regularly booed when she appeared at matches—a sign of the growing unpopularity that eventually lead to her impeachment and removal from office in 2016. Having said that, it can be fair to say that Russia though is a far more tightly controlled and less democratic country than Brazil.
The FIFA WORLD CUP 2018 has started on a positive note with about 2.5 million tickets already been sold for matches featuring 32 teams, which kicks off in 11 cities across Russia starting in Moscow on June 14th. This will be the penultimate World Cup with 32 nations. From 2026 onwards there will be 48 teams.
At every major tournament there is always room for a dark horse to upset the established order and the Qualifiers leading up to the World Cup has already given us a glimpse as to what lies ahead. Iceland are the smallest nation to qualify for a World Cup (just 334,000 inhabitants). The Netherlands having made the most World Cup appearances without ever winning it won’t get a chance to do so in Russia. Italy failed to qualify for the first time since 1958 and are the only previous winners not to qualify.
Germany are favourites to defend their crown in Russia having breezed through qualifications. Euro 2016 runners-up France are also considered front-runners for World Cup glory, and Belgium are a notch ahead than group rivals England according to some. The 2010 world champions Spain have gone 16 games unbeaten under Julen Lopetegui since their Euro 2016 exit to Italy and one can never write off the Brazilians. Every team will have their eyes set on the trophy and the $38 million in prize money.
Russia on its part wants to make it the Best ever World Cup Tournament and is doing everything it can to make it a grand experience for the fans. It has come up with an innovation called the Fan-ID. A Fan-ID holder is allowed to enter the country without having a Russian visa and stay for the duration of the global football tournament. Fan-IDs are obligatory, in addition to purchased tickets, in order to attend matches of the 2018 World Cup tournament in Russia.
The World Cup is expected to cost Russia close to $12 billion and the Putin government will see the World Cup as a chance to reintroduce Russia to the world, and particularly to the television audiences amid all the bad press that Russia has been getting. The Russian government will hope that foreigners will look beyond the political controversies and enjoy the country’s rich culture, as well as some of its less-discovered second-tier cities, such as Kazan and Samara.