WORLD CUP 2018

  • As host Russia battles S’Arabia in opening game in Moscow

Duro Ikhazuagbe

The long wait for the 2018 FIFA World Cup is almost over. All the 32 teams for this greatest football showpiece on the globe are here. We are just hours away from the official kick off of the Mundial when host Russia takes on Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow this evening.

All years of toil to get the facilities ready to host the world have culminated in the great spectacle, the football-loving world is about to witness. No other thing matters to aficionados of the football now if it is not related to the Beautiful Game.

Russian roulette? Perhaps, a real stunt it might turn out for the hosts. Since 2008 when they launched their bid to host this edition, their football was on the rise. They reached the semis stage of the 2008 European Championship before bowing out. Not anymore.

They are the least ranked of all the 32 teams here and may be no hoppers. But before the real gladiators take to the centre to regal the world with familiar skills, Russia have the chance to show off with the Saudi team that is the second lowest ranked team here. The game may not present the best of football expected at this summer show, it will no doubt serenade fans at the Luzhniki arena as these two minnows battle for the first three points of the 2018 World Cup.

The hosts have been hampered by injuries, with forward Alexander Kokorin and defenders Georgy Dzhikiya and Viktor Vasin missing the tournament due to knee problems.

“We’re realists,” said striker Artyom Dzyuba. “We’re not favourites to win the World Cup, but we want to get out of the group and we’re playing at home. We want to prove to everyone, and most of all to ourselves, that we can play football, so that the country can be proud of us.”

“We’re a football country, not just an ice hockey or basketball or volleyball country, but a football one too. And we’ll put every effort into getting out of the group, to start with, and we’ll only start fantasising after that.”

After the opening day match, the real first game that will put fans on the edges of their seats is the battle between Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and 2010 champions Spain on Friday. Of course, one of Africa’s five representatives Egypt, will file out against Uruguay while another team from the continent, Morocco takes on Iran.

Nigeria’s quest to progress to the knock out phase will be determined by the outcome of her opening game against star-studded Croatia on Saturday.

However, before the matches, the Russians have put up a 30-minute opening ceremony, which will feature Robbie Williams, Aida Garifullina and Brazil’s football legend, Ronaldo.