Hard to believe it’s finally about to start. The very first World Cup game starts at 8:00 on Thursday June 14th in Luzhniki Stadium and it ends there too on Sunday July 15th. And at the end of it all, only one country is left smiling! Anyways on with my last group review: Group H. How do they stack up?
-Poland (10)- Poland has a football success that usually is strong one quadrennial, weak another. This time around, it looks like Poland has its strongest team in decades. They topped their World Cup qualification en route to Russia. They’ve even produced a superstar in Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.
Poland is not just Lewandowski. There’s also midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski and defender Lukasz Piszczek. The team features a good mix of young and older talent. They were very impressive in World Cup qualifying. The team has had some notable wins in the past year against Lithuania and South Korea, but they’ve also had 1-0 losses to Nigeria and Mexico. Russia 2018 is yet another chance for Poland to seize the moment.
-Senegal (28)- 2002 seems like a memory. It was Senegal’s first World Cup and they surprised defending champions France in the opening game of that World Cup and en route to going to the quarterfinals. They’ve failed to return to the World Cup scene until now. They hope to show the world they still have what it takes.
After 16 long years, The Lions Of Teranga come back via coach Aliou Cisse who played for that Senegalese team in the World Cup. Most of the players play for teams with the Premier League or France’s Ligue 1 or Ligue 2. Senegal have had some noteworthy wins in the last year such as to South Africa and South Korea. However they’ve also lost recently to Croatia 2-1 and also had a scoreless draw against Bosnia. Senegal returns to the World Cup stage here in Russia with lots to prove.
-Colombia (16)- This appears to be a new era in Colombian football. They first had a chance in the 90’s to make a name for themselves at the World Cup, but poor performances marred by political strife in their country prevented that from happening. Then they made a return to the World Cup scene in 2014. There they made it to the quarterfinals for the first time ever. On top of that, striker James Rodriguez won the Golden Boot for scoring six goals.
Rodriguez is back, along with midfielder Carlos Sanchez, striker Radamel Falcao and Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina. Colombia has had some recent noteworthy wins such as 3-2 against France and 4-0 against China. However they’ve also lost 2-1 against Paraguay and 2-1 against South Korea. Chances are Colombia can go further than they ever have here in Russia 2018.
-Japan (60)- Japan is one Asian country that has been struggling to show how talented their team is. The Samurai Blue have made it to the Round of 16 in 2002 (which they co-hosted) and 2010, but that’s as far as they’ve ever gotten. Japan has produced a boom in football back with the boost of the J-League in the 90’s but they’re still waiting for their big moment. Sure, they’ve won many AFC Asian Cups in the past, but they feel they have more to prove internationally.
This past year has had its ups and downs for Japan. They recently won against Paraguay 4-2 and won against Australia 2-0. However they’ve had some notable losses to Brazil 3-1, Switzerland 2-0 and Belgium 1-0. Remember anything can happen in World Cup play and Japan could just surprise everybody during Russia 2018.
So that’s my summary of the Group H teams. As for the two I feel will advance, I will have to go with Poland and Colombia.
ST. PETERSBURG: Krestovsky Stadium (Saint-Petersburg Stadium)
Year Opened: 2017
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, B, D, E,
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Semi-final, bronze-medal match
Situated on Krestovsky Island in St. Petersburg, this stadium is not just known for its design, but its enormous cost to construct: an estimated $1.1 billion! It is considered one of the most expensive stadiums ever built. The high cost had a lot to do with a delayed civic loan, wind damage and flooding to materials and a withdrawal of a major corporate funder. Its opening in 2017 is nine years later than expected. The design of the stadium is based on Japanese designer Kisho Kurokawa’s ‘ Spaceship’ design. The stadium is situated where the old Kirov Stadium used to be. After the World Cup, the stadium will be the host venue for FC Zenit St. Petersburg.
MOSCOW: Luzhniki Stadium
Year Opened: 1956
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, B, C, F
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Semi-final, Final match
This stadium has an immense amount of history with it. Actually during the days of the USSR, it used to be known as Central Lenin Stadium. After the collapse of the USSR and the doing away of Communism, the stadium has been named after the Luzhniki district it’s situated in. During the days of the USSR, the stadium was the centrepoint of the national Spartakiad sports celebrations. It was also the host venue for the 1980 Summer Olympics, 1973 Summer Universiade and 1986 Goodwill Games. Since the fall of Communism and the emergence of the Russian Federation, the stadium has hosted the 1999 UEFA Cup Final, 2008 UEFA Champions League Final and the 2013 World Championships In Athletics.
The stadium has had three renovations in the past. The most recent being before the Confederations Cup in preparation for the World Cup. World Cup renovations include a demolishing of the old stadium to have a new stadium with enclosure. The self-supported wall and facade of Lenin Stadium was maintained. New construction allowed the stadium to be connected to a main building. After the World Cup, the stadium will be the host venue for the Russian national team.
And that does it! This is the last of my group previews for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Hard to believe the opening ceremonies are 24 hours away, give or take. One thing for sure is that it will deliver a full month of excitement and surprises.
I just bought the official guide to the World Cup. It gives a lot of fact and figures and trivia. Some World Cup trivia facts are worth knowing, like who scored the most goals or who achieved the fastest red card. Others, not really. Anyways enough of that. Let’s get back to reviewing the World Cup. Today it’s Group F:
-Germany (1)- Germany appear to be the clear favorites after their World Cup win in 2014. There doesn’t seem to be anything that appears to hinder them. However the defending champion teams have had a history of bad luck at the World Cup. The last time a team successfully defended their World Cup was back in 1962. The last time the defending champion made it to the final was in 1998. Also let’s keep in mind that three of the last four defending champion teams were ousted in the group stage. Germany looks like one team that won’t let it happen. The last time Germany finished outside the Top 8 was all the way back in 1938. However don’t rely on statistics.
Anyways the Mannschaft have been playing very well since their win in 2014. Upon the retirement of many vets after the Cup, coach Joachim Loew has had to train some new talent. They won the Confederations Cup for the first time ever last year. They also got as far as the semifinals at Euro 2016. However they did expose a weakness in their quarterfinal win against Italy when three of the players missed penalty shots: uncharacteristic for a team with a near-perfect record. Germany has delivered a lot of impressive wins like 6-0 over Norway, 4-1 over Mexico and 2-1 over Chile. However Germany ‘s 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia is its first win since World Cup qualification. They even lost 1-0 to Brazil and 2-1 over Austria. Chances are they could just come alive again at the World Cup. They’ve always been together at every World Cup and I’m sure Russia 2018 will be no exception.
-Mexico (15)- Mexico is frequently seen as a sleeping giant in football. They’re a team loaded with talent waiting for their big breakthrough. Sure, they’ve qualified for the knockout stage in every World Cup they’ve played in since 1986, but 1986 was the first and only time Mexico won a knockout game. You can bet Mexico’s hoping to finally get their breakthrough.
El Tricolor have had ups and downs these past four years. They won the 2015 CONCACAF Championship but finished third in 2017. They also finished fourth at last year’s Confederations Cup. However at the last two Copa Americas, the best they could do was the quarterfinals. Their track records this past year has been good. They’ve had good wins like 3-0 against Iceland, 1-0 against Poland and 3-1 against Ireland. They even delivered a strong 3-3 draw against Belgium. However they’ve had some noteworthy losses such as 1-0 against Croatia and 4-1 against Germany. Anything is possible in 2018 and Mexico could rise to the occasion.
-Sweden (23)- If there’s one team that can cause an upset, it’s Sweden. During World Cup qualifying, the Top 2 teams from UEFA’s Group A were expected to be France and the Netherlands. France did come out of top, but Sweden finished ahead of the Netherlands on goal differentials. Sweden was drawn to play against Italy for the playoff berth. I’m sure everyone expected Italy to win it. However a goal from Jakob Johansson in the 61st minute of the first game and a scoreless second game meant Italy will miss out on the World Cup for the first time since 1958. Never underestimate the Swedes.
You can bet the Blagult will be ready. The big shock is that Jakob Johansson who delivered the berth-winning goal will not be in Russia. Neither will its superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic as he retired from the national team after Euro 2016. Now the most capped man on the Swedish team is Hull City’s Sebastian Larsson. Since 2017, Sweden has delivered notable wins such as 3-2 against Portugal, 2-1 against France, and of course their 1-0 surprise over Italy. However they’ve had some notable losses like 2-0 against the Netherlands, 2-1 over Chile and 1-0 against Romania. However never rule Sweden out. If they can upset the Netherlands and Italy in qualifying, they could create an upset in Russia 2018.
-Korea Republic (South Korea) (61)- There’s no doubt that South Korea is the top team in Asia. It has a record of consistency with qualifying for every World Cup since 1986. They come to Russia hoping to make a good impression, but most experts don’t have too high of expectations for them. Which is surprise since they were finalists at the last Asian Cup and even won last year’s East Asian Cup. I think they get the ranking because they didn’t win a game at the last World Cup. Actually no AFC team won a single game at the last World Cup.
Most of the lineup plays for Korea’s K League 1. Only four play for European teams. Since 2017, the team has had some remarkable wins like 2-1 over Colombia and 4-1 over Japan. However the team has had some noteworthy losses like 3-1 to Bosnia, 4-2 to Russia and 3-2 to Poland. Chances are South Korea could rise to the occasion again. They just have to prove it in Russia.
And those are my thoughts on Group F. As for predicting which two will move onto the knockout round, I think it will be Germany and Mexico. Those are my best hunches.
Just four more stadiums to go. As we get closer, the stadiums will get bigger. Interesting how the World Cup will show us big cities in Russia we never knew about. In fact I never knew about this city until I learned of the stadium.
Rostov-On-Don: Rostov Arena
Year Opened: 2018
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, D, E, F
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16
The most interesting thing about the stadium is that soon after ground broke, five shells from World War II were found in June 2013 and they were in near-perfect condition! The stadium is noteworthy for its irregular shape of roofing and stands. Its lighting at night is definitely a spectacle to watch. The stadium is part of major city development of Rostov-on-Don. This is the first project built on the southern bank of the Don River. Built close to shopping and dining areas, the stadium will serve as a focal point for investments and new developments. After the Cup, the seating will be reduced to 42,000 and will serve as the home venue for FC Rostov.
And there’s my summary of Group F. Only six more days to go. And two more groups and three more stadiums for me to review.
With the World Cup getting ever so closer, it’s time for another group review, along with another stadium review. Also this blog will give you an added bonus feature. Anyways lots to anticipate. Lots to focus on here.
-Brazil (2)- I’m not going to bring up the humiliation Brazil went through during the 2014 World Cup. I will say it has been an interesting four years since. The first two years were the hardest, but also very hopeful. Dunga had assumed the role as head coach and things looked promising, until the 2015 Copa America. There, they were ousted in the quarterfinals. For the next year, they struggled in international play and were even ranked low in World Cup qualifying. Then at the 2016 Copa America, another early ouster: in group play. With the Olympics coming soon, they changed to coach Tita, who was most experience in play and coaching with Brazil’s Campeopnato Brasiliero league. The change has worked to success. Brazil won gold at the 2016 Olympics and won every World Cup qualifying game since. Brazil would become the first team to qualify for this World Cup.
The Seleção’s success continues. It has not lost a game since the 2016 Copa America and even won a friendly against Germany 1-0. Brazil is one team coming to Russia not simply for victory, but redemption as well.
-Switzerland (6)- Switzerland is one team that’s been waiting long and hard for their big breakthrough. They have a lot to prove, but have often come up short. The last time they won a knockout game was back in 1938. Their best ever result is the quarterfinals which was last achieved in 1954 which they hosted. They’ve grown in talent and prowess in recent years. At the last World Cup, Xherdan Shaqiri delivered a hat trick en route to qualifying to the Round Of 16, but their trip to the Cup was ended by Argentina.
The Swiss team has had its strongest years in this past while. This is the fourth straight World Cup they’ve qualified for. The team features defender Stephan Lichtsteiner, midfielders Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka and striker Haris Seferovic. The team is coached by Bosnian Vladimir Petkovic. The Swiss team come to Russia with a good track record in this past year with wins against Hungary and Greece and a 1-1 draw against Spain. However they also had to endure a 2-0 loss to Portugal. Switzerland comes to Russia with a lot to prove.
-Costa Rica (25)- Costa Rica is a team that will surprise you when you least expect it. At the last World Cup, the team wound up in Group D where they would have to play Italy, Uruguay and England. Just about everybody, including myself, thought Coast Rica would be the team least likely to qualify. Instead they topped the Group with wins against Italy and Uruguay and drew against England. A win against Greece on penalties in the Round of 16 took them to the quarterfinals for the first-time ever. Despite losing to the Netherlands on penalties, Costa Rica defied all expectations and set a new standard for the team.
This year’s team features a new coach in Oscar Ramirez. Their star striker Bryan Ruiz from Sporting CP is back. Many of the team’s top players play for MLS. In the past year, Costa Rica has had good wins against Northern Ireland, Scotland and the US. However it’s had to endure losses to Hungary, Spain (5-0) and Tunisia. Who knows? 2018 could be another Cinderella story like 2014.
-Serbia (35)- Serbia is a national team that’s rather young: only 12 years old. Its national team may not have the experience as most of the teams present in Russia. However they’re a team of surprises. If you remember the 2010 World Cup, they won against Germany 1-0. The team of the former Yugoslavia has had way better success in the past; even going as far as fourth. Serbia hopes one day to emulate the past success. The team does show promise as they won the under-20 World Cup in 2015.
Possibly as a result of their win in 2015, seven players of the Serbian team were born in 1995 or later. The team also features top veterans like defenseman Branislav Ivanovic and goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic. In the past year, they’ve acquired notable wins against China, Ireland and Nigeria. However they’ve had notable losses to Morocco and Chile. Don’t rule Serbia out for 2018.
And there’s my rundown of the teams from Group E. As for who will qualify for the Round of 16, I believe it will be Brazil and Switzerland.
Moscow: Spartak Stadium (Okritie Arena)
Year Opened: 2014
World Cup Groups Hosting: D, E, G, H
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16
Spartak Stadium is one of two venues in Moscow that will be hosting matches for this World Cup. Its current name is Okritie Arena after the Russian Okritie Bank, but will be known as Spartak Stadium during the World Cup.
The stadium cost $430 million to build. Actually the second Moscow stadium that was planned for the World Cup was VTB Arena, which was to combine a soccer stadium and ice hockey rink all in one. Instead Spartak Stadium was build first and won the right to be an official venue. It was even one of the four venues that played host to last year’s Confederations Cup. After the World Cup, the stadium will be the host venue for FC Spartak Moscow and the Russian national team.
Stadiums aren’t the only thing I will be focusing on in this World Cup. I will also focus on other things unique to the World Cup. For this first bonus, I will be focusing on the official World Cup Ball.
Official Match Ball: Telstar 18
It’s a given that with each world Cup, Adidas delivers a match ball that is designed to take football technology to a new level. Some like 2014’s Brazuca are welcomed well. Some like 2010’s Jabulani hit a sour note with the players. For 2018, Adidas launches Telstar 18.
The ball was unveiled by Adidas on at its official presentation in Moscow on November 9, 2017 and it was Lionel Messi that announced the name. Telstar 18 plays tribute to the original Telstar ball (from 1970) which was Adidas’ first ever official World Cup ball. This Telstar ball features six textured panels that aren’t sewn together, but seamlessly glued together. The ball has an embedded near-field communication chip which allows the consumer to access information personalized from the ball and including interactivity themed on the upcoming World Cup.
And there you have it. That’s my review of the Group E teams. Only three more groups to go! Time sure does pass fast! Stay tuned!
The funniest thing about Group D is that Argentina and Nigeria are paired up again! Of the six times Nigeria has qualified for the World Cup, 1998 remains the only time they never had to face Argentina in the group stage! However it was Croatia that was with Argentina in that group stage. So much ridiculous trivia here! Actually one other legitimate piece of trivia is Group D features one of two teams making their World Cup debut. So for more on Group D, here I go:
-Argentina (5)- Argentina is one team at this year’s World Cup with the most accolades. Two World Cups, five World Cup finals appearances, fourteen Copa Americas, and legendary players like Mario Kempes, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. La Albiceleste however has garnered a reputation in the last few years of being a team of near-misses. They lost in the finals of the 2014 World Cup and four of the last five Copa America finals. This is especially biting for Lionel Messi. He’s had a career full of feats and achievements. However ever since he became part of the national team since 2005 at the age of 18, a major international trophy has been the one thing he’s never been able to win.
Argentina have been in struggle since the last World Cup. They’ve gone through three coaching changes and almost missed qualifying for the World Cup. It was nothing less than a win needed for their eighteenth-and-last qualifier match against Ecuador to get them in, and they did: 3-1. As for their World Cup chances, they look quite iffy. They have the talent with the likes of Messi, Javier Mascherano (who has more international caps than Messi), Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero. However they lack a strong defense. Their flaws have been exposed in the last two years upon losses to Spain 6-1 and Group D opponents Nigeria 4-2. However Argentina has delivered good wins like 1-0 against Russia, 1-0 against Brazil and 2-0 against Italy. World Cup 2018 is another test for the Argentinian team. Also Russia could be the place where Messi will either become the ‘best ever’ or the ‘best never.’
-Iceland (22)- Iceland is the team that keeps on surprising the world. Two years ago, they became the first team from a country with a population under 1 million to qualify for a European Championships, and they made it to the quarterfinals, beating England in the process! This time they become not only the first team from a country with a population under 1 million to qualify for a World Cup, but the first from a country under 500,000!
Iceland surprised everybody not just by qualifying for the World Cup, but topping their qualifying group in the process. Iceland proved the fire is still there after Euro 2016. However it appears the fire may have faded since the World Cup qualifying. Iceland’s only wins since have been against two Indonesian teams. They’ve since had to endure losses to Mexico, Peru, Norway and the Czech Republic. Chances are Icelandic fire can come back once they start play in Russia.
-Croatia (18)- Croatia is a team that has had a lot of hard luck over the past few years. There is less news copy about the playing prowess of the team and more copy about the team’s fans’ obnoxious behavior. And don’t get me started about the Euro 2016 game against the Czechs! Mind you, Vatreni is a team loaded with talent worth noticing.
The Blazers are coached by Zlatko Dalic who has come off of coaching mostly club teams in Croatia and the Arabian Peninsula. The team boasts of top players like midfielder Luka Modric, striker Mario Mandzukic and defenseman Vedran Corluka. Croatia has done well playing against European teams and even won against Mexico 1-0. However they’ve also lost to Peru 2-0 and Brazil 2-0 just recently. Croatia have what it takes to once again move to the knockout round and hopefully go far. World Cup 2018 could be the place where they’re finally back.
-Nigeria (47)- Nigeria may not be one of the three African teams that have gone as far as the quarterfinals at a World Cup. However the Super Eagles the only African team that has made it past the group stage in three World Cups. That’s a feat in itself along with three Africa Cup of Nations wins and four more Cup finals appearances.
The current team is coached by German Gernot Rohr who has been coaching African teams for the past eight years and features a wealth of talent young and old. Seven of the teams’ players play for teams in the Premier League. The team features forward Ahmed Musa (who plays for CSKA Moscow), midfielder John Obi Mikel and defenseman Elderson Echiejile. Sure, Russia 2018 may become the fifth time out of Nigeria’s six World Cup runs where they have to face Argentina in the group stage, but they have an advantage; they won in a friendly against the Argentines back in November: 4-2. However they’ve had some noticeable losses this year against Morocco 4-0, Serbia 2-0, and England 2-1. However they could all come together in Russia 2018 and go further than they ever had.
Now that I’m done summing up the teams, it’s time for me to predict the two I think will advance to the Round of 16. It’s a tough challenge, especially since all four have noticeable strengths and weaknesses, but I predict it will be Argentina and Nigeria. However don’t be surprised if it ends up the second qualifier is Iceland. Remember they beat Croatia in World Cup qualifying.
These past three reviews, I’ve reviewed two stadiums at once. I’ve already reviewed six out of the twelve so I’ll save my next double-review for Group H as I will review the stadiums staging the finals and semis. Save the best for last, right? So here’s my first solo stadium review for this World Cup:
VOLGOGRAD: Volgograd Arena
Year Opened: 2018
Capacity: 45, 568
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, D, G, H
Volgograd Arena may be one of the stadiums that’s brand-spanking new for Russia 2018, but it’s on familiar ground. The Arena’s ground is on what used to be the ground for Central Stadium which was opened back in 1962. It was the age of the stadium, FIFA demands and the ability to change capacities that led to the new Volgograd Arena. Its original expense was to be 10 billion Russian Rubles, but ended up being 17 billion Rubles, or $275 million US, in the end.
It has a unique shape where it’s shaped like an overhead truncated cone. The large roof, which rests over a cable frame, resembles a bicycle-wheel pattern through steel-wire cables. The stadium will have many features available to fans like navigation and information support, information, a storage room, and audio visual commentary for those with sight impairment. After the World Cup, the stadium is to be the host venue for local team FC Rotor Volgograd and host a fitness centre.
And there you have it again. Another World Cup group review. And another stadium review. More to come in the ten days leading up.
Group C may prove to be one of the groups that’s hardest to predict. Some may appear to be clear favorites or likely to be eliminated at the end, but don’t be so quick to judge. Don’t forget nobody expected Costa Rica to top Group D at the last World Cup. So without further ado, here’s my review of Group C:
-France (7)- Les Bleus has had a reputation of being an all-or-nothing team. France is never short on talent. The 2014 World Cup saw a lot of young French talent on the rise like Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezman. This World Cup’s team promises a big mix of the old and the new. The team is still coached by legend Didier Deschamps and are poised to perform very well, especially after the strength of making it to the finals of Euro 2016. France’s play since Euro 2016 has been consistent with wins against England and the Netherlands, but they have also lost to Sweden 2-1 and Columbia 3-2. 2018 is an opportunity for France to win their second World Cup. It’s a matter of them all being there and delivering.
-Australia (40)- When Australia made it to the Round of 16 at the 2066 World Cup, people were expecting more to come from the Socceroos. However they haven’t done as well as originally hoped. In fact they’re coming back from three straight losses in 2014. Not everything is down for Australia. They did win the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. Their play is still struggling to show. The only win against a team outside of Asia was against Honduras in a World Cup playoff.
Australia is coached by Bert van Marwijk who coached the Netherlands to the World Cup final. The team consists mostly of players from the Premier League and Australia’s A-League. 38 year-old Tim Cahill leads the team in what will be his fourth World Cup. The team has a good mix of young and old. Australia can provide another surprise again.
-Peru (11)- Ten of this year’s teams at this year’s World Cup had to wait longer than four years to return to the World Cup stage. Peru has had the longest wait of all: 36 years to be exact. Things have changed ever since they’ve been coached by Argentine Ricardo Gareca who was part of Argentina’s World Cup-winning team. The team consists of players whom play mostly for teams in North and South America. The players are a good mix of youth and experience with defenseman Alberto Rodriguez leading. Peru may have the most experience playing against South American teams, but they’ve had three wins this year against European teams like Croatia, Iceland and Scotland. Peru could be the surprise of the Cup.
-Denmark (12)- The last time the Danish Dynamite made it to the World Cup was back in 2010. There they didn’t advance past the group stage. Since then, they’re recently acquired Norwegian coach Åge Hareide. The team was able to qualify for the 2016 Olympics and finished in the quarterfinals. They’ve done very well having not lost a game since 2016. They’ve had some notable wins against teams like Ireland and Poland and even drew against Germany last year. Denmark’s current lineup consists of players mostly from the Premier League and Spain’s La Liga. Denmark looks poised to be one of the teams from Group C to advance. Russia will be their big test.
Now my prediction for the two that will advance. It’s a toughie but I believe it will be France and Peru that will advance.
Two more stadiums. Both in focus are at least five years old. Both were also built to host major events before this World Cup.
-KAZAN : Kazan Arena
Year Opened: 2013
World Cup Capacity: 45,379
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, C, F, H
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 & a quarterfinal
Kazan Arena was first build to host the 2013 World University Games. Kazan Arena has also hosted the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. The stadium has the largest outside screen in Europe and the largest LED installed on a football stadium in the World.
After the World Cup, Kazan Arena will be the home venue of team FC Rubin Kazan, replacing the 25,000-seat Central Stadium.
-SOCHI : Fisht Olympic Stadium
Year Opened: 2013
World Cup Capacity: 41,220
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, C, F, G
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (A1 vs. B2) & A quarterfinal
If you remember the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, you will remember this stadium very well. This is where the opening and closing ceremonies took place. You may also remember the hefty price tag of the Sochi Olympics. This stadium cost $779 million to build!
Names after Mount Fisht, the stadium was originally built to be an enclosed stadium, but has stayed an open-air stadium since 2016 in order to conform with FIFA rules. The stadium complex now serves as a training centre and match venue for the Russia national football team.
And there you have it. The four teams of Group C and two more stadiums. Less than two weeks to go!
The funny thing about World Cup draws is the surprises they end up having. The biggest surprise about Group B is how close the countries are to each other! As in 2014, Spain is in Group B. However their Iberian neighbors Portugal is in the same group! Their very first match of the Cup will be another episode in their Iberian rivalry and the first on the World Cup stage! Then there’s Morocco just underneath Spain. And Iran isn’t too many thousands of miles away. Actually I think Group B is the group with the least geographical separation! Here’s my take on the Group B teams:
-Portugal (4): The 21st century has seen the coming of age of The Navigators. Their biggest breakthrough came at the 2016 Euro where they went from drawing all their games to claiming the Cup in the end. This will prove to be an exciting World Cup as many believe this will be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last chance to try to win the World Cup, as he will be 37 by the time Qatar 2022 comes around.
Portugal is more than just Cristiano Ronaldo. There’s striker Ricardo Quaresma, midfielder Joao Moutimho and star defensemen Pepe and Bruno Alves. Portugal looks consistent leading up to the Cup. They’ve had a good record since their Euro win. However they’ve had some notable losses like 3-0 to The Netherlands back in March and 3-2 against Sweden last year. They’ve also had some noteworthy draws such as 1-1 to the US and 2-2 to Tunisia. Portugal could just be able to come back to action here in Russia.
-Spain (8): Things have been a real struggle for La Roja after the 2014 World Cup. The most notable being ousted in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016. It bit Spain so badly, Vicente del Bosque was sacked as team coach. They now have a new coach: Julen Lopetegui. He comes off of coaching Spain’s youth teams and Portugal’s Porto team. The change of coaching has worked very well. Spain came on top of the World Cup qualifying group. Spain have also not lost a match since Euro 2016 and even had a spectacular 6-1 win against Argentina back in March. However Spain has had some noteworthy draws like a 3-3 draw to Russia and a 1-1 draw to Germany. Much of that is due to Spain’s set of strikers being young and lacking experience.
Leading to Russia 2018, Spain will be led by captain Sergio Ramos; one of four players on the team with more than 100 caps. Spain’s team consists of all but seven players who play for La Liga. Spain also has a lot of strong midfielders in Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, and David Silva. Along with Ramos, Spain has Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba adding to their strong defense. 2018 can be another stellar year for Spain.
-Morocco (42): Nigeria may be most lauded African team but Morocco deserves some credit. They are the first African team to advance past the Group Stage; all the way back in 1986. This will be Morocco’s fourth World Cup and their first in 20 years. They were lackluster in play over the last two decades or they’d just pull a surprise and soon fade away during that time. That has changed since 2016 when they acquired French coach Herve Renard. Renard had coached Zambia to the 2012 African Nations Cup. Ever since Renard helped Morocco qualify for the World Cup, he’s signed with the team until 2022.
Morocco has had an impressive record these past two years. Despite losses like 2-1 to The Netherlands and 1-0 to Finland, they have scored notable wins like 2-1 against Serbia, 2-0 against the Ivory Coast and 3-1 against South Korea. Not too much is expected of Morocco with Spain and Portugal being favorites, but they could pull off an upset in Russia.
-Iran (36): This is Iran’s fifth World Cup. No doubt they’re hoping this will be their first where they make it past the group stage. Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz has been kept on as manager of Iran since 2011. He’s the coach that has coached the most games involving the national team. Most of the team’s players play for Iran’s Persian Gulf Pro League and Greece’s Superleague. Iran’s victories in the last while have been mostly to Asian teams. However they have drawn 1-1 against Russia and South Korea sending the message that they are capable of more than what most expect. Russia 2018 could just be their moment.
And there’s my look at the teams of Group B. As for who will advance to the Round of 16, I’m going to go with my best hunches and declare Spain and Portugal. However either Morocco or Iran could pull off a surprise.
Two ore stadiums added to the mix. Both will host four matches, all in the Group Stage. And both with host a Group Stage match for Group B. So without further ado:
-KALININGRAD: Kaliningrad Stadium
Year Opened: 2018
World Cup Capacity: 35,212
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, D, E, G
Kaliningrad Stadium is known for its unique location. It’s in the city of Kaliningrad which is part of the tiny Kaliningrad Oblast: a Russian Oblast bordered by Poland and Lithuania and situated over 400 miles west of the Russian mainland! It’s location at the Baltic Sea explains why Kaliningrad Stadium is also nicknamed Arena Baltika.
This new stadium wasn’t cheap. It came at a cost of € 257 million and had lost its original developer when it filed for bankruptcy in 2014. The stadium is located on Oktyabrsky Island and is expected to reduce its capacity to 25,000 after the World Cup. After the World Cup, the Stadium will serve as the host stadium for team FC Baltika Kaliningrad.
-SARANSK: Mordovia Arena
Year Opened: 2018
World Cup Capacity: 44,442
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, C, G, H
Like Kaliningrad Stadium, Mordovia Arena will also be practically fresh for the World Cup. However this World Cup Stadium is more about its design. The design is based on the image of the sun, the main symbol of ancient myths and legends of the Mordovian people. The stadium is situated around the Insar River and is part of a big land development for the city of Saransk. Part of the development includes a new residential neighborhood, a new park, and a space for recreation, public festivities and leisure activities.
The stadium has hotels, fan zones and attractions located within walking distance. After the World Cup, the stadium is expected to reduce its capacity after the World Cup to 28,000 and will serve as the host venue for team FC Mordovia Saransk. The stadium will also be turned into the largest sports, cultural and leisure center in Saransk and Mordovia.
So there you have it. Another Group Stage group summary and two more stadiums in the spotlight. More World Cup reviews coming.
It’s a given. Whenever there’s a Euro or a World Cup, I do a rundown of the teams that will be competing. Those of you who remember I did it for the 2014 World Cup, I’m back. As I did for 2014, I will again do a separate blog for each of the eight Group Stage groups. Once again, I will give a preview of the twelve stadiums that will be the stages for this event and save the stadium for the Grand Final for last. Now let’s start with Group A. For the record, my summary of the teams will be done in their drawn World Cup order rather than their FIFA ranking of May 2018. FIFA ranking of that month will appear in brackets.
-Russia (66)- Russia had its glory days on the World Cup scene back during the days of the USSR. Since the USSR dissolved in 1992, Russia has qualified for three World Cups but always ended its trip in the group stage. It’s been a frustration. They went through two top ranked Dutch coaches Guss Hiddink and Dick Advocaat and Italian coach Fabio Capello, but would always come up short. Just before Euro 2016, they went back to a Russian coach, Leonid Slutsky, but again fell out in the group stage. Since Euro 2016, they’ve stuck to having a Russian coach. This time it’s Stanislav Cherchesov whose managed Dynamo Moscow and Legia Warsaw in the past.
The Russian team still remain an enigma. Only three of the team’s players play for teams outside Russia. Their recent game results also come into question. They’ve played six games since the Confederations Cup, but only won one: against South Korea 4-2. They’ve since had to deal with losses to big-name teams like Argentina, Brazil and France. The world Cup draw is made so that the host nation doesn’t have that hard of a time to make it past the group stage. Russia’s chances look comfortable as Uruguay appears to be its only tough rival. How far Russia goes is up for the world to see.
-Saudi Arabia (67)- The Saudi team looked like it was heading to better times after they made it past the Round of 16 at World Cup 1994. However the big reluctance to export players to the bigger European clubs has always proved to be the biggest obstacle. The Saudi team would face an exit at the Group Stage during the next three World Cups.
Russia 2018 marks the first World Cup since 2006 with the presence of the Saudi team. All but three of their team members play for Saudi teams. The other three play for La Liga teams from Spain. As for play, Saudi Arabia does not have a very consistent record for the past year. Their biggest win this past year came through Greece. However they’ve also had to endure losses to Belgium, Iraq and Portugal. However anything’s possible in football and the Saudi’s could surprise in Russia.
-Egypt (46)- This is only the second time Egypt has been to the World Cup. The only other time is in 1990. However Egypt is ready to play well. They’ve hired Argentine coach Hector Cuper to coach the team. The team’s players play for various team in Egypt, Europe and the US. However many consider the heart and soul of the team to be led by 26 year-old Mohamed Salah who as a striker for Liverpool won 2017 CAF footballer of the year. Many see Salah as an emerging great and could boost team Egypt in the future.
Their record leading up to World Cup 2018 is very much in question. Their only wins this past year have come against African teams. Their last win against a team from outside Africa was Bosnia-Hercegovina back in 2014. This year they’ve faced losses to Portugal and Greece. Russia is another proving point for ‘The Pharoahs.’ They may be out in the group stage or they may surprise everyone.
-Uruguay (17)- This is the team from Group A that has the most clout. For a long time, Uruguay was seen as a team that was a blast from the past. Their biggest glory days came with World Cup wins in 1930 and 1950 and Olympic gold medals in 1924 and 1928. However a resurgence of Uruguay on the world scene starting with World Cup 2010 has catapulted the team back to the top of the world elite. It started with Diego Forlan and has now transferred to Luis Suarez. Uruguay’s stint at the 2014 ended in disgrace after Suarez was banned from nine games following a biting incident on an Italian player. And to think Chewy Louie was the player that infamously blocked a potential goal from Ghana at 2010.
Since the incident, Suarez has kept his promise of not ever biting another opponent. He has matured a lot as a player since and serves as Uruguay’s top star. However Uruguay is not just Suarez. The team also boasts another top striker in Edinson Cavani, midfielder Cristian Rodriguez and top defencemen Diego Godin and Maxi Pereira. Uruguay can prove themselves to be a top force to be reckoned with here in Russia.
So there’s my review of the first World Cup group. As for predictions, I’ll just settle for predicting the two countries that will advance past the Group Stage right now, and I predict it will be Russia and Uruguay.
Once again, I get to focus on the various stadia that are hosting the World Cup. I figure the arenas are worth talking about. Russia will have has twelve stadia that will facilitate for the World Cup including two in Moscow. Only three are older than ten years old. All are situated in the European cluster of Russia. Just like Brazil in 2014, Russia all twelve of the stadiums will hold four Group Stage matches but they will be matches for four different groups. Also just like in Brazil 2014, all six of the Group Stage games for each individual group will again be played in six different stadiums, and not all will be that close by. Once again, a lot of traveling around for the 32 teams in a huge cluster of a country. One of which, they will have to cross the border of Lithuania to play in.
It’s confusing, but no less confusing than Brazil 2014. Here I’ll give you my first taste of my Stadium Spotlight of 2018. Note that each stadium I show in my Stadium Spotlight feature will be a stadium that will contest Group Stage matches for each respective group. These two I will focus on will host Group Stage matches in Group A. So without further ado, here are the two stadiums in focus:
-YEKATERINBURG: Central Stadium
Year Opened: 1957
World Cup Capacity: 35,696
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, F, H
Central Stadium is one of only two stadiums at this World Cup that was built in the 20th Century. Though there’s no doubt they’ve had to undergo extensive renovations over the years including preparations for this year’s World Cup. Actually the arena was a stadium for speed skating. The shift to football and other sports have been the focus since the downfall of the USSR.
The stadium will have 12,000 temporary seats for the World Cup. After the World Cup, it will be the host venue for team FC Ural Yekaterinburg. In addition, there are plans to add a fitness centre and a Valeological centre.
-SAMARA: Cosmos Arena
Year Opened: 2018
World Cup Capacity: 42,374
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, E, H
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (E1 vs. F2) & a quarter-final
Cosmos is one of many stadiums built fresh for this World Cup. It came at a cost of $320 million. The building of the stadium was first meant to be built on an island close to the city, but the intended construction of a bridge, and the public’s uproar over its total expense, led it to be built in the north area of the city.
After the World Cup, it will be the host venue of team FC Krylia Sovetov Samara.
And there you go. My first preview of the World Cup teams and stadiums. Seven more groups and ten more stadiums to review before World Cup 2018 starts. Stay tuned for more.