World Cup gets underway this week, with all eyes on Russia as the country readies to stage the greatest show on earth.
Of course, any World Cup would not be compete without a distinctively corny/glamorous opening ceremony to kick things off.
Here, we provide you with what you need to know.
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WARNING: ONE HOUR TILL KICK OFF.
Is it just me or does seeing Slaven Bilic on the ITV World Cup panel remind them of this beauty?
Don’t let us down, Slav.
They’re ready to go. Are you? #WC2018
He might have missed a second straight day of training due to a minor niggle but Marcus Rashford still seems in pretty good spirits, if his Twitter is anything to go by.
He was filmed a couple of weeks ago, walking and doing keepy-uppys simultaneously.
Now he’s tweeted a video of him doing it at a younger age.
Safe to say, injury or not, he’s delighted to be out in Russia with England.
Even England have won a World Cup game more recently than these two!
Will either of these sides break their long-awaited run for victory at a World Cup?
Excited yet or do I still have to try harder?
Less than an hour till World Cup 2018 coverage starts on ITV 1!
And for those of you still wanting to learn more about VAR and what it’s going to look like during this World Cup, check Andrew Griffin’s article here:
On the theme of referees, this World Cup is set to be the first ever to utilise the VAR system.
For those who have avoided football all season long, that is Video Assistant Referee which gives officials the chance to see certain moments they missed during the live action.
Despite the marked improvement in decision making, it’s had criticism for lack of communication with fans and disrupting the flow of games, but, do you think it’s a good addition to the World Cup?
Let us know in the comments section below!
Under 2 hours now before ITV start their coverage of today’s opening World Cup game.
Former Premier League referee, Mark Clattenburg, who’s been in Saudi Arabia this year, has given a bit of insight into what to expect from them today.
Are Madrid deliberately trying to troll the National team?
He may have struggled during his four games in charge of Crystal Palace but Frank de Boer is back, but in a different format.
Here he is writing for the
Independent about his time with Netherlands at the ’98 World Cup.
Back to England news and it’s disappointing for Manchester United and Marcus Rashford fans.
The 20-year-old, who scored England’s first goal in their most recent victory against Costa Rica has missed training for a second straight day.
It’s not been the best morning for Andrey.
He just read Jack Pitt-Brooke’s article outlining Russia’s shortcomings before Arsenal’s fixtures were announced…
Manchester City at home and Chelsea away to start the Premier League 18/19 campaign.
Still not excited yet? Want a bit more knowledge to show off to friends?
Ahead of the 21st World Cup,
put together 21 stats sure to impress, including fastest goal, highest number of red cards and even furthest miles travelled to qualify.
And there’s one regarding the ‘longest gap between successive titles’: Can England change that?
The England squad paying their respects this morning, one year on from the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Looking past today’s opener, I’m sure a lot of you are excited about tomorrow night’s clash between Portugal and Spain.
If, like me, you’ve got Spain in your sweepstake, and are still reeling from yesterday’s incredible news of Julen Lopetegui’s sacking, read Miguel Delaney’s piece on the decision.
It probably won’t make you feel any better, but it’s still a good read!
So why are Russia the lowest ranked side in the World Cup?
Check out the
Independent’s very own Jack Pitt-Brooke who details their problems here:
Meanwhile, things haven’t been much better for Russia’s opponents, Saudi Arabia.
The Green Falcons have lost their last three friendlies although two of them were respectable 2-1 defeats against Italy and Germany.
Sandwiched between them was a demolition job as Peru put them to the sword, winning 3-0.
And off the pitch, things don’t look much rosier with two managers fired since qualifying for their fifth World Cup.
So, as far as calling today’s game is concerned, I’ll sit firmly on the fence.
But what about the teams themselves?
We’ll start with Russia who go into today’s opening game as the lowest rank side in the competition, 70th in Fifa’s official standings.
Perhaps automatic qualification as hosts has played its part in that, but, with no victory in their last five, and none since October 2017, ambition has faded for the 2008 European Championship semi-finalists.
The first game of the World Cup sees Russia face Saudi Arabia at 16:00, but, before then, it’s the small matter of the Opening Ceremony.
Around 500 dancers, gymnasts and trampolinists will represent all things Russian before a closing firework display.
And, England’s very own Robbie Williams will be performing alongside young Russian artist Aida Garifullina.
The former Take That star said: “I’ve done a lot in my career, and opening the FIFA World Cup to 80,000 football fans in the stadium and many millions all over the world is a boyhood dream.”
What time is the World Cup opening ceremony?
The curtain will be raised at 3:30pm (BST) on Thursday 14 June, just 30 minutes before the opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
World Cup 2018 Russia stadiums
1/12 Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
2/12 Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg
3/12 Fisht Stadium, Sochi
4/12 Ekaterinburg Arena, Ekaterinburg
5/12 Kazan Arena, Kazan
6/12 Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
7/12 Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
8/12 Samara Arena, Samara
9/12 Mordovia Arena, Saransk
10/12 Volgograd Stadium, Volgograd
11/12 Spartak Stadium, Moscow
12/12 Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
Where is it taking place?
Moscow‘s Luzhniki Stadium will host the opening ceremony. A concert will also run concurrently in Moscow’s famous Red Square.
What will the opening ceremony involve?
Robbie Williams. What more could you ask for? I’ve got my fingers crossed for ‘Rock DJ’, ‘Let me entertain you’ and ‘Feel’. Absolute classics.
Dancers, gymnasts and trampolinists will also be performing in an opening ceremony that will pay homage to all things Russian, as you’d imagine.
2018 World Cup group-by-group guide
1/33 Who’s qualified for the 2018 World Cup?
2/33 Group A: Russia
Coach:Stanislav Cherchesov Star player:Fyodor Smolov World Cup best:First round 1994, 2002, 2014 (Soviet Union finished fourth in 1966) Russia qualified automatically as hosts and will be desperate to improve their poor recent record at major tournaments. They have not won a match since Euro 2012 and, since the break up of the Soviet Union, have not progressed from the World Cup group stage.
3/33 Group A: Saudi Arabia
Coach:Edgardo Bauza Star player:Mohammad Al-Sahlawi World Cup best:Second round 1994 After qualifying for four consecutive tournaments between 1994 and 2006, Saudi Arabia missed out in 2010 and 2014 but are back after finishing ahead of Australia in their qualifying group.
4/33 Group A: Saudi Arabia
Coach:Hector Cuper Star player:Mohamed Salah World Cup best:First round 1934, 1990 Egypt will make only their third appearance at a World Cup finals and their first since 1990 after booking their place in Russia with victory over Congo. Runners-up to Cameroon in this year’s African Nations Cup.
5/33 Group A: Uruguay
Coach:Oscar Tabarez Star player:Luis Suarez World Cup best:Winners 1930, 1950 Uruguay’s last World Cup campaign was overshadowed by Suarez’s bite on Giorgio Chiellini and expulsion from the tournament but they qualified impressively for Russia and possess undoubted firepower.
6/33 Group B: Portugal
Coach:Fernando Santos Star player:Cristiano Ronaldo World Cup best:Third place 1966 Portugal enjoyed a real battle with Switzerland for automatic qualification but came out on top. Looking to continue their unbeaten run at tournaments after winning their first major title at Euro 2016.
7/33 Group B: Spain
Coach:Julen Lopetegui Star player:Isco World Cup best:Winners 2010 The previously all-conquering Spanish suffered the ignominy of group stage exits at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship. The squad has seen evolution rather than revolution.
8/33 Group B: Morocco
Coach:Herve Renard Star player:Medhi Benatia World Cup best:Second round 1986 Well-travelled coach Renard will have relished beating his former employers Ivory Coast to top spot in a tough qualifying group. The North Africans are back at the finals for the first time since 1998.
9/33 Group B: Iran
Coach:Carlos Queiroz Star player:Sardar Azmoun World Cup best:First round 1978, 1998, 2006, 2014 This will be Iran’s fourth appearance from the last six World Cup finals, but their only victory came against the USA in 1998. Won their final qualifying group ahead of South Korea.
10/33 Group C: France
Coach:Didier Deschamps Star player:Antoine Griezmann World Cup best:Winners 1998 Knocked out in the quarter-finals in 2014, France have built a hugely impressive squad and will hope to make up for their near miss on home soil in Euro 2016, when they lost in the final to Portugal.
11/33 Group C: Australia
Coach:N/A Star player:Aaron Mooy World Cup best:Second round 2006
Completing a quintet of qualifiers from the Asian groups, Australia conquered Honduras over two play-off legs. Were pointless at Brazil 2014 and long-serving talisman Tim Cahill is on the wane.
12/33 Group C: Peru
Coach:Ricardo Gareca Star player:Jefferson Farfán World Cup best:Quarter-finals 1970 Will be appearing at their first World Cup since 1982 after they beat New Zealand 2-0 on aggregate in the play-offs.
13/33 Group C: Denmark
Coach:Age Hareide Star player:Christian Eriksen World Cup best:Quarter-finals 1998 After missing out in 2014, Eriksen propelled Denmark back to the World Cup finals with a hat-trick in their play-off victory over the Republic of Ireland. The Danes failed to get out of their group on their last appearance in 2010.
14/33 Group D: Argentina
Coach:Jorge Sampaoli Star player:Lionel Messi World Cup best:Winners 1978, 1986 A nervy qualification campaign saw one of world football’s great powers book their place at the last opportunity with victory over Ecuador but the losing finalists in 2014 will be looking to go one better.
15/33 Group D: Iceland
Coach:Heimir Hallgrimsson Star player:Gylfi Sigurdsson World Cup best:Debut The smallest nation by population ever to qualify for the World Cup finals, Iceland followed up their Euro 2016 heroics by topping a group featuring Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey.
16/33 Group D: Croatia
Coach:Zlatko Dalic Star player:Luka Modric World Cup best:Third place 1998 Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic make for one of the best creative midfields in the tournament but they have failed to make it out of their group on their last three appearances since reaching the semi-finals at France 98.
17/33 Group D: Nigeria
Coach:Salisu Yusuf Star player:Victor Moses World Cup best:Second round 1994, 1998, 2014 A very impressive qualifying campaign booked Nigeria’s place in Russia. The Super Eagles have only missed one of the last seven tournaments but 2014’s victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina was their first since 1998.
18/33 Group E: Brazil
Coach:Tite Star player:Neymar World Cup best:Winners 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002 The five-time champions were the first team other than hosts Russia to qualify for the tournament after a very impressive campaign. Brazil have not made a World Cup final since their last title in 2002.
19/33 Group E: Switzerland
Coach:Vladimir Petkovic Star player:Xherdan Shaqiri World Cup best:Quarter-finals 1934, 1938, 1954 Qualified for their fourth straight World Cup by beating Northern Ireland in a play-off via a controversial penalty. They have made it out of their group in two of the previous three and that will be the minimum aim this time around.
20/33 Group E: Costa Rica
Coach:Oscar Ramirez Star player:Keylor Navas World Cup best:Quarter-finals 2014 Finished second in CONCACAF qualifying, with the highlight being a 4-0 victory over the United States. Will be hard pushed to match their 2014 performance, when they beat Italy, Uruguay and Greece before losing to Holland on penalties.
21/33 Group E: Serbia
Coach:Mladen Krstajic (caretaker) Star player:Nemanja Matic World Cup best:First round 2010 (Yugoslavia finished fourth in 1930 and 1962, Serbia and Montenegro reached the second round in 1998) Qualifying for a first major tournament since the 2010 World Cup was not enough to save manager Slavoljub Muslin from the sack. Finished top of a group featuring the Republic of Ireland and Wales.
22/33 Group F: Germany
Coach:Joachim Low Star player:Toni Kroos World Cup best:Winners 2014 (West Germany were champions in 1954, 1974 and 1990) The reigning champions qualified in style, winning all 10 of their games, scoring 43 goals and conceding only four. Their golden generation is ageing but remains a force and has been enhanced by young blood.
23/33 Group F: Mexico
Coach:Juan Carlos Osorio Star player:Javier Hernandez World Cup best:Quarter-finals 1970, 1986 Mexico are traditionally the strongest team in the CONCACAF region and again qualified comfortably. They have reached the second round at the last six tournaments without once going further.
24/33 Group F: Sweden
Coach:Janne Andersson Star player:Andreas Granqvist World Cup best:Runners-up 1958 They may be missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic but Sweden qualified for their first World Cup since 2006 with a play-off win over four-time champions Italy. They also finished above Holland in a tough qualifying group which was headed by France.
25/33 Group F: South Korea
Coach:Shin Tae-yong Star player:Son Heung-min World Cup best:Fourth place 2002 South Korea qualified for their ninth consecutive World Cup finals despite an indifferent campaign. They have only won two matches since finishing fourth as co-hosts in 2002.
26/33 Group G: Belgium
Coach:Roberto Martinez Star player:Kevin De Bruyne World Cup best:Fourth place 1986 Unbeaten in qualifying, Belgium’s hugely talented squad will be hoping to build on their quarter-final appearance four years ago having reached the same stage at Euro 2016.
27/33 Group G: Panama
Coach:Hernan Dario Gomez Star player:Gabriel Torres World Cup best:Debut Panama have been edging closer to reaching the World Cup finals for the first time in recent tournaments and crossed the line this time thanks to a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Costa Rica in their final qualifier.
28/33 Group G: Tunisia
Coach:Nabil Maaloul Star player:Wahbi Khazi World Cup best:Group stage 1978, 1998, 2002, 2006 After appearing at three consecutive finals without winning a single group game, Tunisia missed the last two editions. Unbeaten in qualifying, they defeated DR Congo to Russia by a point, with a last-round draw against Libya proving enough for a squad compromised largely of Tunisia-based players.
29/33 Group G: England
Coach:Gareth Southgate Star player:Harry Kane World Cup best:Winners 1966 A comfortable qualification campaign did nothing to boost optimism for England’s chances in Russia. A first major tournament in charge for Southgate, with the Three Lions having failed to reach the quarter-finals at the last two World Cups.
30/33 Group H: Poland
Coach:Adam Nawalka Star player:Robert Lewandowski World Cup best:Third place 1974, 1982 Poland are back at the World Cup finals for the first time since 2006 after comfortably topping their qualifying group. The last time they progressed beyond the group stages was 1986.
31/33 Group H: Senegal
Coach:Aliou Cisse Star player:Sadio Mane World Cup best:Quarter-final 2002 The surprise package at the 2002 World Cup – they memorably beat hosts France – Senegal missed three editions of the tournament before securing their return by beating South Africa in a replayed group match. The original result was annulled after referee Joseph Lamptey was expelled by FIFA.
32/33 Group H: Colombia
Coach:Jose Pekerman Star player:Radamel Falcao World Cup best:Quarter-finals 2014 Colombia’s star has waned a little since their brilliant showing in 2014, when they reached the last eight and were narrowly and controversially beaten by Brazil. Finished fourth in South American qualifying.
33/33 Group H: Japan
Coach:Vahid Halilhodzic Star player:Shinji Kagawa World Cup best:Second round 2002, 2010 Will be appearing at their sixth consecutive World Cup finals after winning their qualification group. Did not win any of their three group games at the 2014 tournament.
“I’m so happy and excited to be going back to Russia for such a unique performance,” Williams said.
“I’ve done a lot in my career, and opening the
FIFA World Cup to 80,000 football fans in the stadium and many millions all over the world is a boyhood dream.
“We’d like to invite football and music fans to party with us in Russia, in the stadium, or to tune in their TVs a little earlier for an unforgettable show.”
Russia soprano Aida Garifullina will also be joining the English singer for what Fifa has described as a “musical extravaganza”. This means it must be good.
Pianist Denis Matsuev will be joined by global opera stars Anna Netrebko, Yusif Eyvazov, Roberto Alanya, Ildar Abdrazakov, Aida Garifullina and Albina Shagimuratova for the concert at Moscow’s Red Square.
How can I watch it?
ITV 1 are broadcasting the opening match so will be showing the opening ceremony.
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