Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked, “who is favourite to win the world cup?”
Came the short answer.
But, even one of the most powerful person in the world must have known that his power as a political person may not prove sufficient to match his country’s best performance in the FIFA’s premier tournament—a fourth place finish in 1966 World Cup, as a Soviet Union.
They will have to conjure up something really special to get out of group stage and beyond Round of 16, let alone go all the way. Probably, something as shocking as Italy not qualifying for the FIFA World Cup.
Despite being an European country, Russia never really rose to the heights that awed football fans—not in Euro or in the World Cup.
Since 1991 after the division of the Soviet Union, the hosts have played just three World Cup finals -- 1994 (United States), 2002 (Korea and Japan) and 2014 (Brazil), and their performance hasn’t been worth remembering.
They have finished third on every single occasion, failing to break the group stage voodoo. Thus, reaching the Round of 16 would be, and should be the first and foremost aim for Russian coach Stanislav Cherchesov.
Can they progress?
Russia occupied the A1 spot in the World Cup draw as a hosts and will kick off the World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium on June 14 against Saudi Arabia.
It won’t really leave the football fans drooling apart from the fact that it marks the beginning of the football’s biggest event, as two of the lowest ranked teams will take on each other.
It is a kind of fixture in which Russia will fancy their chances but their recent run of poor outings might just make things little complicated.
The next up for the hosts will be Egypt (June 19), who qualified for the World Cup after 27 years.
It will be another one of those games where Russia will fancy that they can win the game.
Egypt, sweating over the shoulder injury of their star Mohamed Salah, too would look at this game as the one that will decide who will qualify for the next knockout round.
The last group game against Uruguay (June 25) is certainly going to be the tough one for not just hosts but for other two teams as well.
Anything but a defeat against Uruguayan side consisting of lethal strike pair of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani is a good result and it will certainly be the make or break point of the Group A.
The general feeling is that Uruguay will top the group and rest three scrambling to it to the knock out stage.
But, it’s just gets tougher from that point on, as either Spain or reigning European champions Portugal, whoever finishes top of Group B, will face the runners up in Group A.
The experts will say, end of the road, but one just cannot rule out the possibility of a shock result in the game of football where things can change in a matter of seconds.
But, being realistic, experts have their case, as no matter where you finish in Group A, a stern test awaits in the next round.
The mood in Russia
Not encouraging. Especially after the winless streak that Russia has embarked upon, as the hosts remain winless in their last seven matches.
Last year’s Confederations Cup too wasn’t fruitful as well, as in this tournament also they finished third, with just one win against their name.
After their 1-1 draw against Turkey earlier this week, The Sports Express, leading daily in Russia ran a headline, “Everything is bad…”
If it is what The Sports Express claim, then certain Mr Putin should forget that “the Organisers” will win the World Cup, and the team should brace itself to be on the receiving end some harsh words.
Essence of FIFA world cup
Thirty-two teams representing 32 countries, including the host nation, will take part in the tournament.
The tournament will be hosted across 11 cities, ranging from Kaliningrad in the very west to Ekaterinburg in the east.
Moscow will host the final on July 15.
Stadium for the final
Unsurprisingly, the capital is also home to the largest stadium, with the Luzhniki Stadium holding a capacity of 80,000.
Ticket prices for the matches range from 20 US dollars for the lowest category for an early group match, to over 1,000 dollars for the highest category for the final.
Germany head into the tournament as one of the hot favorites, having won the previous World Cup in Brazil in 2014, and going into the tournament as the top-ranked national team in the world.
One team that won’t be taking part in the tournament in 2018 is the United States.
Afraid of dropping trophy
German Captain Lothar Matthaus was frightened at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome in 1990 – not of facing Diego Maradona, but of the FIFA World Cup™ Trophy. He was afraid of dropping it!.
The sole of his boot had cracked and he had to play the second half with new boots.