Let the greatest show on the planet begin
It is the most-watched, best-attended sports event in the world. Almost half of the world’s population live patiently through the long cycle of decisions of host country, qualifying, disappointment and ecstasy, for one summer month every four years when the planet revolves around an inflatable ball, 70 centimeters in circumference. The 2018 Fifa World Cup will be played in Russia from 14 June to 15 July, 2018. Bafana Bafana will not be there. But millions of South Africans will watch every match, choose their secondary teams to support an experience the thrill of the highest possible level the beautiful game can be played. This thanks to DStv which will broadcast all 64 matches, and SABC TV which will televise 44 games live. Over 3.2 billion people in the world watched the 2014 World Cup tournament on television; one billion watched the final.
There have already been shocks and heartbreak leading up to Russia 2018. Italy, Holland and Chile did not qualify. Iran, Panama and Iceland did. Many South Africans have chosen to support one of the African countries in the finals. Nigeria is the overwhelming favourite, being the only sub-Saharan African team to qualify they are our nearest “neighbour”. South Africans with ancestral roots in Europe will be supporting their teams. Portugal and England will no doubt have an army of local fans each. The tournament will kick-off with hosts Russia facing Saudi Arabia at the Luhzniki Stadium in Moscow on Thursday 14 June. A further 47 matches will take place in the eight groups of four teams each. The top two teams in each group will qualify for the knockout stage. This will consist of a round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final which will take place at the 81 000-capacity Luhzniki stadium on Sunday 15 July. There will also be the match no one cares about – the third/fourth place play-off – on 14 July at St Petersburg Stadium. The favourites to raise the FIFA World Cup Trophy are Germany, Brazil, Belgium, Portugal, Argentina and France. Spain, Denmark and a young England side will believe the are in with a chance. Tunisa and Senegal are Africa’s two best bets. The miracle of live satellite television gives every South African a pitch-side seat for the World Cup 2018 tournament. Russia might be 15 000 kilometres away but the 2018 FIFA World Cup in in your living room. It’s going to be a month a soccer sensation – enjoy every moment.
Where will they be playing?
Ekaterinburg Arena | Fisht Stadium
Kazan Arena | Kaliningrad Stadium | Samara Arena | Saint Petersburg Stadiumgrad Arena
Luzhniki Stadium | Mordovia Arena | Nizhny Novgorod Stadium
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Fantastic prizes are up for grabs in the ZO Soccer Shoot-out competition, which runs for the duration of the world cup. All you need to do is collect 8 soccer player profile cards, one of which will be printed in every edition of the Zululand Observer dated
18 June until 9 July.
These player cards must be cut out and pasted on the back page of the Football Face-off 2018 pull-out feature.
When all 8 of the player cards have been collected and pasted on the feature, WhatsApp us a photo of the entire collection with your full name to 072 0694169 before Tuesday, 10 July.
Five lucky readers will then be drawn to go through to the ZO Penalty Shoot-out on Thursday, 12 July with a chance to strike it and win big.
The five finalists will be required to bring in the original Football Face-off feature with the pasted player profile cards.
Make sure you get every edition of the ZO with the player profile cards to qualify for the
ZO Penalty Shoot-out!
TOP PLAYER PROFILE CARDS TO COLLECT
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Bet a few bob on Belgium says Dave Savides
Each World Cup seems to take on its own personality and for me, I see plenty of goals this time round.
I base that on the leaky defences so evident in preliminary matches, qualifiers, friendlies and club cup competitions.
This looks like being a strikers’ tournament, and all eyes will be on the sharp-shooters – who are in plentiful supply.
All the big names are there and we hope to see them banging the ball into the back of the net as opposed to the boring ‘win by a single goal at all costs’ mentality that characterised past competitions.
So, do you agree with the bookmakers?
Will master technicians Germany and razzle-dazzle Brazil contest the final?
Maybe, but I am going for a lesser light: Belgium, who are rated 10/1 outsiders.
Germany has tried invading Russia before, without success, while I don’t see anyone in the mould of Pele to make me excited about Brazil’s chances.
It’s all about the team effort, and I believe Belgium has the strength in depth in every position to handle any opposition.
For example, Mohamed Salah might be the brightest star around at the moment, but he has little support from within his Egyptian squad to suggest they could do more than spring an odd surprise.
Besides, he will be such a target for defenders, chances are he will not survive the physical assaults he will surely endure. Just ask Pele.
No, soccer is a team game and Belgium is strong in every position, starting with goalkeepers Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) and Simon Mignolet (Liverpool).
In front of them are the likes of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld (both Tottenham), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Vincent Kompany (Man City) and Christian Kabasele (Anderlecht).
Patrolling the midfield they boast the supreme talents of Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Marouane Fellaini (Man United), Mouse Dembele (Tottenham), Nacer Chadli (West Brom) and of course, game-changer Kevin De Bruyne (Man City).
They have the men up front to bulge the net in Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Romelu Lukaka (Man United) and Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea).
Belgian players have been dominating in every European domestic league competition this season and the collective unit must surely make a huge impact in Russia.
With England, Panama and Tunisia in their group, they should have little trouble getting to the final stages.
It’s just unfortunate Belgium has the nickname ‘Red Devils’. This could seriously affect their chances, as any Chelsea supporter will tell you.
My last word: as a rank outsider, Mexico is my ‘upset the form book’ surprise selection.