In 2018, the world will be eager for the 21st World Cup tournament to kick off in Russia. The matches during this quadrennial event, whose start is scheduled for 14 June and whose end will be on 15 July, will be played on stadiums which are almost all in the European part of the host country: Russia, with the exception of one stadium.
Europeans are especially eager to throng at the matches during the 2018 World Cup tournament, because the last time the World Cup events were held in Europe was in 2006, during the World Cup Championship in Germany. One more first: this will be the first time that tournament will take place in an Eastern European country.
The host country, the hosting rights and the visa policy
As already mentioned, Russia will be the host country. It obtained the hosting rights on 2 December 2010.
Russia has a general policy on visas, but this policy will not be applied to the participants and the fans who will arrive to watch the events. Regardless of what citizenship participants and visiting fans hold, they will be able to enter Russia without a visa for the period immediately before the tournament and up to its end.
The 2018 World Cup tournament mascot
The mascot, which was presented in October 2016, was the winner out of the three shortlisted finalists: a cat, a tiger and a wolf. The wolf won, because it obtained 53% of the votes. It was named “Zabivaka”, which means “a scorer”.
The tournament teams, number of matches, number of venues
The tournament will comprise matches played by 32 national teams. Out of them, 31 will be determined by the qualifying stage, and Russia's team will automatically be qualified, as the host country's team.
The matches to take place during the tournament will be 64. They will take place in 12 venues, which are situated in 11 cities.
The draw for the qualifying matches was held on 25 July 2015 at Saint Petersburg. The process of qualifying started on 12 March 2015, when preliminary ties started between the lowest ranked Asian countries' teams.
The new FIFA members, Gibraltar and Kosovo, who joined on 13 May 2016, also became eligible for the qualifying games.
The number of places for each continent is as follows:
- for Europe: 13 places
- South America: 4.5 places: the fifth placed team is to play with the winner of the Oceania region for a whole place
- CONCACAF: 3.5 places: the top three teams will play together with the fourth team against a team from Asia
- Africa: 5 places
- Asia: 4.5 places
- Oceania: 0.5 place
The proposal for more teams: 40 instead of 32
In the years there have been different numbers of teams participating in the tournament for the World Cup. Until 1982, the teams were 16; at the 1982 tournament held in Spain they were already 24; in 2002, at the World Cup tournament held in South Korea and Japan, the teams were already 32, for the first time.
Since 2002, the participating teams in the World Cup matches have been 32. In 2013, Michel Platini, President of UEFA, proposed that the number should be expanded to 40 teams, which should play in groups of five teams instead of four. The reason was that Africa and Asia were eligible to very few teams compared to Europe and South America. However, the proposal was not passed. On the one hand, the 2018 tournament was deemed to be too near in time, and on the other hand, Russia's sports minister said Russia was preparing for competitions between 32 teams.
The World Cup 2018 venues
The venues are located in 11 Russian cities: the capital Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Saransk, Sochi, Volgograd, and Yekaterinburg.
The number of venues is 12. Two of these venues are in Moscow.
The complete schedule for the World Cup 2018 tournament was announced in July 2015. Only the starting times were announced later.
The draw is scheduled for 1 December 2017 in Moscow, at the Kremlin Palace.
The opening match is scheduled to take place on 14 June, at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, and one of the playing teams will be the Russian team.
Each of the participating teams will have to submit a list of 30 players. Out of these, the final team comprising 23 players will be appointed, including 3 goalkeepers.
After the final team has been announced, if a player in it is seriously injured up to 24 hours before the start of the first match of that team, that player can be replaced. The replacing player can be on the preliminary list or outside it.
The players in the 30 players preliminary team will be obligated to observe a rest period between 21 May and 27 May 2018. That mandatory requirement will not be applied to the players participating in the Champions League Final 2018 which will take place on 26 May.
The group stage
In the group stage, out of the 32 teams, 16 will advance to the next stage. The rankings for each of the teams will be determined on the basis of the following criteria:
- the points scored in all the matches played during the group stage
- the goal difference in all the matches played during the group stage
- the number of the goals scored in all the matches played during the group stage
Additional criteria will be applied if the points for two or more teams are equal, including the points, goal difference and number of goals in the matches between those teams during the group stage, as well as fair play points on the basis of the yellow and red cards obtained. If these criteria are not sufficient, the FIFA Organising Committee will draw lots.
The knockout stage
The stage of the knockout matches will include the round played by the 16 teams which pass the group stage, the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, and the finals.
In the matches during the knockout stage, in the event of a level result, extra time of two 15-minute periods will be played, and if necessary, a penalty shootout stage will follow, to determine the winner in that match.
The semi-finals and the final match of the World Cup tournament
The semi finals will take place on 10 July at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg and on 11 July at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
The final match will take place on 15 July, at the Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital Moscow. The winner in the finals, the new champion, will qualify for the next Confederations Cup tournament which will take place in 2021.