Sport360 - 6/14/2018 3:02:26 PM - GMT (+2 )
The World Cup kicks off in Russia on Thursday as years of preparations give way to a month-long feast of action on the field.
Russia get the ball rolling against Saudi Arabia at the completely refurbished 80,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow after an opening ceremony attended by President Vladimir Putin.
Brazil and their superstar Neymar are seeking a sixth global crown while Germany, who won their fourth World Cup in Brazil four years ago, will be determined to draw level with the Brazilians when the final is played in Moscow on July 15.
France boast possibly the most talented squad while Lionel Messi is desperate to make amends for Argentina’s defeat in the 2014 final.
On the field, Russia and the Saudis do not represent the most glamorous opener – they are the two lowest-ranked teams in the tournament.
“We have to take all the criticism and turn it into something positive,” Russia manager Stanislav Cherchesov said.
The preparations of 2010 winners Spain are in tatters after coach Julen Lopetegui was sacked just two days before their opening game on Friday against Portugal. He had angered his federation by taking the job of Real Madrid manager.
While Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, has recovered from a broken bone in his foot in time, the strength of prolific Egypt striker Mohamed Salah‘s injured shoulder is less certain.