Sports Mole brings you live updates of the buildup to the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
Filed: Thursday, June 14, 2018 at 12:00 UK
Last Updated: Thursday, June 14, 2018 at 12:26 UK
All eyes will be on Russia this afternoon as the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup – and the first to be held in Europe since 2006 – gets underway in the Soviet state.
Some 210 nations contested 872 qualifying matches to make it this far, leaving us with 32 teams battling it out for the biggest prize of them all.
Over the next four weeks or so we can expect excitement, controversy and plenty of drama to keep us gripped – this really is the greatest show on earth of them all.
It all gets up and running at 4pm with hosts Russia taking on Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium, but before then be sure to stick with Sports Mole for all the latest from each camp.
Tite’s arrival at Brazil, and the transformation that followed, marks Brazil out as one of the strong favourites to lift the trophy for a sixth time. The Selecao only tend to lift the trophy on their own continent, though, and there could just be a little hangover from the 7-1 destruction at the hands of Germany four years ago. We do, of course, have the prospect of a Germany vs. Brazil final in Moscow a month from now – yes please!
France, man for man, arguably posses the best squad of them all, but that is proving to be something of a problem for boss Didier Deschamps. Does the respected head coach go with a 4-4-2, utilising the strengths of Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud up top, or instead shift things around and use a 4-3-3 so that Paul Pogba can shine?
The previous examples of possible disharmony behind the scenes do not have happy endings, though, most notably in 2010 when a dispute between Nicolas Anelka and Raymond Domenech led to a team rebellion. Unlike Les Blues eight years ago, you get the impression that this Spain side – even with the Real Madrid-Barcelona divide – have a lot more togetherness about them.
Lopetegui, unbeaten since taking charge of the national side two years ago, has been replaced by sporting director Fernando Hierro for the duration of the competition. There is a debate to be had as to whether the Spanish FA were right to part company with the popular coach, who announced a day beforehand that he is to succeed Zinedine Zidane as Real Madrid manager next month.
Putin: ‘World Cup will be unforgettable’