The 21st FIFA World Cup started 14 June 2018 in Russia. This international football tournament is held every four years which is contested by the men’s national teams of the member associations of FIFA. The final match is on 15 July 2018, after the country was awarded the hosting rights on 2 December 2010. This is the first World Cup held in Europe since the 2006 tournament in Germany, the first ever to be held in Eastern Europe and the eleventh time that it has been held in Europe. All of the stadium venues are in European Russia to keep travel time manageable. It is expected to be the most expensive football championship in history, budgeted at US$11.8-14 billion surpassing the cost of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
For the first time in the history of the FIFA World Cup, all eligible nations – the 209 FIFA member associations minus automatically qualified hosts Russia – entered the qualifying process. Zimbabwe and Indonesia were later disqualified before playing their first matches, Gibraltar and Kosovo, who joined FIFA on 13 May 2016, also entered the competition. Places in the tournament were allocated to continental confederations, with the allocation unchanged from the 2014 World Cup. The first qualification game began in Dili, Timor Leste, on 12 March 2015 as part of the AFC’s qualification and the main qualifying draw took place at the Konstantinovsky Palace in Strelna, Saint Petersburg on 25 July 2015
Of the thirty-two nations qualified to play at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, twenty countries competed in the previous World Cup in 2014. Both Iceland and Panama qualified for the first time, with the former becoming the smallest country in terms of population to reach the World Cup. Other teams returning after absences of at least three tournaments include: Egypt, returning to the finals after a 28-year absence from their last appearance in 1990; Morocco, who last competed in 1998; Peru, returning after a 36-year absence (since 1982); and Senegal, competing for the second time after reaching the quarter-finals in 2002. It is the first time three Nordic countries (Denmark, Iceland and Sweden) and four Arab nations (Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia) have qualified for the World Cup.
Notable countries that failed to qualify include four-time champions Italy (for the first time since 1958) and three-time runner-up the Netherlands (for the first time since 2002), and four reigning continental champions: 2017 Africa Cup of Nations winner Cameroon, two-time Copa América champion and 2017 Confederations Cup runner-up Chile, 2016 OFC Nations Cup winner New Zealand, and 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup champion United States (for the first time since 1986). The other notable qualifying streaks broken were for Ghana and Ivory Coast, who had both made the previous three tournaments.
Russia proposed the following host cities: Kaliningrad, Kazan, Krasnodar, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Saint Petersburg, Samara, Saransk, Sochi, Volgograd, Yaroslavl, and Yekaterinburg. All the cities are in or just outside European Russia to reduce travel time for the teams in the huge country. The bid evaluation report stated: “The Russian bid proposes 13 host cities and 16 stadiums, thus exceeding FIFA’s minimum requirement. Three of the 16 stadiums would be renovated, and 13 would be newly constructed. In October 2011, Russia decreased the number of stadiums from 16 to 14. Construction of the proposed Podolsk stadium in the Moscow region was cancelled by the regional government, and also in the capital, Otkrytiye Arena was competing with Dynamo Stadium over which would be constructed first.
The final choice of host cities was announced on 29 September 2012. The number of cities was further reduced to 11 and number of stadiums to 12 as Krasnodar and Yaroslavl were dropped from the final list. Of the 12 stadiums used for the tournament, 3 (Luzhniki, Yekaterinburg and Sochi) have been extensively renovated and the other 9 stadiums to be used are brand new; $11.8 billion has been spent on hosting the tournament. In 2014 FIFA’s inspection committee and its head Chris Unger visited St Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan and both Moscow venues. In 2015, FIFA and the Local Organising Committee agreed on the official names of the stadiums used during the tournament.
Of the 12 venues used, the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow and the Saint Petersburg Stadium (the two largest stadiums in Russia) will be used most, with 7 matches being played at each of these stadiums. Sochi, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod and Samara will host 6 matches including one quarter-final match apiece, and the Otkrytiye Stadium in Moscow and Rostov-on-Don will host 5 matches apiece including one round of 16 match each. Volgograd, Kaliningrad, Yekaterinburg, and Saransk will host 4 matches each and none of these cities will host any knockout stage games. The final tournament will involve 32 national teams, which include 31 teams determined through qualifying competitions and the automatically qualified host team. Of the 32 teams, 20 will be making back-to-back appearances following the last tournament in 2014, including defending champions Germany, while Iceland and Panama will both be making their first appearances at a FIFA World Cup. A total of 64 matches will be played in 12 venues located in 11 cities. The final will take place on 15 July at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The winners of the World Cup will qualify for the 2021 FIFA Confederations Cup. Pre-tournament favorites to win the final were Brazil, France, Germany and Spain. FIFA awarded hosting rights for the 2026 World Cup to a joint bid from Canada, Mexico, and the United States