Sport’s ultimate spectacle is ready to entertain, so here’s what you need to know about the action this summer
2018 FIFA World Cup, continues Friday 15 June, BBC + ITV
Whether you plan to watch as much as humanly possible on the box, or just fancy dipping in and out of the drama, it’s impossible not to get swept up by World Cup fever.
But first, there’s plenty to get clued up on about this summer’s tournament in Russia. From key rule changes to which animal will be predicting the results, here are 11 things you’ll be hearing a lot more about…
1. VAR will be used
Video assistant referees (VARs) will be used at a World Cup for the first time this summer in Russia, giving officials a helping hand when it comes to the big decisions. What could possibly go wrong?
2. England have 18 World Cup debutants
The majority of Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad have only ever watched the tournament on the telly. And with an average age of 26, it’s one of the youngest squads the Three Lions have ever taken to the World Cup. Check out our top picks for Southgate’s starting eleven here.
3. Brazil are back
Dumped out of the 2014 tournament in humiliating style, the seleção were on a downward spiral until experienced coach Tite took the helm two years ago. Since then, the 57-year-old has given Brazil a tactical makeover, and turned them from a team going nowhere into a side with a genuine chance of winning in Russia.
4. A fourth substitute can be used during extra time
Should matches in the knockout stage go to extra time, teams will be allowed to make a fourth substitution, following the approval of the rule change by the International Football Association Board in March.
5. Will Smith has done the official song
Big Willy is back. Ten years after the release of his last album (it was called Lost And Found, in case you’d somehow forgotten), the star has collaborated with US singer/songwriter Nicky Jam and Kosovan pop star Era Istrefi to record “Live It Up”.
6. Adios, Andrés
At 34, this is likely to be Andrés Iniesta’s last World Cup for Spain. One of the finest midfielders of his generation – and a winner in 2010, when his goal helped Spain beat the Netherlands in the final – we suggest you savour every moment he’s on the pitch this summer.
7. A last stand for two more legends?
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo aren’t getting any younger, so this could be the final time these two greats appear on football’s grandest stage. Brings a tear to the eye just thinking about it. These two are definitely worth keeping an eye on as the tournament unfolds. See who else has made our list of players to watch at Group Stage here.
8. The all-important match ball
The official ball for the 2018 World Cup is the Adidas Telstar 18. Based on the ball used during the 1970 tournament, it contains a special microchip that provides information relevant to each individual ball. Fancy!
9. Two teams are appearing for the first time
Iceland and Panama will be playing their first World Cup this summer. Panama have been drawn in England’s group, while the Three Lions have avoided Iceland, who are in Group D. Thank goodness…
10. The oldest player is 45
Football is a young person’s game? Pah! Egypt goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary is the veteran’s veteran. With 156 caps under his belt, this legendary shot-stopper played in all but one of his country’s qualifiers, and is set to captain the Egyptians in Russia.
11. A cat will predict the results
It wouldn’t be a major football tournament without an animal foreseeing what will happen. Move over Paul the octopus, because the 2018 World Cup’s official oracle will be Achilles, a deaf feline who lives in a St Petersburg museum. No, we haven’t just made this up.
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