Inarguably, 2108 FIFA World Cup in Russia is the next big global sporting event. And yet again, there can be no argument on football’s field participation, general interest, commercial advantage and viewership. It is quite simply the world’s most popular game and it would be impossible to find an individual, who can claim to have never touched some type of football in his/her entire life. Headquartered in Switzerland, FIFA is an acronym for federation Internationale de Football Association, which serves as international governing body for football, futsal and beach soccer. Interestingly, FIFA has more member nations than United Nations’ 193 sovereign states. The FIFA figure is 211 because it has granted recognition to several non-sovereign entities as distinct nations. To exemplify, there is no FIFA football team like United Kingdom. Instead, UK’s constituent regions, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are all recognized FIFA members.
After 1994 US World Cup that featured 24 teams, successive World Cups have been played with 32 qualifiers. In the upcoming Russian World Cup, there will be 20 teams that also played in 2014 Brazil World Cup. Qualification for FIFA World Cup is long-drawn process and begins pretty early. For 2018 World Cup, first qualification matches were played on March 12, 2015 and it took 2½ years until November 15, 2017 for the process to complete. During this period, 872 matches were played before 31 teams could join the automatically qualified host nation, Russia. However, the 2018 World Cup qualification was not without surprises. For the first time in 60 years, 4-time World Champion Italy will not be playing; last World Cup’s third-placed team Netherlands couldn’t qualify and USA will not be there for the first time since 1986 Mexico World Cup. Other notable absentees will be Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. Panama and Iceland will be the two teams making their World Cup debuts while Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Peru and Senegal are coming back after a long absence. Two-time champion Argentina stood on the brink of elimination in their do-or-die match against Ecuador on October 11, 2017. They trailed 0-1 at the start but Lionel Messi produced an invaluable hatrick in his team’s 3-1 victory over the hosts.
Three weeks ago on December 1, 2017, the final World Cup draw was concluded with an impressive ceremony at Kremlin. Now it is known how the tournament will proceed. The 32 teams have been divided in 8 Groups of 4 teams, who will play round-robin matches with the other 3 teams. Top 2 finishers from each Group will progress to the Knock-Out stage. Group A has Russia, Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia; Group B, Portugal, Spain, Iran and Morocco; Group C, France, Peru, Denmark and Australia; Group D, Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria; Group E has Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia; Group F consists of Germany, Mexico, Sweden and South Korea; Group G has Belgium, England, Tunisia and Panama and the last Group H comprises of Poland, Colombia, Senegal and Japan. In the inaugural match, hosts Russia takes on Saudi Arabia at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on June 14, 2018. The Luzhniki Stadium will also host the second semifinal on July 11 and the final on July 15, 2018.
Besides team performances, football lovers will be thrilled to watch their heroes; Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, Suarez and possibly Ibrahimovic if the Swede comes out of retirement. Incidentally, Italy’s elimination from 2018 World Cup was caused by Sweden.
Timing of 2018 World Cup is great since Russian summer has long hours of daylight and therefore a large number of tourists are expected to flock to Russia for the month-long event. Besides two venues in Moscow city, matches have also been scheduled in St Petersburg, Nizhny Novograd, Sochi, Kazan, Samara, Rostov-on-Don, Volgograd, Kaliningrad, Yekaterinburg and Saransk. Besides spectator interest, FIFA World Cup is a big global platform for marketing and commerce because it is watched by billions of people. In 2014 Brazil World Cup, FIFA made $2.4 billion from selling TV rights, $1.6 billion in sponsorships, and $527 million in ticket sales. Despite expenditures on TV production cost and organization issues, FIFA still netted $2.6 billion. The 2018 World Cup is not going to be any different. The global event’s magic is not limited to just the viewers; world business community has already planned its strategy to benefit from an ever-increasing and rewarding audience base.