It’s time for kick off! Here’s what you need to know about the tournament’s 21st edition and what’s new this year
The host nation
Russia will host the 2018 FIFA World Cup for the first time in the tournament’s history. A total of 11 Russian cities will host matches including Kaliningrad, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don, Saint Petersburg, Samara, Saransk, Sochi and Yekaterinburg, with the final being held in the Luzhniki Stadium in the capital, Moscow.
For the first time ever, the FIFA World Cup has approved the use of VAR (video assistant referees) – meaning that referees can make use of video replays, watched by officials not directly involved in the game, to make judgement calls. We predict this could be a major talking point this summer.
Russia has had issues with football hooliganism in recent years, but the government has taken measures to crack down on violent behaviour to protect fans visiting the country. Safeguards include fines and arrests for offensive behaviour and scores of armed police on the streets and around stadiums to keep fans safe from harm.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off on 14th June where hosts Russia will face Group A opponents Saudi Arabia.
A total of 32 teams have qualified from different regions around the world. Representing the Middle East, Asia and Oceania are Australia, Iran, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
The European sides that qualified are Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden.
South American nations Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay have qualified.
Finally, African nations Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia will also be on the pitch. Favourites to win include reigning champions and four-time winners Germany, as well as five-time winners Brazil.
Teams are split into eight groups for the first stage, with each team playing every other team in the group. The two teams with the most points will qualify, while third and fourth placed in the group will be eliminated.
Teams level on points will be ranked on goal difference – those with the highest goal difference will progress. If teams have the same goal difference and points, progression will be judged by the number of goals scored.
Of the 32 qualified teams, 20 played in 2014, while Iceland and Panama are set for their first-ever FIFA World Cup outing.
The last group stage game will take place on 28th June as Panama takes on Tunisia in the final match before the knockout stages.
The first knockout, or round of 16, match will begin on 30th June, with the winners of Group A facing the runners-up in Group B, and will end on 3rd July when the winners of Group H face the runners-up of Group G.
The quarter finals will begin on 6th July, semi finals on 10th July and the final will be held on 15th July.