World Cup 2018 – coming to a city near you!

So, what’s the big deal?

Just the small matter of the greatest, most prestigious football tournament in the world taking place in Russia for a whole month, from mid-June to mid-July 2018.

So it’s a bit like the Baseball World Series, then?

Erm no. Whereas the Baseball World Series is a bunch of American club teams plus one from Canada (there used to be two) facing off every year, the Football World Cup will represent 32 countries from all over the world. It is held only once every four years and has been going since the inaugural tournament in Uruguay back in 1930, although it didn’t take place in 1942 or 1946 due to the Second World War. This will be the 21st tournament and the first one ever to be awarded to an ‘Eastern Block’ country.

OK, you’ve sold me. So how do I get a ticket for the finals in Russia?

There are two main ways: Either buy them directly via the FIFA, (football’s governing body) website: www.fifa.com , or via your home country’s Football Association (FA) who themselves will have different rules as to which fans can purchase which tickets, in which quantities and for which matches.

Will my country be taking part?

If you are Russian, then yes. As hosts, Russia are the only country guaranteed to be in the finals; even the current winners, Germany need to qualify. In fact the qualifying rounds are getting underway as we speak and everything should be decided by the autumn of 2017, so keep your eyes open.

I’m not Russian. Will I get to see my country play?

Yes, if you can get tickets via your home country’s FA, although this may involve you having to join their club and/or having attended a number of qualifying games to be certain, although much depends on demand. The catch is that if you buy tickets now via FIFA, you won’t know who you’ll be seeing play until the draw for the finals is made in December 2017, or in which city.

Hold on, are you telling me that the matches won’t all take place in Moscow and St Petersburg?

Correct. Games will be taking place in 11 stadia across 10 Russian cities. As well as Moscow (which is the only location with two venues) & St. Petersburg, you could be lucky enough to visit Kaliningrad, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Saransk, Sochi, Volgograd or Yekaterinburg. Look on the bright side; at least they’re all in the European part of Russia – well nearly!

I heard a rumour that Russians will get to buy tickets at a fraction of the price of foreigners?

You heard right. This is all part of FIFA’s strategy of getting more local people into the game. It was the same with Brazil and South Africa, incidentally and this is a FIFA ruling; nothing to do with Russia.

So can I get a Russian friend to buy me cheap tickets?

Sure, although bear in mind that in past tournaments, names and passport numbers were printed on tickets to prevent them being resold at a profit. However, I never heard of anyone being denied entry or even being asked to show any ID to gain entry so presumably as long as you keep your mouth shut or utter the occasional “nu blyaaah” when passing through the turnstiles, you should be fine.

Surely awarding the 2018 World Cup to Russia was controversial?

You could say that, although nothing compared to Qatar winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup (the results were declared simultaneously). Admittedly the decision was made back in 2010 when Vladimir Putin personally made a speech (in English) and international relations were somewhat stronger. Yet issues remain, such as racism in the domestic game, and accusations that the authorities aren’t doing enough to tackle it. Some senior, international figures have even called for Russia to be stripped of the World Cup due to the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s involvement in the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine. There are also allegations of corruption, that the World Cup was effectively bought.

So, on that subject, how on earth did Russia manage to win the right to host the World Cup in 2018?

FIFA have made it clear that nowadays it’s all about legacy & spreading the game; Russia (or the Soviet Union) has never before hosted either a World Cup or a European Championship. This will be the largest sporting festival since the Olympic Games back in 1980 although that particular event was overshadowed by an international boycott from 65 countries. One of the biggest points in Russia favour is that visa requirements will be waived for all ticket-holding supporters, regardless of their country of origin. This is something that no western country would allow.

Could it be taken away from Russia?

In theory yes, and there are always contingency plans in place but in practice this is highly unlikely, as FIFA won’t want to set a precedent which would open up a huge can or worms. FIFA executives have been visiting Russia to ensure that everything is moving ahead according to plan and have so far declared that they are happy with the current level of progress.

Given the nasty scenes in Marseille at the recent EURO 2016 tournament, will visiting fans be safe if they travel to Russia?

This is impossible to predict with any certainty but my guess is yes. The Russian authorities know that they will be on show here so they will want everything to go smoothly, and to show that they are in control. Remember in the build-up to the EURO2012 tournament in Ukraine, there was immense speculation in the English media that Ukrainian hooligans were planning to attack England fans, and in particular were targeting anyone with coloured skin. In the end it turned out to be pure hype; everything was well organized and there was no trouble. If there’s one thing Russian doesn’t suffer from a shortage of, is Police and there are likely to be plenty of English-speaking volunteers in each host city just as there were in Sochi for the Winter Olympics.

Can you explain the offside rule?

Sorry, we’ve run out of space – just watch a few games and you’ll get the hang of it.

Pleaseeeeeeee!

Football’s a fairly simply game; after 90 minutes, the team with the most goals wins the match. If it’s a draw, an additional 30 minutes is played and if the scores are still level, then Germany win on penalties!