World Cup 2018: Big kick off arrives as Russia hosts festival of football

Russia completed its last minute-preparations on Thursday with the start of the 21st World Cup just hours away.

The first game of the tournament gets underway this afternoon, as hosts Russia kick off against Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

The 2018 World Cup features 32 teams, divided into eight groups of four, playing a total of 64 matches between June 14 and the final on July 15.

Matches will be played in 12 stadiums across 11 host cities in the world’s biggest country.

Cashing in: Harry Kane, Antoine Griezmann and Brazil’s Pedro Geromel feature on World Cup souvenirs on sale in Moscow. (PA)
Cashing in: Harry Kane, Antoine Griezmann and Brazil’s Pedro Geromel feature on World Cup souvenirs on sale in Moscow. (PA)
Security personel patrol a square in Moscow hours before the start of the tournament. (PA)
Security personel patrol a square in Moscow hours before the start of the tournament. (PA)
World Cup banners adorn the streets of Moscow near Cathedral Square the day before the start of the tournament. (PA)
World Cup banners adorn the streets of Moscow near Cathedral Square the day before the start of the tournament. (PA)

England’s first fixture is on Monday against Tunisia. They also face Belgium and Panama in Group G.

There are lower expectations around Gareth Southgate’s youthful side in Russia, following disappointing performances at Brazil in 2014 and South Africa in 2010, when they were widely tipped to do well.

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Germany, the reigning champions from 2014, are looking for a fifth World Cup triumph. They’re among the favourites along with France and Brazil.

The defending champions are hoping to become the first nation to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil in 1962.

Spain, who won the World Cup in 2010, are in disarray after sacking their manager, Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament.

Host nation Russia train at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow ahead of the World Cup’s opening fixture against Saudi Arabia. (Rex)
Host nation Russia train at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow ahead of the World Cup’s opening fixture against Saudi Arabia. (Rex)

Football fans travelling to Russia without tickets, meanwhile, face being ripped off by touts as it emerged that counterfeit vendors are still rife at the World Cup, despite FIFA promising a crackdown.

Sellers have been visible outside the main ticket office in Moscow, buying spare tickets from fans and selling at inflated prices.

The most in-demand tickets, such as for Argentina’s opening game, are being offered online for as much as £1,710, although buyers have no guarantee they are getting genuine access to the games.

Fifa has tried to cancel some tickets and last week filed a criminal complaint against ticket resale website Viagogo. Russia has made World Cup touting punishable by a fine for individual sellers of up to 25 times the ticket’s face value.

England’s players train at their base in Repino as they prepare for the tournament. (PA)
England’s players train at their base in Repino as they prepare for the tournament. (PA)
World Cup 2018: How the teams are ranked. (PA)
World Cup 2018: How the teams are ranked. (PA)

SLIDESHOW: The stadiums of the Russian World Cup (Click image below)

On Yahoo UK, you can catch up with all the action via our daily World Cup round-up show, ‘The 32’, which airs at 8.30am during every match of the tournament across the Yahoo network.

Our first episode features Harry Redknapp as our studio guest and can be watched HERE.

Ashley Young says England are already raring to go for next week’s World Cup opener against Tunisia.

The Three Lions have won their opening fixture just once in the last four World Cups, squeezing past Paraguay 1-0 in 2006, but lost to Italy four years ago following 1-1 draws with the United States (2010) and Sweden (2002).

World Cup: Russia 2018 venues (PA)
World Cup: Russia 2018 venues (PA)

They were also held by an unfancied Russia in their first outing at Euro 2016, but Manchester United full-back Young insists the current crop are ready to make an early statement this time.

Tunisia await in Volgograd on Monday and England are ready to take the game to their Group G rivals.

‘It is always important to make a good start to a tournament. You want to get off to winning ways,’ said Young.

‘We are fully prepared and ready for that first game. You can talk about our results historically but we are here and we are looking to do well in training and do well in that first match. I think you can see from the last two games we have started brightly and on the front foot and if you start like that it can put teams on the back foot and that is what we are looking to do come the first game.’

More to follow…

SLIDESHOW: The 32 star players for every World Cup nation (Click image below)

 

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