The Everyman’s Guide To The FIFA World Cup 2018 – Part 1

Hello you football fanatics! And by those I mean, of course, those extreme loyalist football fans who wait with bated breath for the World Cup to roll in every few years so that those FIFA almanacs can be dusted off, the cobwebs of memory cleaned (or, well, since modern times and all that, `OK Google` be uttered) and the pursuit of football trivia (such as did you know that the world cup trophy was actually stolen and recovered by a dog called pickles) rekindled. Yes, you, who morph into football maniacs on sight of that famous yellow jersey or that other blue and white striped one (of course, with the advent of the Premier League and the exposure to English football thereof, the white of England is equally cheered).

Welcome to the FIFA World Cup 2018. Your time is imminent. Soon, you shall know names of cities in Russia that you neither knew, nor cared to know beforehand but when the World Cup rolls into town, so does the general general knowledge that goes with it (Fun fact: there is a World Cup venue called `Sochi`. Readers familiar with the Hindi vernacular will appreciate the thought behind that; surely a sure-fire question on some future quiz show because, think general knowledge; think different. Or something).

In addition to you, dear reader, who might well be one of those genuine non-football fans (mostly cricket or whatever other sport you might watch — or indeed non-sports fans altogether) who are just mildly amused by this once-in-four-years hoopla that lends itself to a whole lot of column inches (that might otherwise have been dedicated to some riveting Ranji trophy action or indeed stories of how your favourite kabaddi players learn to “focus”, whatever that may mean) being dedicated to these “National teams” slugging it out. I mean, what sort of a World Cup is it without a high-voltage India-Pakistan clash, eh? Hogwash!

In any case, like it or not, the football circus is rolling into town, and, well, as the Romans say, might as well be prepared for it, what? I am not entirely certain of the Romans saying such a thing but it does seem like something that they might well have. The point, as they say, is moot, right now. Without further ado, I give to you a quick primer (in multiple parts, perhaps) in bite-sized easily digestible morsels that will have you becoming no less experts than the “pundits” discussing the World Cup on the television screens.

The Format
There are 64 matches in all that feature 32 teams. No, each team does not play two matches. How much simpler the world would be if that was the case, what? Unfortunately, such are the intricacies of tournament football that this is not so. The tournament begins with 8 groups of 4 teams each who play each other once. Yes, that is 3 games per team (so, while all teams don’t play two games, they actually play 3! Miracle!). The two top teams from each group advance to what is the Round of 16, because, you guessed it, there are now 16 teams remaining. From here on in, it is a knockout with the 16 tricking down to 8, 8 becoming 4, 4 being cut down in size to 2, and 2, er, no, never mind. Two play the final and, in the end, football is the real winner. Or so Mr. Shastri would like you to believe.

The time frame
The first game, between the hosts, Russia, and relative lightweights Saudi Arabia will be played on June the 14th. The final, hopefully between the two best teams of the tournament, will happen on the 15th of July at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. Yes, you need to know the name because, you know, “that Moscow stadium” will not work because, unfortunately, there are two stadia in Moscow (damn it!). In all, the world cup spans a month and a day. That is, well, a fair length of time, though not as long as the 2007 Cricket World Cup (which, by some accounts, is still going on — one long party, maan, as the West Indians say). Whether you tune in to the opening or not, make sure to mark your calendars for the fifteenth of June. It is almost certain to be fun. There may even be headbutts, you know; after all, Zidane is not employed any more.

In subsequent parts, some other riveting parts. Kindly check back soon.