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Time to have a ball in Russia

ANTICIPATED: World Cup

THE GREATEST show on Earth kicks off on June 14 when much maligned Russia hosts the 21st FIFA World Cup.

This will be the rst World Cup held in Europe since the 2006 tournament in Germany, and the rst ever to be held in Eastern Europe. All of the stadium venues are in European Russia, to keep travel time manageable.

The final tournament will involve 32 teams, which include 31 teams determined through qualifying competitions and the automatically qualified host team.

Of the 32 teams, 20 will be making back-to-back appearances following the last tournament in 2014, including defending champions Germany, while Iceland and Panama will both be making their first appearances.

FINAL

A total of 64 matches will be played in 12 venues located in 11 cities. The final will take place on July 15 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Predicting the eventual winner is task and and half. But already you can list those that will be at the business end of the tournament.

Argentina, Brazil, Belgium Spain and Germany have to start among the favourites. The second tier will include European champions Portugal, France and England, yes England! Gareth Southgate’s team is youthful and energetic but will that be enough against the world’s best?

Significantly, most of the England squad is coached by Manchester City’s champion manager Pep Guardiola, Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, so the Three Lions will no doubt play a pressing game in order to win the ball back quickly – what they do with it thereafter is the key.

In goal scorer supreme, Harry Kane, England have a natural born killer in front of goal but he will need the supporting cast of Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy to play their part.

Africa has a quintet of teams at the global football showcase. Egypt’s ambitions may be hindered by Mo Salah’s shoulder injury but Senegal and Nigeria have the players to get to the second phase.

No doubt pundits like myself will be taken by surprise by players and teams not cur- rently on our rader - but that is the magic of the World Cup. It is to be hoped that the action is not sullied by racism and violence.

My money is on Spain but come July 15, whoever lifts the famous trophy will have well and truly have deserved it.

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