World Cup action kicks off in Russia as America sits on the sidelines this time around. Kicking off the global phenomenon is the home country itself facing off against Saudi Arabia in group play.
Opening festivities in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium brought the crowd to its collective feet. Also audible was the collective sound of beer pouring from taps at taverns around the world as overeager football fans got ready to jump out of their skins for the start of the world’s most famous and intense sporting tournaments. ESPN reports that singer Robbie Williams even flashed an obscene gesture with his middle finger to the crowd and on live television during his performance.
The World Cup features 32 teams representing countries from around the world. Teams can advance to the World Cup by doing well enough in qualifying events in their regions. The United States failed to do well enough in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football’s World Cup qualifications to make it to the actual tournament. The teams are broken into groups. After playing each team in the group round-robin style, the top two teams from each group advance to the single elimination, or knockout rounds.
Russia and Saudi Arabia are in Group A, one of eight groups, along with Egypt and Uruguay. Oddsmakers aren’t showing much confidence in Saudi Arabia making it out of group play. The statistics are showing that Uruguay and Russia have the best chances to make it to the knockout rounds, but anything can happen out on the pitch. Perennial favorites Brazil, Germany, and France have the best chances of winning the whole Cup, according to oddsmakers. Germany won the World Cup in 2014, which included blowing out Brazil in front of the home crowd in humiliating fashion in the semifinals. Superstar Neymar missed that game because of a broken bone in his back.
Russia presently has the home fans happy as the team defeated Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the day’s only match. Iury Gazinsky headed one into the back of the net in the 12th minute, and Denis Cheryshev, the Villareal CF midfielder, put an extra charge into the crowd just before halftime with what would be the first of his two insurance goals of the match. Artem Dzyuba started the second-half scoring with a 71st-minute header. Aleksandr Golovin scored on a free kick four minutes into stoppage time at the end of the game, following Cheryshev’s stoppage time goal a few minutes prior. The last-minute icing on the cake was not only a bonus for the home crowd but important for Russia’s chances of advancing out of group play. Teams are awarded points for wins or draws, but categories like goals scored and goal differentials can be used as tiebreakers if necessary.
Russia’s Golovin and Taiseer Al Jassam from Saudi Arabia got the two only bookings today, both yellow cards late in the game.