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Miss the Olympics? Well, another major, international, quadrennial sporting event is not too far off: On June 14, the 2018 men’s FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia — and the competition is expected to be fierce.
The international soccer competition takes place every four years, with fan favorites like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo set to compete on their country’s behalf. But for the first time in 32 years, the U.S. will not compete in the World Cup after the men’s national team failed to qualify late last year.
Here’s what to know before players take on soccer’s biggest stage for the month-long competition.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup will take place at cities in Russia from June 14 through July 15. Teams will compete at 12 stadiums in 11 different cities, including Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, Nizhny Novgorod and Rostov-on-Don, among others.
The opening match, semi-final and final World Cup games will be played at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, FIFA announced last year. That stadium can hold around 80,000 spectators.
The final match for the 2018 World Cup is expected to kick off Sunday, July 15.
What are the teams to watch?
Heading into the 2018 World Cup, Germany, Brazil, Belgium and Portugal were among the highest-ranked teams by FIFA in April. Germany returns with hopes of defending its 2014 title, and Portugal’s squad, led by star Cristiano Ronaldo, are hoping to improve on their Euro 2016 win.
France, Argentina and Spain are also teams to watch heading into the 2018 World Cup.
FIFA selected Russia for its 2018 host country as part of a campaign to spread the World Cup to new countries. In 2010, FIFA also selected Qatar as the World Cup’s host city for 2022. “We go to new lands,” Sepp Blatter, the former FIFA president who has since been ousted from his role amid the high-profile bribing scandal, said at the time, according to the New York Times. “Never has the World Cup been in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and Arabic world has been waiting for a long time.”
Russia’s bid beat those from England and joint bids from Spain and Portugal, as well as the Netherlands and Belgium.
The Russia bid was riddled in controversy, however, when FIFA investigated claims both Russia and Qatar bribed voters to secure their bids.
Beyond that, there has been growing concern over security as a result of violent clashes incited by Russia soccer fans in recent months. A police officer died from a heart attack after a recent clash incited by Russian fans, according to Reuters. In 2016, violent clashes broke out between Russian and English fans in Marseille during Euro 2016. And in 2017, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said he was “not at all concerned” about potential clashes at the World Cup, according to BBC.
In April, FIFA announced it charged the Russian Football Union with fan racism that came as a result of a match between Russia and France in St. Petersburg earlier this year, the Associated Press reported. Russian fans reportedly targeted black French players with “monkey” chants. And that’s just the latest charge the country has faced with fan racism in Russian soccer.
Alexi Smertin, the Russian Football Union’s anti-discrimination officer, said it was working to identify those involved in the incident. “If these people’s guilt is proven, then there’s a high likelihood they won’t be allowed to attend World Cup and Russian league games,” he said, according to the AP.
The World Cup comes four years after Russia hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, the International Olympic Committee suspended Russia from competing due to a systematic, widespread doping scheme. Individual athletes from the country were allowed to compete under a nameless flag “under strict conditions.” Still, a Russian curler who initially earned bronze in the 2018 mixed doubles event tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and was striped of his medal.
Viewers can catch all 64 matches of the 2018 World Cup live on FOX Sports. Thirty-eight of those matches will air live, including the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia on July 14 at 11:00 a.m. E.T., as well as the championship match on July 15 at 11:00 a.m. E.T.
Viewers with cable can also watch the games on the Fox Sports GO app on their iOS or Android phones, or on their Apple TV, FireTV, Roku, Chromecast and Xbox.
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