The qualification stages to the 2018 FIFA World Cup are officially over. All 32 attending national teams have been determined in an intense end to the qualification season, with plenty of surprises and disappointments along the way (We’re talking to you Italy, Netherlands and Team USA).
Now that all the contenders for the world’s largest and most popular sporting tournament have been established, the whole world awaits in eager anticipation for next summer’s centerpiece in Russia, while the final preparations take place to host this massive event.
Determining the Groups
While all 32 competing teams have been determined, fans are still in the dark as to who their team’s opponents will be during the group stage. In order to determine this, FIFA will host the official World Cup draw on Friday, Dec. 1 at the State Kremlin Palace inside the Moscow Kremlin.
The draw will serve as the official opening event for the competition, and will determine all eight groups and the bracket for the later stages, allowing each competing nation to plan for their opponents. The preparations for the draw are currently underway, with the time yet to be announced by FIFA.
The 32 qualifying teams will be divided into four seeding pots according to their October FIFA ranking. The teams will then be drawn into eight groups of four, every group containing a team from each seeded pot. Teams from the same confederation cannot be drawn together in a group, with the exception of one unlucky group that can contain two European nations. The pots are divided as following:
Russia (65) (hosts), Germany (1), Brazil (2), Portugal (3), Argentina (4), Belgium (5), Poland (6), France (7)
Spain (8), Peru (10), Switzerland (11), England (12), Colombia (13), Mexico (16), Uruguay (17), Croatia (18)
Denmark (19), Iceland (21), Costa Rica (22), Sweden (25), Tunisia (28), Egypt (30), Senegal (32), Iran (34)
Serbia (38), Nigeria (41), Australia (43), Japan (44), Morocco (48), Panama (49), South Korea (62), Saudi Arabia (63)
The World Cup draw is expected to be broadcasted live on television in most countries, as well as streamed online on FIFA.com. In the United States it is expected to be broadcasted by Fox Sports, who holds English-language rights, and Telemundo in Spanish on one of their multiple outlets.
Tickets are flying off the shelves
Demand for ticket for World Cup games has been huge since the Phase 1 ticket sales batch went on sale on 14 September – despite most attending teams not being determined at the time. 3,496,204 tickets were requested during the first sales period, with most of the applications coming from Russia and around 30% of them from around the world. Around 150,000 tickets have been requested for the Opening Match and over 300,000 for the Final. Of these requests, a draw will be made and a certain amount of tickets will be awarded to the randomly selected fans.
The second part of Sales Phase 1 restarted on 16 November with a first-come, first-served sales period where fans have been able to purchase tickets in real time on the official FIFA website and get immediate confirmation if they are successful. Phase 1 will end on November 28, only a few days before fans will actually find out which match they actually bought tickets for, once the groups and destinations for each national team are determined.
Bookies release pre-draw odds
As customary, Vegas Casinos and online betting sites have released odds to entice players to bet on which team they think will take home the World Cup trophy. With the World Cup being the most wagered on event in the world, it is not surprise that casinos are trying to cash in on the action from the get go.
Odds to Win 2018 FIFA World Cup
Adding early World Cup betting options is not the only way casinos are preparing, as popular online shops such as Ninja Casino are also capitalizing upon the tournament by adding many football themed slots such as ‘Football Star’ and ‘Football Champions Cup’ to their offering.
Host cities brace themselves for giant influx of fans
The 2018 World Cup will be hosted throughout 11 cities: Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, Ekaterinburg, Saransk, Rostov-on-Don, Kazan, Kaliningrad, Samara, Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod. Each of these venues has now been preparing for the huge influx of fans and tourists that they will be receiving during the tournament next summer.
Moscow, the capital, now has a total of 1,086 certified hotels and facilities available for tourists, featuring a total of 62,900 rooms for approximately 163,000 guests. By the end of 2017, the city is expected to have opened a total 11 new hotels with over 3000 rooms this year alone, an all-time high for the past seven years. During the first half of next year the city is expected to see the opening of 27 more hotels featuring 3,800 rooms.
Moscow hotels were packed to 85-90% capacity during the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, an 8 team tournament featuring the winner of every FIFA Confederations which serves as a trial run for the World Cup.
Meanwhile the Volgograd International Airport, expected to be the arrival point for all travelling fans, will start operating at full capacity in April 2018. Boasting a new domestic flight terminal and a remodeling of its existing terminal, it is expected the airport’s capacity will be increased to around 1,450 passengers per hour, which complies with FIFA requirements.
Volunteers will be tasked with assisting tourists throughout each city and manning the information kiosks. Around 5000 people are expected to be trained to help with fan hospitality, meeting guests at airports and train stations, and providing assistance at city-held events.
English-speaking Tourist Police officers are scheduled to patrol pedestrian routes throughout Moscow, protecting both residents and tourists and helping tourists with directions if needed. There will also be tourist police officers who speak Spanish, German, French and Chinese.
Stadium preparations reaching the home stretch
When it comes to the preparation of the 2018 FIFA World Cup venues, according to Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, Moscow and four other Russian cities have all finished the preparation of all facilities:
“We are currently at the final stage of preparation. The majority of programs in the regions are at the final stage of completion. We have got very tight deadlines, we have to complete all the work by April 1. From April 1 to mid-May the organizing committee must visit all the facilities [and assess them]from the point of view of creating temporary infrastructure and security. It means that all the facilities must be handed over to the FIFA organizing committee in mid-May,” Mutko said.
All four stadiums that were hosts to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup last summer (Saint Petersburg Stadium, Spartak Stadium, Kazan Arena, and Fisht Stadium) are completely ready to welcome fans at next year’s centerpiece competition, while the World Cup’s showpiece arena had its grand reopening this past November 11, when Argentina defeated Russia at the Luzhniki Stadium with a solitary Sergio Aguero goal.