The World Cup provides some unique thrills, but this year's tournament will be sadly lacking some of football's most famous sights. RT Sport looks at some of the most notable.
As we get closer to this summer's World Cup, we learn more about what we are going to see at the tournament, but what will we be missing? From some world-famous fans to a clairvoyant octopus, here is what you won't see at Russia 2018.
If ever there was an appropriate stage for a player of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's talents, it is the grandest of them all – The World Cup. The Swedish striker is in the twilight of his career and recently traded the inauspicious climes of Manchester for the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, where he will see out his days as the latest aging superstar to score a hatful of goals in Major League Soccer. Ibrahimovic retired from international football following the European Championships in 2016, but Sweden's unlikely qualification for this summer's tournament has led to calls from the public for him to end his international exile and pull on the yellow jersey once again. However, these dreams were dashed when the player ultimately decided against a swansong with Sweden and head coach Janne Andersson at Russia 2018.
Ibrahimovic's absence isn't just a disappointment for Swedish fans, but also for the tournament as a whole. Despite being something of a spent force at this stage of his career, the Swede is the definition of a 'big game' player who is capable of single-handedly dragging his teammates through difficulties with his inimitable mixture of arrogance and skill. Although Zlatan will not be taking to the pitch at the tournament, the self-professed 'Lion' will visit Russia 2018 as brand ambassador for sponsor Visa, having earlier teased viewers of US chat show Jimmy Kimmel Live with the tantalizing words: "I'm going to the World Cup, yes."
THE IRISH FANS
They are not exactly a major footballing nation, but Ireland and their fans certainly leave an impression whenever they qualify for an international football tournament. Two summers ago at the European Championships, Irish fans beguiled their French hosts with the manner in which they supported 'The Boys in Green' on their adventure through the tournament. It was estimated that over 100,000 fans traveled to France to support the team – a not insignificant percentage of the total population of the country. While they were there, they engaged in Abba sing-a-longs with Swedish fans, sang lullabies to French infants on public transport, and even tidied up a public area while singing, "Clean up for the boys in green." So impressed were the French public at the behavior of the Irish that they were collectively awarded the prestigious Médaille de la Ville de Paris to honor their contribution to the tournament.
Of course, another by-product of Ireland's failure to qualify for Russia 2018 is that we won't get to see assistant manager Roy Keane's rather spectacular beard on the sidelines, but that is another story for another day.
PAUL THE OCTOPUS
Of all the things that won't be at this summer's tournament, it is the absence of a clairvoyant octopus which will be felt most keenly by those hoping to make a few bucks by gambling on the results of the games. Paul the Octopus made international headlines during the 2010 World Cup by inexplicably predicting the winners of several games throughout the tournament. How so? His handlers would place two food boxes into his tank, each emblazoned with the flag of the two nations who were playing each other. Paul would then eat the food from one of the boxes, thus 'predicting' the winner of each match.
It sounds a bit hokey, no? Well, consider the fact that Paul correctly predicted the winner of 12 of 14 matches throughout the tournament – a success rate of over 85 percent. Such was Paul's notoriety that after one of his unsuccessful predictions, angry German fans called for him to be eaten, which prompted the Spanish prime minister to offer him official state protection and safe haven in Spain. In the end, Paul died of natural causes a few months after the World Cup, taking his incredibly effective, oracle-like predictions with him to his watery grave. Completing the circle of soothsaying animal life, this year Achilles the deaf Hermitage cat will take the place of Paul to pick match results and have football fans purring at his hot picks.
DUTCH HOUSE MUSIC CELEBRATIONS
One of the more enjoyable aspects of hosting the largest international football tournament in the world is the melting pot of different cultures which will descend on the host country for several weeks this summer. A traveling contingent of fans from all corners of the globe will bring with them their unique cultures and practices to Russia, mingling with each other and celebrating victories or drowning the sorrows of a loss. We have already spoken about the tournament being deprived of Irish fans, but another football-loving nation who won't be appearing this summer is the Dutch – though, quite frankly, the lack of the 'house music' celebrations that their fans are known for isn't getting us down too much.
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As objectionable as some football fans might find that style of music, nothing can compare to the toneless sound of the Vuvuzelas, which were an unwelcome soundtrack to the World Cup in South Africa eight years ago. We would take 2 Unlimited over that any day.
QUITE A LOT OF THE 'MAJOR' FOOTBALL NATIONS
Even though this summer's World Cup in Russia is the first time in the tournament's history in which 32 teams will compete for the trophy, it is also notable for the number of 'heavyweight' teams which failed to qualify. Four-time champions Italy, for example, will be forced to enviously watch the tournament on television, as will one of the best teams in South America, Chile. The Netherlands, finalists in 2010 and third place four years ago, will also be absent from Russia.
The United States, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Bosnia & Herzegovina also didn't make the cut, but the non-appearance of all of these teams leaves room for the likes of Iceland, Costa Rica, Panama, and Saudi Arabia to make their mark on the world stage. That's scant consolation for the major nations who failed to qualify though, and one suspects that more than a few glasses of red wine will be polluted by salty tears in Italy over the summer months as a result.