This summer’s World Cup 2018 in Russia promises to be the biggest, most watched football event in history but what will we see for the first time? RT Sport examines what to keep your eye on during this summer’s tournament.
This year’s World Cup in Russia promises a festival of football for the global audience who will tune in, but even with all the preparation that has gone into this summer’s tournament it still might produce more than its share of controversy. From VAR failures to psychic cats, here’s what you can expect to see once the first ball is kicked at Russia 2018.
VIDEO ASSISTED REFEREE (VAR)
For the first time in World Cup history referees will have robotic assistance in deciding some of the more crucial aspects of games throughout Russia 2018. The Video Assisted Referee (VAR) system is designed to eliminate human error in crucial split-second decisions such as goal-line clearance or offsides but it has not been without some teething problems following its introduction.
The Australian A-League is currently embroiled in scandal after the Football Federation of Australia admitted a VAR failure was instrumental in deciding the outcome of Melbourne Victory’s win against Newcastle Jets last weekend, a game which decided the national title. The system was developed to provide clear, irrefutable evidence to inform referees on the field but in this instance did precisely the opposite, failing to pick up at least three players who were offside leading to the game-deciding goal. A month ago in the Bundesliga, a German team was awarded a penalty by the system during the halftime break after their opponents had left the field. Italian football has seen mass protests from fans in the wake of controversial VAR decisions and in Belgium the start of a game was delayed by 15 minutes because of a software failure.
With the stakes as high as they are in the World Cup one bad decision can decide who advances to the next round and who heads to the airport for an early flight home. What can go wrong? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
ICELAND'S VIKING THUNDER CLAP
For a country whose total population is a little over 330,000, Iceland has been punching well above its weight in recent international tournaments. The little rock on the westernmost point of Europe hasn’t traditionally been considered as a football powerhouse but their recent performances, particularly at the European Championships in 2016, are beginning to change that narrative.
An unlikely win against England two summers ago in France was borne from a concoction of dogged perseverance, team spirit and the undoubted skill of players like Everton talisman Gylfi Sigurdsson. Their fans deserve enormous credit too, making the stadiums in which their team plays resemble one giant casting call for ‘Game of Thrones’ and if you haven’t seen their infamous ‘Viking Thunder Clap’, well, you are in for a treat.
So small is their population that if you are an Icelandic male between the ages of 20 and 40, there is a 2000-1 chance that you are a member of the international squad. It was also estimated that a massive 99.8 percent of the country’s television audience watched their historic game with England a couple of years ago, which begs the question: what on earth was the other 0.2 percent watching that day?
RONALDO'S LAST STAND?
Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the crown princes of world football, will almost certainly play his final World Cup in Russia this summer. The Real Madrid man will be well into his 37th year by the time the 2022 tournament rolls around, a ripe old age for a professional footballer even of his significant skills, so prepare yourself for the international swan song for one of this generation’s finest footballers.
A side effect of the above means that this will almost certainly be the final international tournament to stoke the rivalry between Ronaldo and his Argentine foe Lionel Messi. The two are by far the most potent attacking threats in world football, and duel each season for domestic honors in La Liga but seldom do their considerable talents combine to feature in an international tournament - just once every four years, in fact.
Both players have won practically every major honor available to them in the club game, scoring goals which appear to defy the laws of physics along the way, but neither has yet managed to add a World Cup to their silverware-laden trophy cabinets. It is sometimes said that for a generational talent, which both Messi and Ronaldo clearly are, to ascend to all-time godlike status in the annals of world football a victory in the World Cup is a must. See Diego Maradona dragging an otherwise unspectacular Argentina team to glory in 1986 as evidence of this.
Messi, three years Ronaldo’s junior, will likely have one more chance in 2022 but make no mistake that the clock is ticking on the careers of two of the finest players of this generation and this could be the last chance to witness their precocious talents at the World Cup while they are at the height of their powers.
MORE EYES WATCHING THAN EVER BEFORE
One thing that is for certain is the eyes of the world will be clearly focused upon Russia for the duration of this year’s World Cup, more eyes than ever before in fact. It is estimated that global broadcasters will show in excess of 100,000 hours of footage throughout the tournament to a total audience of more than three billion people, one billion of which will tune in live for the final in the middle of July.
The World Cup will provide a large financial windfall for the 11 cities set to host matches this summer, with more than one million fans set to visit Moscow alone. Local hotels and Airbnb’s are in for their most profitable times of the year (or any other year, frankly) as a melting pot of different cultures descend on the country in pursuit of World Cup glory as Russia rolls out the red carpet to the football world.
ACHILLES THE PSYCHIC CAT
With Paul the Octopus sadly no longer with us (he didn’t see that coming, did he?) this year’s soothsaying predictions lands at the paws of Achilles, a deaf cat who calls the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg his home.
Much like Paul’s exploits in South Africa a few years ago, Achilles will attempt to ‘predict’ the outcome of matches by choosing between two bowls of food, each marked with the flag of the teams competing against each other. Achilles’ oracle-like predictions made headlines at the 2017 Confederations Cup last year where he predicted the correct result 75 percent of the time. He was chosen for this important task because his deafness means he doesn’t get alarmed by crowds, probably a good thing if you are one of the world's most famous felines.
Achilles still has a long way to go to eclipse Paul’s clairvoyance which led to a success rate of over 85 percent but even if he doesn’t quite hit those lofty heights he can always go back to his day job of ridding the Hermitage Museum of any mouse who dares enter its grounds.