Julen Lopetegui and Real Madrid have scheduled a press conference for early this evening (7pm CET, to be precise). In the circumstances, you’d have thought it might be better just to keep quiet for a few days. It will happen just an hour after his stand-in Fernando Hierro undertakes Spain’s pre-match press conference in Russia.
You know World Cup fever is taking hold when in the 10 minutes since you last checked the picture wires 500 new photos have arrived and major international agencies think we might want to see random Australians having lunch.
Supporters of the Australian national soccer team have their meal on the eve of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in central Moscow, Russia. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters
“Here in rule-loving Switzerland, the local police have recently issued a statement about the use of car horns following matches,” writes Adam Horridge. “Interestingly enough, they have said they will ‘indulgently’ allow a maximum of 1 hour’s worth of car horn honking after a game to allow fans to express their ‘joy or disappointment’. So I’m already planning to head straight down to the car park following England’s 2-2 draw with Tunisia on Monday night.”
Here’s the official announcement from the canton of Vaud. It’s really impressive forward planning, though expecting supporters to “express their joy by expressing the rules of road traffic” might be going a bit far. I for one have never been moved to mark moments of particular happiness by ecstatically using my indicator or joyously maintaining an appropriate stopping distance.
The end of the matches will inevitably generate gatherings of fans who will express their joy or their disappointment, notably by forming motorcades of vehicles in the urban centers and by honking continuously. These gatherings, as long as they do not unduly disrupt traffic and public order, will be tolerated … The municipal police and the cantonal police of Vaud recommend that supporters express their joy by respecting the rules of road traffic and are cautious so that the party remains beautiful until the end of the event.”
Well if it isn’t time for elevenses (insert alternative excuse for a scone if in different time zone). Here’s a short reading list for those heading out on a break. First, how Sporting’s meltdown is dominating Portuguese football:
The US watch this World Cup from afar. Still, at least they won’t have to qualify in 2026 (presumably). Dax McCarty says of the night they were officially eliminated from this tournament: “The main thought that goes through your head is shock. Being a part of it, you almost have a feeling of helplessness. You’re just hoping, praying, that something, anything goes your way.”
And here’s Tom Dart on another cohort of US residents, whose allegiance rests with Mexico:
My general opinion on sporting theme tunes is, if it wasn’t written by Keith Mansfield, I’m not interested.
While away a happy half-hour or so with World Cup Classic YouTube. Do you agree that this is “the greatest ever World Cup TV theme tune, hands down”?
It’s not uncommon for hosts of major sporting events to make significant improvements to national infrastructure in a bid to impress their guests. Russia, apparently, have been tarting up their prisons. This just in from AFP:
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said he had been freed on Thursday, the same day the World Cup kicks off in the country, after serving a month-long sentence for organising an illegal protest.
“I’m with you again after a 30-day business trip. I’m so happy to be free,” he wrote on Twitter.
The 42-year-old was sentenced a month ago after calling for the demonstrations ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a fourth Kremlin term.
Navalny’s lawyer and supporters called the trial politically motivated and the opposition activist said his rights had been violated.
Navalny, who has been imprisoned several times for his political activities, noted in a tongue-in-cheek Instagram post how jail conditions had improved ahead of the World Cup.
“It’s clear that authorities are not ruling out having to arrest drunk England fans for bad behaviour, and they don’t want to add insult to injury,” he wrote.
“There’s been a European-style make-over in all the cells. The bars have been painted. Instead of a hole in the ground – forgive me these details – they’ve installed toilets.
“In the courtyard they’ve put up goal posts and given out real footballs.”
A former goalkeeper writes:
Rich Lee (@DickieLee)
On the day of the World Cup opening ceremony, it’s always important to remember… HE HAD IT COVERED. #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/BzJJ3mIBib
June 14, 2018
There are four hours and six minutes to go before live British TV coverage of the World Cup begins. You can fill a little bit of the downtime with this superlative quiz!
“I believe Mourinho is in the process of signing her up for next season,” says Stuart Morphet of the elephant. “Parking the elephant seems more effective than parking the bus. Especially if you use a real elephant.”
I’m loving this Christian Benteke selfie, mainly because it suggests the way he uses running machines is by lying on them:
Christian Benteke (@chrisbenteke)
Fixtures are out, London derby to start 👊🏾 Back to training, lost to the running machine today, more tomorrow 🏃🏾♂️ @CPFC #CPFC 🦅 pic.twitter.com/jge73MzgG9
June 14, 2018
Here’s a really good interview with the former Egypt striker Mido:
I was 150kg and I reached a point where I couldn’t walk 30 yards. If I did, I started to feel pain in my back, my joints and my knees. I remember I was getting off my boat in Egypt five months ago – this day is the turning point in my life – and I was walking off on to an island. I had three friends with me and it was 300 yards to the end of the island. The sand was a bit heavy and it was a bit sunny and I said to them: ‘I cannot walk.’ I had to sit for 30 minutes. I was only 34. That was the moment the switch flicked.
Two days later I saw the doctor. He asked me to do blood tests. When I had the results and the doctor started to talk to me, I knew I had to change. He told me that my cholesterol is 320 and that the top of the average is 200. He said I was on the edge of being diabetic. And, to be honest, the doctor told me that if I continue with my lifestyle, there is a more than an 80% chance that I’ll die before I am 40. He told me: ‘You will die.’”
Read more here:
We’re starting to receive pictures of England’s training session, which I believe is still happening as I type. They don’t appear to be playing football – so far they are all of people playing catch with this tiny-rugby-ball-with-a-tail contraption:
England’s Ashley Young during training. Photograph: Lee Smith/Reuters
There are several questions that arise from this picture. Why is an elephant playing football? Who made her do this? What is humanity coming to? And hasn’t she just kicked the ball into the Germany goal? Is her 90% hit rate the result of park rangers fibbing?
Eight-year-old female African elephant Nelly kicks a ball into the Mexican goal and so predicts a win for the German team in their first World Cup match during a photo assignment at the Serengeti Park zoo in Hodenhagen, northern Germany. Since her first appearance as the zoo’s official soccer oracle during the Women’s World Cup in 2011, Nelly has a hit rate of more than 90% according to the Serengeti Park’s officials. Photograph: STRINGER/EPA
Here’s the Press Association’s England update:
Marcus Rashford was again absent from England training as the World Cup opener against Tunisia edged closer.
The 20-year-old bolstered his chances of starting Monday’s Group G clash with a man-of-the-match display in the 2-0 friendly send-off win against Costa Rica last Thursday.
However, Rashford’s hopes of featuring against Tunisia appear to be diminishing after missing a second day of training in Russia with a knee complaint.
The Football Association indicates it is a precautionary measure and manager Gareth Southgate called it a “slight knock” upon England’s arrival.
Rashford also attempted to allay concerns about his fitness on Twitter on Wednesday evening.
“Thanks for the messages I’ve been getting,” he posted. “Picked up a slight niggle but nothing to worry about.”
It is just about acceptable to talk about the Premier League on the first day of the World Cup, but this is out of order.
Carabao Cup (@Carabao_Cup)
Heads, shoulders, knees and toes… ⚽@louissaha08 shows off his skills on the #CarabaoCup tour of Vietnam. pic.twitter.com/IFH7bDp8Kj
June 14, 2018
News just in! Here’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a small Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Former Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic attends a meeting with media representatives on the upcoming 2018 Fifa World Cup in Moscow. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
England injury news: Marcus Rashford is apparently going to miss training again today.
The refereeing team for today’s World Cup opener (and all World Cup matches) is enormous. Nestor Pitana will hold the whistle, with fellow Argentines Juan Pablo Bellati and Hernan Maidana running the lines and Sandro Ricci from Brazil the fourth official, while Emerson de Carvalho, also of Brazil, is the reserve assistant referee. Then Massimiliano Irrati of Italy is the VAR, Mauro Vigliano of Argentina the assistant VAR, Carlos Astroza of Chile the offside VAR and Italian Daniele Orsato the support VAR. Just two more officials and they’d have a full XI!
Here’s our story on the Premier League fixtures. I’ve always got a holiday booked in August, which is a significant gamble for any season-ticket holder. And it hasn’t worked out this year: my team’s at home in three of their first four games:
Bong! The Premier League fixtures are out!
Premier League (@premierleague)
📢 Announcing the 2018/19 Matchweek 1 #PLfixtures
Full list 👉 https://t.co/iQKSN9XtKw pic.twitter.com/N5BOj8oVN0
June 14, 2018
Here’s today’s transferrumourly digest:
There seems to have been some kind of opera-based alcohol-fuelled fun in Moscow last night. The picture wires are absolutely full of photographs of bibulous singers and assorted hangers-on. Placido Domingo was present.
Mikhail Kusnirovich, head of Bosco di Ciliegi Group of Companies, attends a party after a concert by opera stars ahead of the 2018 Fifa World Cup, at the GUM Department Store. Photograph: Mikhail Metzel/TASS
“Never mind all this World Cup hullabaloo,” writes Jonny Mac, “did I hear that the Premier League 2018/19 fixtures are out in about half an hour?” You may have done. If you didn’t, you possess the gift of clairvoyance and should introduce yourself to Glenn Hoddle at once, for it is true.
Also from Saudi Arabia comes this snippet about the opening ceremony, which for some reason hasn’t been as widely advertised as the appearance of Robbie Williams. This is the Saudi Arabian Football Federation release:
Children of martyrs will be participating in the 2018 World Cup opening ceremony on Thursday, the day where Saudi Arabia will be playing against Russia the host country at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow at the initiative of the General Sports Authority with the support of the Chairman of the Board Mr Turki Al-Shaikh.
11 children of martyrs have arrived in Russia days ago, will enter with the Saudi national team players before the start of the awaited encounter which is a major media event worldwide.
This grand gesture is about appreciating the martyrs’ heroic exploits in defence of their religion, homeland, and leaders and have sacrificed their lives for martyrdom defending the properties of this consecrated land.
It’s good to see an unashamedly mother-lovin’ footballer. Here’s Saudi Arabia’s Ali Al-Bulaihi on the debt he owes to his mum. “She is the reason for my success and the reason why Ali Al-Bulaihi is the person he is right now.” She’s also the reason why he speaks of himself in the third person, which in general life is to be avoided at all costs but which I find amusing and endearing among sportsmen.
Saudi Arabia’s Ali Al-Bulaihi
Saudi National Team (@SaudiNT_EN)
“Behind every success in my life, stands my mother”
Ali Al-Bulaihi#OurFalcons 💚 pic.twitter.com/QQBkz6l5Qg
June 14, 2018
Hello world! It’s happening!
Julian Brandt and Joshua Kimmich of Germany poses for a portrait during an official Fifa World Cup 2018 portrait session in Moscow. Photograph: Lars Baron/Fifa via Getty Images
And with that, it’s time to hand over the reins to Simon in London, who will take you through to kick-off time in Moscow. Then you’ll have the pleasure of Barry Glendenning’s company for the game itself. From me though, it’s goodbye and thanks for your company.
Really, without meaning to bang on too much about kits (even though it’s probably too late), this graphical history of the 32 competing nations’ strips throughout the ages is very good. I’d forgotten about Belgium ‘82. In fact, ‘82 was a vintage year. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for the aesthetic of that time.
Oh look, here’s Thomas Hitzlsperger, veteran of 52 Germany caps, on his nation’s chances of adding a fifth gold star to their badge. In his first Guardian World Cup column, the former midfielder says recent displays suggest Joachim Löw’s team may have taken their eyes off the ball.
On the subject of kits, the World Cup is a poorer place for the absence of the likes of this Sideshow Bob-inspired affair from the A-League’s Mariners:
Graham Russell (@G_J_Russell)
Such a shame @mike_hytner that the Central Coast Mariners are not, er, a country. #WorldCup
Fashion’s first 11: which is the most stylish World Cup kit? https://t.co/MIdzmasM0x pic.twitter.com/pXeWy9tIbO
June 14, 2018
“I know it’s probably blasphemy to say so but I hated the England ‘82 kit when it first came out and haven’t changed my mind 36 years later,” writes lancaster43, who will now be ceremonially burned at the stake. I particularly enjoy the nod to the ‘82 kit in the current “pre-match” shirt (which I think used to be called a training top). Anyway, this from JD Sports’ website:
This men’s England Squad Pre-Match Shirt from Nike is the same shirt that’s worn by the team when readying up for a game. In a fresh white colourway, it’s built from innovative Dri-FIT fabric, which wicks away sweat to keep you feeling cool and dry – however tense the game gets. The lightweight jersey features a crew neckline and short sleeves. Finished with the signature Swoosh and legendary England crest to the chest.
“Colourway”? “Wicks away sweat”? Anyone?
It’s just past 9am in Moscow, and just after 7am in London, which means Simon Burnton should be awake and nearly be ready to take control of this liveblog. But before he does, and while he wends his way to the hotseat, have a look at this from him, on the making of that utterly brilliant BBC World Cup trailer. An incredible 600 (six hundred!) tapestries were made for it.
The Saudis are one of seven teams at thisWorld Cup from largely Muslim nations and their game tonight comes during the festival of Ramadan. Fasting during daylight hours is, of course, obligatory during Ramadan, which poses a few problems for the players. The Saudis’ situation has been further complicated by the fact they are based in Saint Petersburg, where summer days are lengthy – there is currently 18 hours of daylight to be precise. Paul MacInnes profiles the teams affected, and how they have found various ways of tackling the issue.
Achilles is putting his faith in Russia, but who would he have gone for had he been able to read our experts’ guide to tonight’s teams? Here, Gosha Chernov and Greg Wilcox, part of the Guardian’s international football network, provide a comprehensive lowdown on the two sides:
We’ve had Paul the Octopus, Fred the Ferret, Soothsayer Hog, Citta the Elephant, Flopsy the Kangaroo and Madame Shiva the Guinea Pig, to name but a few of the many psychic animals who specialise in predicating sporting results. Now we can add Achilles the Cat to the list. The feline, who resides in Saint Petersburg, is set to tread in some illustrious footsteps by making predictions for the tournament in Russia, although whether he can live up to the standards set by the ground-breaking Paul, who was famously accurate in his predictions at the 2010 World Cup, is yet to be seen. Achilles, who is deaf – allowing him to fully concentrate on his decision, apparently – has tucked into a bowl of food with the Russian flag on it, signalling a win for the host nation against Saudi Arabia tonight.
But if you prefer your predictions with a more human touch to them, here our very own soothsayers gaze into their crystal balls and deliver their verdicts:
If you’re a quick reader and have about nine minutes spare, this by Ken Bensinger, on how we ended up in Russia for the 2018 World Cup, is a must read.
We all have our favourites. Brazil ‘70, Holland ‘78, England ‘82, Denmark ‘86, to name a few of mine. But are there any classic kits in the making this time around? Peru’s is a definite contender, I feel.
Off the pitch and to be found wading knee deep in hair gel, Iran looked pretty dapper with their suited and booted, tieless look, but the Nigerians also impressed. I’m no fashion expert, but Morwenna Ferrier is, and she reckons the African nation are the real reason why we’re here.
In case you missed it (and because it’s a personal favourite)… what do you do when you’re a Spanish journalist wanting to ask Antoine Griezmann about his future at Atlético Madrid but the France team’s press officer will only allow questions in French (specifically to prevent anyone asking questions about Griezmann about his future at Atletico Madrid)? This:
⚽ Quan el teu francès no és prou bo per fer una pregunta, i fas ús del traductor automàtic del mòbil: https://t.co/gNtVbl0zjb pic.twitter.com/a17NNeNGcc
June 12, 2018
Fire alarm update: not sure if it was the smokers round the back of the bike sheds or something else, but there doesn’t seem to be a real fire. Still, that was about as fun as it was expected. Anyway, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we can carry on, come what may. All of which leads us nicely to a coach who knows a thing or two about firefighting, Russia’s Stanislav Cherchesov. Stuart James profiles the man hoping to ramp up interest in the host nation after a string of recent poor performances. Includes the quote: “You would be hard pushed to get around the labyrinth of the Russian soul.” From a football coach. Impressive stuff.
And there goes the fire alarm at Guardian Towers in Sydney, with the impeccable timing of a late Bryan Robson run into the box!
“Hard to get super excited about Russia v Saudi Arabia but Football is Football and the World Cup is on,” writes Ozgooner85. Isn’t that why they’ve plumped for Robbie Williams? Although the irony of him singing Let Me Entertain You before kick-off will not be lost.
Still, there are players capable of lighting up the Luzhniki tonight. Mohammad al-Sahlawi being one, for example.
And what of yesterday’s decision to award hosting rights for the 2026 World Cup to the US, Canada and Mexico? “Hosting World Cups and Olympic Games is openly a politicians’ prestige-burnishing project now,” writes David Conn. More below.
On a day when nuclear tensions were perhaps eased in one part of the world, Sid Lowe writes astutely on how the fallout from Julen Lopetegui’s decision to become Real Madrid coach went nuclear in Russia so quickly, with the president of the Spanish Football Federation finding the move unforgivable – and acting decisively.
Meanwhile, we have reader interaction! “FOOTBALL!” writes Liam Cullen. Indeed it is, Liam. Or at least it will be once Russia and the Saudis take to the pitch later on.
OK, where to start? There has been a Russian oil billionaire’s worth of preview material published on these pages over the past few weeks, and you’d be forgiven for not having got through it all. But never fear! Over the next few hours, I’ll do my best to point readers in the right direction of some of the best articles, interviews, opinion pieces and interactives, some “editor’s picks” if you like.
And what better place to start than this: the most comprehensive guide to every single player at the tournament, a seething mass of information and insight from the Guardian’s global network of football journalists. Without wanting to blow the Guardian’s own trumpet, it really is a terrific piece of work.
Move on, nothing to see here. Please disperse. Nothing to see here.
A ball hasn’t even been kicked yet but already the 2018 Fifa World Cup is going off like a fireworks factory blown up by a military grade ballistic missile. Four years of waiting and then on the day before Robbie Williams and the host nation kick off the tournament, this happens.
Shortly after that Spanish bombshell, and despite some unhelpful interventions from Donald Trump, this happened, much to the delight of the United peoples of North America. Then this, perhaps unsurprisingly. A finally, this, sadly. Oh and there was this too.
Ah, the World Cup, it’s nothing if not entertaining away from the pitch. But this is just the beginning. There are four weeks of this to look forward to now. Plus there’ll be a bit of football, I imagine.
Yes, actual football. There will definitely be some later today, when hosts Russia open their campaign against Saudi Arabia at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Once the opening ceremony, featuring the aforementioned popster (who has been accused of selling his soul in agreeing to perform), is done and dusted, kick off is 6pm local, 4pm BST, 1am (Friday) AEST or 11am EDT.
Some housekeeping before we dive head first into it all: this daily blog will run until an hour before the first game of the day kicks off. Then, it’s over to the new, match-specific liveblog(s) to see the day through. And that’s how we’ll roll pretty much every day for the next four weeks. It’s a liveblogger’s dream/nightmare scenario, depending on how how deep into the tournament we are, one assumes.
Comments below the line are on, but if you wanted to get in touch on email you can do on email@example.com, or even Twitter @mike_hytner, if that’s your bag, until my colleague in London, Simon Burnton, takes over in about three hours’ time.
It’s a world event, so Google translate has been bookmarked and will be a good friend over the coming weeks. With that in mind, добро пожаловать! Пойдем!