The countdown to the World Cup is down to 100 days. On June 14th 2018 the World Cup starts in Russia. The 32 qualified teams will have a series of friendlies later in March and later in the Spring as preparations reach the final stage.
In Russia itself a new aspect of the game is set to dominate the discussions before and surely during and after games. The introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has been made official and it’s use in leagues around the world and last year’s Confederations Cup have been mixed at best. The issue of missing a goal where the ball has just crossed the goal line was handled or solved by goal line technology. Now VAR has added four more broad situations where separate referees sitting in a video room can consult with the on pitch referee to correct any possible mistakes.
The four are:
Goals, to check if there was any problems during the buildup to them
Penalty decisions, to check if one should be given
Red cards, if deserved or should be given
Mistaken identity in issuing red or yellow cards
So far there have been cases where hand balls in the penalty box or offsides have been missed even after consulting video or when the delay has disrupted the game. Offsides have long been a case where improvements have been required, whether VAR is the solution is somewhat arguable. Assistant referees can do a better job by themselves but video will help.
Controversy is a sure thing but this time it can look different.
A number of high profile teams or those with history at the World Cup failed to qualify for World Cup 2018. Any World Cup includes a few such teams and this time is no different. Of course Italy is number one in this edition’s list but others like the USA, Holland, Chile, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana are surprising missing teams too.
Italy fell to Sweden in the UEFA playoffs. Holland finished only third in the qualifying group that included Sweden and France. USA missed out by finishing a shocking fifth, behind Honduras, in the CONCAFAF hexagonal. Chile finished 6th in CONMEBOL qualifying. Cameroon finished third in the CAF final stage behind Nigeria and Zambia, Ivory Coast fell at the same stage to Morocco and Ghana was third behind Egypt and Ghana.
The following are some of the best players that are missing out on possible glory in Russia.
Lorenzo Insigne. Not often used by various coaches but a creative force for the Azzurri nevertheless.
Ginaluigi Buffon. Missed out on a chance to leave the pitch at the highest level.
Christian Pulisic. One of the young stars of world football, the now 19 year old could have made a bigger name for himself.
Virgil van Dijk. Lost the chance to showcase why he is the world’s most expensive defender, having just joined Liverpool (from Celtic) for €85 million.
Alexis Sanchez. Only just joined Manchester United (from Arsenal). One of the best creative and goalscorers in his country’s history.
Clinton N’Jie. Marseille striker could be a bigger star.
Eric Bailly. Not always a starter at Manchester United but a solid defender with youth on his side.
Thomas Partey. A solid defensive midfielder at Atletico Madrid who can help any team defensively.
Here is a list of the coaches that will guide the 32 teams at World Cup 2018 in Russia. A number of nations are notorious for changing coaches even within months of major competitions. For example Saudi Arabia are on their third national team coach since September 2017. The current coach Juan Antonio Pizzi succeeded Edgardo Bauza who lasted only weeks and was preceded by Bert van Marwijk.
The competition begins on June 14, 2018 and further changes are unlikely but not impossible.
Russia: Stanislav Cherchesov, coach since August 2016, 54 years old. Previously at Legia Warsaw, Dynamo Moscow and others. Saudia Arabia: Juan Antonio Pizzi, 49. Previously coach of Chile’s national team and several clubs in Mexico, Chile, his native Argentina and a season at Valencia in Spain. Egypt: Hector Cuper, since March 2015, 62. Previously a successful coach in Europe with Inter Milan, Mallorca, Valencia and others, also briefly coached the Georgia national team. Uruguay: Oscar Tabarez, since 2006, 70. One of the longest serving coaches at any level. Brief Uruguayan and European club stints in the years prior to 2006. Portugal: Fernando Santos, since 2014, 63. Many years in the Portuguese and Greek leagues. Has been at all three big Portuguese teams (Benfica, Porto, and Sporting Lisbon) and the Greece national team as coach. Spain: Julen Lopetegui, since July 2016, 51. Formerly coach of Spain’s U21, U20 and U19 teams. Morocco: Herve Renard, since February 2016, 49. Coach of two Africa Cup of Nations winners (Zambia and Ivory Coast) Iran: Carlos Queiroz, since April 2011, 64. Coached Real Mardrid for a season and was assistant at Manchester United under Alex Ferguson. Also coached Portugal and South Africa’s national teams. France: Didier Deschamps, since July 2012, 49. World Cup winner as player. Coached Monaco, Juventus and Marseille. Australia: Bert van Marwijk, since this month. Coached his native Holland to the final of World Cup 2010. Replaced the departing Ange Postecoglou. Peru: Ricardo Gareca, since 2015, 59. Numerous coaching stints around his native Argentina and elsewhere in South America. Denmark: Age Hareide, since December 2015, 64. A Norwegian who has had success at club level with Rosenberg. Coached his native country in the 2000s. Argentina: Jorge Sampaoli, since summer 2017, 57. Left the high profile job of coaching Sevilla in Spain to rescue his native country’s faltering qualification for World Cup 2018. Succeeded Edgardo Bauza and Gerardo Martino. Previously coached Chile’s national team. Iceland: Heimir Hallgrimsson, in sole charge since summer 2016, 50. Previously co-coach with Lars Lagerback. Croatia: Zlatko Dalic, since October 2017, 51. Controversially replaced Ante Cacic. Nigeria: Gernot Rohr, since August 2016, 64. Relative unknown who nevertheless has plenty of experience around the African continent. Brazil: Tite, since June 2016, 56. Wanted as the coach long before he finally accepted following disasters of previous coach, Dunga. Switzerland: Vladimir Petkovic, since 2014, 54. Previously coached Lazio and clubs in Switzerland and Turkey. Costa Rica: Oscar Ramirez, since 2015, 53. Short stint as national team assistant and clubs around Costa Rica. Serbia: Mladen Krstajic, since October 2017, 43. Controversially replaced Slavoljub Muslin after the latter helped secure qualification. Germany: Joachim Low, since July 2006, 57. Succeeded Jurgen Klinsmann and has won the World Cup and been runners up and semi finalists too. Mexico: Juan Carlos Osorio since October 2015, 56. Colombian who has held on to his job despite constant pressure. Previously an assistant at Manchester City. Sweden: Janne Andersson, since 2016, 55. Previously assistant and head coach at several clubs in his native land. South Korea: Shin Tae-yong, since 2017, 48. Replaced Uli Stielike after the German was on the verge of failing to get the team to World Cup 2018. Belgium: Roberto Martinez, since August 2016, 44. Surprise choice to replace Marc Wilmots. Brought in Thierry Henry as assistant. Panama: Hernan Dario Gomez, since February 2014, 61. Colombian previously in charge of the Colombia, Ecuador and Guatemala national teams. Tunisia: Nabil Maaloul, since April 2017, 55. Succeeded the highly experienced Henryk Kasperczak. Previously coached the national teams at senior and Olympic levels. England: Gareth Southgate, since September 2016, 47. Former England U21 coach appointed after Sam Allardyce resigned. Poland: Adam Nawalka, since October 2013, 60. One of the stars of the 1978 World Cup. Senegal: Aliou Cisse, since 2015, 41. Formerly the U23 coach. As a player some experience in England and France. Colombia: Jose Pekerman, since January 2012, 71. Highly regarded Argentinian with extensive experience and somewhat strange coaching style, including time as Argentina’s U20 and national teams. Japan: Vahid Halilhodzic, since March 2015, 65. Replaced Javier Aguirre after the Mexican had to leave due to match fixing issues in Spain. Had success with Algeria at World Cup 2014
With the 2018 World Cup taking place in Russia for the first time it is perhaps useful to look at the number of players who play their club football in Russia and specifically the Russian Premier League. It could be that a player who is more familiar with the stadiums, the infrastructure and the nature of football in Russia can feel more comfortable and confident at the World Cup and give his national team a small edge.
Russian football is dominated by the more traditional Moscow based teams like Lokomotiv Moscow, Spartak Moscow and CSKA Moscow. Post Soviet big money and rich ownership has propelled teams into the heights of European football with, briefly, Anzhi Makhachkala, FK Krasnodar and Zenit St. Petersburg helping Russia to 6th place in the UEFA country ranking.
Below is a list of some of the foreign players who play for the aforementioned clubs and others in the Russian Premier League and may represent their country there starting on June 14, 2018.
Manuel Fernandes Central Midfielder Portugal 31 years old Lokomotiv Moscow Eder Forward Portugal 30 Lokomotiv Moscow Milad Mohammadi Right back Iran 24 Akhmat Grozny Sardar Azmoun Forward Iran 23 Rubin Kazan Jefferson Farfan Winger Peru 33 Lokomotiv Moscow Emanuel Mammana Defender Argentina 21 Zenit St. Petersburg Leandro Paredes Central midfielder Argentina 23 Zenit St. Petersburg Matias Kranevitter Central midfielder Argentina 24 Zenit St. Petersburg Emiliano Rigoni Winger Argentina 24 Zenit St. Petersburg Ragnar Sigurdsson Defender Iceland 31 FK Rostov Sverrir Ingi Ingason Defender Iceland 24 FK Rostov Mario Pasalic Central midfielder Croatia 22 Spartak Moscow Vedran Corluka Defender Croatia 31 Lokomotiv Moscow Bryan Idowu Left back Nigeria 25 Amkar Perm Aaron Olanare Forward Nigeria 23 CSKA Moscow Branislav Ivanovic Defender Serbia 33 Zenit St. Petersburg Andreas Granqvist Defender Sweden 32 FK Krasnodar Sebastian Holmen Defender Sweden 25 Dinamo Moscow Viktor Claesson Midfielder Sweden 26 FK Krasnodar Maciej Rybus Midfielder Poland 28 Lokomotiv Moscow