Russia all set for World Cup action in depleted event without Italy, Holland

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Thirty-two nations will be vying for top honours with Germany defending their crown.

MOSCOW, June 13: FIFA World Cup 2018 is about to get off the ground in Russia as 32 nations, minus traditional football giants Italy and Netherlands, begin hostilities in eight groups consisting of four teams each will battle out for the prestigious FIFA World Cup trophy. The 6.1 kilograms trophy will be put on defence by heavyweights and Joachim Low-managed Germany – without former stars Bastian Schewinsteiger, Miroslav Klose and Philipp Lahm.
Plenty at stake
Holders Germany who became the first European team in history win the to win the tournament in South America in 2014, will be bolstered by talented but inexperienced youngsters like Timo Werner, Joshua Kimmich, Julian Draxler, Antonio Rudiger along with the experience of premier footballers like Marco Reus, Mario Gomez, Mesut Ozil, Mats Hummels and Manuel Neuer.
In 2014, the World Cup saw a downfall for Brazil after star forward Neymar suffered a back injury in the quarter-final clash against Colombia. However, all eyes will be on the last footballer from Latin American reportedly carrying forward the traditional ‘Ginga’ playing style to bring glory back home after a World Cup drought since 2006.
Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, who had a sensational club season, will add strength on the Tite’s playing eleven.
Household football names and five-time Ballon d’Or holders Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will bank on their individual abilities for Argentina and the European champions Portugal respectively to see any chance of glory in the marquee tournament. Messi came back from a retirement in international football after a poor run in 2014 season.
Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi will be a boost for the Argentines. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero and midfield options Ever Banega and Angel di Maria will add strength to the Jorge Sampaoli-managed side.
Meanwhile, the Spain squad, in the absence of key playmaker Cesc Fabregas and striker Alvaro Morata – who had a season to forget with English football giants Chelsea — will bank on Real Madrid stars Isco and Marco Asensio to do most of the damage on the attack while onus will be on David de Gea – who clinched the English Premier League (EPL) golden glove – in front of the net to keep his national team safe.
Early drama in Russia
Hosts Russia faced early drama months before the marquee tournament. The embattled head of the 2018 World Cup organizing committee Vitaly Mutko, stepped down from his post following a series of reports that exposed the country’s systematic doping regime.
Meanwhile, hotels in Moscow saw a 70 per cent surge in the early weeks whereas the Indian citizens topped the ticket sales list in Phase One of the FIFA World Cup. (Agencies)