The world's most widely-viewed sporting event, the men's soccer World Cup, begins Thursday in Russia, where the host country's national team will face off against Saudi Arabia at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
Russia is the lowest-ranked team in the 2018 World Cup, Sporting News notes, having failed to win their last seven friendly matches since October, while Saudi Arabia last reached the global finals in 1994. "Never mind that it's the least appealing World Cup opener ever," writes Henry Bushnell for Yahoo Sports. "If you're a soccer fan, you watch the World Cup opener."
Beginning Friday, there will be three daily matches for the first 10 days of the tournament, followed by four daily matches during the final days of the group phase. The Round of 16 knockout phase begins June 30, with the tournament final scheduled for July 15. Germany, who won the last World Cup in 2014, will be defending their title.
Games can be watched on Fox or Fox Sports 1, or in Spanish on Telemundo or NBC Universo. Russia vs. Saudi Arabia kicks off at 11 a.m. ET. While the U.S. team failed to qualify, The Week has a handy guide to help you choose what team to root for instead. Jeva Lange
Buck up, Team USA. Sure, the U.S. men's soccer team didn't qualify for the 2018 World Cup for the first time since 1986, eliminated by Trinidad and Tobago, but on Monday, powerhouse Italy lost its do-or-die qualifying match with Sweden, meaning the Azzurri will miss their first World Cup tournament since 1958. Within hours of the 0-0 tie (leaving Sweden a 1-0 lead in the two-game series), Italy's coach, Piero Ventura, resigned. "I'm not sorry for myself but all of Italian football," said goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, 39, who played in the last five World Cups, including in 2006, when Italy won. Italy has played in 18 World Cups, tying Germany and two behind Brazil.
Italy and the U.S. aren't the only surprise losers in this World Cup qualifying season. Also missing in 2018 will be the Netherlands, runners-up in 2010; African powerhouse Ghana; and Chile, 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions. Of the 32 slots in the World Cup tournament, 29 have already been filled. The final three will go to either Ireland or Denmark, Australia or Honduras, and New Zealand or Peru. Peter Weber