People across the world currently has their eyes fixed to television screens to catch the 2018 FIFA World Cup which kicked off on Thursday in Russia.
The World Cup is easily the biggest and most popular sporting event on the planet, and a lucky 32 teams will be duking it out from now until mid-July to claim sports’ most coveted title.
Even though the United States team failed to qualify for the Cup this time around (and for the first time since 1986), there are still lot of reasons to tune in.
So you can keep up when you’re fútbol-loving friends are crowding the local bars to see if their favorite team will progress in the tournament, here are the top things to know and pay attention to during the World Cup this year.
1. Messi, Ronaldo, and other Top Stars
Because the World Cup is the biggest stage in the world for athletes, many of soccer’s biggest stars will have their legacies made or broken at the tournament. This year, a lot of pressure will be on Lionel Messi of Argentina, who considered one of soccer’s all-time greats. But he has never led the team to a World Cup win, and since he is turning 31 years old this month, this likely may be his last go at the tournament. If Argentina loses again, having failed to claim the world title may be one of the things that may keep him back from being known as the all-time great.
Another star? Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, who turned 33 this year. This, too, may be his last World Cup appearance.
But there are a ton of rising and established stars to watch out for, including Neymar of Brazil, Mohamed Salah or Egypt, Sergio Ramos of Spain, and South Korean forward Son Heung-min.
2. The Tournament Is, Controversially, in Russia
Following a long wait after initially being awarded the World Cup in 2010, the tournament is now underway in the country for the first time in its history.
But not everyone is on board with the country’s historic moment, as officials from the United Kingdom are boycotting Russia hosting the month-long event. Why? Russian president Vladimir Putin has been the source of controversy for almost the last 20 years due to his alleged human rights abuses and aggressive stance toward international policy. Even so, the FIFA Congress named Russia as the host of the World Cup seven years ago.
But of those who voted for Russia, only one of the 22 men are still employed by FIFA, as some of them were removed for corruption or outright banned from soccer. The former president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, who was suspended for corruption, will be attending the World Cup after being invited by Putin.
The home team is off to a good start in their bid for the title, as they beat Saudi Arabia in the first game of the tournament on Thursday.
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3. What Country Is Likely to Win?
While many surprises could await the 32 teams at the Cup, the favorites to take the title this year are Brazil, Spain and the last World Cup winner, Germany — who, if they win, will become the first repeat winner since 1962.
Other hopefuls are France, Portugal, Argentina and England.
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4. How Is the Tournament Set Up?
There are eight groups of four teams who compete in round-robin matchups that will name a winner and a runner-up. Each team plays each other once and top-two teams with the most points move on (three points for a win, and one point for a draw).
Once those two teams are decided from the eight groups, they go to the 16-team sudden death tournament — essentially the same set-up as the bracket-style tournament of the Sweet Sixteen of college basketball. Those teams face-off until the last two teams face each other for the cup.
5. When Are the Games Played and How Can You Watch?
Fox will be broadcasting the World Cup on its national channel and its cable channel, Fox Sports, from June 14 to July 15. For the entire TV schedule, click here.