It isn’t unusual for the eyes of the world to be on Russia, but the summer of 2018 will see sport reign supreme over politics (hopefully) in this world’s largest country. The FIFA World Cup is coming to Russia, with 11 cities preparing to host the greatest tournament in football, 32 teams vying for the Jules Rimet trophy last held aloft by Phillipp Lahm of Germany in Rio de Janeiro four years ago.
We’re covering the tournament in depth in terms of travel, but what about the show itself? We’ve put together a small list of World Cup facts for you, focusing on the obscure as opposed to the common.
A successful failure
Russia doesn’t have a great World Cup history, it one former Russian striker does hold an interesting claim to fame. In 1994, Oleg Salenko became the first man to win the tournament’s Golden Boot (award for top scorer) despite his team failing to make it out of the group stage. Salenko scored six goals in three games, five of which came in one match (against Cameroon). This is also a record.
The omens are good for the hosts, as only one team has hosted the tournament and failed to make it out of the first round, South Africa (2010) hold that dubious record, and 30% of host nations have gone on to win the entire thing. The last to do so? France in 1998.
Only eight teams have ever won the World Cup, and only one of those failed to qualify for the 2018 edition. Poor, poor Italy.
16th time lucky for Mexico?
Mexico sauntered through qualification once again, but the Central American nation remains the team to have qualified for the World Cup the most times without managing to win the tournament.
Foreign coaches don’t work
Fabio Capello managed Russia at the 2014 World Cup, but was sacked a year later after poor results and performances. Stanislav Cherchesov is the current coach, which also bodes well from a historical standpoint. No team has ever won the Jules Rimet trophy with a foreign manager.
Those feisty Croats
Keep an eye on Croatia’s matches if you are interested in disciplinary problems. There have been five red cards in Hrvatska’s last four World Cup matches, three for Croatia and two for their opponents.
Muslim majority for Africa
For the first time since the number of qualifiers was expanded to five, all of the African participants are representing Muslim majority nations. The last time this was the case was way back in 1986, although only two African sides took part in that tournament.
Another lost Belgian generation?
The current crop of Belgian stars are often lauded as a golden generation, and an underachieving one at that. This is nothing new however — Belgium have qualified for more World Cups than any other European team without winning the tournament.
Keeping the Cup safe
The 32 captains will be dreaming of raising the Jules Rimet trophy above their heads on July 15, but the famous trophy itself actually spent World War II hidden underneath the bed of Ottorino Barassi, then vice-president of FIFA. Barassi was afraid that Hitler and the Nazis would steal the trophy, which was a fair worry.