World Cup: Russia set for its red-letter day

World Cup: Russia set for its red-letter day

Germany's Matthias Ginter during training, Reuters photo

The eyes of the world will be trained on Russia for the next one month as the football World Cup kicks off on Thursday, with the cream of the sport’s talent battling for the ultimate prize.

The hosts will feature in the opening match at the imposing Luzhniki Stadium, taking on Saudi Arabia in what is a lightweight clash in Group A. The spotlight, though, will be firmly on heavyweights and the usual suspects, with defending champions Germany, runners-up Argentina and the perennial favourites Brazil leading the charts.

Brazil have been the form team in the build-up phase and they have been energised by the return of their talisman Neymar in the build-up. The Germans, though, are known to operate at a higher level when the situation demands and under coach Joachim Loew, they know when to hit the accelerator.

Pressure will be on the stars to deliver and it will be the highest on one man. Lionel Messi, despite all the accolades, is without a World Cup winner’s medal and the champion Argentine, who finished second best in 2014, would want nothing less than a peck on the gold trophy on July 15. 

The Germans may not boast a superstar like Neymar, Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, the Real Madrid star leading European champion Portugal’s quest. But they have efficient men in every position, and in Manuel Neuer, a goalkeeper of class. France and Belgium, too are in the running.

Even as the fans poured into Russia, enthusiasm from the locals in Moscow was low key but the wild energy in provincial centres such as Kazan is filtering through to the capital ahead of the opening match.

President Vladimir Putin said in a televised address last week that he wanted the event to be “an unforgettable experience” for all involved.