The 2018 World Cup in Russia promises to be a footballing extravaganza, with numerous nations in with a realistic chance of claiming the sport’s most prestigious trophy.
Five-time winners Brazil will fancy their chances of success, while the likes of Germany, Spain, France and Argentina should also put up a strong showing.
Hosts Russia kick-off the tournament on June 14 against Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, with the final scheduled to take place at the same venue on July 15.
Read on to find out the five big things to watch in the 2018 World Cup.
Last chance saloon for Messi
Many people argue that Lionel Messi is the greatest player of all time, but World Cup success continues to elude the Argentina star.
This summer’s tournament will be the 30-year-old’s fourth appearance at the finals and he only has a runners-up medal from 2014 to show for his efforts.
The likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane all helped their respective countries to World Cup glory and Russia 2018 represents Messi’s last realistic chance of joining that illustrious list of names.
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Video Assistant Referee (VAR)
FIFA’s decision to use Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology at the World Cup has met with a mixed reaction across football.
Plenty of leading personalities in the game have criticised the system, but FIFA believe it is helping to improve decision making within football.
Both the Premier League and the Champions League have delayed introducing the technology, but if it is a success in Russia it is likely that VAR will become a permanent fixture in all the major leagues sooner rather than later.
More heartbreak for England?
Gareth Southgate wasn’t everyone’s first choice to become England manager, but the 47-year-old has safely guided his country to the World Cup.
Friendly draws against Germany and Brazil cranked up expectations, before a victory away to the Netherlands sparked talk of a successful campaign this summer.
A 1-1 draw in their most game against Italy was a further sign of the progress England have made under Southgate, but history has shown that it would be unwise to expect too much from the Three Lions in Russia.
Someone will steal the headlines
Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt, Paul Gascoigne’s tears, Luis Suarez’s bite – each event famous in its own right and each permanently etched into World Cup folklore.
There’s been plenty of other talking points down the years and it’s pretty much guaranteed that someone will do something that will get everybody talking in Russia.
Whatever happens, it is to be hoped that ramifications are not as serious as those that befell Colombia captain Andres Escobar in 1994.
His own goal against the USA effectively knocked Colombia out of the World Cup and he was subsequently murdered, shot six times in the back, apparently as revenge for his team’s elimination.
A new world star will be born
Each passing World Cup creates new stars of the game. From Italy’s Paolo Rossi in 1982 to Roger Milla’s dancing antics with Cameroon in 1990 – the tournament always throws up a new name for people to talk about.
Germany’s Timo Werner and France forward Kylian Mbappe are two players at the younger end of the scale who will be looking to make an impact at the World Cup, but could this be the year where an England player enhances his reputation?
The likes of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have the potential to shine, but whether they produce the goods on the biggest stage remains to be seen.