This evening marks one of the world's biggest moments in sport - the start of the 2018 World Cup championship in Russia today, June 14.
Who will triumph? Who will be a top scorer? Which two teams will reach the final? Experts toss Brazil, Germany, France, and Spain into the mix, with most betting on Brazil going against one of the other three.
For potential top scorers, Brazil's Neymar and Jesus dominate the predictions.
Some see the possibility for Sweden, Uruguay, Denmark, Croatia, England, and Egypt to make their mark at the World Cup, too.
Have an opinion? We're sure you do.
World Cup fans, take heart. There are plenty of places around the world where you can study and enjoy the matches.
Let's take a closer look at six.
1. Best country for fans: Iceland
Fans in Iceland are the most supportive, at least on paper. Eight percent of the nation's population headed to Saint Etienne in 2016 to watch their team play in the EuroCup.
This year, skysports.com reports that Icelandic fans are ready for another World Cup. Vice president of Tolfan, the fans' support organization, Sveinn Asgeirsson said, "From what we've been told, the Russians are looking forward to meeting the Icelanders...You saw in France, basically, everyone liked us. I don't know why - perhaps because we were smiling and having a good time."
Indeed, Iceland's fans are hugely supportive, in part because of the novelty big tournaments present. With a population of just over 330 thousand people, Iceland is the smallest nation to ever play in a World Cup tournament. And the 2016 EuroCup was the island country's first major tournament showing. Says Asgeirsson, "that's the thing about the Iceland fans. Because it is so new to us, we're trying to make the most of it and have as much fun as we can."
If nothing else, Icelandic fans have made a mark with their epic 'Viking War Chant.'
2. Best country for future football managers: Argentina
On the coaching and management side of the game, Argentina has had a significant impact in both Europe and South America. In fact, Argentina is one of only two South American countries with managers that have won in the UEFA Champions League.
Perhaps the best known is Helenio Herrera, known for his successful leadership for Inter Milan in the 1960s. Since then, there have been numerous others, all of whom who made their mark in the sport--and on the world.
In general, Argentinian managers and coaches are known for their insight into the game and creative approach to tactics. And their strategies are fun! Managers like Marcelo Bielsa, Mauricio Pochettino and Diego Simeone coach their teams into aggressive, attack-based formations that simultaneously win matches and entertain the fans with high-impact, high-energy football. Future football managers take note - Argentine football is gaining a following on the global scale and more clubs will be looking for managers that can bring energy and enthusiasm to the pitch.
3. Best country for social scientists who love sport: South Africa
If the only thing you think of when you hear South Africa and football in the same sentence is the drone of vuvuzelas, think again.
In 2010 South Africa became the first African nation to host the World Cup, and is an established destination for football. But the 2010 World Cup isn't South Africa's only historical football moment. South Africa's football teams and associations played an integral role in the fight to end apartheid. Between 1948 and 1976, the country was intermittently barred from FIFA competitions because of racial tensions and segregated clubs, and the Football Associaton of South Africa (FASA) didn't integrate until 1991, when it was reimagined as the South African Football Association (SAFA). But throughout the years of apartheid, football remained both an inspiration within the townships and a medium through which the country approached integration.
Nelson Mandela, who led the country into its post-apartheid future, loved football and saw sport as a way to unify a divided nation. In fact, on the day of his presidential inauguration, Mandela attended a friendly football match between South Africa and Zambia and appeared at half-time in front of the thousands of people in the stadium to stress the need for unity. When South Africa won the bid to host the 2010 World Cup, Mandela said, "Sport has the power to inspire and unite people. In Africa, soccer enjoys great popularity and has a particular place in the hearts of people. That is why it is so important that the FIFA World Cup will, for the first time ever, be hosted on the African continent."
4. Best country for the football culture: Brazil
Often lauded as the international home of football, Brazil is crazy about the sport. With five world championships, the most any team has ever won, Brazil has some of the world's most extraordinary players, including Pep, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, and most recently Neymar. They inspire young Brazilians to follow their dreams and work hard.
The sport is a uniting force for the country and the country's youth. But it also sets the stage for football all over the world. Brazillian football defines the joga bonito (play beautiful) ethos that draws in fans and players, and throughout the world, the culture that surrounds football is defined by Brazil's approach to the game.
5. Best country for the infrastructure: China
If it's the structure and spending you're interested in, look no further than China.
In 2002, the country played in its first World Cup, and the fact of their participation made it a significant accomplishment in China's history.
While they finished bottom of their group and conceded nine goals, their World Cup loss seems to have done little to dampen their enthusiasm - or determination to become a powerhouse.
And they have the economic wherewithal to do it. Since the 2002 World Cup, China has emerged on the global scene as a deep-pockets investor in the sport. Their multi-billion dollar investments are paying off, too, with state-of-the-art facilities, training programs, and a billion-dollar marketing plan.
6. Best country if you don’t want to hear about football: The US
Despite world-class players, a strong fan-base, hosting the 1994 World Cup, and the most successful international women's team, football, or soccer as it's known in the US is still minor-league as far as sports go.
Why do American's ignore the world's favorite sport? There are a variety of reasons, but the biggest is probably the way the game is scored. While football fans around the world thrive on the cuticle-knawing suspense of failed tries, American sports fans are used to games like American football and basketball, where scores climb into the double and triple digits and each minute brings another number to the scoreboard. In football, you can watch a game and never see a score for 90 minutes. Even baseball, arguably one of the slower- and lower-scoring sports would never end in a draw. Americans like their sports to score - and score big.
In a 2014 article in Time, Stephen Clark, a news anchor at WXYZ in Detroit said, "Americans love to see scoring. In soccer it’s too usual to see a game end at 1-0.”
Michael Mandelbaum, director of the American Foreign Policy program at John Hopkins University and author of The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football, and Basketball and What They See If They Do attributed part of the problem to "a draw," or a tie.
But the times, they are a-changing. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil saw American's embrace football-fever, and soccer is rising in popularity - up 3 percent in the last three years! While the country failed to make the cut for this year's tournament, fans' - and players' - disappointment may be allayed by the timely announcement that the US - in cooperation with Mexico and Canada - has won the bid to host the 2026 World Cup!
Ready to go? Pick your spot and gear up for a good match. You're sure to see one.
Learn more about studying sports management.
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