March 05, 2018

100 days until Russia 2018

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All eyes will be on hosts Russia as they tackle Saudi Arabia in Moscow on June 10 in the first action of the 2018 World Cup.

Monday marks 100 days to go until it is time for the great and the good to tread the boards on football's grandest stage. Experience tells us there are plenty of twists and turns to come before the big kick-off.

From a superstar in a race against time to be fit, to selection dilemmas for coaches and officials being under pressure like never before, we look at some of the major issues on the agenda as the countdown to Russia 2018 reaches its final stages.

NEYMAR ON THE MEND

Brazil eased dominantly through the treacherous CONMEBOL qualifying section and their form under Tite means the Selecao are well placed to banish the humiliation they suffered on home turf in 2014. But their plans were thrown into flux a week ago when Neymar suffered a broken metatarsal in Paris Saint-Germain's Ligue 1 win over Marseille.

The frenzied events of the days that followed – PSG coach Unai Emery saying Neymar might avoid surgery, surgery happening after the player's father stated a preference for that route and differing recovery timeframes stated by the respective club and national-team setups – gave a taste of the saga to come as one of the world's wealthiest clubs and most iconic footballing nation fret over the wellbeing of their prized asset. Brazil's tournament opener against Switzerland on June 17 looms large.

SO NEAR AND YET SO VAR

The International Football Association Board (IFAB)'s unanimous approval of video assistant referees (VAR) means the much-debated technology is set to be used in Russia, with a final decision to be made by FIFA on March 16. Ever since it was trialled at the Confederations Cup last year, world football's governing body have spoken enthusiastically about VAR as a giant leap forward in terms of just and fair decisions, but similar support is hard to find elsewhere.

The "game's gone" wing of supporters have been volubly resistant, but even advocates have been alarmed by the often confused and clunky implementation across major matches in Germany, Italy, Australia and England. According to IFAB figures, VAR has increased the accuracy of reviewed decisions by 93% to 98.9% - a return that makes a new and flawed system worth persevering with. Nevertheless, the chance of all the kinks being ironed out by the World Cup is somewhere closer to the other end of the percentage scale, meaning the whole VAR project might be dealt irreparable damage in Russia.

All eyes will be on hosts Russia as they tackle Saudi Arabia in Moscow on June 10 in the first action of the 2018 World Cup.

Monday marks 100 days to go until it is time for the great and the good to tread the boards on football's grandest stage. Experience tells us there are plenty of twists and turns to come before the big kick-off.

From a superstar in a race against time to be fit, to selection dilemmas for coaches and officials being under pressure like never before, we look at some of the major issues on the agenda as the countdown to Russia 2018 reaches its final stages.

NEYMAR ON THE MEND

Brazil eased dominantly through the treacherous CONMEBOL qualifying section and their form under Tite means the Selecao are well placed to banish the humiliation they suffered on home turf in 2014. But their plans were thrown into flux a week ago when Neymar suffered a broken metatarsal in Paris Saint-Germain's Ligue 1 win over Marseille.

The frenzied events of the days that followed – PSG coach Unai Emery saying Neymar might avoid surgery, surgery happening after the player's father stated a preference for that route and differing recovery timeframes stated by the respective club and national-team setups – gave a taste of the saga to come as one of the world's wealthiest clubs and most iconic footballing nation fret over the wellbeing of their prized asset. Brazil's tournament opener against Switzerland on June 17 looms large.

SO NEAR AND YET SO VAR

The International Football Association Board (IFAB)'s unanimous approval of video assistant referees (VAR) means the much-debated technology is set to be used in Russia, with a final decision to be made by FIFA on March 16. Ever since it was trialled at the Confederations Cup last year, world football's governing body have spoken enthusiastically about VAR as a giant leap forward in terms of just and fair decisions, but similar support is hard to find elsewhere.

The "game's gone" wing of supporters have been volubly resistant, but even advocates have been alarmed by the often confused and clunky implementation across major matches in Germany, Italy, Australia and England. According to IFAB figures, VAR has increased the accuracy of reviewed decisions by 93% to 98.9% - a return that makes a new and flawed system worth persevering with. Nevertheless, the chance of all the kinks being ironed out by the World Cup is somewhere closer to the other end of the percentage scale, meaning the whole VAR project might be dealt irreparable damage in Russia.