Russia 2018 World Cup: All you need to know ahead of next summer

The line-up for the 2018 World Cup is almost complete.

England will be among the 32 teams in Russia – although Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland have missed out.

What are the key dates for the World Cup? Where are the venues? When will the matches be played? And who will be watching the tournament from home? Here’s all you need to know…

Who has qualified?

Of the 31 places up for grabs at the World Cup – with Russia qualifying as hosts – 29 have been secured.

In addition to Russia, Europe’s confirmed representatives so far are France, Portugal, England, Germany, Serbia, Poland, Spain, Belgium, Iceland, Switzerland, Croatia, Sweden and Denmark.

From South America, five-time winners Brazil have qualified along with Uruguay, Colombia and Argentina.

Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, Iran, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia have also secured their spots.

The remaining play-offs involve New Zealand v Peru and Honduras v Australia, with both matches 0-0 after the first leg.

Who has missed out?

There will be some big names not in Russia.

Two-time champions Argentina almost missed out but eventually secured their place with a win over Ecuador, however Chile were eliminated after their final day 3-0 defeat to Brazil. Italy and Netherlands are also missing, while the USA failed to qualify, too.

As well as Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Austria, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Turkey and Norway will also be watching the tournament from home.

Cameroon and Ghana both failed to qualify from Africa along with Riyad Mahrez’s Algeria, who had a dismal qualifying campaign. China will also not be in Russia, along with Ecuador and Venezuela.

When’s the World Cup draw?

The draw for the group stages will be held on Friday, December 1 in Moscow. It will take place at the State Kremlin Palace inside the Moscow Kremlin and you will be able to follow the draw live on Sky Sports digital platforms.

In a change to previous editions, the 31 qualified teams will be allocated into four pots depending on their FIFA ranking as of October 16, 2017. That means the seven highest-ranked teams in the world will go into Pot 1 along with hosts Russia, with the rest of the teams then allocated pots in descending order of their rankings.

The four pots will be emptied and nations will be drawn into four-team groups from A to H.

When is the World Cup?

The World Cup gets underway on Thursday, June 14, with hosts Russia playing the opening match. The tournament will finish on July 15 at the Luzhniki Stadium, the same venue where it started a month earlier.

Before the final, the round of 16 matches get underway on June 30, with the quarter-finals on July 6 and 7 and the semi-finals on July 10 and 11.

Where will it be played?

Russia is a vast country with 11 time zones, but all the venues for the World Cup are in the west to avoid too many travel issues.

There are 12 venues across 11 cities, with Ekaterinburg the furthest east and Kaliningrad the furthest west.

The stadium in Ekaterinburg – the Ekaterinburg Arena – includes one of the more unique features of all the venues as it has two temporary stands outside the original perimeter to ensure it meets the FIFA-sanctioned minimum of 35,000 spectators.

The biggest stadium will be the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow and the other venues are the Kaliningrad Stadium, Volgograd Stadium, Fisht Stadium, Kazan Arena, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Samara Stadium, Rostov-on-Don Stadium, Spartak Stadium, Saint Petersburg Stadium and Saransk Stadium.

Group stage matches will be played throughout the day, with some starting at 3pm Moscow time (1pm UK time) and others at 6pm and 9pm Moscow time (4pm and 7pm UK time).

The final will again be played at 6pm Moscow time.

Who are the favourites?

It’s a close-run thing for favouritism with Sky Bet between defending champions Germany (5/1), France (11/2) and Brazil (11/2).

Spain are 13/2 while England are rated as 20/1 shots.

Iceland are the smallest-ever nation to reach a World Cup and they can be backed at 200/1 to spring a surprise and win the tournament.

You will be able to watch the European play-offs live on Sky Sports and follow the draw for the tournament across Sky Sports digital platforms.

Source.