This evening will bring us closer towards the 2018 FIFA World Cup as the Final Draws take place in Moscow, the capital of Russia. Courtesy of football website FCNaija, I am one of the few hundred journalists from across the world that will witness the event live inside the opulent State Kremlin Palace, the heart of the Russian state. The Final Draws will throw up the four teams that would play in the eight groups of the World Cup that would begin on June 14 and run till July 15, 2018.
The Draws would also reveal the stadiums and cities where the teams would play. Twelve stadiums in 11 cities will play host to the 64 matches of the 32 teams. Once the draws are completed, teams would begin to plan for their base camps and host cities.
These choices are made carefully because they will determine where the teams lodge for their first three group matches. They will fly from the base camp two days before each match day to the city of their match and return to the base hotel afterwards. Many teams would pick cities with warm climate and friendly people in order to maximise their opportunity to concentrate for the task ahead of them.
At Brazil 2014, Nigeria chose Campinas, a city less than two hours by road from the main city of Sao Paulo. Campinas had an international airport from which the Super Eagles flew to the cities where they played their three matches before they bid a final goodbye to the city ahead of their Round of 16 game in Brasilia. The people of Campinas, who also played host to the more popular Portuguese national team, were very welcoming of the Eagles that many fans showed up with placards proclaiming that they are Nigerians. Ahead of the tournament when some locals found out that Nigeria was going to make use of their city for training, they formed a group called Nigerianos desde crianca – Nigerians since childhood. They proved to be very passionate about the Eagles during that World Cup and welcomed many Nigerians into their city with open arms. A museum of Afro-Brasilian history also created an exhibit that explored the Nigerian roots of Brazil’s Candomblé religion.
Once the draws are over in Moscow on Friday night, one would expect the Nigeria Football Federation to select a base camp from among the many suitors that will offer promises of sweet experiences in their cities. Russia is a huge country, the biggest land surface area in the world. Yet, it has a population less than Nigeria’s due to the frigid weather in most of the country. Wide areas of the north are under-populated due to the endless wintry climate. Cities in the south are warmer with friendly people. It would be interesting to see which choice is made by the NFF.
The result of the draws would also throw many Nigerian fans into frenzy in the bid to purchase their match and flight tickets with group match venues now fully known. One of my sources in the hospitality market said that this frenzy would only last for about two weeks until April when sales would pick up once more. Nigerians like to plan late and so the World Cup will take a back seat for Christmas and New Year spending. With spending power having experienced a hit during the economic recession, only a few thousand Nigerians would eventually make it over to see at least one game of the 2018 World Cup even though many would wish they were able to make the trip.
Those who are not able to make the trip would be treated to an array of television programming and live matches of the greatest football spectacle on earth. The World Cup will make the world stand still for one month until it culminates in its grand finale on July 15 in Moscow’s majestic 81,000 seats Luzhniki Stadium. This match is the target of NFF boss Amaju Pinnick who has dared to state that Nigeria would win the World Cup.
But first, the draws take place tonight inside the Kremlin under the watchful eye of President Vladimir Putin, a man who is most famous for his judo and ice hockey skills than football. With the World Cup, Putin’s Russia would come under greater scrutiny by visiting international media. The media would find a lot to say while the rest of the world just wants to watch good football.
Russia has an opportunity to sell itself to the world and the countdown starts tonight. There are less than two hundred days to go to the four-yearly celebration of the grandest spectacle in world sport.