It’s almost hard to believe, but the 2018 World Cup is beginning to sneak up on us. A year from now the Cup will already have ended, and a fresh champion will have been crowned (though we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of the Germans repeating). At this stage though, we still aren’t sure which teams are going to survive qualifying.
We know a handful of nations that seem likely, if not virtually guaranteed to qualify. Russia is already in as the host nation, for instance. Brazil has already qualified (as has Iran), and perennial juggernauts like Germany, Spain, and Italy are going to be almost impossible to keep out. Meanwhile, England established an impeccable qualifying record early on, Switzerland is looking like a shoe-in, and most of the top South American teams are performing as expected (though Argentina has some ground to make up in qualifying).
There will be 18 or 19 teams that qualify from Eurasia in the end, however: 14 from Europe (including Russia), and four or five from Asia. We know that Iran is in, and the Korean Republic, Uzbekistan, Japan, and Saudi Arabia all look strong in the Asian qualifying phases. In Europe we’ve mentioned a few teams already that are likely going to be packing their bags for Russia; Sweden, France, Northern Ireland, Serbia, Ireland, Poland, and Belgium are additional teams that appear to be in very strong qualifying positions.
So, if you’re reading from one of those countries, or you’re a fan of one of those teams, you might want to start making some tentative preparations! It’s a wonderful event every four years, and while there’s currently tension between Russia and much of the surrounding region, there’s little doubt the host nation will put on a show. There will be 12 stadiums used, and if you’re interested you can look through this guide to all of them. Here, we’ll provide some of the basic information about venues and their locations.
Luzhniki Stadium (Moscow) – This is the main stadium, and the largest one that will be in use. It’s where one semi-final and the Cup final will take place, though earlier rounds will pass through as well. Seeing a match here gives you a perfect opportunity to explore the Russian capital, where you’ll see legendary landmarks like Red Square, Saint Basil’s Cathedral, and the Kremlin.
Saint Petersburg Stadium (St. Petersburg) – The other semi-final match will take place here, as will the third place match. It will be one of the closer venues for a lot of European travelers, as St. Petersburg is located right on the Gulf of Finland. Don’t miss the Hermitage Museum – one of the most spectacular in the world – if you go.
Fisht Stadium (Sochi) – This is another particularly accessible venue for much of the world. Sochi has a reputation as a winter wonderland given that it hosted the Winter Olympics in 2014. But in reality it’s right on the Black Sea, near the Georgia border and due north of Turkey.
Ekaterinburg Arena (Ekaterinburg) – This is one of the new venues being built, and looks like a gorgeous, state of the art facility. Ekaterinburg is in the heart of Russia, and thus a bit more remote, but it looks like the arena might be worth the trip.
Kazan Arena (Kazan) – Due east of Moscow and located on the Volga River, Kazan is a pretty city known for its blue-domed mosque (the Qolsarif Mosque), situated in an area called the “Kazan Kremlin.” It should be a nice place to hang out for a few days if the groups playing at the arena end up featuring interesting teams.
Nizhny Novgorod Stadium (Nizhny Novgorod) – This is another new arena being built for the Cup, and it too looks like it should be beautiful. Nizhny is an interesting destination as well, perfect for people who might attend the Cup with children (as there’s a popular zoo and an amusement park in town). Also of note is that Nizhny is more or less directly in between Kazan and Moscow; visiting all three could be an interesting travel plan.
Rostov Arena (Rostov-on-Don) – This is yet another new stadium being built in a city split by the Don River. It’s not quite as much of a tourist destination as some other places, though it will be accessible to fans coming from Asia.
Samara Arena (Samara) – South of Kazan and also on the Volga River, Samara is a charming destination. You’ll enjoy riverside walks, a national park, and a generally picturesque city. Samara Arena looks as if it will fit right in. It’s being built for the Cup, and looks borderline futuristic in its construction.
Mordovia Arena (Saransk) – West of Samara and south of Nizhny, Saransk is another natural stop on a roving tour of the World Cup venues. It’s a little lighter on tourist activity than some other cities, but the Mordovia Arena being constructed looks like a treat – not least because it’s going to resemble the Russian flag!
Volgograd Stadium (Volgograd) – South of Saransk and (you guessed it) on the Volga River, Volgograd should make for a lovely stop. It’s an intriguing city lined with canals and speckled with monuments – one of which, The Motherland Calls, will tower in close proximity to the new stadium.
Spartak Stadium (Moscow) – This is the smaller stadium in Moscow, set to seat only about half as many spectators as Luzhniki Stadium. It may be an excellent place to snag great seats, however, with the attention of most visitors directed toward Luzhniki.
Kaliningrad Stadium (Kaliningrad) – It’s the smallest of the stadiums, located on the Baltic Sea and nearly in Poland. It’ll be a perfect destination for many European fans, and should a team like Poland or the Netherlands land there for a match it will turn into one of the event’s wildest venues.