The start of the 2018 World Cup is just eight months away, and after the latest round of qualifiers the line-up for the tournament is almost complete.

England will be in Russia and could be joined by Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland if they make it through the play-offs.

But 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 automatically?


Of the 31 places up for grabs at the World Cup – with Russia qualifying as hosts – 23 have been secured.

Europe’s confirmed representatives so far are England, Germany, Belgium, Iceland, Poland, Serbia, Spain, France and Portugal.

Neymar will play for Brazil in the World Cup in Russia next year

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

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

There are still places yet to be decided in Africa as the final round of group matches take place in November.

Who could still qualify?

Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland could be in Russia if they make it through the play-offs. There are eight teams in Europe competing for four qualifying places.

New Zealand face Peru in a play-off for a qualification place and there’s also another spot up for grabs between Australia and Honduras.

When are the play-offs and how do they work?

The two-legged ties will be played during the next international break in November, with the first legs between November 9-11 and the second legs between November 12-14.

The eight play-off sides in Europe are Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Croatia, Greece, Switzerland and Sweden.

The format for the draw sees the top four FIFA-ranked sides – Switzerland, Italy, Croatia and Denmark – seeded in one pot and drawn against the remaining four sides.

The first ball drawn will be the home team for the first leg and the draw will be held in Zurich on Tuesday, October 17.

Who has missed out?

There will be some big names not in Russia.

Sanchez. He will miss 2018 World Cup after Chile lost 3-0 to Brazil
Photo: Skysports

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.

Panama’s dramatic late winner against Costa Rica meant USA missed out on qualification for the first time since 1986.

Wales and Scotland both held their destiny in their own hands heading into their final qualifying matches, but both failed to get the results they required to advance.

Robben’s Holland missed out of World Cup
Photo: Sky Sports

Netherlands missed out on a second successive major tournament after finishing behind France and Sweden and Austria, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Turkey and Norway will also be watching the tournament from home.

Gareth Bale will not be at the World Cup

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?

Just under 250 days to wait…

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.

When will matches kick-off?

The opening match of the tournament will be played at 6pm Moscow time (4pm UK time) on Thursday, June 14.

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 (11/2), France (11/2) and Brazil (13/2).

ermany won the World Cup for a fourth time with victory over Argentina in Brazil in 2014.

Spain are 7/1 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.


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