Let’s start by getting up to date. The qualification phase ended in November 2017. In this period, the various countries’ national teams played against each other in order to qualify for (= succeed in getting into) the tournament. From a field of 211, a total of 31 teams qualified, ‘field’ here meaning ‘all the people or teams in a competition’. As always happens, the host nation (= country where the World Cup takes place – this year, Russia) qualified automatically. The resulting 32 teams were put into eight groups of four teams.
The next phase – the ‘tournament phase’ or ‘group stage’ – will kick off in Moscow on June 14th when the host nation will face Saudi Arabia. During the month that follows, all the teams in each group will play against each other. The two top-scoring teams from each group will then go through to the next phase and the bottom two, sadly, will leave the competition. During this phase, people often use the expression ‘the group of death’ to refer to a group that stands out because it has more talented teams than any other. This year may be a little different, however, as many of the teams that would usually be considered the favourites to win, for example Italy, Chile and Cameroon, did not qualify for the tournament.
The 16 finishers of the group stages will now enter the second and final stage of the World Cup – the knockout stage. In the first round, the winner of each group will face the runner-up of another group and the winners of those matches will then go through to the quarter finals. In this nail-biting phase, teams are knocked out (= removed from the tournament after a defeat). The two losing teams of the semi-finals will take part in a playoff in order to decide third place. In the knockout stage, if a match ends in a draw (=equal points), two 15-minute periods of extra time are played. If the score is still level, a penalty shoot-out decides the winner, each team taking turns to have a set number of kicks at the goal.
So who do you hope will lift the World Cup trophy on July 15th? Is it the defending champions (= team who won the last tournament), Germany, or one of the other favourites to win? Perhaps you’ll be supporting the underdog (= team least likely to win) or one of the debut (= first time) nations, Panama or Iceland. Whoever you support, have a fabulous World Cup!