FIFA World Cup 2018

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Argentina’s Nestor Pitana has been assigned as the referee for the Opening Match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ between Russia and Saudi Arabia on Thursday 12 June at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. He will be assisted by compatriots Juan Pablo Bellati and Hernan Maidana, with Sandro Ricci from Brazil designated as the fourth official.

The Video Assistant Referee team is composed by Massimiliano Irrati of Italy (VAR); Mauro Vigliano of Argentina (AVAR 1); Carlos Astroza of Chile (AVAR2) and Daniele Orsato, Italy (AVAR3).

Nestor Pitana is set to become the second Argentinian referee to participate in two World Cups after Norberto Coerezza, who oversaw two games in 1970 and one in 1978. Pitana is one of South America’s most experienced referees. He made his debut in the Argentinian league in 2007 and officiated his first international match in 2010. At the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, he oversaw four fixtures including France-Germany in the quarterfinals.

Pitana returned to Brazil in 2016 for the Olympic Football Tournament where he was the man in the middle for the semi-final between Germany and Nigeria. A year later in 2017, he was involved in another semi-final, in the FIFA Confederations Cup between Germany and Mexico.MOSCOW, June 12 (Xinhua) — The 2018 FIFA World Cup looks to be one of the most open tournaments in years, with no clear favorite to lift the title in the Luzhniki Stadium on July 15th. Similarly, there is no obvious frontrunner to win the coveted Golden Boot award for the competition’s top goalscorer.

2014 saw Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez scoop the crown with six goals in Brazil. This was despite the fact that his side failed to progress past the quarterfinals, and he probably would have scored even more if Colombia had reached the last four.

This highlights the basic fact that the further a country gets in Russia, the better chance one of their players has of winning the Golden Boot, and there are several clear candidates.

All eyes will be on Argentina’s star man Lionel Messi as he seeks to win that elusive first major tournament with his country. Messi ended last season with 45 goals for FC Barcelona, but the 18 assists he provided show that he is more than just a goalscorer and that may count against his chances of winning the Golden Boot.

Argentina are blessed with a plethora of attacking stars, such as Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala, meaning Messi may find himself dropping deeper to create chances for his teammates rather than scoring them himself. Should he be successful in doing this, Aguero or Higuain may be a better bet to be the tournament’s top goalscorer.

Elsewhere, Brazil’s talisman Neymar is fit after missing much of the second half of the season though injury, and as he showed in a recent friendly against Austria, he has the talent to score brilliant goals. He needs to put the disappointments of 2014 behind him and with Brazil expected to go a long way in Russia, Neymar has to be among the favorites for the Golden Boot, along with team-mate Gabriel Jesus, who also scored against Austria.

Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo will carry the weight of Portugal’s chances in Russia and as the leader of a largely defensive side, and his country’s penalty taker, he too has a chance to be the World Cup’s top scorer, although those hopes could be curtailed if his Portugal side fails to progress in the competition.

The same has to be said of England’s Harry Kane, a complete striker who travels with the weight of expectation on his shoulders and as part of a squad which will realistically struggle to get beyond the quarterfinals. Kane may also find himself taking corners as he did in the 2016 European Championships.

FC Barcelona have in recent months been looking enviously at Atletico Madrid’s French international striker Antoine Griezmann, who scored six times for his country during qualifying and will form part of an exciting attacking trio alongside Kylian Mbappe and Oliver Giroud. Perhaps the biggest drawback for Griezmann could be if the three share the goals between them, which is likely given his generous nature as a player.

A good run from reigning world champions Germany could see Thomas Muller or Timo Werner scoring plenty, with Werner’s 21 goals for RB Leipzig giving plenty of reasons for faith in the quicksilver 22-year-old.

Other candidates include Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, whose supreme poaching ability allied to his country’s relatively benign group stage means he has to be a candidate for the Golden Boot, as long as he doesn’t suffer any of the disciplinary issues which have dogged his career and Uruguay go far enough in the tournament.

16 goals in qualifying also mean Robert Lewandowski has his chances if Poland progress, while Colombia also have two top strikers in Carlos Bacca and Radamel Falcao, assisted of course by the hero of 2014, James Rodriguez.Thirty-two teams will contest the tournament, including hosts Russia, holders Germany and five-time winners Brazil.

But who will get their hands on the famous gold trophy this time? Which outsiders will spring a surprise? And how will England do?

Here, BBC Sport’s TV and radio football presenters and pundits predict what will happen during the next four weeks.The past three finals ended in a draw at full-time. Eight of the past 12 have been decided either by a single goal or in extra-time or penalties. Once you get there, it’s as much about nerve and randomness, blades of grass that make a ball bounce just so or specks of dust that make you react that split-second later, as it is about who is objectively better.

Bear this in mind when looking at Russia 2018. Because while there are four teams (Brazil, Spain, Germany and France) that are clearly a notch above the rest — and that, were this a traditional home-and-away round-robin league, you’d expect to finish in the Champions League spots — little is guaranteed. The tiniest pebble can derail them as easily as the most unexpected loss of nerve.

Brazil are favorites and, since Tite took over the helm two summers ago, have been all “Eye of the Tiger.” It’s more than understandable: For the Selecao, it’s not just about pursuing the sixth World Cup but about mitigating (because it can’t be erased) the pain of the “Mineirazo,” the 7-1 semifinal drubbing on home soil that will forever haunt the nation. Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, is back from injury, the midfield has a blue collar tint and the goalkeeper, Allisson, is one of the best around. These are men on a mission.