Trinidad and Tobago U.S. Wcup Soccer

The United States failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

It’s the most spectacular event in sports, and it’s finally back.

Argentina and champion Germany clashed 1,432 days ago at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro to conclude the 2014 World Cup.

When Russia and Saudi Arabia kick off in Moscow today at 11 a.m. EST, the hiatus will be over, and the World Cup will make its official return.

Here’s why this sporting tournament is the world’s greatest, and why Russia 2018 will be a World Cup to remember.

The massive, yet deep, field.

Out of 211 eligible nations, 208 participated in the qualifying process for Russia 2018 (Russia automatically qualified as host). Each of the six regional FIFA confederations held tournaments to narrow the field to 32 teams.

Some big names were also eliminated in the qualifying process. The United States, Netherlands, Italy and Chile will have to wait at least four more years to compete.

However, their absences make room for smaller countries. Both Iceland and Panama will make their World Cup debuts in Russia.

The 32 qualifiers have also been divided into eight groups. Two from each group will advance to the knockout stage of the tournament.

Usually there’s a “Group of Death,” one of the eight with three or four quality nations, all which are unluckily paired against one another. However, this year’s bracket seems to have two obvious frontrunners in each group. While it may seem a predictable setup, nothing is assured in the World Cup.

All the best players are here.

Germany, Spain, France and Brazil are all among the favorites for total victory, and they’re loaded with talent at every position.

Yet, you can’t count out Portugal or Argentina simply because they’re led by the two best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, respectively.

However, the frontrunner for the Ballon d’Or, the award given to the season’s most outstanding player, is Mohamed Salah of Egypt. He scored 32 goals in 36 Premier League matches for Liverpool in 2017-18. He also scored 10 goals as Liverpool navigated to the UEFA Champions League Final, where he was injured during the first half in the loss to Ronaldo’s Real Madrid. Salah’s performance in Russia will likely determine if he wins the award.

However, the field is stacked with world-class talent. Look out for other superstars like Brazil’s Neymar, Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, France’s Antoine Griezmann, Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Belgium’s Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.

Some dark horse countries with a mix of quality, experience and youth are Denmark, Croatia, Mexico and Iceland.

Every nation cares.

There were 3,429,873 attendees at the 64 matches in Brazil 2014. While that total may not be met or exceeded in Russia, all of the world’s eyes turn toward the largest geographical country.  

The only sporting event that rivals the World Cup as an international event are the Winter and Summer Olympics.

However, while the Olympics are only based in one city, the World Cup is nationwide. And while the Olympic flame burns in the host city for two weeks, Russia 2018 will last a full month. The first two weeks of the World Cup are actually the best. There will be three to four games a day for two weeks beginning Friday.

However, what makes the World Cup truly great is that everyone comes together just to play soccer. Many countries completely shut down for a day just to watch their team play.

This month, the world will stop to share its one common love.

Mark Stine is a sports writer. You can follow him on Twitter @mstinejr or contact him at [email protected].

Mark Stine is sports editor for the Independent Florida Alligator. He's a senior at UF and has written softball, women's soccer, men's tennis and cross country in the past.