WORLD CUP COUNTDOWN

Jerry Bo: Beginner's guide to the 2018 World Cup in Russia

Messi has had a lot of club success; can he lift Argentina? Dennis Doyle/Getty Images

After four years of anxiously waiting for the most anticipated Sports event in the world, Russia takes center stage as the Host of the 21st edition of the World Cup.

32

The Number of countries that will compete for the most coveted prize in the soccer universe. One automatically qualified for serving as the host (Russia), the other 31 squads had to play through qualification to reach Russia. We will see 20 countries that were at the last tournament in Brazil 2014. We also welcome two first timers with Iceland and Panama making their first appearances.

64

The number of matches that are spread out over about a month's time consisting of a group stage, followed by knockout-stages. The top 2 teams from every group advance to the Round of 16.

12

The different number of venues that will entertain matches during this competition. Of the 12, Sochi, Luzhniki, and Yekaterinburg were fully renovated, while the other nine stadiums had to be built. It's reported that approximately $11.8 billion has been spent on hosting this World Cup.

11

Most of the cities involved in the tournament are just outside of European Russia or Western Russia. European Russia hosts 77% of the Country's population but only covers 25% of the entire territory. On this side, you can find Russia's two largest cities, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The opening Match of Russia vs. Saudi Arabia will be played on June 14th at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The Glamorous stadium seats 81,000 and will also be the setting for the Final match on July 15.

The Odds



Favorites

Brazil  +450

The co-favorites, Los Samba Boys, look to hold the FIFA World Cup Trophy for the sixth time. After a disappointing loss on home soil in the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilians look to bounce back, and their dreams start with the dynamic Neymar. The National No. 10, has been injured for the last couple of months but it's reported he will be ready by the start of the tournament. He has been shown practicing with the team already and him being the captain for Brazil's opening match looks very likely. Brazil torched the South American qualifiers, only losing one game leading up to Russia 2018. Look for the CONMEBOL giants be in the final four of this tournament.

Germany  +450

The Defending World Champions come into this competition with a surplus of talent and depth at every position.  Die Mannschaft was able to lift the confederations trophy with virtually a team of reserves, so we know what they bring to the table at full strength. Only two countries have ever been able to claim back to back World Cup Titles; Italy in the initial days of the tournament in 1934/38, and Brazil in 1958/62. Germany will once again be the team to beat, and the return of Manuel Neuer would be huge as he was named to the preliminary 27 man squad but is still injured.

Spain  +600

La Furia Roja come into this tournament as hot as any team and will be looking to repeat the magic of 2010. New Manager Julen Lopetegui has Spain playing more attacking football, and the results were 36 goals in the qualifiers while only conceding 3. Since taking over the national team, Lopetegui is undefeated with 13 wins, 5 draws, and an astounding +47 goal differential. Spain lacks a dangerous striker and will be relying on Diego Costa to work his wizardry. If they can find someone to give the attack pace, La Furia Roja could make a deep run in what will be Andres Iniesta's last run with the team.

France +700

A fan favorite,  Les Bleus arrive to Russia with as high hopes as any team in the field. Manager Didier Deschamps has the duty of taking his country to prominence once again, as they did in 1998 when he was a player on the national team. He would be only the third player of all time to win the World Cup as a player and a Manager. France has plenty of attacking options with the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, and Kylian Mbappé to name a few. The problem for this team will be keeping opposing teams from scoring, a recurring problem France has had under Deschamps.

Argentina +900

Rounding out the favorites, we have another fan favorite with the Albicelestes sitting at 9-1 to win their third title. The South Amercian Giants are led by no other than the world's best player, Lionel Messi. Argentina hasn't won the World Cup since 1986, and that was behind the alchemy of Diego Armando Maradona. Many locals believe Messi will always sit in Maradona's shadow until Messi can win the FIFA World Cup. The National No. 10 is 30 years old now, and this might be his last tournament with Argentina. Look for veterans like Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Agüero, and Angel Di Maria to help carry this team into the late stages of the tournament.

This is part one of a few articles I will be putting together for the World Cup, stay tuned for more…

For any questions or comments reach me @JerryBoKnowz on Twitter.

 

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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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