It’s kick off, let’s have a ball

Russia2018 flags

TODAY is the day all of us have been waiting for.

Yes … the Premier League has finally released the fixtures for the 2018-2019 season and I’m sure we are all excited, right?

Oh ya, there’s also the small matter of the World Cup happening in Russia with the host facing Saudi Arabia – the world No 65 versus a team two rungs below them.

In English football terms, that’s like Oldham taking on Milton Keynes Dons.

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For the record, these are the two worst ranked teams to face off in the opener of the grandest football stage.

So do not expect much.

In fact, ever since the tournament expanded to 32 teams, the group stages tend to be boring and monotonous affairs.

And to think the tournament will be expanded to 48 teams in 2016, when the United States of America – which still calls it soccer instead of football – Mexico and Canada will co-host.

Malaysia will still probably fail to make it despite the increase in teams but keep an eye out for Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal who plays for Sporting Kansas City in Major League Soccer (that word again, sigh).

The midfielder’s parents are Malaysian but he has lived all his life in the US.

It is not inconceivable he could force his way into the American national team as he has already been capped at the Under-17 level.

He would be 27 going on 28 in 2026, peak age in football terms.

For this World Cup, four Malaysians – physician Datuk Dr Gurcharan Singh, long-time football administrator Datuk Windsor Paul John, referee instructor Subkhiddin Salleh and public relations practitioner Christopher Raj – will turun padang.

At least we will be represented in Russia.

For the tournament proper, Spain was dealt a potentially fatal blow when it was revealed boss Julen Lopetegui would join Real Madrid next month.

Rather than wait, the Spanish FA decided to sack him and install director of football Fernando Hierro as his replacement.

It will also be the final showdown between Lionel Messi (30-years-old) and Cristiano Ronaldo (33).

The two best players of this generation have not had much luck in the tournament although the Portuguese did play a part in his nation’s triumph at Euro2016 and Messi could only watch as Germany snatched the title four years ago.

With defending champions Germany looking sharp, perennial favourites Brazil banking on Neymar and England hoping not to get knocked out on penalties yet again, it could very well be a closely fought tournament.

Oh by the way, Liverpool start the 2018-2019 season at home to West Ham.