(Soccer World Cup) Germans aim for a repeat

Sports | 13 Jun 2018 6:14 pm

After raising the World Cup eight miles from Copacabana Beach four years ago, Germany hopes to lift the trophy four miles from the Kremlin on July 15 and become the first repeat champion in more than a half-century.

The soccer world gathers at 12 stadiums in 11 cities across the European portion of Russia starting tomorrow for a 32-day, 64-match championship. Much has changed since Die Mannschaft humiliated the host Selecao 7-1 in the 2014 semifinals, then left Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium with a 1-0 extra-time win over Argentina on Mario Goetze’s 113th-minute goal.

The United States will be missing from soccer’s showcase after seven straight appearances. Four-time champion Italy will be watching from home for the first time since 1958, its streak of 14 consecutive appearances ended by a playoff loss to Sweden. The Netherlands, who lost the 2010 final to Spain, missed out after slumping to third in their qualifying group. And Chile failed to qualify after consecutive Copa America titles.

Iceland and Panama are World Cup debutantes, Peru are back for the first time since 1982, and Egypt ends an absence dating to 1990.

Germany and Brazil are the pretournament favorites, and France are fancied behind them with a young roster. England will try to end more than five decades of hurt since winning their only major title on home soil in 1966. Mexico will try to advance past the second round for the first time since 1986, but El Tri opens against Germany and its likely second-round opponent is Brazil.

There also has been a generational change within FIFA. Many leaders have moved from penthouses to prisons following indictments by the U.S. Department of Justice that detailed kickbacks to be as much a part of soccer as free kicks.

And as soon as the final whistle of the tournament is blown at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, attention will shift to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, moved to November 21 through December 18 because of summer desert heat and compressed to 28 days because it is in the middle of the European club season. -AP

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