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2018 World Cup Roundup, June 14: Russia vs. Saudi Arabia kicks things off

It’s just so exciting, except that the U.S. isn’t there.

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Soccer: World Cup - Practice Witters Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly four years ago, I distinctly remember watching as Kyle Beckerman was dropped for an important match against Belgium. It wasn’t something I was particularly happy about, and I think it led to our demise.

And that’s really the last U.S.-related World Cup memory I have. I’m choosing to ignore certain things — Chris Wondolowski shanking his shot, for example; I’ve completely forgotten about that, wholly and utterly — so really, I’m sad we’re being forced to wait another four years.

Anyway, yeah. The World Cup. It’s here. Should it be in Russia? I really don’t think so. Thankfully, I’m not tasked with those decisions. But if I were, I’d have awarded it to a country — or group of countries — that hadn’t, you know, been caught doping on the international stage repeatedly. Or that maybe had one or two fewer human rights abuses. Or... yeah, you get the picture.

The soccer, though. It’I know it’s about the soccer, and that’s what I’m 100 percent here for, but it’s hard to feel completely clean about all this.

So without further ado, let’s kick off the World Cup!

Matches

9am, Russia vs. Saudi Arabia (Group A)

Pre-match reading

The 2018 World Cup will be the last of its kind, so enjoy it - SB Nation
Kim McCauley writes about how this may be the last 32-game World Cup, and how things might change alongside the team count.

Spain sack head coach Julen Lopetegui one day before 2018 World Cup begins - SB Nation
There’s big news for a big soccer nation.

2026 World Cup awarded to United States, Canada, and Mexico - SB Nation
YES.

Anger and ethics at heart of Spain’s decision to sack Julen Lopetegui - The Guardian
Sid Lowe writes about how Real Madrid's new hire ended up leaving the national team post only a day before the World Cup starts.

Makoto Hasebe: slow starter whose diligence paid off with Japan captaincy - The Guardian
Not everyone's path is the same. What a great story.

Like many other Japanese players of his generation the national captain, Makoto Hasebe, started to dream of becoming a professional footballer when he read the popular and globally famous manga series Captain Tsubasa.

Risk that Russia may violate doping laws at World Cup, says Usada’s Tygart - The Guardian
The Guardian has a big exclusive.

Travis Tygart, the influential US Anti-Doping Agency chief executive, has warned that it would be “naive” not to think that hosts Russia could violate anti-doping rules again during the World Cup.

World Cup confused? - RSL Soapbox
With the US not participating, the Soapbox team is here to help you pick a country to cheer for.

The blend of tactical influences behind Sampaoli’s Argentina - The Athletic
This is a nice (behind-a-paywall) look at a side that's struggled — so far — to hit the heights they aim for.

14 things you’ve probably forgotten about the 2014 World Cup - FourFourTwo
This is a nice blast from the past.