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FIFA World Cup 2018: Some unknown facts about the planet's most-watched sporting event
The FIFA World Cup 2018 kicks off in Russia on Thursday ringing-in month-long hard-core adrenaline-filled football action which would leave fans wanting for more.

Held every four years by FIFA, the World Cup is the “world's most widely viewed sporting event”. A whopping 3.2 billion people (almost half the world's population) had tuned in to watch the FIFA World Cup 2014. The average attendance of fans per game during FIFA World Cup 2014 stood at over 53,000.

This year Russia will first time host the World Cup from June 14 to July 15, 2018. Post the opening ceremony on Thursday, the tournament will commence with the opening game between host Russia and Saudi Arabia. The opening match will be played at the newly renovated 80,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Although the organisers expect that at least 20 heads of states will attend the opening game, things haven't been all hunky and dory for first-time hosts Russia with attempts from Britain and some eastern European nations of placing a diplomatic boycott over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in England recently. The British royal family and the British government members have decided to not to attend the event.

A total of 32 teams are competing in the 2018 tournament, a number which is expected to jump to 48 in 2026. Russia is spending over $13 billion (11 billion euros) on organising this most important event. All the 11 Russian host cities where World Cup matches will be played have been given facelifts, in some cases, their first ever.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is resting his hopes on the most watched sporting event of the planet to project Russia as a global player and refurbish its image which has been tarnished by Russia's support to Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria and the country's alleged rigging of the 2016 US presidential election in Donald Trump's favour.

(Queen Elizabeth II presenting the Jules Rimet trophy to 1966 World Cup winning England captain Bobby Moore)

In the meanwhile here are some lesser known facts about FIFA World Cup

  • Since its inception in 1930, two trophies have been used for the World Cup: the Jules Rimet Trophy from 1930 to 1970, and the FIFA World Cup Trophy from 1974 to current.

  • The first trophy, originally named victory, was renamed in 1946 after former FIFA president Jules Rimet. The trophy was made of gold plated sterling silver and depicted the Greek goddess of power, Nike.

  • The original Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen on March 20, 1966 during a public exhibition at Westminster Central Hall just four months before the 1966 FIFA World Cup. However, the trophy was found seven days later wrapped in a newspaper from a South London garden by a dog named Pickles.

  • As stipulated in 1930 by Jules Rimet, the Brazilian team was allowed to keep the original trophy for winning the title for the third time in 1970.

  • The original Jules Rimet Trophy which was kept on display at the Brazilian Football Confederation headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, was once again stolen on December 19, 1983. Although four people were tried and convicted for the theft, the original trophy was never recovered. It is widely believed that the original trophy was melted and sold.

  • A replacement trophy called the FIFA World Cup Trophy was commissioned by FIFA for the 1974 Word Cup (after Brazil kept the original Jules Rimet Tropy in 1970). The 14.4 inches tall trophy made out of 5 kg of 18 carat gold is worth approximately $150,000. The trophy which depicts two human figures holding up the Earth weighs 6.175 kg in total.

  • After 1994 FIFA World Cup, a plate was added to the bottom of the trophy on which the names of the winning countries are engraved. The plate is replaced each World Cup with names of previous winners rearranged to accommodate the names of future winners.

  • However, unlike its predecessor, this trophy cannot be won outright. The winning nation is now provided a gold-plated bronze replica of the original trophy. Germany became the second nation after Brazil to win the trophy for the third time after lifting the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

  • Out of the 20 times that the FIFA World Cup has been played since 1930, Brazil has the maximum title wins, 5, closely followed by Germany and Italy with four each.

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