FIFA World Cup guide: Everything you need to know about Russia 2018, including the schedule, odds, predictions

The World Cup kicks off on Thursday, and the month-long tournament will conclude with one team earning the right to call themselves the best. Thirty-two teams will battle it out in Russia at the 2018 World Cup, and here's everything you need to know about the competition.

What is the World Cup?

It's the biggest sporting event in the world and it features 32 countries, all of which were able to qualify via regional competition. And it only comes around every four years. 

How does the tournament work?

In this tournament, there are eight groups consisting of four teams. The top two teams from each group move on to the knockout stage, which is a 16-team, single-elimination tournament to decide a winner. 

When does it start?

The tournament begins on Thursday when host Russia takes on Saudi Arabia at 11 a.m. ET. The opening ceremony starts two hours before at 9 a.m. ET in Moscow. Here's how you can watch the ceremony and the opening match.

When does it end?

On July 15 with the final, a single match to declare a champion. No best-of-seven here. Click here for the complete schedule.

Tell me more about Russia and the host cities

There are 12 venues in 11 cities. Of the 12 stadiums built or renovated to the World Cup, Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow and the Saint Petersburg Stadium will be used the most. Each venue gets a minimum of four games. Click here for your complete guide to all the stadiums and venues

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The stadiums in Russia are absolutely stunning. Getty Images

Who is playing?

A bunch of countries, from some of the biggest to some of the smallest. You can find all of our team previews of the 32 teams here. And we have the full tournament schedule available here.

Is the United States in it?

No. The U.S. failed to qualify for the first time since 1986, and it was a pretty big deal. Two head coaches for the team lost their jobs during qualifying and it means the world doesn't get to see Christian Pulisic, U.S. soccer's next big thing, on the biggest of stages. 

I want a rooting interest. Who should I root for?

If you were going to support the U.S. and are now looking for a team, there are many ways to go about it. Do you know much about your heritage? Are your ancestors from one of the countries at the World Cup? For example, my family originally came from Spain, my wife is from Argentina, and I also visited Switzerland and really loved it. There are three options for me. Think outside the box if you have to and find countries you have a connection with, or maybe a place you want to go. This guide will help you.

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Americans might want to root for Iceland and its awesome Viking chant. Getty Images

Can I print out a bracket?

You most certainly can. Click here for our printable World Cup bracket and start making your predictions.

Who is going to win?

It's certainly a challenge to predict, but our soccer experts give their predictions here. Most think Brazil or Germany will finish the tournament as champions. 

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Neymar and Brazil are one of the heavy favorites to win it all. Getty Images

Are there Power Rankings for the teams?

Yes, and Brazil is No. 1 followed by Germany. Check out all of the rankings here, which came out on Monday. 

Are there World Cup odds?

Of course there are, and they list Brazil first, with Germany second. Click here for more.

What else should I know?

It's the most exciting sporting event and captivates the world. It's got the big dogs like Germany and Brazil while there are also two small countries playing for the first time in Panama and Iceland. Every World Cup produces moments soccer fans will never forget, and it's always worth your time. Russia 2018 should be no different.

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CBS Sports Writer

Roger Gonzalez is an award-winning writer based in Virginia that has covered pro soccer from Europe's top clubs to Argentina's first division. Roger started out his pro soccer writing career with Goal.com... Full Bio

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