World Cup Fiver: you have to hand it to Real Madrid

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BREAKING NEWS …

The bid staged by Canada, Mexico and USA! USA!! USA!!! has won the right to try and make the World Cup great again after Qatar 2022, beating off Morocco in the big Fifa 2026 vote shindig. Lots more here.

LA FURIA ROJA

With only one more sleep to go before the Ethics World Cup, a sense of excitement is sweeping across the globe. It’s no wonder the night before the World Cup – even the Ethics World Cup – is being called football’s Christmas Eve. Everyone’s got a mad case of football fever. The Fiver’s so giddy that it’s filled its diary with fake social engagements it can pretend to cancel over the next five weeks, a great bunch of lads met up in Singapore to discuss their sticker albums the other day and Gianni Infantino upgraded Fifa’s status from “clinically dead” to “alive and well” on Wednesday morning. Hooray! Hooray for Gianni! Hooray for Santa Soccer!

Yet if the comparison to the festive season is going to hold, it falls to The Fiver to point out it wouldn’t be Christmas without someone spoiling the party. Our money was on Sam Allardyce flying to Repino and challenging Gareth Southgate to a n@ked wrestling match, but instead the focus has switched to Spain, where they’ve been flapping around like Iker Casillas at Brazil 2014 following the announcement that Julen Lopetegui is to become Real Madrid’s new manager, a development that’s gone down about as well as Roy Keane’s observations about Mick McCarthy’s professional and personal qualities in Saipan.

You have to hand it to Madrid. At a time when nobody was talking about club football, they’ve managed to create quite the drama simply by opening their massive gob and, in a fervent show of patriotic pride, spilling the beans about Lopetegui. Luis Rubiales, Spanish FA president, had been enjoying a pleasant evening in his hotel bar in Moscow when word reached him that his national manager was about to do one. One minute all was well, the next he was flying to Krasnodar to tell Lopetegui to effectively “shove it up your b0llocks”.

What a farce! Spain hadn’t panicked this much since Arjen Robben ran at them four years ago. So it wasn’t long before reports were emerging that Lopetegui was going to be bundled on the next flight aboard Do One Airways and a press conference was hastily scheduled for 9.30am BST. The minutes ticked by and, with no announcement forthcoming and talk that the players were opposed to their manager being sacked two days before their opener against Portugal, it seemed Lopetegui could yet emerge unscathed. It was a Christmas miracle. Were the good vibes back?

Er, no. In an episode that made France’s bus strike in 2010 look admirably restrained, Rubiales eventually found a way to mend his wounded pride, plunging one of the tournament’s favourites into a state of utter chaos by dismissing Lopetegui. “We had to react,” Rubiales said. “I know that whatever I do I will be criticised. I accept that. The negotiations have occurred without any information to the Spanish FA and we were informed just five minutes before the press release. There’s a way to act that needs to be fulfilled.” Oh well. The players will just have to get on with it. At least they don’t have to face Him in 48 hours. Oh.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Jealous is what I feel. Massively disappointed. That should be me [at the Ethics World Cup]. Unfortunately because of the circumstances that wasn’t the case. If a bit more time was taken, a bit more patience, I believe I should still be the England manager” – never change Big Sam, never change.

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Get yourself sacked by wasting far too much of your employer’s time exploring the history of the World Cup with our snazzy graphic guide to the official kits worn by the 32 competing teams in Russia.

Kits!
Kits! Kits! kits! Composite: Guardian

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

World Cup Daily with Max Rushden, Barry Glendenning and co will kick off on Thursday. Until then, here are our preview pods.

ETHICS WORLD CUP GUIDE

Here we go, then, our bumper rundown of all 736 [SEVEN HUNDRED AND THIRTY-SIX – Fiver vidiprinter] players at Russia 2018.

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FIVEЯ LETTERS

“Mrs Fiver (yesterday’s World Cup FiveЯ)? I thought Alexa was supposed to know everything. Pah” – Daniel Solomons.

“Am I the only one who took note of Gareth Southgate’s not-too-subtle effort to soften the referees by hanging a framed poster of Howard Webb in his dressing room (yesterday’s main picture)? Surely he’s been told that there are no English referees heading to Russia?” – Chris Wimmer.

“With the World Cup starting on Thursday, Scottish cousin Shortbread McFiver may be feeling rather down so to cheer them up, here is a rose-tinted break in space-time continuum via the medium of Panini, to the days when Scotland used to play at World Cups” – Noble Francis.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And if you’ve nothing better to do you can also tweet The Fiver. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Chris Wimmer.

THE RECAP

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RECOMMENDED VIEWING

Russia are bobbins. Here’s why, in the form of a video with groovy graphics and a silky voiceover.

BITS AND BOBS

Marcus Rashford sat out England training in Zelenogorsk on Wednesday morning with knee-knack his manager Gareth Southgate described as no more than “a slight knock”, shortly before being presented with salted bread and a golden teapot by local dignitaries.

Despite the minor detail that he’s currently serving a six-year ban from “all soccer-related activities”, Sepp Blatter will attend the slightly soccer-related activity that is the World Cup as a guest of Vlad Putin. “It will be a sporting and diplomatic mission for me,” he cooed.

Russia manager Stanislav Cherchesov says his players have been passing the time before the opener against Saudi Arabia by “playing Trivial Pursuit” and presumably arguing over whether those little segments you win for each category are called slices of “cheese” or “pie”.

Kylian Mbappé claims he is “fine” after being forced out of France training on the back of a reducer from team-mate Adil Rami.

Non-World Cup News Dept I: League Two side Oldham have appointed Frankie Bunn – Paul Scholes’s favourite footballer – as their new manager on a one-year deal.

Non-World Cup News II: Bas Dost has joined William Carvalho, Gelson Martins, Rui Patricio, Daniel Podence and Bruno Fernandes in the stampede for the Sporting Lisbon exit door. The Dutch striker has terminated his contract with Sporting Lisbon, citing “just cause”, after 50 masked men attacked players at the club’s training ground last month.

STILL WANT MORE?

App! App! App! App! App! App!

Les Ferdinand, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Jermaine Jenas and Sir Richard Lambert tell Simon Burnton what lessons England’s class of 2018 can learn from their experiences of failing miserably at a World Cup.

From clockwise: woe.
From clockwise: woe. Composite: Getty Images, Rex/Shutterstock, AFP

Big Website scribes give their predictions for the tournament. (Note: predictions given before Spain started tearing themselves apart like a pack of feral dogs).

Our new colleague Oscar De La Hoya on why USA! USA!! USA!!! fans should support Mexico in Russia.

Get your Senegal team guide here! And if it’s an insightful player profile you’re after, get the skinny on Badou Ndiaye, the midfielder who studied law before finding his way to Stoke via the Arctic Circle.

Plucky Iceland boss Heimir Hallgrímsson gets his chat on with Nick Ames and proclaims: “I have one of the best jobs in the world!”

More on why Russia are bobbins.

Here’s your Colombia team guide and player profile on Juan Cuadrado, the nation’s talismanic winger driven by family sacrifices.

Fans from each of the 32 teams in Russia rate their chances.

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A QUIET ONE, THEN