Any discussion on the football World Cup would give you an indication of the ages of the participants. During one such conversation with some former colleagues on the first editions we had ever seen, I tipped the balance heavily towards another decade by naming 1986—the closest to my mark was 1994.

The second shock to the group was that my lasting impression from that World Cup was not just Diego Maradona. My favourite then was Preben Elkjær and the Danish team—a bunch of effortlessly fluent players, in red and white jerseys, slaying other teams painlessly and playing beautiful football. They lost in the second round, giving me an early lesson in disappointments, underdogs—and that nice guys rarely finish first.

Almost every World Cup throws up heroes and surprising results—as will the one starting 14 June. Your loyalty tends to get tested when a team you haven’t paid much attention to starts doing some wonderful things. I switched allegiance in 1986 to Germany in the final—I was the only one from our extended family who watched the game—because I found something memorable in a team that came back from 0-2 down to equalize with 10 minutes to go. I have stayed committed since.

Russia is the most interesting country to host a World Cup—the first time the country is doing so—in a long time. Interesting by way of its politics, the way it’s perceived by the world, its international relations...in a way, as Alexander Netherton points out in our centre-spread, this World Cup will be about much more than just football.

Millions of fans will head over to that rather mysterious country, better known for its vodka, ballet and depictions of the (former) KGB in American films than for its football. A record number of Indians will be travelling too, having booked in advance in the lucky draw, scavenged the internet for cheap deals, and now bracing themselves for the unknown.

As beautiful Moscow and historic St Petersburg, among others, gear up to welcome visitors, we look at this year’s World Cup—and mix it up with the past—from several prisms. Be it about players to watch out for, what to expect, what to eat and drink, or even if you are watching at home, this issue should cover it all. If you don’t follow football, but don’t want to be left out of conversations, pay attention to the pages with the most memorable goals.

Enjoy the issue—and the World Cup—and remember that in a few decades, you may be in a group where you are the only one to have seen Russia 2018.

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