World Cup Qualifiers: Who is coming to Russia to meet Zabivaka?
With less than a year to go until the 2018 FIFA World Cup hosted by Russia, and as the qualifiers reach their final stage, who is already qualified and how are the groups shaping up for the 32 places in the Finals to meet the Official Mascot, the Wolf called Zabivaka (the Goal Scorer)?
Six Confederations are competing for the 32 qualifying places. Russia qualifies as host nation, along with 13 teams from UEFA (Europe), the nine group winners (of groups A to I) and the winners of the play-offs between the best eight runners-up. Africa has five teams in the finals. North and Central America and the Caribbean have three and a half berths, the best three teams qualifying directly and the other berth disputed between the fourth placed and a candidate from Asia.
Oceania has half a berth, the play-off being between the winner of the group and a candidate from South America, which has in turn four and a half berths.
Already qualified from Europe, apart from Russia, are England, Spain, Germany and Belgium; from Africa, Nigeria has its place booked in Russia and the leaders of the other groups for now are Tunisia, Senegal, Morocco and Egypt. Mexico and Costa Rica have their places guaranteed in the finals, with the USA and Honduras the probable third place and play-off with Asia (Australia or Syria). Brazil has its place guaranteed, followed by Uruguay, Chile and Colombia, with probably Peru or Argentina taking the play-off spot against Oceania (New Zealand?).
The Official Mascot of the tournament is the wolf called Zabivaka, meaning "The scorer". Zabivaka the wolf will promote the tournament, will be present at the stadiums and will be an ambassador for the Russian Federation. Over the last twenty years, most of the mascots have been animals, since Striker, the dog, appeared in the USA in the 1994 competition. Striker was followed by the Rooster Footix (France 1998), the Lion GoleoVI in Germany (2006), Zakumi the Leopard in South Africa 2010 and the Armadillo Fuleco (as in ecology) in Brazil 2014. The animal sequence was broken only once in the finals phases in Republic of Korea/Japan 2002, with the computer-generated Spheriks Ato, Kaz and Nik.
Prior to the animal sequence there were two other dominant themes, boys and fruits, after Willie the Lion represented England in 1966. Willie, the first Mascot used in the finals phases of FIFA, was followed by the boy Juanito (Mexico 1970), the two boys Tip and Tap (Federal Republic of Germany 1974), the boy Gauchito (Argentina 1978) and Ciao (Italy 1990). Before Ciao there was the Jalapeño pepper called Pique (Mexico 1986) and Naranjito the Orange (Spain 1982).
Zabivaka (meaning Goalscorer) was designed by the student Ekaterina Bocharova and has a brown and white woolen T-shirt and orange sports goggles. His uniform is in the colours of Russia, white, blue and red and his T-shirt has the emblem Russia 2018 on the front. Zabivaka was elected in an internet voting contest in which over one million Russians participated on October 16, 2016, with 53 per cent of the vote, ahead of Tiger (27%) and Cat (20%).
By Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43383143