Some of the greatest in football Names – notably Luka Modrić from Croatia and Kevin De Bruyne from Belgium – will start their World Cup bells on Wednesday, while the decades-long wait is nearly over for fans of Canada as their team makes its tournament debut for the first time in 36 years.
We’ve already seen some of the game’s young stars light up the tournament: Cody Gakpo for the Netherlands, Timothy Weah at home for the US Men’s National Team and Jude Bellingham scoring for England.
Jamal Musiala of Germany and Pedri of Spain, as well as a host of other young talents, will also show off their skill on Wednesday.
But in the first game of the day, at the Al Bayt Stadium, it will all be a matter of experience, as Croatia, a 2018 World Cup finalist and one of the oldest teams in the tournament, plays Morocco.
The astute midfield of Modrić, Mateo Kovačić and Marcelo Brozović will try to dominate the match against a team from Morocco under the guidance of a new manager, Walid Regragui.
Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech and dynamic full-backs Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazraoui, with their pace and movement, could cause problems for an aging Croatia.
At the Khalifa International Stadium, 2014 champions Germany take on Japan in Group E.
Although Germany has been through some ups and downs since their victory in Brazil eight years ago, their team in Qatar is brimming with talent, predominantly from German giants Bayern Munich.
And with former Bayern coach Hansi Flick in charge, it is perhaps no surprise that the likes of Leroy Sané, Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka have flourished recently.
But Germany’s breakout player could be Musiala who, having become a mainstay in the Bayern squad this season, could be the country’s leader in Qatar.
Germany will face a team from Japan full of names familiar to fans around the world. From Brighton’s Kaoru Mitoma and Monaco’s Takumi Minamino to Frieburg’s Ritsu Dōan and Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, Japan is a well-organized team filled with well-established players.
With 2010 World Cup winner Spain in the same group, the 2010 champions start later on Wednesday against Costa Rica at the Al Thumama Stadium, three points will be vital for both sides.
Like Germany, Spain have also had some tough years since their World Cup triumph in South Africa, and will depend on a mix of a young generation and the old guard to succeed in Qatar.
The team’s likely starting midfield will be made up of Pedri, 19, Gavi, 18, and Sergio Busquets, 34, as Luis Enrique’s men look to go beyond last year’s elimination in the semi-finals of the European Championship.
For Costa Rica, it’s one last hurray for some of the country’s legendary players. Captain Bryan Ruiz, 37, will lead the team, while the experienced Celso Borges and Keylor Navas could be appearing in their last World Cup.
The last match takes place at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, with world No. 2 Belgium facing Canada.
Like Costa Rica, Belgium’s campaign in Qatar is seen as the last chance for the nation’s so-called “golden generation”.
Having set European football ablaze for years, Thibaut Courtois, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Axel Witsel, De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens are all in their thirties and could be playing their last World Cup. Due to a hamstring injury, striker Romelu Lukaku is likely to miss Belgium’s first two group stage games.
Belgium’s results in major tournaments have been disappointing given the talent at their disposal, the 2016 shock loss to Wales in the European Championship quarter-finals being a particular frustration.
So, with one final shot at glory, Belgium begins against a team from Canada making its second World Cup appearance.
Canada ended their 36-year drought to play in a World Cup when they qualified earlier this year. And, behind the exuberance and excellence of Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David in attack, he could be a danger to any team.
Heading into their opener, midfielder Jonathan Osorio said his team believes they can surprise Belgium.
“We want to show that we are a soccer nation, that we can compete with the best in the world,” Osorio said, according to Reuters.
“We want to surprise people because I think they still see us as losers. “It’s the World Cup, they should be happy to be here.” But that’s not our mentality.”
Morocco vs. Croatia: 5 a.m. ET
Germany vs. Japan: 8 a.m. ET
Spain vs. Costa Rica: 11 a.m. ET
Belgium vs. Canada: 2 p.m. ET
United States: Fox Sports
United Kingdom: BBC or ITV
Brazil: Sport TV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC