- RONALD BLUM, AP Sports Writer
By RONALD BLUM, AP Sports Writer
MOSCOW (AP) — The soccer world gathers in 11 cities across the European portion of Russia starting Thursday for a 32-day, 64-match championship.
The United States will be missing from the World Cup after seven straight appearances. Four-time champion Italy is out for the first time since 1958. Chile won consecutive Copa America titles as the top South American team, but failed to qualify.
Iceland — the smallest country ever in a World Cup — qualified for the first time.
Defending champion Germany and Brazil are the favorites, and France is fancied behind them with a young roster .