There were 900 qualifiers played over the course of two and a half years. And while most of them flew countless miles and invested countless hours of preparation into producing a team that might make an impact in Russia, the host spent hundreds of billions of rubles on staging the 21st World Cup. Those who did endured a nerve-wracking draw, then played another 48 games in 11 Russian cities. They scored a combined 122 goals (including 20 in the 90th minute or later and eight against themselves) – while hoping to survive video review, mosquitos, Nikolskaya Street, Diego Maradona and the fair play points tiebreaker – all to make the knockout rounds. It’s the next two weeks and the next 16 games that the planet will really remember. All the aforementioned work, training, travel, sweat and spending was devised to deliver this: a perfect, square, 16-team, single-elimination bracket that’ll produce a worthy world champion.