ITS taken more than two years, 209 countries, 871 games and multiple traverses of the globe to get there but finally the World Cup finals are upon us.

Thirty two teams made it through that global qualifying marathon, all of them now dreaming of glory in Russia once the tournament kicks off on Thursday.

Footballers, coaches, administrators and fans are descending on Russia in droves, for the quadrennial festival of football that is the biggest sporting event on earth.

WHERE IS IT?
Russia was selected as hosts eight years ago, at the same announcement where Australia was humiliated in its bid to host the 2022 iteration.

Led by President Vladimir Putin, the hosts are determined to put on a memorable World Cup, though the build-up has been overshadowed by increasing diplomatic tensions between Russia and Western allies in America, Europe and Australia.

There remains the possibility that dignitaries from those countries will boycott the event, though that will mean little to the fans travelling.

WHATS THE FORMAT
The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four, with the top two in each moving into the knockout stages. In total, there are 64 games from the opener (Russia v Saudi Arabia) through to the final early on July 16 (AEST).

None of the games are concurrent, and in the early stages some fixtures are relatively kind for Australian audiences: Australia v France, for instance, kicks off at the prime time spot of Saturday night at 8pm.

But most of the games, and all those in the later stages, will be played in the small hours, meaning plenty of tired football fans for the next few weeks.

WHOS GOING TO WIN?
Bookmakers the world over will take large amounts of money from punters eager to predict exactly that, with the bulk going on favourites including Germany, Brazil and France.

Germany is aiming to become the first holder to regain the trophy since Brazil in 1962, while Brazil itself absolutely steamed home in the latter stages of qualifying after changing coaches and appointing the urbane figure of Tite.

France have a squad full of exciting talent, as do Belgium, but plenty of egos too, which in the past have been spectacularly laid bare by the scrutiny of global attention.

Argentina have Lionel Messi of course, but South American teams have traditionally struggled in Europe.

WHO WONT BE THERE?
Some big names: Holland, Italy and Chile, as well as Wales who finished third at the Euros two years ago but missed out. Iceland qualified, making it the smallest by population.

WHAT ABOUT AUSTRALIA?
The Socceroos travel with liberal amounts of hope and rather less expectation, especially after Ange Postecoglou quit as coach once qualification was assured.

That process took longer than any other team 22 games, including two rounds of play-offs and seemed to exhaust Postecoglou.

Dutchman Bert van Marwijk has picked up the reins and immediately tried to make the side harder to beat and less cavalier. But he has also given debuts to some exciting talent, including 19-year-old whizzkid Daniel Arzani, as well as the evergreen Tim Cahill.