Belgium's star-studded team ahead of a friendly today with Costa Rica. Photo: Jimmy Bolcina/Photonews via Getty Images

In at least 32 countries around the world, one topic is driving the national conversation right now: the World Cup, which begins on Thursday in Russia.

  1. The Economist has a formula for predicting the footballing success of a given country, with factors including wealth and the sport's popularity. Germany sits at the top and, interestingly, countries with autocratic governments tend to underachieve. One explanation they offer: unlike track-and-field, where relentless training can carry the day, soccer requires "creativity and flair."
  2. Per the FT's World Weekly podcast, Russia is the first autocratic host country in 40 years. Unlike at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, a national triumph is unlikely on the pitch — Russia's team is weak.
  3. The 2026 host will be named soon, and a collective U.S./Canada/Mexico bid is up against Morocco. Per the FT's Simon Kuper, the North Americans have Latin America in their corner, while Africa's votes are going to Morocco. That leaves Asia and Europe as the swing votes, and "it seems like resentment toward the U.S. president is playing an outsized role."

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 20,755,406 — Total deaths: 752,225— Total recoveries: 12,917,934Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 5,246,760 — Total deaths: 167,052 — Total recoveries: 1,774,648 — Total tests: 64,831,306Map.
  3. Politics: House Democrats to investigate scientist leading "Operation Warp Speed" vaccine projectMcConnell announces Senate will not hold votes until Sept. 8 unless stimulus deal is reached.
  4. 2020: Biden calls for 3-month national mask mandateBiden and Harris to receive coronavirus briefings 4 times a week.
  5. States: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to drop lawsuit over Atlanta's mask mandate.
  6. Business: Why the CARES Act makes 2020 the best year for companies to lose money.
  7. Public health: Fauci's guidance on pre-vaccine coronavirus treatments Cases are falling, but don't get too comfortable.

Trump says he intends to give RNC speech on White House lawn

President Trump speaking to reporters on South Lawn in July. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump told the New York Post on Thursday that he plans to deliver his Republican National Convention speech from the White House lawn, despite bipartisan criticism of the optics and legality of the location.

Why it matters: Previous presidents avoided blurring staged campaign-style events — like party conventions — with official business of governing on the White House premises, per Politico.

Fauci's guidance on pre-vaccine coronavirus treatments

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Antibody drugs and various medicine cocktails against the coronavirus are progressing and may provide some relief before vaccines.

The big picture: Everyone wants to know how and when they can return to "normal" life, as vaccines are not expected to be ready for most Americans for at least a year. Two therapies are known to be helpful, and more could be announced by late September, NIAID Director Anthony Fauci tells Axios.