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."

Go deeper

7 hours ago - Health

Fauci says if people won't wear masks, maybe it should be mandated

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Graeme Jennings- Pool/Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told CNN on Friday evening that if "people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating it."

Why it matters: Fauci made the comments the same day the U.S. hit its highest daily COVID-19 case count since the pandemic began.

Harris to Black voters: Casting a ballot is about honoring your ancestors

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris speaks at a "Get Out The Vote" rally at Morehouse College. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Kamala Harris appealed to Black voters in Georgia on Friday, urging them to "honor the ancestors" by casting ballots, and again calling President Trump a "racist."

Why it matters: The U.S. saw a significant decline in African-American voter turnout between 2012 and 2016, reaching its lowest point since 2000. Higher turnout among Black Americans this year could tip the balance in favor of Democrats in key battleground states, including Georgia.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Fauci: Trump hasn't been to a COVID task force meeting in months.
  2. Sports: The youth sports exodus continues — Big Ten football is back.
  3. Health: U.S. hits highest daily COVID-19 case count since pandemic began —AstraZeneca to resume vaccine trial in U.S.How to help save 130,000 lives.
  4. Retail: Santa won't greet kids at Macy's this year.
  5. World: Spain and France exceed 1 million cases.

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