The host is 100% ready for the World Cup
WORKERS were busy hammering and sawing at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium as Russia continued gearing up for today’s start of football’s World Cup.
But unlike Brazil four years ago, this was not a frenzied last-minute effort to get stadiums and infrastructure ready on time, but merely the erection of stalls for the sale of stadium merchandising.
For football world governing body FIFA, the World Cup in Russia is in good hands as kickoff approaches.
All 12 stadiums – some new, others modernised – are ready and there have been no organisational problems which caused such headaches in 2014.
Russia is “100% ready and the whole world will actually see it when we kickoff on June 14 with Russia and Saudi Arabia in the Luzhniki Stadium,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a video interview.
The World Cup will also change perceptions of Russia, he believes. “People will see Russia as a different country: as a country that is welcoming the world, as a country that is festive, that wants to celebrate, that wants to be open,” he said.
The tournament is the first for Infantino as FIFA president, with the the four years since Brazil also witnessing vast change at the ruling body amid corruption investigations and the departure of long-time head Joseph Blatter in December 2015.
It was the 2010 FIFA executive committee vote for hosts Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022 which prompted allegations of vote buying which dogged FIFA at the last World Cup and which have led to widespread governance reforms.
Russia has also faced scrutiny over issues including doping, security and racism at matches, and Infantino and the organisers will be hoping these do not blight a tournament reported to have cost more than € 10 billion(RM47b).
On the risk of hooliganism after Russian fans were involved in violence at Euro 2016 in France, Infantino said: “Every fan that is coming to Russia will be welcome in a safe environment to celebrate.
“If anyone is thinking to come to Russia to create trouble, he better stay home.”
Security will be high in the 11 host cities, with the fear of a terrorist attack always in the minds of organisers.
It is undoubtedly a prestige project for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has asked the nation’s police force to operate “tactfully and carefully” during the tournament.
Russia is going out of its way to make fans welcome, with a mandatory fan ID acting as a visa and allowing, along with a match ticket, free rail transport between venues.
Fan festival zones are opening in all the World Cup cities, and Moscow’s was attended by some 40,000 people on its opening on Sunday, organisers said.
On the field of play, the World Cup debut of the video assistant video review (VAR) system is bound to be a talking point after controversy and no little confusion have marked its use in various competitions so far.
With most of the 736 players – from the oldest, keeper Essam El-Hadary of Egypt at 45 years and five months, to the youngest, Australia winger Daniel Arzani, at 19 years and five months – already in Russia excitement is mounting ahead of today’s kickoff.
An opening ceremony featuring pop star Robbie Williams and Russian soprano Aida Garifullina will herald a tournament in which world champions Germany are seeking their first successful title defence and record champions Brazil are out to lift a sixth World Cup.
The World Cup atmosphere will meanwhile be helped by a good showing by hosts Russia, the lowest ranked squad at the tournament, while a surprise or two can be expected – perhaps from the two World Cup debutants Iceland and Panama – when the Adidas Telstar 18 ball begins to hit the back of the net. – dpa