The host is 100% ready for the World Cup

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SUNBIZ - BY BARRY WHE­LAN

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

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