From Russia with love
Hosts ready as World Cup excitement mounts
ALL the preparations have been completed and most of the 32 squads have arrived. Russia is ready to deliver a four-week festival of football when the 21st World Cup kicks off in Moscow tomorrow
Workers were busy yesterday at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium as Russia geared up for the tournament. But unlike Brazil four years ago, this was not a frenzied lastminute 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. 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 kick off on June 14 with Russia and Saudi Arabia in the Luzhniki Stadium”, Fifa president Gianni Infantino said.
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.”
The tournament is the first for Infantino as Fifa president, with the four years since Brazil also witnessing vast change at the ruling body amid corruption investigations and the departure of long-time head Sepp 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 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 $11.8 billion (R155bn).
On the risk of hooliganism after Russian fans were involved in violence at Euro 2016 in France, Infantino said: “Every fan 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.
Russian President Vladimir Putin 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, with a match ticket, free rail transport between venues. Fan festival zones were opening in all World Cup cities, organisers said.
The World Cup debut of the video assistant review system is bound to be a talking point after controversy and no little confusion have marked its use in various competitions so far.
Excitement is mounting with most of the 736 players – from the oldest, goalkeeper 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.
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. – DPA/African News Agency (ANA)
MAIN PICTURE: A Russian woman poses next to Fifa World Cup 2018 mascot Zabivaka close to the Fisht Olympic Stadium (background) in Sochi; Inset top: Colombian fans cheer with a replica World Cup trophy at the State Historical Museum near Red Square,...