From Rus­sia with love

Hosts ready as World Cup ex­cite­ment mounts

Daily News - - FRONT PAGE -

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)

PIC­TURES: REUTERS AND EPA

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,...

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