Sun, Jun 18, 2017 - Page 12 News List

Russia confident as World Cup test starts

AFP, ST PETERSBURG, Russia

Cameroon players take part in a training session in Moscow on Friday.

Photo: EPA

Russia faces a stress test of its readiness to host next year’s FIFA World Cup as the Confederations Cup began yesterday amid concerns over hooliganism and security.

World Cup holders Germany and the FIFA confederations champions compete in the eight-team tournament, which puts Russia’s ability to handle thousands of visiting and home fans under the spotlight.

Security will be a concern over the two weeks in stadiums that have been dogged by construction delays and structural problems.

Next year’s World Cup is to take place in 12 stadiums spread across 11 cities, including Moscow, St Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi, the host cities for the Confederations Cup.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was to attend yesterday’s Group A opener in St Petersburg’s Krestovsky Stadium between Russia and Oceania champions New Zealand.

That match was to begin after press time last night.

The Krestovsky Stadium has been mired in scandal, taking more than a decade to build at an estimated cost of US$800 million amid allegations of corruption.

A new pitch had to be laid hastily after the old one broke up during test games this year, but organizers said that the 68,000-seater arena is ship-shape for the opener and the final on July 2.

“We’re completely ready for the tournament,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko told a news conference on Friday. “The infrastructure, hotels, transportation systems — everything’s ready. And we’ve took the full-scale measures to assure the event’s security. Welcome to Russia.”

“The Confederations Cup is the champions’ tournament and it’s a great football occasion,” said Mutko, who is also president of the Russian Football Union.

FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura said Russia’s readiness had “surpassed expectations.”

“We have visited Moscow and the St Petersburg stadium and I can say that every technical detail there has been fine-tuned and we can expect one of the best competitions ever here in Russia,” Samoura said.

“The Confederations Cup is the main operational milestone on the way to the next year’s World Cup. It is the experience and knowledge that will be of enormous value for 2018,” he said.

The other two Group A teams are European champions Portugal, spearheaded by global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, and the most decorated CONCACAF team, Mexico.

Heavyweights Germany face Asian Cup champions Australia, Africa Cup of Nations winners Cameroon and Copa America holders Chile in Group B.

Samoura said that 480,000 tickets had already been sold — 60 percent of the overall total.

“As much as 44,000 tickets have been sold for the opening match in St Petersburg with 24 hours remaining before the kick-off,” Samoura said. “And the match between Russia and Portugal has been sold out several weeks ago.”

The issue of racism against fans and hooliganism is also a concern after ugly clashes between Russia and England fans at Euro 2016 in Marseille, France, last summer.

Russian authorities insist there is almost no chance of a repeat, as police have cracked down on suspected troublemakers with a barrage of searches, detentions and criminal probes.

A blacklist of 191 fans bars them from games, while legislation to toughen punishments and deport foreign hooligans has been passed.

“The clashes between the fans in Marseille last year were ugly, but Russia’s authorities have worked out a comprehensive security concept that will act during the major football tournaments here to avoid any chance of the repetition of such kind of events,” Russia 2018 Organizing Committee chief executive officer Alexei Sorokin told reporters in a recent interview. “We’re confident that the Confederations and World Cup in Russia will be completely safe.”

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