Sun, Apr 08, 2018 - Page 11 News List

Most Russians skeptical of World Cup chances: survey

AFP, MOSCOW

Nearly every Russian soccer fan believes the FIFA World Cup hosts will make it out of their group for the first time since the Soviet era, but almost no one gives them a chance of winning the trophy and nearly half will not be watching any games.

A study of Russia’s mood ahead of the June 14 kickoff published on Friday showed faith in the national team muted and interest weak.

The state-owned Public Opinion Foundation said that 4 percent of those who follow soccer think Russia can win their first World Cup.

A whopping 86 percent of respondents said the hosts would do well enough to finish in the top two of their four-team group and make the last 16.

Russia and Uruguay are odds-on favorites to progress from Group A, which also includes Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Moscow is officially spending US$12 billion on a tournament Russian President Vladimir Putin helped wrest from England when the hosting rights were decided in 2010.

The prestige event offers the Kremlin a chance to burnish Russia’s global standing in the heat of a new standoff with the West.

It also plays into the patriotic message that has been the refrain of Putin’s 18 years in power — a sign of Russia regaining its Soviet-era might.

However, the government’s own poll showed that 43 percent of respondents said they did not plan to watch any matches.

One in five expressed interest only in the games played by Russia and less than one-third intended to follow the whole event.

“We should not be embarrassing ourselves by hosting,” one unidentified respondent said. “Either way, we are not very good at football.”

The majority said they still supported the idea of the showpiece being hosted in their country for the first time.

The largest number of those who approved — 14 percent — said the World Cup would “raise Russia’s authority and prestige in the world.”

That is a message now being repeated on state-controlled TV channels and by lawmakers of all stripes.

However, the number of people who thought the event would help lift Russia’s economy out of the doldrums fell from 39 percent in 2014 to 35 percent this year, the poll showed.

Russia has faced four years of Western economic sanctions over its actions in Ukraine.

Just 2 percent thought all the World Cup spending would help improve their cities’ infrastructure, the survey found.

Double that number thought the money would just be stolen by corrupt officials or spent on vanity project that did no public good, it showed.

“They are spending vast sums on nothing,” one respondent said.

“We are going to lose a lot of money from this,” another said.

Russia has qualified for three World Cups as an independent nation, but has never made the knockout stage.

The Soviet Union’s best performance was a fourth-place finish in 1966.

Bookmakers put Russia’s odds of winning at about 40 to 1.

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