A host of venues – Russia wins either way

Russia is hotly tipped in the 2018 race for the right to hold World Cup as it locks horns with England, as well as joint bids from Spain/Portugal, and the Netherlands/Belgium.

­On Thursday, FIFA will select who gets to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups which, for the winners, will trigger a decade of multibillion-dollar infrastructure investment in those countries.

All the countries have already presented their bids to the committee of FIFA executives, the Russian presentation being the last one.

The presentation started with a glitzy video, showing the future development of the infrastructure and stressing that Russia has the political will and financial wherewithal to achieve it. The whole presentation was made in English, which made a good impression on the committee.

Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said that not only Russia, but the whole of Eastern Europe had never hosted the World Cup, so it is about time the Cup goes there. Igor Shuvalov, First Deputy Prime Minister, touched upon the fact that the World Cup will help revolutionize the country and create a new Russia. Shuvalov ended his address to the committee with quite powerful words:

I understand that you have a real burden to decide who will host the World Cup. And any decision you take will be a historic one. But only one you take will make history. Let us make history together.

The human legacy was presented by Andrey Arshavin, captain of Russia’s national team, who told the story of how he began to play football, and the only person who believed in him was his coach.

And now we ask you to believe in us and help shape the future of Russia,” he addressed the committee.

The voting is about to start and the results will be announced at 18:00 Moscow time. The winner will be chosen by the majority of votes of the 22 committee members.

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he would not attend the election ceremony as he did not want to put any pressure on the FIFA executives. He also condemned what he called “unfair competition from the other bidders” and the media allegations on corruption in FIFA.

Andrey Arshavin is quite confident that Russia will win the bid, and he thinks it will only be for country’s good.

I think that a big advantage is that they will develop the infrastructure; and after the World Cup it will make people’s lives more comfortable,” he said.

Aleksey Smertin, Russia’s bid ambassador and ex-captain of the national football team, claims Russia is united over its desire to host the World Cup.

As a Siberian, I assure you that it does not matter that the World Cup championship will take place in the central part of Russia. Everyone from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok is excited and wants Russia to be the host of the 2018 World Cup.”

Valery Gazzaev, former coach of the national team, believes that Russia should host the World Cup because it has never done so before.

Other bidders have already hosted the World Cups and Euro Cups more than once. So I think Russia has a major chance. Both the financial and political situation in the country are stable, the economy is growing, and there’s a huge desire to host the Cup,” he said.

However, if Russia wins the bid, there will be a lot of things to improve before the World Cup.

Russia is especially notorious for violence among football fans. Only a couple of months ago, there was a huge clash between football fans and the police in St. Petersburg. Many considered this to be a very strong blow to Russia’s Cup aspirations.

However, since then there have been many assurances from authorities and from the fans’ organization that the problem will be dealt with and the security measures will be toughened, as the fans will also behave accordingly.

Moreover, Russia is already working hard on its infrastructure. While Moscow is waiting for the completion of reconstruction of its biggest stadium “Luzhniki” planned for 2016, St. Petersburg is building a new one for its main team, “Zenit”. The new Zenit site was actually visited by the FIFA committee in August.

All in all, Russia plans to build 16 ultra-modern stadiums for the World Cup games, located in different cities in the European part of the country.

The express rail network, which for the moment connects Moscow with St. Petersburg and Nizhniy Novgorod, is an important part of that infrastructure. There are plans to connect Moscow with other cities in the European part of the country in the future. In addition, airline company Avianova is pledging to provide cheap and reliable transportation for the fans.

Russia’s bid committee has made no secret of the fact that right now a huge amount of work remains to be done, but it assures that, by 2018, all the necessary infrastructure will be completed.

The authorities assure that the infrastructure will be built regardless of whether Moscow wins the bid for the World Cup or not.

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There are high expectations for hosting the World Cup all across in the country.

Dick Advocaat, the Dutch coach of the national team, certainly hopes Russia will win the bid, even though his home country is among the bidders.

We need the World Cup, because for the stadiums, the infrastructure, the young kids, because the majority of stadiums in Russia are a hundred years old,” says Dick Advocaat.

The banner saying “2018 – We believe” at Russia’s latest international friendly described how fans feel about Russia getting the World Cup. However, many experts agree with Advocaat, believing that Russia lags behind its rivals in terms of football infrastructure. But that is about to change, according to those behind Moscow’s bid.

The Head of Russia’s bidding committee Aleksey Sorokin says even if it loses the right to host the Cup it has won in other ways.

Look at Sochi and every promise that we have made to the EOC is being fulfilled right now as we speak. We do have a lot of things to build, but it’s not secret and we have already started that even regardless of the FIFA’s choice. Nine out of 16 stadiums will be built regardless of the outcome of the December, 2, vote,” says Sorokin.

Footballers playing both in Russia and abroad are relishing the prospect of playing on world-class pitches. But they say Russia needs the World Cup to both revive its once strong football traditions and to open the country to the rest of the footballing world.

I won’t be playing at that cup anyway, but I think it will be the biggest victory for my country if it gets this World Cup,” says Andrey Arshavin, Russia’s team captain.

It’s the world’s game, it brings people together, it’s a great tournament. South Africa was a great success and I’m sure the people of Russia would welcome it very openly,” Dinamo Moscow player Luke Wilkshire notes.

Mikhail Starov, the leader of a supporter's club here in Moscow, stresses that in case Russia wins, a warm welcome is guaranteed as well as safety during the matches.

“It will be a nice trip, because a lot of people say ‘I’d like to go to Russia’, but keep on postponing it. So the World Cup will be their chance,” he added.

Experts say Thursday’s voting in Zurich will be completely unpredictable. The British press, however, believes that Russia’s bid and the joint one of Spain and Portugal are favored to win.

Eastern Europe never hosted a World Cup and the fact Russia belongs to the region gives the country’s bid a huge boost, says the Editor-in-Chief of the sports.ru website, Ivan Kalashnikov.

­The Russian delegation hopes it has been able to impress the FIFA executive committee. Just as Russia’s Olympic bid team did in Guatemala to win the winter games for Sochi.