Putin Pitchside: Russian president kicks off longest World Cup Trophy Tour in history in Moscow

Putin Pitchside: Russian president kicks off longest World Cup Trophy Tour in history in Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin was on hand to kick off the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour across Russia at the newly-renovated Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Saturday.

The tour is the longest in history and will see the trophy venture to 24 Russian cities from Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East to Kaliningrad, the country’s most westerly city, over 123 days, as well as visiting 50 countries globally ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

The mammoth trophy tour will end in the city where it began – Moscow – on June 7, exactly one week before the beginning of the tournament, having also visited each of the 11 tournament host cities.

Ahead of the kickoff, 1,500 youngsters took part in an on-pitch masterclass under the watchful eye of current and former Russia internationals, including Roman Shirokov, Roman Zobnin, and Aleksey Smertin.

Next summer’s Russia 2018 tournament mascot, Zabivaka the Wolf, was also on hand to observe the matches at the event, which coincided with celebrations to mark Moscow’s 870th anniversary, recognized from September 1-10.

READ MORE: Russian football fans choose 'Zabivaka' the wolf as mascot for World Cup 2018

Putin joined FIFA President Gianni Infantino in inspecting Luzhniki’s hallowed turf – on which the opening game and final of next year’s tournament will be played – before addressing the crowd.

“Football will always be the main sport in Russia,” Putin said, choosing to herald Russia’s past great players such as Lev Yashin.

“I am sure our national team will please the fans in the upcoming World Cup,” he added.

Then it was the turn of Infantino to address the crowd. Following the 2017 FIFA Confederation Cup held in Russia over the summer, Infantino heaped praise on Russia’s organization in holding the event.

“Spasibo (Thank you), dobro pozhalovat (welcome). This Confederations Cup... has been a great success,” Infantino said back then, practicing his Russian.

“If this is what a problematic tournament looks like, then I hope there are many problematic tournaments, because it went very well,” Infantino said at the tournament’s closing press conference in St. Petersburg.

At the World Cup trophy kick off tour, it seemed Infantino’s impression and expectations had had grown, as he took to the stage next to the Luzhniki pitch.

“Dorogie Druzya (dear friends),” Infantino addressed the ground, again choosing to employ his Russian skills.

“(I will say) to people of the world, I tell them – Come to Russia! Enjoy Russia, and celebrate the World Cup,” he added.

Putin and Infantino were joined by former France forward David Trezeguet and Brazilian strike legend Bebeto, both of whom won the World Cup – in 1998 and 1994 respectively.

Trezeguet, who was making his first visit to Moscow, was victorious with his national team at their home France ‘98 World Cup, and described his impressions of the stadium as “exceptional.”

“As regards the stadium, it is fantastic, being on the pitch really brought it home today. As for my impressions, I have very vivid memories 1998 and 2000, and of course it fills you with great memories of returning to the stadium,” he said.

Trezeguet and Bebeto were also given the chance to reenact lifting the World Cup trophy as they had done in celebrating their respective national teams’ victories.

Bebeto took the opportunity to rock the trophy in his arms like a baby, akin to the celebration he made famous after scoring for Brazil against the Netherlands in the former’s victorious USA ‘94 World Cup.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia will be held in 12 stadiums across 11 Russian cities from June 14 to July 15.

by Danny Armstrong, at Luzhniki, for RT Sport