RT Sport took a tour around the Moscow’s magnificent Luzhniki Stadium, the newly renovated 80,000 capacity venue that will host the World Cup 2018 opening match and final game in the heart of Russia.
Iconic, historic, glorious and, now, newly-renovated. Luzhniki is the jewel in Russia’s sporting crown and the gem of the Moscow skyline. Nestled among the Russian capital’s big business buildings, Luzhniki is more than a football arena - it represents a new era of sport.
Back in March, during the Russia v Brazil friendly, I took a tour of Moscow's majestic Luzhniki Stadium, the jewel in Russia's sporting crown and venue for the #WorldCup2018 opening game & final 🇷🇺🏟 pic.twitter.com/4QnFDWf9dF— Danny Armstrong (@DannyWArmstrong) June 1, 2018
Opened in 1956 as the Central Lenin Stadium, the stadium was the epicentre of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympic Games and was the venue for the 2008 Champions League final when Manchester United bettered Chelsea on spot kicks to record their third European title.
Not dissimilar to the myriad historic buildings adorning Russia’s vast landscape, Luzhniki is not without its more poignant memories. In 1982 it saw the worst disaster in Russian sports history, when a stampede caused the deaths of 66 Spartak Moscow fans in the 1982–83 UEFA Cup match between Spartak and Dutch side HFC Haarlem.
That stadium is gone now. Its memories, bitter and sweet, all confined to its own reminiscence. In its place, a new arena as the new heart of Russian sport that will be the focal point of the World Cup.
Its opening was held on September 9 last year, which also doubled as the launch of the official World Cup Trophy Tour, attended by Russian president Vladimir Putin and FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
Over a 123-day period, the trophy will make its way around 24 Russian cities from Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East to Kaliningrad, the country’s most westerly host city, as well as 50 countries across the globe, landing back in Moscow exactly one week before the beginning of the tournament.
Luzhniki, standing in a striking sandy-beige colour, the stadium’s essentials are of superb quality. The completely refitted seating has extended the full capacity from 78,000 to 81,000 and creates a fantastic visual.
The 80,000-capacity stadium reopened in 2017 after extensive renovation, which included a new pitch, facade and seating. Its sprting history includes hosting the 1980 Olympics & the 2008 Champions League final #WorldCupfinal 🇷🇺😆 pic.twitter.com/mEwjcLklP8— Danny Armstrong (@DannyWArmstrong) June 1, 2018
There will be a total seven World Cup matches played in Moscow, seven played at Luzhniki and another 5 at Spartak Stadium. The other fixtures will be held in 10 more stadiums across 10 other host cities: St. Petersburg, Sochi, Saransk, Samara, Kazan, Rostov-on-Don, Ekaterinburg, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod and Volgograd.
When the first of those games take place on June 14 as Russia take on Saudi Arabia, it will raise the curtain on the first ever World Cup held on Russian soil and also etching into history a new beginning for Russian sport.
In summer, Luzhniki stands magnificent under the rare Moscow sun, with almost gladiatorial majesty. The statue of Lenin, the most iconic figure of the country’s stories past, stands proud over Russian sport’s vehicle to greatness and glory, we're the future will soon be written.
Just two matches have taken place at Luzhniki since it opened, with the national team facing first Argentina and then Brazil. Two countries with seven world cup between them, it was never going to be easy for the 66th-ranked team in world football, and they lost both encounters.
Messi and co. were first to inflict defeat in December, when Sergio Aguero scored the only goal of a drab game that fulfilled its ceremonial duties if at the expense of thrilling the fans. Against Brazil in March, Russia were unlucky to go down 3-0 to the Samba Boys, a scoreline that did not tell the story of a spirited first half battle.
Much more is needed from Russia at their new home if they are going to mark the first competitive game at Luzhniki and World Cup 2018 opener on June 14. Much more is needed to reach the final held at the same stadium on July 15.
Ever wondered what it's like to walk out onto the pitch at the #WorldCupFinal stadium? This is the tunnel walk at Luzhniki. Twenty two players will make those same steps on July 15 at #Russia2018 🇷🇺 pic.twitter.com/5yc7cnGLK0— Danny Armstrong (@DannyWArmstrong) June 1, 2018
Twenty two players will walk down the tunnel at Luzhniki on July 15 for the final match, where the world champions will be crowned. Do Russians let themselves dream of home World Cup glory just yet?
By Danny Armstrong for RT Sport