UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has praised World Cup hosts Russia, saying he has been “impressed by the level of peacefulness” at the event and that it has been “a great, great” tournament.
Ceferin was speaking to RT hosts Neil Harvey and Danish goalkeeping great Peter Schmeichel on the eve of the tournament’s concluding weekend.
England and Belgium meet in the third-place playoff in St. Petersburg on Saturday, before France take on Croatia in the final at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday.
“First of all, I would like to congratulate FIFA, the LOC [local organizing committee], and the Russian Football Union. I knew the World Cup would be organized well, but I’m still positively surprised,” Ceferin said.
The UEFA boss joked that one of the achievements of the tournament was getting notoriously stern-faced border staff and police officers to crack a smile.
“For me, maybe it’s partly a joke, but not completely, but one of the biggest achievements is even customs and police started to smile. They don’t smile anywhere in the world, and [here] they say welcome to Russia,” he said.
He was full of praise for the atmosphere at the tournament, which has passed off peacefully despite scaremongering from some sections of the foreign media beforehand, who claimed it wold descend into mass violence perpetrated by hooligans supposedly lying in wait in Russia.
“I’m impressed, I’m impressed by the level of peacefulness, I don’t see any extreme fans… it’s a great, great World Cup,” he said.
Ceferin has been in charge of UEFA since 2016, taking over in the wake of the bribery scandal involving Michel Platini.
The organization will host its 60th anniversary European Championships in 2020, which will be played across 12 cities in 12 countries – the first time the tournament will be held in more than two nations.
The UEFA chief said the body could learn lessons from the Russia World Cup, which has been held across 11 host cities – some of which are as far as 2,500km apart.
“The distances are quite big [for the World Cup in Russia], some people were concerned, but it’s been completely manageable, so it’s good for us to know,” he said.
St. Petersburg will be among the 12 cities hosting games at Euro 2020, and Ceferin said that while the expanded number of hosts might be a one-off, it would help to “bring Europe together.”
“It’s a different idea… it’s symbolically a very interesting thing to bring Europe together… it might be a fantastic event, the best ever, but we’ll have much more work,” he said.
“In future we’re not planning to do it again, but this is the 60th anniversary of the European Championships, so this is symbolically to bring Europe together.”
Ceferin also commented on the Qatar World Cup in 2022, which will follow the current edition in Russia.
The tournament will be held in winter to avoid the searing summer heat, and there is debate over whether it will be expanded to 48 teams from the current 32-nation format.
“[The move to winter] was settled even before I became UEFA president, the [European] leagues adapted, the championships will stop,” Ceferin said.
“But if this idea of 48 teams comes out, then perhaps we will have another problem concerning the calendar…
“For me the main problem is that nobody has a position, we get information from the media, and everyone says ‘maybe’… I think it can present a big problem calendar-wise.
“The first step is that the ones who propose it have a position…,” he said.
Returning to the World Cup in Russia, Ceferin offered his thoughts on the first-ever use of video assistant referee technology at the tournament, which allows referees to consult video replays in four key situations.
UEFA doesn’t currently use the technology at the European Championships or its flagship Champions League club competition.
However, while Ceferin said there were still issues to be ironed out with the technology, it would almost certainly be adopted by UEFA in future.
“First of all, it worked pretty well here [in Russia], I don’t think there’s any way back now..
“The fact is it’s still not clear enough… we’re not sure if the referee has to stop when they call him, if they call him or not… we had identical situations, one’s checked by VAR, the next time no…
“There are some things that are for me are far from clear…. [but] we’ll use it sooner or later [in UEFA competitions] for sure… we need to find a provider, we need to train referees… we have to make an analysis after the World Cup.
“It can be done, not in a month or two months, but it can be done and it will be done, but let’s see.”
Ceferin, who was the former head of the Slovenian FA before assuming his role at UEFA, will be in attendance when England meet Belgium in the third-place playoff in St. Petersburg on Saturday.
The game is partly seen as personal duel between two players vying for the Golden Boot in Russia – England’s Harry Kane, who leads the way on six goals, ahead of Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, who is two behind on four strikes.
Peter Schmeichel jokingly suggested that the two players face off in a one vs one game on Red Square to decide the winner – to which Ceferin replied it would be “a fantastic idea… but it should be UEFA’s logo behind them.”
England and Belgium kick off at 5pm local time in St. Petersburg on Saturday, before France meet Croatia at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium in the final at 6pm local time on Sunday.