MOSCOW: German fans will be happy: Kaliningrad has been confirmed as one of the host cities of the 2018 World Cup at a formal, made-for-television presentation beamed out of Moscow.

With FIFA president Sepp Blatter among the football personalities in attendance, the exclave on the Baltic between Poland and Lithuania was revealed as a cluster partner for St Petersburg.

Yaroslavl and Krasnodar were the two potential host cities struck from the list. The timing was especially unfortunate for Yaroslavl which, only three weeks ago, was mourning the first anniversary of the flight tragedy which left all members of the local ice hockey team dead.

The finals will be played in 12 venues in 11 cities.

Russia’s use of venue clusters will be appreciated by foreign fans of the World Cup who had become increasingly reluctant to make the effort in terms of finance, accommodation and travel demanded by the play-all-over system introduced in France in 1998 and being maintained for Brazil 2014.

Kaliningrad, formerly German Konigsberg, is closer to Berlin than it is to Moscow  which means that it feasible to make the journey by road from Germany – and hence likely to welcome that nation for the finals.

Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s Minister of Sport and chairman of the Russia 2018 Local Organising Committee, was also a guest of honour at the announcement along with FIFA secretary-general Jérôme Valcke, LOC ceo  Alexey Sorokin, Russia’s national team coach Fabio Capello as well as Brazilian World Cup winner  Roberto Carlos.

The four clusters are:

Moscow, the only city with two stadiums, namely Luzhniki and Spartak (central cluster);

St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad (Northern cluster);

Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Samara, Saransk and Volgograd (Volga cluster);

Rostov-on-Don and Sochi (Southern cluster) as well as Yekaterinburg.

FIFA’s executive committee approved the venues at its meeting on Friday but a decision on the general match schedule will be taken  later.

Blatter said: “The announcement of the host cities is the first concrete step taken in the delivery of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They make a decisive contribution to the success of the most popular sporting event. We look forward to a productive partnership on our road to the first FIFA World Cup in Eastern Europe.

“We are very pleased with the pace of the 2018 LOC from day one when they were awarded the hosting of the event in December 2010. Their achievements show their enthusiasm and commitment.”

The naming of the venues an unprecedented six years ahead of the event  allows the host country stakeholders to make a start on preparing the infrastructure.

Mutko said: “The final [cities] selection is an important milestone. This decision launches the full-scale preparation for the FIFA World Cup in the 11 Host Cities across the country.

“I believe all of them broadly represent the cultural and historical diversity of our nation. At the same time, their energetic nature and connection with Russian footballing tradition will allow the FIFA World Cup to leave a powerful and sustainable legacy in all of them.”

Each host city unveiled its poster at the same time as the announcement.

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