ST PETERSBURG: Russia, despite cost cutting enforced by the economic downturn, is presenting none of the preparation problems throw up by South Africa and Brazil ahead of its hosting of the World Cup in 2018 writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

FIFA had to exert high-level pressure on the 2010 and 2014 hosts but secretary-general Jerome Valcke and Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko delivered confident reports today to the world federation’s cup organising committee.

Mutko: Promising another best-ever World Cup

Valke, who had a World Cup baptism of fire in the run-up to South Africa 2010, said later: “We are very happy with the work delivered. It is on track and in certain parts we are advanced on the timetable we had.

“Work is perfectly on time, one stadium (Kaliningrad) is a bit behind time but it will come back on time sooner or later so it’s a very relaxing situation.”

No need for Valcke, this time, to caution that the organisers needed “a kick up the backside” as he famously complained about the South Africans.

Record registration

He was speaking ahead of tomorrow’s draw for the qualifying competition for which a record full membership of 209 national associations entered.

The worldwide qualifying rounds will involve playing a record 851 matches over 33 months so 31 teams can join hosts Russia in the finals. The 2014 preliminaries comprised 820 matches with an aggregate attendance of 17m.

Valcke’s confidence was echoed by Mutko who is also a member of the FIFA executive committee.

He said: “We are on track with the work and want to leave a good legacy in line with the philosophy of FIFA which means we have to discover new countries, new horizons with football. Our government and local organising committee will do its utmost to stage a wonderful World Cup, the best ever.

“Football is sport No1 here. We have never ever staged this tournament; it has never even been staged in eastern Europe.

“It will leave a huge legacy to develop our regions, our nation and encourage our youth to develop a healthy way of life. As an example, since the Winter Olympics in Sochi we have doubled the participation in winter sports.

“Russia has always been and will continue to be a reliable partner of FIFA and fulfil all our organisational responsibilities.”

Opening Ceremony

The Russians have scrapped early plans for a separate Olympic-style Opening Ceremony. Instead it will be staged at the central Luzhniki Stadium immediately before the kickoff of the Opening Match as usual, on Thursday, June 14, 2018.

No team will play in same venue twice and, after complaints last year, each team will enjoy at least three full rest days between matches. All the top-seeded eight nations will play at least one match in Moscow. The draw for the finals will take place in the capital in December 2017.

Russia will have no national coach at the qualifying draw, not because they are seeded automatically to the finals but because Fabio Capello’s contract has recently been terminated by mutual consent and no successor has yet been appointed. The Russian Football Union is also without a president partly because of the fall-out from the Capello debacle.

Mutko, asked who would represent Russian football at the draw, said: “Mr Nikita Simonian, the great president and great player and great coach, as well as [organising ceo] Mr Alexei Sorokin and yours truly.”

# # # #