KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the World Cup as “one of the most significant events in world sport” in a welcoming address to delegates attending the FIFA Congress in the Moscow Expocenter.

Russia was awarded host rights to the finals which open tomorrow by the then executive committee of the world football federation in Zurich in 2010.

As far as Putin and Russia were concerned this was the icing on the cake of a ‘decade of sport’ which included the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and a Formula I race as well as other international championships.

Since then, however, the atmosphere had been soured by the Russian doping scandal and Putin’s militaristic interventions in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and Syria.

Putin went out of his way to praise FIFA and its own president Gianni Infantino for resisting critical pressures about the Russian hosting.

He said: “This is an opportunity to thank you and all your colleagues for your assistance during the seven years in which Russa has been preparing for one of the most significant events in world sports.

“We have done everything in our power for this major football tournament to be a top-notch event for a player or fan or TV fan.

“Special thanks are due to president Infantino and his commitment to sports principles and justice his always-positive sentiment towards our country,

“We know that president Infantino took the helm of FIFA in difficult times and he has been our front man for many generations of our fans who dreamed that our country would one day welcome the best teams in the world.”

Putin concluded: “Our goal is for all our guests – football stars or regular fan – to feel the hospitality and welcoming nature of our nation, to understand our unique culture and unique nature and for the fans to want to come back.”