They are eager to show their breathtakingly beautiful city to the world, befittingly enough, through the ‘Beautiful Game’s’ quadrennial showpiece.
For some, the 2018 FIFA World Cup, starting Thursday, is President Vladimir Putin’s equivalent of China’s 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. And the hosts are waiting for their guests as they seek to present their motherland in a different light, without the Soviet era stereotypes, without the haunting stories of the past, told and retold by her adversaries to define the country, whose map was torn apart by history.
“FIFA World Cup means people from all over the world will converge here. They will stay here and know about Russia and go back with a different image. The perception will change and the spectators will see it in a different light, a local said, two days before the start of the tournament.
Unfortunately enough, observers say there has been no equivalent of the PR campaign witnessed prior to the Sochi Winter Olympics, what with the local media playing down the World Cup due to the national team’s rapid decline in fortunes.
For a city gearing up to host one of the world’s biggest sporting events, the initial build-up had been a bit subdued, but it gathered steam as the tournament’s dates approached. Thousands of foreign journalists are set to descend on the country for the one-month extravaganza. Many writers and photographers from countries, which are not even part of the tournament, are already at work. But that’s how it has always been such is the allure of FIFA World Cup.
The lure is not lost on Russia and even the recent failures of Sbornaya, as the national team is called, have failed to dampen its spirit as far as successfully organising the tournament is concerned. Be it from hospitality to organising the games.
The hulking security guard on every corner can be a put-off but the helpful locals more than make up for the stare with their smiles. Known to house some of the world’s costliest hotels, the enigmatic city has opened itself for travellers, the frugal ones included — from across the world.
But the picture turns grim when the focus shifts to the national team’s pre-tournament results and prospects. By chance (or whatever), Russia have been drawn into a group that has been called by many as the weakest in the history of Worlds Cup.
While Uruguay are the frontrunners by some distance to top the group, teams such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia give the host nation a chance, but still people here don’t seem to be too optimistic of their side shining. But they seem to care that the organisational aspect is important.
Authorities are leaving no stone unturned to draw attention to the World Cup, Russia’s first ever in the tournament’s 88-year-old existence. As part of the build-up, a light show is organised everyday near the famous Red Square, there are football and World Cup-themed hoardings on buildings, a tournament branding is seen in front of Manege museum. The Russian capital has dressed itself in a colourful World Cup look.
With 12 matches, including the opening and the final on July 15, Moscow leads the host venues. The famous Luzhniki Stadium will host the opening game, as well as round-of-16 matches, one semifinal and the final. The city’s Spartak Stadium will host four group-stage matches and a round-of-16 game.