x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Putin's gamble pays off as country rejoices

Russia basked in the glory of being awarded the 2018 World Cup, as football fans in sports cafes waved flags and screamed "Russia! Russia!" in celebration of what Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called a deserved victory.

MOSCOW // Russia basked in the glory of being awarded the 2018 World Cup, as football fans in sports cafes waved flags and screamed "Russia! Russia!" in celebration of what Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called a deserved victory.

Fifa voted yesterday to send the sport's biggest event to Eastern Europe for the first time, overlooking bids from England, Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands. Putin, who personally lobbied throughout the bid campaign, said he would immediately fly to Switzerland to thank voters for their decision.

"Russia loves football, Russia knows what football is and in our country we have everything to conduct the 2018 World Cup on a very worthy level," he said.

"The decision corresponds with Fifa's philosophy for developing football, especially in those regions of the world where that development is needed," Putin said later in televised comments.

Putin was such a key figure in Russia's bid that when he announced on Wednesday that he would not deliver a speech in Zurich yesterday to support it, many observers wrote off the country's chances on the pretext that Putin would not want to be associated with a failed bid.

But it wasn't to be. His charm - and control over the country's vast oil-fuelled revenues - appears to have swayed the 22 voters of Fifa's executive committee.

Russia is so ill-prepared for a World Cup that its bid was based on computer graphics and blueprints to give Fifa executives some idea of what stadiums and transport infrastructure might look like by 2018.

Only one of the country's stadiums meet Fifa requirements, meaning construction work has to get under way immediately if they are to be ready on time.

Russia has promised to waive visas and provide free ground transport for all ticket holders.