Russia upbeat after smooth Confed Cup
ST PETERSBURG (AP):
Russia's dress rehearsal for the World Cup is over, and it looks comfortable in the spotlight.
When FIFA's Gianni Infantino sat with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the opening game on June 17, the host nation was under a cloud facing pressure over widespread doping, fan racism and a reported 17 deaths during construction of World Cup stadiums.
But by Sunday's final, Germany's champion team was giving glowing reviews. Captain Julian Draxler wrote an open letter to Russian fans saying: "Russia passed the test with flying colours," while coach Joachim Loew was also full of praise.
"Thanks very much to Russia, I think they were great hosts," Loew said after his team beat Chile 1-0 in Sunday's final. "In the different cities where we played, and in the stadiums, we saw excellent conditions. This tournament has been brilliantly organised, and we have met outstanding people, which is very important too."
It wasn't hard for Russia's host cities Moscow, St Petersburg, Sochi and Kazan to outdo the last Confederations Cup, given that in 2013 Brazilian police were tear-gassing protesters outside the stadiums.
Next year will be tougher, though, with seven more cities and many more foreign fans. Russia's predicting a million visitors during the World Cup, compared to 27,000 foreigners who, FIFA says, bought tickets for the Confederations Cup.
Russia is keen to show the world smiling, well-behaved fans, not the muscle-bound thugs who rampaged through the French city of Marseille at last year's European Championship.