The wisdom of awarding Russia the right to stage the 2018 World Cup will come under sharp scrutiny in Kazan on Saturday at the draw for next year’s Confederations Cup.
Kicking off in Kazan on June 17 and ending in a Saint Petersburg final on July 2, the Confederations Cup involves only eight nations but is widely seen as important preparation for the World Cup the following year.
And so far the omens for a successful staging of the dry-run tournament are not all positive.
Competing for the Cup are the six FIFA confederation champions plus the host nation Russia and the World Cup holders Germany.
The confederation champions are Portugal (Europe), Mexico (North and Central America), Chile (South America), Australia (Asia), New Zealand (Oceania), plus the African champion who will be decided after the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon concludes on February 5.
A 20 million dollar purse is on offer – 4.1 million for the winners and 3.6 million for the losing finalists.
Delays and scandals have plagued preparations for the tournament, and the World Cup which is to follow, prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin to speak out on the eve of the draw.
A key area of concern is the delayed construction of the venue for the final in Saint Petersburg and Putin on Friday assured FIFA boss Gianni Infantino that problems would be resolved.
“It’s a very sad story,” Russian news agencies quoted Putin as telling Infantino on a visit to the Kremlin, referring to the scandal-plagued construction of the stadium.
“The builders promise to fix everything by the end of the year.”
A solution must be found to the retractable pitch at the futuristic 68,000-seater stadium that is unstable and unsuitable for play.
Scandal and delays are not the only problems. Russia’s dismal performance at Euro 2016 in France and the shocking conduct of the nation’s football hooligans have also left a cloud over preparations for a tournament that will be staged in Moscow and Sochi as well as Kazan and Saint Petersburg.
In July, Putin approved a law that tightens anti-hooligan controls at games and calls for publishing of an online black-list of supporters banned from matches.
Russia crashed out of Euro 2016 without a win and little has improved since then despite coach Leonid Slutsky falling on his sword after telling his players: “We are [no good].”
Former Legia Warsaw coach Stanislav Cherchesov took over in August but his best effots to turn the squad around have so far failed to convince.
Russia has had two wins, two losses and one draw in the five friendlies played under Cherchesov, a former goalkeeper.
The team suffered a demoralising 2-1 loss this month to 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, 91st in the FIFA rankings, in Doha.