Putin inherits World Cup baton, promises unforgettable 2018

 Putin inherits World Cup baton, promises unforgettable 2018
FIFA president Joseph Blatter (L) with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the handing over of the 2018 FIFA World Cup to Russia.

MOSCOW - Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Sunday vowed "an unforgettable football feast" when his country hosts the 2018 World Cup.

After spending more than the US$50 billion (S$62 billion) on this year's Sochi Winter Olympics, Putin faces another multi-billion dollar bill for the project.

The 2018 World Cup is Russia's most ambitious project since the fall of the Soviet Union.

But Putin is confident.

"We will do all we can to organise the event on the highest level," he vowed at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium.

"We successfully hosted the Winter Olympics...in Sochi and now know exactly what a challenge it is to organise an event of such calibre," he added on Friday.

The Kremlin strongman said Russia wanted to learn from the experience of Brazil which won plaudits for the colourful tournament despite dire warnings of street protests, rushed construction and crime.

"We will do our best to present the world an unforgettable football feast and genuine Russian hospitality in 2018," Putin told Cuba's Prensa Latina and Russia's state ITAR-TASS news agencies.

For February's Winter Olympics Moscow pumped US$50 billion into transforming the Black Sea resort of Sochi into a glittering sports venue, making the games the most expensive in history and vastly outstripping initial estimates.

The World Cup presents an even bigger challenge with a radical overhaul needed of sports, tourist and transport infrastructure in a string of under-developed regions across the vast country.

Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko initially estimated the total cost of the 2018 World Cup at 680 billion roubles (S$25 billion), saying half will come from private investment and half from eight regional budgets.

Harsh winters

Matches will be played in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, Volga region city Kazan, Yekaterinburg in the Urals, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Saransk, Rostov-on-Don and Volgograd.

Some of the venues are already complete or well on schedule - but elsewhere work will be starting from scratch.

Moscow's iconic Luzhniki stadium, built in 1956 and which hosted the 1980 Olympics, the 2008 Champions League final and 2013 World Athletics Championships, is being transformed into an 81,000-seat arena fit to hold the opening match and the final.

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