Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2018: Putin raises a toast in Zurich after FIFA take risky gamble

“We go to new lands,” said Sepp Blatter concluding events in the Messe exhibition hall yesterday.

In front of him the Russian contingent were celebrating, an eclectic mix of Andrey Arshavin, the pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, the super model Natalia Vodianova and a gaggle of men in suits.

Russia had long been seen as the front-runners, despite their bid being largely contained on paper and stunning computer generated images of their proposed stadiums, not least because they were perceived as the first choice of the president of Fifa. And presidents, as any Russian knows, usually gets what he wants. In notable comparison to his British counterpart, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had declined to head for Zurich, “the capital of international football” as Blatter calls it, for the frenetic final days of vote chasing.

In some quarters that was seen as the country's most powerful man distancing himself from a losing cause, but it turned out to be nothing of the sort. His statement on Wednesday evening attacking those looking to “smear” Fifa was clearly well received by those who mattered in Zurich. Blatter made a clear reference to media attacks on his organisation during yesterday's proceedings.

Yesterday morning Putin announced that he would fly to Zurich if Russia won — when they did he was reported to be in a meeting with the country's chief rabbi. By last night he was in Zurich soaking up the glory.

“Russia loves football. Russia knows what football is,” he said. “The decision corresponds with Fifa's philosophy for developing football, especially in those regions of the world where that development is needed.”

The vote, an overwhelming one too, is something of a gamble.

After South Africa and, especially, Brazil 2014 it will be the third successive tournament in a large country and is a much riskier choice than any of its western European competitors.

The infrastructure needed is huge, but hugely in their favour for Fifa is that the whole project has been assured of government funding. As yesterday's presentation — a solid effort that was bettered only by England's — outlined, the government will happily foot a very large bill to pay for the upgraded rail and road links that will join St Petersburg in the north with Sochi on the Black Sea coast nearly 2,000 miles away.

Only two of the 16 stadiums exist, and both the Luzhniki and Dynamo stadiums in Moscow will be redeveloped. The others will be built from scratch and the images in the impressive brochures are spectacular. The final will be held in the Luzhniki in front of 89,000 supporters.

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