The upcoming festival of football in Russia is getting closer, with the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 now just over 100 days away. Carles Puyol, who captained Spain to triumph at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, came to Russia to have a look at how preparations are progressing ahead of the Tournament of Champions.
It was a short but extremely busy trip. In just two days, Puyol managed to fit in a visit to the Saint Petersburg Stadium, a chat with Russian football fans, a meeting with prospective volunteers for the Confederations Cup and World Cup, plus a ride on the Moscow Metro. The former Barcelona man gave his impressions on the country's preparations for the Confederations Cup and spoke about his expectations for the upcoming tournament in an interview with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: What was your reaction to how Russia is preparing for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017?
Carles Puyol: It was an extremely memorable visit. I went to the stadium in Saint Petersburg and I can say that it looks ready to stage top-level football matches. It is really impressive. I met with volunteers in Moscow and rode on the world-famous metro. In both cities I sensed a growing anticipation; I felt that Russia simply cannot wait for the tournament to arrive. You can see that Russia really wants to host both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup at the highest level.
What impressed you most of all?
It was interesting to see how deep the Moscow Metro went underground. It was also amazing how clean it was. It's nothing like other underground lines. I didn't get to see a lot of Saint Petersburg, but I really liked it there, and I want to come again to enjoy the beautiful views in this city.
You have supported the Volunteer Campaign in Russia since its inception last June. It seems you have a special bond with volunteers.
It's been really nice meeting with volunteers in Russia, both in June last year and this time around. The fact that more than 176,000 people applied to be volunteers shows how great the interest is in Russia for these tournaments. I don't doubt they'll contribute massively towards a successful competition. After all, volunteers play a vital role in hosting major sporting events. It would be just impossible to host these tournaments without them.
You competed at the Confederations Cup in 2009: what memories do you have of this tournament?
On the one hand, it didn't turn out well for Spain. We lost in the semi-final against the USA, and we deserved to lose. The Americans were stronger in that game. On the other hand, the tournament was extremely important in light of our victory at the 2010 World Cup. We already knew what to expect in South Africa, and that gave us an advantage in 2010. But it's important to remember that the Confederations Cup is not just the dress rehearsal for the World Cup. It's a significant tournament in its own right, featuring actual champions, and one in which victory would be a prestigious feat.
Coming back to the forthcoming Confederations Cup, who in your opinion are the favourites?
First of all, I'm looking forward to memorable and spectacular matches in Russia involving excellent players. Bearing in mind the kind of football Germany and Chile have been playing recently, I'd say these two are favourites.
Russia are taking part in the Confederations Cup for the first time in their history. You played against them at UEFA EURO 2008, a successful tournament both for Russia and Spain.
I've got fantastic memories from that tournament because it was the start of the most successful period in Spain's history. The Russian side has also stayed in my memory. I thought that those two teams, Russia and Spain, set out to play wonderful football at that tournament. Russia had superb players back then, so it was especially good to beat them in the group stages (4-1) and in the semi-final (3-0). Those were perhaps our best two performances at the competition.
What do you know about the Russian national team today?
Football always goes in cycles, and Russia are starting a fresh one, with new, young players and a different coach. Plus they're in a completely unique position as hosts of the Confederations Cup and World Cup. This will give them extra motivation and added support from the fans. So it's an interesting time for this team. I'll keep an eye on Russia; let's see how they get on.
Spain are starting a new cycle as well. What chances do they have of reclaiming the trophy in 2018?
I like the current Spanish team. They've made a great start to the World Cup qualifiers, but there's a long way to go. We'll see how they cope with qualification. I'm confident we'll get to the World Cup, even though we're in a tough group. After that, we'll see.
Who will be the favourites at the 2018 World Cup?
If they teams are in good form, then Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy or Spain, but it's hard to say right now. There's more than a year to go until the tournament and a lot can change. Let's wait and see who qualifies for Russia.