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Infantino: I’m impressed by Russia 2018 preparations

President Infantino snaps a selfie with a young Russian football fan
© FIFA.com

A diverse agenda awaited Gianni Infantino on his first visit as FIFA President to the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ host country. It started with a trip to the legendary Luzhniki Stadium, where he received a comprehensive update on the excellent progress of the refurbishment work at the venue of the Opening Match and Final of Russia 2018 by Moscow’s Mayor Sergey Sobyanin. The 2018 Countdown Clock next to Red Square was another must-see, with the President making a short stop there together with Local Organising Committee (LOC) CEO Alexey Sorokin and France 98 Bronze medallist Zvonimir Boban, who is accompanying the FIFA President on his visit to Russia and Qatar. Before heading to the Russian Football Union (RFU), President Infantino was introduced to the LOC management and received a detailed status report.

The afternoon was dedicated to Russian football and its development. Russian football legend and 1956 Olympic Football champion Nikita Simonyan, who is the RFU Vice President, apprised the FIFA President of the history and character of Russian football. A meeting followed that with representatives of the Russian football leadership, where the main topic on the agenda was football development and the opportunities to use the World Cup to enhance the professional infrastructure within Russian football.

To conclude the first day of his official visit to Russia, the FIFA President held a joint media briefing together with RFU President and Local Organising Committee Chairman Vitaly Mutko. FIFA.com brings you the highlights.

*FIFA President Gianni Infantino
On his visit
*I am very excited about this visit and the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia which will be my first FIFA World Cup as President. I was able to discuss with the LOC and the Russian Football Union the various on-going projects; I am impressed with what is going on in football in this country, not only with staging the FIFA World Cup but also the Russian Football Union’s plans when it comes to football development. I want to complement Minister Mutko and his team, they are doing a great job. It was great to receive this picture from Nikita Simonyan of the 1958 FIFA World Cup match against England, he is a legend and players like him make us love the game. Russia is a country with a lot of passion and the FIFA World Cup offers a great opportunity to showcase Russia to the world and that all Russians can be proud of, and even more once the FIFA World Cup has been staged. The 2018 FIFA World Cup is part of the new FIFA, the new projects we have together in football. The only question I have is the bet with Minister Mutko if I will speak better Russian or he better English in 2018.

*On overall preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup
*From what I have seen so far, particularly after this visit, I am even more convinced that this will be the best FIFA World Cup ever. And I have some comparisons with other competitions from my previous work. I can say that we are on track here and we have the full commitment that everything will be done in accordance with the schedule. Naturally, stadiums all need to be completed by December 2017 to allow proper testing and ensure that all will be done to stage a smooth FIFA World Cup. Everyone in Russia is conscious that there is still a lot to be done, on the construction at the stadia, on accommodation and on infrastructure. We can’t lose any days, but again from all I have experienced, I am convinced it will be a great success. I can see there is a lot of progress and a lot of commitment from all football people, and that makes me really optimistic two years before the FIFA World Cup and one year before the FIFA Confederations Cup, that Russia will stage the best FIFA World Cup ever.

*On the Luzhniki Stadium
*I’m very impressed by the progress made and the transformation of this venue. It’s changed a lot since the last time I was here. This will be an awe-inspiring venue for fans and players in 2018. Inside you can feel the atmosphere of football. It’s great to see that outside the historic parts have been preserved, while inside it will be a state-of-the-art football venue—the right setting for the game’s most important tournament.

*On the video assistant referee
*One of the key aspects during my first 50 days were the decisions by IFAB. We will now be testing the video assistant referee to have support to make refereeing and the game better. This is a strong message for football, something everyone was waiting for and we will be testing this now. I really hope that Russia will be the first FIFA World Cup where referees will be helped by video technology.

*His first ever football match in Russia
*I look forward to coming back and seeing a Russian football match. Russia has strong teams; actually my first visit to Russia was in 1997 as a fan in the Dinamo stadium, I still have three scarves at home because it had been so cold. 

*RFU President and LOC Chairman Vitaly Mutko
I warmly welcome Gianni Infantino. It is a pleasure that one of the first visits he decided to visit us. Russia is the next host country for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. We have a tough schedule, but I would like once again to congratulate Gianni on his election to the post of the FIFA President. He is a real professional, a hard worker and pragmatic. It will be the first project for the president. During this visit, Gianni will visit the Luzhiniki stadium construction site, the house of football and the federal council.

I hope dialogue will convince him that Russia - the country of football, has great potential, but it not completely exhausted yet. As you know, the FIFA president is a professional. He organised several major sporting events. Today there was a meeting with LOC management, where the FIFA president received a detailed status report. We have a long way to go. There was an operational stadium tour last week. Our joint work with FIFA is under way. Moreover, we will do our best to prepare the best tournament.

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