On a visit to Russia, the great Pele reportedly said: "Russia will lift the World Cup when Brazil win the Ice Hockey World Championship."
That remark still troubles fans in the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ host country, where ice hockey rivals with football in popularity and where the national side is much more successful on the rink than its counterpart on grass.
One thing is for sure - Russia stands a much greater chance of winning the World Cup than Brazil does of becoming world ice hockey champions. Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, former Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk, one of Russia’s top ice hockey players, agreed.
"In Brazil, they still cannot make an ice rink, probably because of their climate. So in the future, we cannot count on anyone but ourselves," said the smiling two-time Stanley Cup winner.
After a 15-year spell playing in the NHL in the USA, Datsyuk came back to Russia earlier this year to join St. Petersburg SKA in time for the new KHL season. Datsyuk also took on the role of FIFA World Cup ambassador for Yekaterinburg, his native town that will host four Russia 2018 group stage matches.
FIFA.com: In one of your interviews you described an ideal summer day: fishing in the morning and in the evening, having dinner with your family, playing football. Why do you like football so much?*
*Pavel Datsyuk: It all comes from my childhood. I used to play with my friends on a pitch near my house. We spent a lot of time there. I even considered combining the two sports, playing football in summer and hockey in winter. However, when I grew older and joined the hockey school, I understood that I didn’t have time to do both, so I opted for hockey.
You are well known for scoring spectacular goals. One of your most famous is the one you scored for CSKA against Avangard in 2012. You headed it in, football style. Did you take it hard when the referee disallowed it?*
*On the contrary, I was happy to fulfil my dream of scoring a header. But rules are rules, and you are not allowed to score with your head in hockey. Recently I talked to the referee of that match, and he told me: "Sorry for ruining your dream and disallowing that goal, Pavel". But he was right in following the rules.
Are there any other football skills that help you when you are playing hockey?*
*The main one is the ability to play with my feet. It is a great advantage for a hockey player, as the puck often ends up at your feet, not at the end of your stick.
*Tell us about your habit of juggling a ball before a hockey game?
*That is a part of my warm-up, when I mix business with pleasure. We always have a ball in the team, and football exercises are often built into the whole training process.
Stars like Usain Bolt, Kobe Bryant and Roger Federer all play football regularly. Who would you like to play against one day?*
*I wouldn’t like to find myself playing against Bolt, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t stand a chance!
Two major international tournaments will take place in Russia over the next two years: the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 and the FIFA World Cup 2018. What is your advice to international fans coming to our country? What should they visit in Russia?*
*Obviously, they mustn’t miss Yekaterinburg! But it is worth spending time to see more of the country, to visit not only the big cities but also small towns in order to feel the spirit of Russia. Those tourists who do will fall in love with Russia, I promise. And later they will return here with their friends.
Are you planning to visit any games during Russia 2018?*
*I hope that I’ll be in Yekaterinburg at that time, so I would like to see all the games there. It would be great if Germany and Brazil played in my city. And I'm sure that the whole World Cup experience will be unforgettable.
Do you see any changes in your city ahead of Russia 2018?*
*Sure enough, there are lots of changes in Yekaterinburg. Preparations are fully underway. There are posters everywhere, and many fences are being painted with pictures dedicated to the tournament. Step by step, everything is being done to remind us that the World Cup is just around the corner.
What could help Russia win the home FIFA World Cup in 2018?*
*It goes without saying that I’ll support our team all the way, hoping that they win the World Cup, but if we make it as far as the semi-finals, like we did at UEFA EURO 2008, that will be great too.