On 25 July, model and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova will take the stage at the Konstantin Palace in Saint Petersburg to present the Preliminary Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
"It will be a huge privilege for me to be there as co-presenter of an event like this," the icon of the modelling world told *FIFA.com *with a smile, her duties at the ceremony being shared with fellow co-host Dmitry Shepelev. "But it's also a big responsibility and, to be completely honest, I'm a bit nervous. This is a great honour and I hope I'll be up to the task of this wonderful present I've been given."
In truth, Vodianova's selection to represent Russia to the world is less a present than just reward, given her involvement in her country's World Cup bid since 2010. She is also relishing the nation's chance to host the most prestigious competition in world sport. "The fact that the World Cup will be held in my own country is an incredible honour," she added. "For Russia, to organise an event of this calibre is a huge economic and cultural opportunity. Welcoming the whole world will bring wonderful benefits. It's also very exciting for Russian football, and that's what's most important. For our national team, it's an excellent source of motivation to work even harder. In addition, it will encourage supporters to unite behind the team."
Vodianova's enthusiasm for Russia 2018 can partly be explained by the important role football has played in her own life. A mother of four, one of her children was born in London the day after a friendly between England and Russia in September 2007. "It's a funny story. I gave birth to my son while I was cheering for Russia. Unfortunately, they lost 3-0, but, who knows, maybe my son will change history one day." Perhaps. After all, given that she now has two budding young footballers at home, anything is possible. "My 13-year-old son has been begging me for years to let him play, after years of us trying to urge him to concentrate on school. He's really passionate about it, and luckily he's able to pursue that passion while also getting good grades at school."
Inspiration and compassion
"My seven-year-old boy dreams of being a goalkeeper," she continued. "That's where he wants to play, whereas the other kids always dream of being outfield players and running and making passes. He has a real talent for it." As a fan of legendary Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin, Vodianova could not be more delighted. "He was an incredible man," she explained. "He was prepared to sacrifice himself for his country and his team. That's not something you see very often these days. I find that nowadays we all act a little like spoiled children, but Yashin is a source of inspiration for me."
Vodianova was not yet born when the Black Spider was in his pomp, but she cannot be faulted on her zeal for World Cups of more recent vintage. Particularly impressed by Brazil 2014, she will long remember the host nation's stunning 7-1 semi-final loss to Germany. "I was completely behind Brazil like millions of other people," she said. "It was such a dramatic game and the defeat was so heavy – it was really incredible. I'm the kind of person who always tries to help those who end up on the losing side. I felt a lot of compassion for the players at that moment."
Above all, the founder of the Naked Heart Foundation, which aims to help underprivileged children, hopes not to experience similar emotions when the host nation plot their own route to the title in 2018. Whatever happens later, though, one thing remains certain: thanks to Vodianova, Russia's image will be in the safest of hands on 25 July.