World Cup kicks off today; Russia to take on Saudi Arabia in Moscow

KAZAN: World Cup fever is finally taking hold in Russia, where wild enthusiasm in provincial centres such as chilly Kazan is filtering through to Moscow ahead of Thursday’s opening match in the capital. While curious locals have clamoured to see the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar, it has proved a slow build-up to the June 14-July 15 showpiece, which is being held in Russia for the first time.
The tournament opener featuring Russia and Saudi Arabia at the imposing 80,000-capacity Luzhniki stadium has so far failed to capture the imagination of Muscovites, although they have warmly welcomed foreign fans. In the Black Sea resort city of Sochi about 5,000 people turned out to watch the Brazilian squad train, chanting the name of Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar. Croatia had barely touched down in Russia before they launched a charm offensive that won over supporters at Roshchino outside Saint Petersburg.
Hours after arriving they staged a training session where free footballs, scarves and flags were launched into the stands. Luka Modric also exchanged passes with delighted youngsters. While the atmosphere remains muted in the larger of the 11 host cities such as St Petersburg, it is sure to intensify as an estimated one million fans from 32 participating nations pour into the country.