Football: Russia under scrutiny at Confederations Cup draw over scandals and delays

A woman takes a selfie before a news conference prior to the Confederations Cup 2017 official draw in Kazan, Russia, Nov 26, 2016.
A woman takes a selfie before a news conference prior to the Confederations Cup 2017 official draw in Kazan, Russia, Nov 26, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

KAZAN, Russia (AFP) - The wisdom of awarding Russia the right to stage the 2018 World Cup will come under sharp scrutiny in Kazan on Saturday, at the draw for next year's Confederations Cup.

Kicking off in Kazan on June 17 and ending in a St Petersburg final on July 2, the Confederations Cup involves only eight nations but is widely seen as important preparation for the World Cup the following year.

And so far the omens for a successful staging of the dry-run tournament are not all positive.

Competing for the Cup are the six Fifa confederation champions plus the host nation Russia and the World Cup holders Germany.

The confederation champions are Portugal (Europe), Mexico (North and Central America), Chile (South America), Australia (Asia), New Zealand (Oceania), plus the African champion who will be decided after the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon concludes on Feb 5.

A US$20 million (S$28.6 million) purse is on offer - US$4.1 million for the winners and US$3.6 million for the losing finalists.

Delays and scandals have plagued preparations for the tournament, and the World Cup which is to follow, prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin to speak out on the eve of the draw.

A key area of concern is the delayed construction of the venue for the final in St Petersburg and he on Friday assured Fifa boss Gianni Infantino that problems would be resolved.

"It's a very sad story," Russian news agencies quoted Mr Putin as telling Infantino on a visit to the Kremlin, referring to the scandal-plagued construction of the stadium in his home town.

"The builders promise to fix everything by the end of the year."

A solution must be found to the retractable pitch at the futuristic 68,000-seater stadium that is unstable and unsuitable for play.

Scandal and delays are not the only problems. Russia's dismal performance at Euro 2016 in France and the shocking conduct of the nation's football hooligans have also left a cloud over preparations for a tournament that will be staged in Moscow and Sochi as well as Kazan and St Petersburg.

In July, Mr Putin approved a law that tightens anti-hooligan controls at games and calls for publishing of an online blacklist of supporters banned from matches.

Russia crashed out of Euro 2016 without a win and little has improved since then despite coach Leonid Slutsky falling on his sword after telling his players: "We are s***."

Former Legia Warsaw coach Stanislav Cherchesov took over in August but his best effots to turn the squad around have so far failed to convince.

Russia have had two wins, two losses and one draw in the five friendlies played under Cherchesov, a former goalkeeper.

The team, who have dropped to 55th in the Fifa rankings, suffered a demoralising 1-2 loss this month to 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, ranked an even lower 91st, in Doha.