|The announcement in Zurich was met with jubilation in Moscow [Reuters]|
Russia has won the right to stage the 2018 football World Cup, the first time it will have been held in Eastern Europe after 10 such tournaments in the western half of the continent.
Fans in the streets of Moscow, the capital, waved flags and screamed “Russia! Russia!” on Thursday after the announcement was made at the Fifa headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, called it a deserved victory over the other bids from England, Spain-Portugal and Belgium-Netherlands.
Putin, who personally lobbied throughout the bid campaign, later flew to Switzerland to thank the Fifa executive for their decision.
‘Russia loves football’
“Russia loves football. Russia knows what football is and in our country we have everything to conduct the 2018 World Cup on a very worthy level,” Putin said.
“The decision corresponds with Fifa’s philosophy for developing football, especially in those regions of the world where that development is needed.”
Putin was such a key figure in Russia’s bid that when he announced on Wednesday that he would not travel to Zurich ahead of the vote, many observers wrote off the country’s chances.
Putin had flown to Guatemala in 2007 to lobby IOC members and deliver his first public speech in English to help secure the 2014 Winter Olympics for Sochi.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, who played no visible role in securing the event, wrote on his Twitter account: “Hurrah! Victory! We’re hosting the 2018 championship!”
“Now we have to get ready for hosting the World Cup. And, of course, perform well.”
Medvedev later said Russia should get ready for the tournament by building infrastructure and boosting the performance of the country’s football players.
“We will, of course, have the experience of the 2014 Olympics, but it is still a huge, very serious undertaking,” Medvedev said.
“Those who build the infrastructure should get ready, and our football players should get ready, too, because so far, we can’t boast brilliant performance at world championships.”
Andrei Kanchelskis, a former Manchester United and Russia winger, said he was glad Fifa decided to give his country the World Cup.
“Yes, the English could hold the tournament today, but, you see, in seven years the requirements will be different,” Kanchelskis said in a television interview.
“There will be stadiums, hotels and airports. It’s a big plus for us to start from scratch.”
Russia is so ill-prepared at the moment for a World Cup that its bid was based on computer graphics and blueprints to give Fifa executives some idea of what stadiums and transport infrastructure might look like by 2018.
Only one of the country’s current stadiums meet the organisation’s requirements.
Fifa warned during a recent visit that the building of venues, roads and other infrastructure would need to start immediately if the country stood any chance of being ready on time.
Russia says the clean-slate approach is a plus, that building from scratch ensures the needs of the facilities can be thoroughly planned and existing clutter need not interfere.
But officials immediately sought to allay fears of spiraling costs, with Alexei Kudrin, the finance minister, vowing World Cup spending will be lower than that on the Sochi Olympics.
Russian news agencies said Kudrin gave no figures.
The country is halfway through building all facilities for the olympics from scratch in a project originally slated to cost $12bn but now thought to be much higher.
Russia has vowed to waive visas and provide free ground transportation for all World Cup ticket holders.
Officials say the World Cup will include 13 major cities in the country’s European territory, stretching from the enclave of Kaliningrad in the west to Yekaterinburg in the east.
Russia is promising 16 football-only arenas, and says some are already under construction, while others are being refurbished.