Putin plays football with Infantino 100 days before World Cup
President Vladimir Putin played football with FIFA boss Gianni Infantino in the Kremlin on Tuesday as a festive Russia marked 100 days before the start of the World Cup. The footage from Putin's reception office was released by football's world governing body in a tweet featuring legends of the beautiful game juggling the ball and doing tricks. The clip ended with Putin heading one back to Infantino after a heavily edited kickabout set to Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee.
"Some people just can't wait for the greatest show on earth," FIFA said in the tweet.
Others playing around with the official Telstar 18 World Cup ball included ex-England midfielder Wayne Rooney and Argentina's Diego Maradona. Brazil's Ronaldo juggled by the beach while Sweden's Thomas Brolin had his fun in the snow. Putin is known for his sporting prowess, taking part in Judo matches, skating, diving and playing ice hockey.
A judo black belt and all round sports fan he is hoping to use the World Cup to showcase Russia and boost its image at a time of fraid relations with the West. Russia is hosting its first World Cup on June 14-July 15 in 11 host cities stretching from its western exclave of Kaliningrad near Poland to Yekaterinburg in the Urals. Numerous Russian cities are planning events to commemorate 100 days before the start of the 32 team tournament.
Moscow is staging an open air concert for 6,000 volunteers while Russia's northern capital Saint Petersburg is unveiling a countdown clock.
"It is important to show Russia the way it really is: open, hospitable and modern," Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov was quoted as saying on Tuesday by RIA Novosti.
- 'Open heart' -
Russia's preparations for the showpiece event are going largely according to schedule but still being clouded by scandal and global disputes. Fan violence that made Russians infamous at the Euro 2016 in France returned last month during a Europa League match in Spain between Spartak Moscow and Athletic Bilbao. Organisers hope the February 22 insident in which a handful of Russians were arrested and a policeman died of a heart attack does not frighten away global fans.
Tensions with the West have been compounded by the ignomy of Russians being forced to perform under a neutral Olympic flag at the Winter Games in Pyongyang over doping allegations. But Russian national team coach Stanislav Cherchesov said he hoped the World Cup would improve people's attitude toward his country.
"The most important thing is to come to Russia with an open heart and to try to understand our country and the places you are visiting," Cherchesov said in an interview released by FIFA. As we say in Russia, better to see something once than to hear about it a hundred times."
The tournament kicks of when Russia hosts Saudi Arabia in Moscow's renovated Luzhniki Stadium on June 14.