Wednesday 03 February 2016, 15:39

Russia awaits the Festival of Champions

Even with 500 days still to go before the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 kicks off, the host country is already relishing the arrival of some real champions. A mood of huge celebration is in the air, right across Russia.

Just as the official emblem of the ”Festival of Champions” was being unveiled in Moscow, other cities all over the country took turns to celebrate the landmark date of 500 days to go until the start of the tournament.

Around 1,000 people gathered for celebratory events in the seaside city of Sochi on South Pier Square, not far from the city’s famous port. What could be better than playing sport in the fresh Black Sea air in unusually warm Russian winter temperatures of 10°C?

The festivities didn't end there either, as the day began in one of Russia's warmest cities with a lesson on football being given in 66 schools throughout Sochi. More than 6,000 pupils learned about the history of the Confederations Cup and the tournament participants, as well as studying what the trophy looks like and the meaning of its design.

“I didn’t know a lot about the Confederations Cup before, but now I'm really looking forward to this tournament and I will do everything to get to the stands”, 11-year-old Ivan from one of the schools couldn't hide his excitement.

Saint Petersburg is renowned for its white nights, and its midnight sun, and will host the Opening Match and the Final of the Confederations Cup. Former Zenit captain Aleksei Igonin held a special news conference in the city where he explained why the Festival of Champions is so important for the northern capital.

“It's a big honour for St Petersburg to host the opening match and the final of such a big tournament," Igonin said. "And for Russian players it will be an important test, because their performance in the Confederations Cup will be evaluated. Those who will perform at their best can count on their place in the squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup."

Another Host City Kazan will host a media event tomorrow. But the excitement in Russia is growing not only in the cities hosting the matches of the tournament, but also in other regions of the biggest country in the world. Some of those cities who will host 2018 FIFA World Cup™ one year later are also celebrating.

Also on the Baltic Sea, Kaliningrad opened the first freestyle football school in the region specially to mark the occasion. The sportsmen showed off their impressive skills and gave a freestyle masterclass to pupils at children's sports schools, while the volunteers and organisers told the youngsters all about the Confederations Cup and its history.

“I am really proud of the fact that Russia will host such grand football events. And you actually try your best to be part of this event. I hope kids, who will start studying football in this school, will be great experts in football”, said Andrey Voronin, winner of numerous international freestyle football tournaments.

There was an U-13 mini-football tournament at a school in Rostov-on-Don, while in Samara there will be a table-football competition in the evening organised by the city's most popular team FC Krylia Sovetov. Any resident can join in and challenge not only their friends but also representatives of the club, including former players. The organisers have also prepared various quizzes for the participants and fans, enabling them to show off both their talents at table football and their knowledge of the global game.

Quizzes and other knowledge-based games are very fashionable in Russia, so it's no surprise that people in eight host cities of the 2018 World Cup took part in the extremely popular game “What? When? How?”. Fans from the host cities were tested on their knowledge of the history of the Confederations Cup and the World Cup. The game was organised in Saransk, which connected competitors from different cities via video link.

There's no doubt that many Russians will have learned all there is to know about the Confederations Cup come the start of the tournament on 17 June 2017.

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