Tuesday 22 November 2016, 08:27

Semak relishing Confederations Cup ahead of draw

The FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 Draw will be held in Kazan on 26 November to determine the groups and full match schedules for the tournament. Sergei Semak, former midfielder and captain of the Russian national team, will be on hand to help with the draw.

Semak had a unique career in football for a Russian player. A five-time Russian Premier League winner with three different clubs, he captained Russia at the country’s most successful major tournament in modern times, UEFA EURO 2008, where they reached the semi-finals under the stewardship of Guus Hiddink. Part of Russia’s coaching team until the of summer 2016, FIFA.com caught up with Semak ahead of Saturday's draw event.

Facing the best Russia has been exempt from qualification games for the last two years with the country hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup™. The team have had to make do with friendlies to get in shape for the tournament, so the Confederations Cup will afford the players valuable competitive football, as well as the chance of silverware. Since becoming Russia’s latest coach, Stanislav Cherchesov has overseen five games, fielding no fewer than 32 players. The head coach and his staff are looking are looking at every possible option to make sure Russia has a strong, cohesive unit to contest the showpiece event starting in June.****

“We don’t have qualifiers ahead of the World Cup so the Confederations Cup is basically the only opportunity we have to test ourselves against the best teams in the world,” said Semak. “What’s more, we have a chance of winning a trophy, which makes a huge difference.

"I think the Confederations Cup is a dress rehearsal for our country ahead of hosting the World Cup, while for the team it’s an opportunity to compete against strong opposition,” he added.

In his role as assistant, Semak will help define the final match schedule for the “Tournament of Champions”. Russia are competing as hosts, Germany as the winners of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Australia as the holders of the AFC Asian Cup, Chile as Copa America winners, Mexico as the CONCACAF Gold Cup holders, New Zealand as holders of the OFC Nations Cup and Portugal the UEFA EURO champions. The winners of the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations will be added to this list after the tournament concludes on 5 February 2017.

As the host nation, Russia will be seeded in Pot 1 and Semak hopes that the team ends up in a strong group. “I want to see our team play against the best,” he insisted.

Almost 50,000 tickets were sold during the Visa pre-sale period for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 between 8-17 November, with 95% of tickets purchased by Russian fans. Semak is confident that the tournament in Russia will be well-attended in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi: “There will be plenty of people at the Confederations Cup games, which will be hosted at amazing stadiums,” he said.

‘A good excuse to visit the Sochi stadium…’ Over the course of his career, Sergei Semak played for clubs in three of the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 host cities: Moscow, Kazan and Saint Petersburg. His Moscow playing days with Asmaral, CSKA and FC Moscow between 1993-2007 were briefly interrupted by a two-season spell with Paris Saint-Germain.****

“I first came to Moscow when I was 16 and it has changed a lot in this time,” he explained. “There are new stadiums, including Spartak’s ground which will be used to host Confederations Cup games. It’s a wonderful stadium and for a lot of the players it’s their home ground too,” he added.

In 2008, Semak moved to Rubin Kazan, where he immediately added two Russian Premier League medals to the one he won with CSKA in 2003. Kazan were a dominant force in Russian sport during that period.

“Kazan is one of the most successful cities in the country when it comes to sport,” said Semak. “I remember different teams from the city being crowned champions in several major sports at the same time.”

For Saint Petersburg, where Semak finished his career with Zenit, adding two more medals and making the move into coaching, the Confederations Cup is the first in a series of major tournaments to be hosted at the new stadium on the Krestovsky Island, with the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia and UEFO EURO 2020 games to follow.

“Of course, the people of Saint Petersburg cannot wait to watch games at the new stadium, so attendances won’t be a problem,” Semak said. “As for Sochi, after the Winter Olympics in 2014, the city is ready to host any high-level tournament. For me, the Confederations Cup will be a good excuse to visit Sochi and see the Fisht Stadium for the first time with my own eyes,” he concluded.