World Cup Trophy Tour Kicks Off at Luzhniki Stadium

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The official World Cup trophy tour recently kicked off from Moscow ahead of next summer’s Russia 2018 tournament, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and FIFA president Gianni Infantino on hand to launch the longest tour of its kind.

Over a 123-day period, the most coveted award in football will make its way around 24 Russian cities from Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East to Kaliningrad, the country’s most westerly city, as well as 50 countries across the globe, landing back in Moscow exactly one week before the beginning of the tournament on June 14.

Despite the leviathan tour having many impressive feats, perhaps the most intriguing and impressive component is not its sheer length or its extensively inclusive geography, but its starting point – Luzhniki Stadium.

Luzhniki was the stage for the launch on September 9, which doubled as the opening of the newly-renovated ground itself. The old stadium was the stage for such classic sporting events as the 1980 Olympics and the 2008 Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea.

However it is not without its more poignant memories. In 1982, Luzhniki saw the worst disaster in Russian sports history, when a stampede caused the deaths of 66 Spartak Moscow fans in the 1982–83 UEFA Cup match between Spartak and Dutch side HFC Haarlem.

That stadium is gone now. Its memories, bitter and sweet, all confined to its own reminiscence.

In its place, a new arena as the new heart of Russian sport that will be the epicentre for the World Cup, hosting the opening match and final of football’s marquee event.

Standing in a striking sandy-beige colour, the stadium’s essentials are of superb quality. Laid last year, the grass pitch has has already survived one unforgiving Russian winter, with the help of lamps that assume the role of the absent sun and around it, completely refitted seating has extended the full capacity from 78,000 to 81,000.

Executive seats are luxuriously padded and covered with leather. At first glance, it appears the remaining seats are identical but they are in fact made of plastic, although still comfortable and with similarly ample legroom.  

The stadium is not without its failings. One instantly recognisable shortcoming is the lack of locks on the toilet doors – something that may need to be rectified before the tournament begins.  

Also, the interior gives off the impression it may have been rushed towards the finishing date, with some of the finer points seemingly left for a later date so the world’s media can enjoy the more important core. One expects such rough edges to be fully knocked off before the start of the tournament. And after all, that is a quintessentially Russian way of getting things done.

It is also one World Cup stadiums that is fully completed, along with Krestovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg, Kazan Arena, Sochi’s Fisht and Spartak Stadium, situated an hour by tram ride across the capital.

Despite its deceptively simplistic look, the stadium does have impressive attributes, perfectly illustrated by a stadium roof that morphs into a giant screen that will be used to broadcast matches, the first of those being the Russia 2018 World Cup opener.  

The result is an awesome impression from inside. On a rare sunny Sunday the stadium is magnificent, betraying the same hint of gladiatorial magnificence as the Olympiastadion Berlin and blue skies framed by the overreaching rims of the roof.

In Moscow’s more usual weather, the facade the stadium still retains an incredibly Russian and even Soviet fell – standing hard, resilient and proud and guarded by a statue of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the foremost forefather of Russia, as the gatekeeper to a new era of sport.

Daniel Armstrong

Author: Daniel Armstrong

Danny Armstrong is a Moscow-based, FIFA-accredited sports journalist for RT.com, who has been writing & reporting for RFN since 2015. Previously Editor of the International Boxing Association (AIBA), he has also worked for the International Tennis Federation (ITF), and covered events such as the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, the FED Cup, the Russian Premier League & world championship boxing. Also worked for BBC & The Moscow Times.

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