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The path to Russia-2018. The World Cup draw in St. Petersburg

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For one weekend, St. Petersburg became the capital of world football. The city had been preparing to host the large-scale event for a long time. On Saturday, the draw ceremony of the 2018 World Cup took place at the Konstantinovskiy Palace. Polititians, football, showbiz and culture celebrities gathered at the hall. Vladimir Putin made a speech. Alexey Zhukov with more.

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Tension growing in silence is abruptly replaced with loud ovation. The moment which 95 million TV viewers and fans had been waiting for in the past few weeks. The preliminary draw of the 2018 World Cup, which determines the paths for all of 141 national teams - the one which the teams need to take in order to get to Russia in 2018. 

Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation: «It is a principal matter for us - to create good conditions for the teams, so that they can focus on their games and display high-quality football. We will certainly do everything to ensure safety and maximum comfort for the fans. It is a very good chance to show to the world our vast and open Russia, able to surprise and inspire»

Natalya Vodyanova changed several garments during the night and chatted friendly with everybody. But the two presidents - of Russia and FIFA - were getting all the attention. Every word and even every pause have meaning in the situation when the football association is under investigation. And not all countries are happy that Russia will host the upcoming tournament. Blatter showed a 100-percent trust. 

Josef Blatter, FIFA president: «First of all, i must say - thank you, President Putin. We are happy and you have made it all very comfortable for us. Thanks a lot. Yesterday, FIFA’s executive committee reaffirmed our trust towards Russia and the organization of this tournament. We are anxiously anticipating this wonderful Cup - for the game, for peace, for Russia».

The draw took countries to different pots. The red balls were opened by Samuel Eto’o, Rinat Dasaev, Ronaldo, Alexey Smertin, Fabio Cannavaro and Alexander Kerzhakov. During the breaks, maestro Gergiev, Polina Gagarina, Vasiliy Gerello and Igor Butman’s Jazz Band took to the stage. The event was throughly serious - up until the draw in Europe.

Jerome Walke, secretary general of FIFA: «So, we have 52 teams in European qualification. Why 52? Because Vitaliy Mutko can have a sound sleep tonight - his team has already qualified»

For the first time the Mundial will take place in two parts of the world at the same time. For the first time, not a single team will play in the same city twice. And for the first time in its history, Russia is guaranteed to be in the final stage of the tournament.  

Team Russia was drawn into group H. The hosts will play off-qualification, the results will not be taken into account. We’ll definetely play Belgium and Greece, while we can cancel the games against «football minnows» - Estonia and Cyprus - and invite any teams for a friendly, provided they have no official games. Experts have already suggested we should play the heavyweights - Argentina or Brazil.

Alexander Kerzhakov, Russia’s all-time top striker: «For me - as a patriot of my country - this is a huge pride. Im proud of my country. Russia will rightly host the World Cup, and i think it will go down as one of the best World Cups in history. There are never favorites here, and that makes it interesting every time. I’ve taken part in the qualification three times. And only one was successful. So im very happy Russia now has a guaranteed spot at the World Cup.

The forward has to decide on his future - he still belongs to FC Zenit, but in reality he’s not needed by the manager. But others will have to start preparing for a heated battle straigh after the draw. 180 national teams embark on the path to lifting the Cup, with more than 800 games to be played.

All those will be played from September 4th 2016 to October 10th 2017. Nine group winners will go to the World Cup directly. 8 best second-placed teams will compete for a place through play-off matches in November 2017. All in all, the qualification will determine the 31 teams to join Russia in the final stage.  

From June 14th to July 15th 2018, at 12 stadiums in 11 cities of Russia. The opening game will be held at Moscow’s Luzhniki. St. Petersburg’s Zenit Arena will host at least 11 games, which our residents will be able to watch or attend literally at home

Alexey Zhukov, reporter: «Its impossible to predict now which teams will make it to semi-finals and the to the final. But its guaranteed the thousands of spectators will be watching the contest between two of four strongest teams in the world from these stands. Meanwhile, fans can speculate which stars of world football - Messi, Neymar or, lets say, Mueller - will write the football history underneath the retractable roof of this Arena»

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