Getty Images

2018 World Cup venues on track but marred by costs, deaths

Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) Cost rises, worker deaths, and corruption have marred the building of Russia’s World Cup stadiums.

Unlike at the 2014 tournament in Brazil, construction is largely on time. But, like in Brazil, there are concerns about legacy.

Only five host cities have top-level clubs, and the government will need to cover the stadiums’ upkeep with subsidies after the tournament.

Ahead of the draw on Friday, here is a look at the 12 stadiums in 11 cities across Russia:

LUZHNIKI STADIUM

City: Moscow

Capacity: 81,006

Cost: 24 billion rubles ($410 million) for rebuild

A vast bowl built in the 1950s to showcase the sports might of the Soviet Union, Luzhniki has been transformed to host the World Cup final.

The old stands were ripped out and the athletics track from the 1980 Olympics torn up as the stadium was turned into a football-specific venue.

That increases capacity and comfort, while bringing fans closer to the action.

Luzhniki reopened on Nov. 11 when Argentina beat Russia 1-0 in a friendly. Russian fans praised the rebuild, but many were angry at how police handled the crowds afterward, forcing some supporters to spend up to 90 minutes getting to nearby public transport in near-freezing conditions.

SPARTAK STADIUM

City: Moscow

Capacity: 43,298

Cost: 14.5 billion rubles ($250 million)

The home of Russian Premier League champion Spartak Moscow, this stadium opened in 2014 and is already well tested as a venue for Champions League and Confederations Cup games.

It’s usually known as the Otkritie Arena, but FIFA rules on sponsorship mean a temporary name change for the tournament.

The towering statue of a gladiator outside is a nod to Spartak being named after Roman slave rebel Spartacus.

It’s the only World Cup stadium built without government money. Transport is relatively easy from central Moscow, though chronic traffic jams mean most fans prefer the subway.

ST. PETERSBURG STADIUM

City: St. Petersburg

Capacity: 68,134

Cost: 43 billion rubles ($735 million)

Almost everything that could go wrong with the St. Petersburg stadium did.

Severe delays and soaring costs were just the start for a project which became notorious for employing North Korean laborers, one of whom is among at least eight to die on the stadium and 17 across all World Cup construction sites, according to the trade union Building and Wood Workers’ International.

A deputy governor of St. Petersburg has admitted his role in a 50-million-ruble ($850,000) scheme to siphon off the stadium’s budget, though officials say the true picture of corruption was much larger.

The spaceship-like arena – which will host a semifinal – remains plagued by a leaking roof and a pitch which grows so poorly it’s had to be replaced repeatedly.

However, Confederations Cup games passed largely without incident and Russia says it’s working to iron out any more problems.

FISHT STADIUM

City: Sochi

Capacity: 47,700

Cost: 23.5 billion rubles ($400 million) for initial construction, 4 billion rubles ($68 million) to convert for football

As memories of the Sochi Olympics become dominated by Russia’s doping scandals, one part of the legacy will still be gleaming next year.

Nestled by the Black Sea, Fisht Stadium hosted the lavish opening and closing ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and then Confederations Cup games this year.

How that Olympic legacy continues after the tournament isn’t clear; Sochi doesn’t have a football club to use the stadium.

Fans are advised to book hotels near the Olympic Park because the main city of Sochi is more than an hour away up the coast.

KAZAN ARENA

City: Kazan

Capacity: 44,779

Cost: 14.4 billion rubles ($250 million)

The Kazan Arena opened in 2013 as the first of Russia’s new generation of football stadiums and was used as the prototype for the other new arenas.

It’s a versatile venue which has hosted Confederations Cup football, ceremonies, and even the 2015 world swimming championships, where a temporary pool was installed.

Kazan is a largely Muslim city, but one which wears its religion lightly. Fans shouldn’t expect any restrictions on alcohol sales, for example.

SAMARA ARENA

City: Samara

Capacity: 44,807

Cost: 18.2 billion rubles ($310 million)

This stadium in the Volga River city of Samara has proved tricky to finish on time.

Its ambitious design – a glass dome evoking Samara’s history as a center of the Russian space program – has needed extra time to build, and local officials have feuded with the companies doing the work.

One subcontractor allegedly went bankrupt this year after doing just a fraction of work valued at nearly $50 million and had to be replaced.

The stadium is on the outskirts of the city, so fans should allow plenty of time for travel to games including a World Cup quarterfinal.

NIZHNY NOVGOROD STADIUM

City: Nizhny Novgorod

Capacity: 45,331

Cost: 17.9 billion rubles ($307 million) – Russian media estimates

With a roof which seems to float atop white columns, the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium has one of Russia’s more impressive designs and will host a quarterfinal.

It also offers fans views of the Oka and Volga rivers which meet in Nizhny Novgorod, a historic city located around four hours east of Moscow.

Legacy could be a problem since local club Olimpiyets Nizhny Novgorod has averaged barely 1,000 fans per game in the second tier this season.

ROSTOV ARENA

City: Rostov-on-Don

Capacity: 45,145

Cost: 19.4 billion rubles ($330 million)

Sweltering summer temperatures could be a problem for teams coming to the southern Russian steppe to play group or last-16 games in Rostov-on-Don.

The stadium sits on the bank of the Don river and is planned to become the center of a vast new housing and leisure development after the World Cup.

Some delays in construction seem to have been remedied. When the tournament is over, the stadium will become the new home of FC Rostov, which beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League group stage last season but has since slipped back into the Russian mid-table.

VOLGOGRAD ARENA

City: Volgograd

Capacity: 45,568

Cost: 17.3 billion rubles ($300 million)

In the city once known as Stalingrad, every spot has wartime history, and the stadium is no different.

Workers had to deal with finding unexploded munitions and soldiers’ corpses from the World War II Battle of Stalingrad during work on the stadium, which sits at the foot of Russia’s best-known war memorial.

That location meant the stadium had to be designed with a low roof-line so as not to obscure views of “The Motherland Calls” sculpture.

The regional governor is hoping the draw brings Germany to his city for a moment of reconciliation 75 years after the Battle of Stalingrad ended.

EKATERINBURG ARENA

City: Yekaterinburg

Capacity: 35,696

Cost: 12.7 billion rubles ($220 million) for rebuild

Even before it opens, the stadium in the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg is famous for its unusual design.

In an attempt to keep costs down, the stadium has 12,000 temporary seats. So far, so normal for a World Cup.

However, those seats are on vast towers of scaffolding stretching over the walls of the main stadium, which could make being in the top row a vertigo-inducing experience.

Reducing the capacity to 23,000 after the tournament should make life easier for local club Ural Yekaterinburg, which averages crowds of just over 5,000 in the Russian Premier League.

Human Rights Watch alleged that some workers were required to work in temperatures of minus-25 degrees Celsius, and weren’t given enough breaks to stay warm.

MORDOVIA ARENA

City: Saransk

Capacity: 44,442

Cost: 17.1 billion rubles ($295 million)

With a population of just 300,000, Saransk was a surprise choice of host city for many Russians.

Located 10 hours by road south-east of Moscow, it’s by far the smallest of the 11 cities but hopes to make up for that with a warm welcome for foreigners at by far the biggest international event in the city’s history.

Many fans arriving for the World Cup won’t be staying in hotels – Saransk simply doesn’t have enough – but on campsites or in newly finished apartment blocks which will be sold after the tournament.

Large parts of the stadium are temporary, meaning it can be reduced to a 25,000-capacity venue after the tournament. Plans are afoot to set up shops and gyms in the structure.

KALININGRAD STADIUM

City: Kaliningrad

Capacity: 35,212

Cost: 17.4 billion rubles ($300 million)

Kaliningrad is the capital of a sliver of Russian land cut off from the rest of the country and sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.

Until World War II, the city was part of Germany and called Koenigsberg. Officials are hoping its location and history make Kaliningrad an attractive destination for fans from other European countries.

The stadium, which will host only group games, is a compact, modest design which has been built quickly.

Two regional government officials and an engineering company executive have been arrested on suspicion of corruption involving the stadium.

AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Transfer rumor roundup: Trippier to Real? Barca pursuit of Willian continues

Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Pro Soccer Talk examines some of the biggest transfer stories on Saturday, including a young Three Lions star potentially on the move to La Liga.

[ MORE: Everton places massive bid for Watford’s Richarlison and more ]


Several England players did themselves big favors at the 2018 World Cup, and one of the biggest wins certainly resides with Tottenham.

Kieran Trippier has begun to draw interest from Spanish giants Real Madrid, and according to the Sun, a $66 million bid could be forthcoming for the young outside back.

Trippier signed a five-year contract with Spurs last summer, however, his meteoric rise at the World Cup could prevent Tottenham from holding onto their young stud.


Meanwhile, staying in Spain, Barcelona remains keen on signing Chelsea winger Willian.

The Catalan side has reportedly placed a third bid for the Brazil international, with a $72 million valuation placed on the player.

Willian could be one of several Chelsea stars to leave the club this summer, with Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and N'Golo Kante all linked with moves away from Stamford Bridge.


Finally, the Blues could be in the market for a new striker under manager Maurizio Sarri, and the former Napoli boss could turn to Serie A to fill the void.

Sky Italia is reporting that Chelsea has made contact with Juventus over Gonzalo Higuain’s services, and the club could be willing to sell the Argentina international in order to fend off Financial Fair Play implications that stem from signing Cristiano Ronaldo.

Croatian media: Forward Kalinic refused WCup medal

Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) Croatian media say that forward Nikola Kalinic has not accepted the silver medal his team won at the World Cup in Russia because he was sent home early in the competition.

[ MORE: Everton make massive Richarlison bid and more transfer talk ]

Kalinic has reportedly said “thank you but I did not play in Russia.”

Coach Zlatko Dalic sent Kalinic home following the team’s 2-0 victory over Nigeria in their opening match.

Dalic said he wanted to use Kalinic as a substitute in the second half but the AC Milan forward, who was already warming up, told him he was not able to play because of a back problem.

Dalic said Kalinic did the same in a World Cup warmup against Brazil and during training.

Croatia lost 4-2 to France in the final.

Marseille signs Caleta-Car, Fonte joins Lille

Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MARSEILLE, France (AP) Croatia defender Duje Caleta-Car has joined Marseille from Red Bull Salzburg, becoming the first offseason signing for the nine-time French champion.

Caleta-Car played a group game at the World Cup with Croatia, which lost 4-2 against France in the final last week.

[ MORE: Spurs sign Son to contract extension ]

He won four Austrian league titles and three national cups with Salzburg.

Terms of the deals were not disclosed but L’Equipe newspaper reported that Marseille agreed to a fee of 19 million euros for the 21-year-old player, who was also targeted by Spanish club Sevilla.

“He is a very good central defender, for now and for the future,” Marseille sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said. “He is a clever player, who understands football. His very physical skills make him very good in the air and has good passing abilities.”

Marseille finished fourth in the French league last season and lost 3-0 against Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final, missing out on a Champions League berth.

FONTE JOINS LILLE

Portugal defender Jose Fonte is set to continue his much-traveled career in the north of France after agreeing to a two-year deal with Lille.

The 34-year-old Fonte started all four games at the World Cup in Russia as Portugal was eliminated by Uruguay in the round of 16.

Two years ago, he was a member of the squad which won the European championship in France.

Lille said in a statement Fonte will sign “in the coming days” following medical tests.

The former Crystal Palace, Southampton and West Ham center back played only a few matches with Chinese club Dalian Yifang this year before terminating his contract.

He is the second international to join Lille this summer after former France forward Loic Remy.

“I’m very proud to join Lille, which is a great French club,” Fonte said. “It’s a new challenge for me, hopefully it will be successful.”

Naby Keita emulated Gerrard growing up, and will now take on his role

Nathan Stirk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Naby Keita represents another new face in the next generation Liverpool regime, and he’s taking a page out of Anfield’s past in his approach at the Premier League club.

[ MORE: Neymar says he’s staying at PSG despite rumors “invented by the press” ]

When the 23-year-old finally completed his long-awaited move to the Reds in 2018, comparisons to N'Golo Kante quickly arose, a strong compliment for many.

However, for everything that Kante does well, it may actually be unfair to compare Keita to the now-World Cup winner with France.

Keita’s tireless ability to track up and down the pitch, complimented by his incredible skill on the ball and pace make him the ideal box-to-box midfielder, something his new club has been lacking for several years.

“My first mind-set is to defend well and not concede,” Keita told the Telegraph. “As a midfielder, when you have sealed things up at the back, my job is to provide the ammunition for the strikers and forwards, to create opportunities. Also, if I get a chance that comes my way, I want to take it and score. But I am a team player. I think about the team and the group always.”

That player is one Steven Gerrard.

And for Keita, the player that he once emulated as a child has now influenced him into the young star that drove manager Jurgen Klopp towards bringing him in to Anfield.

“When I came here that day I didn’t know Steven would be at Melwood,” says Keita. “It was a surprise to me. It was exciting. He said, ‘Everyone will be here for you, we’re all going to help you develop’.

“I had watched Steven Gerrard growing up as a kid and admired him so that was a special day.

“We used to play in the streets wearing a Liverpool shirt. My dad had a love of Liverpool back then when I was 11 or 12 years old.

“I wanted to be like him. It couldn’t be anyone else. He was always the boss of the team.”