Putin, Macron, Kitarovic to watch World Cup final
Published : 15 Jul 2018, 13:41
Russian president Vladimir Putin will attend the World Cup final between France and Croatia in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Putin will be joined by several world leaders, including France's Emmanuel Macron, Croatia's Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar, where sport's largest event will next be held in 2022.
Non-political guests will include 100-metre world record holder Usain Bolt and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.
Beset by delays in finishing stadiums and infrastructure in the build up to the tournament and amid fears of the type of racism or hooliganism that has plagued the Russian game in recent decades the World Cup is roundly being viewed as a huge success for Russia.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino, whose organisation has been dogged by allegations of corruption and impropriety, said Friday that Russia 2018 had been the "best World Cup ever", adding that the whole world "fell in love with Russia" for hosting the tournament.
Croatia optimistic it can make WC history
Croatia feverishly prepared Saturday for its first ever World Cup final as the small Balkan nation swells with pride at its team's performance - and firmly believes they can win against France.
Red-and-white chequerboards are everywhere on car hoods, in shop windows, trams, buses as well as on jerseys worn by waiters, shop workers or TV presenters.
Butchers arranged their meat in a red and white pattern while a Zagreb beauty salon told clients they would not be doing French manicures until Monday in a sign of support to the national team.
And in a Zagreb bar waiters were "drawing" portraits of Croatian players on the froth of coffees.
"What was Brazil once, is Croatia now... Croatia are the world champions!" say the words of a popular song aired by radio and TV stations to boost moral.
"The squad's success is an inspiration... it has brought optimism that has cast its spell over the whole society," said Gordana Deranja, head of the Croatian employers' association.
Newspapers were ecstatic, praising the team known in Croatian as "Vatreni" (the Fiery Ones) that beat England in the semi-finals to reach the final in a feat not seen for such a small nation since Uruguay reached football's pinnacle in 1930 and 1950.
Croatia had surpassed the achievements of the team that finished third at the 1998 World Cup in France.
Tens of thousands of Croatians are expected to watch the match which kicks off at 5:00 pm (1500 GMT) on giant screens in squares and bars throughout the Adriatic country.
About 8,000 people were expected to watch in an ancient Roman amphitheatre in the northern port of Pula, organiser said.
'Croatia writes history'
"Tomorrow Croatia writes history the whole world is watching us!" said the front page of the Jutarnji List newspaper, alongside a black and white photo of coach Zlatko Dalic talking to the players.
An additional 1,230 tickets for the final in Moscow were sold out half an hour after being released overnight, state-run HRT television reported.
Tickets for 10 charter flights for Moscow for about 2,000 fans were snapped up.
Authorities have issued more than 4,300 passports since the quarter-finals.
In Zagreb, the passport office was working overtime to process applications from fans wanting to attend the match.
"Tomorrow there will be 4.5 million of us on the pitch!" read the front page of Novi List quoting Ivan Rakitic, who struck the decisive penalties in the shootouts against Denmark and Russia to reach the semi-finals.
Optimism reigned everywhere.
"After watching the game with England I now genuinely believe that these boys can make it till the end," Domagoj Stanic, a 43-year-old administrator, told AFP in downtown Zagreb.
He was wearing a jersey with a number 10 on the back, emulating captain Luka Modric.
"Our boys are the best, we believe in our victory! We are not as pretentious as the others," said Marija, a women in her sixties selling flowers in Zagreb's main square where the fan zone is located.
Regardless of the result, the team will be given a hero's welcome in Zagreb Monday, with more than hundred thousand people expected.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic urged employers to allow their workers leave their jobs earlier Monday to attend what he called a "magnificent welcome party".
And if Croatia win the government is considering declaring Monday a day off, while president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic will formally honour Dalic and the players.
France focus on WC glory, spurred on by 2016 Euro pain
France fine-tuned their preparations for the World Cup final against Croatia on Friday, desperate to overcome the bitter disappointment of losing the Euro 2016 final as FIFA declared Russia 2018 the best-ever tournament.
Didier Deschamps' team are firm favourites to win Sunday's showpiece in Moscow and become world champions for the second time 20 years after their first triumph in 1998.
But they will come up against a hungry Croatia side boasting one of the players of the tournament in Real Madrid star Luka Modric, who is desperate to win the trophy for the nation of just over four million people.
France made a slow start to their World Cup bid but they have gone up through the gears during the knockout rounds and look a formidable blend of youthful vitality and experience.
They will approach the match at Moscow's 80,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium full of confidence and with the pain of losing the final of Euro 2016 on home soil to Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal spurring them on.
"The tears have dried from Euro 2016 but it's still there in a little corner of people's minds," midfielder Blaise Matuidi said on Friday.
"It will be useful for us on Sunday, even if I don't like to keep bringing up the past. It will serve as a lesson to us and it means we know what it is to play in a final.
"We'll approach it differently and hope that we play really well and win it. It's up to us to put everything into place to achieve our dream of lifting the World Cup."
Deschamps' team are packed with attacking stars such as Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann but it is their defence that has shone in the past two rounds, not conceding a single goal.
Croatia the smallest nation to make it to the final since Uruguay in 1950 have battled through three periods of extra-time to reach the final. That means they have played the equivalent of a whole extra match more than France.
But coach Zlatko Dalic said there would be no excuses despite their exertions.
Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said she could not wait until the game.
"I feel extremely excited, I don't know how I will wait until Sunday," said Grabar-Kitarovic, who is going to attend the game. "Regardless of Sunday's result, which I believe will be a victory, we are winners."
'Best World Cup ever'
As the tournament moves towards its end, FIFA president Gianni Infantino declared it the best ever.
"I was saying this would be the best World Cup ever. Today I can say it with more conviction... it is the best World Cup," Infantino said in Moscow.
More than one million foreign fans have visited Russia during the World Cup, according to FIFA figures.
"A lot of pre-conceived ideas have changed thanks to this World Cup," said Infantino.
"Everyone has discovered a beautiful country, a welcoming country, full of people keen to show to the world what maybe sometimes is said is not what happens here."
He also said the use of the VAR (video assistant referee) had been a success and praised the quality of the football, with just a single 0-0 draw in 62 games so far.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to pour onto the streets of Paris at the weekend, 20 years on from the 1998 win, when Deschamps was captain of the side.
A security operation swung into full gear, with plans for 110,000 law enforcement officers to be deployed across France as the country celebrates the national Bastille Day holiday and the World Cup final.
"Everything is being done so the French can live these festive moments with peace of mind, despite the terrorist threat which remains at a high level," said Interior Minister Gerard Collomb.
Before the final, England will play Belgium in a low-key battle for third place in Saint Petersburg on Saturday.
Gareth Southgate's squad are still trying to come to terms with their missed opportunity.
"None of us knows if that's as good as it gets," he said, after England were beaten 2-1 by Croatia in extra-time on Wednesday.
"We were 20 minutes from a World Cup final and then in extra-time about 10 minutes from penalties to get into the final."
FIFA said Friday it had asked TV producers to reduce the number of close-up shots of fans to avoid any "suggestions of sexual connotations".
"We prefer that the coverage avoids exaggerated or extended duration close-ups that could lead to suggestions of sexual connotations or gender bias," a FIFA spokesman said.
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