The 2018 FIFA World Cup will reportedly go down as one of the most entertaining in history, as a month-long soccer celebration in Russia is said to be engraved indelibly in the hearts of the football lovers across the globe.
From stars shinning, big teams falling early, the hosts surprising and stunning moments galore, fans were treated to a wondrous spectacle from June 14 to July 15.
Football analysts are of the opinion that Russia 2018 World Cup has outclassed France 1998 and Mexico 1986 as the best-ever World Cup in terms of memorable moments and a hitch-free tournament.
Speaking at FIFA’s closing press conference of the four-week World Cup, the FIFA President, Gianni Infantino praised the organization of the Russia World Cup and said, ”For a couple of years, I was saying this would be the best World Cup ever, today I can say it with more conviction because I lived it and you lived it. It is the best World Cup ever.”
A slew of thrilling football matches, including big upsets both at the group stage and in the knockout phase, lit up the tournament. World Cup visitors widely praised the Russian hospitality; noting that there were no security issues.
Commenting on Russia’s hosting success, Infantino commended everyone “involved in the participation, the organization of the World Cup”, making sure to thank the Russian government and president Vladimir Putin as well as the volunteers. He insisted that the 2018 World Cup had improved Russia’s image on the global stage.
“Everyone who has come here has discovered a beautiful country, a welcoming country, a country full of people who are keen to show to the world that what maybe sometimes is said, well, is not actually what happens here,” he told reporters at the press conference.
”Russia has become a real football country, a country where football is not only the World Cup, which is organized at an excellent level, but where football has become part of the country’s DNA and the country’s culture.”
He added: “We had 98% occupancy of the stadiums, one million fans from abroad to discover this country, more than three billion viewers on television and there will certainly be one billion for the final.”
Also, the FIFA boss hailed the success of video assistant referees (VARs), a system making its World Cup debut. Despite some criticism at the start of the tournament, and skepticism in the media, the VAR system appeared to have worked out well for world football’s governing body.
“It was accepted. It worked. This is progress, this is better than the past. VAR is not changing football, it is cleaning football, making it more honest and transparent and helping referees to make the right decisions,” Infantino said.
Speaking about the possibility of a 48-team World Cup tournament, Infantino indicated that there was no certainty it would happen for the Qatar 2022 showpiece. FIFA has already approved the new expansion plan from 32 teams for the 2026 World Cup in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Also, His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa sent a cable of congratulations to Russian President, Vladimir Putin on his country’s success in hosting the World Cup 2018.
He commended the tremendous Russian-led efforts and preparations, as well as the means which were provided to ensure the success of the world sporting event.
HM the King wished President Putin every success and his friendly Russian people further progress and prosperity.
Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin said Russia could be “proud” of its hosting of the football World Cup, judging it a success “in every respect” after Sunday’s final.
“We can surely be proud of how we organised this tournament,” Putin said in televised comments after France’s victory against Croatia.
“We have made this grand event a success in every respect,” he added.
Putin thanked the foreign fans who came to Russia for the tournament.
Recall that before it started a month ago, there had been concerns due to the memory of violence between Russian and English fans during the Euro 2016 tournament in France.
Fans at the just concluded World Cup however “showed that sport and football can manage not to divide people and not lead to fights and disputes, but unite people on the basis of common values,” Putin said.
On visa-waiver for fans, Putin said that foreign visitors holding “fan ID” cards for the World Cup could have visa-free entry to Russia for the rest of 2018.
The fan IDs which permitted ticket-holders to enter Russia during the World Cup had initially been due to expire on 25 July.
Now, “foreign supporters who currently have fan IDs will be able to benefit from multiple entries into the Russian Federation without a visa until the end of the year,” Putin said.
Despite high diplomatic tension between Moscow and the West, world football officials and personalities as well as world leaders have lined up to praise Russia’s hosting of the tournament.
However, the news of the more than 200 Nigerian football fans that were stranded in Moscow after the World Cup is believed to have cast blight on the country’s image.
There were speculations that the desperation of many people to escape the harsh economic realities of the country led several fans to purchase one-way tickets to Moscow in the hopes of staying put in Russia for greener pastures.
It is believed that many who claimed to have been swindled of their return tickets would be found to be complicit in the decision to take one-way flights in order to cross the border into the adjoining European countries.
However, there were several thousands of Nigerians who made the trip to the World Cup to enjoy the spectacle and have since returned to their base despite the alluring beauty of the Russian country and the warm welcome of its people.
Meanwhile, a nursing mother and 154 out of 230 Nigerian football fans stranded in Russia after the 2018 FIFA World Cup arrived the country last week Friday night.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, who was at the airport to monitor their arrival, lauded President Muhammadu Buhari’s effort to ensure their safe return.
He said that Mr President had directed that Nigerians, who were stranded in Russia after the 2018 World Cup tournament, should be evacuated immediately.
Onyeama recalled that some Nigerian football fans who were stranded had besieged the Embassy of Nigeria in Moscow on July 12.
“They were among the fans who traveled to the Russian Federation for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Tournament and were stranded after the events due to lack of funds for their upkeep,” he said.
He said that Mr President gave the directive that they should be evacuated with immediate effect at the expense of the government.
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