The 68,000-seat St Petersburg stadium will be a flagship venue at the 2018 World Cup and the home of Russian soccer powerhouse Zenit, but its decade-long construction marred by corruption allegations and delays has so far caused more disappointment than satisfaction.
World Cup holders Germany and the Federation Internationale de Football Association confederations champions compete in the eight-team tournament, which will put Russia’s ability to handle thousands of visiting and home fans under the spotlight.
The 32-year-old Real Madrid striker, who is in Russian Federation as Portugal prepare for their Confederations Cup opener against Mexico, is said to be “outraged” after prosecutors accused him of defrauding the authorities of 14.7million euros (£12.8million).
Three of the previous nine Confederations Cups have been won by the host nation and Russian Federation, playing in the tournament for the first time, impressed with victory in Saint Petersburg.
There’s heavy pressure on Russian Federation to perform at the Confederations Cup, and with a slew of dignitaries in attendance on Saturday, the home team delivered.
The European champions will open the Group A program on Sunday against Mexico in Kazan.
An own-goal from Michael Boxall and Fedor Smolov’s second-half strike sealed all three points for new coach Stanislav Cherchesov’s side as the tournament hosts impressed at the Krestovsky Stadium.
Cristiano Ronaldo is not letting accusations of tax fraud and fresh transfer speculation get to him, according to Portugal team-mate Andre Silva. “We have all the grounds to believe that everything will be successful and take place on a high level”.
Russia, a record low 63rd in FIFA’s world rankings, face Portugal on Wednesday while New Zealand play Mexico the same day.
Having played his last test match on June 9 against the Chilean team, the Russian team as a whole looked good.
Federation Internationale de Football Association will for the first time also implement a three-step procedure that allow referees to stop matches in the event of racist or discriminatory incidents – a new measure Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko welcomed as the “absolute right decision”.
New Zealand had their first major chances when Ryan Thomas’ powerful effort forced an impressive save from Igor Akinfeev and Smith’s header from the resulting corner was hacked off the line by Yuri Zhirkov. “It allowed us to play”, Cherchesov said.
World Cup holders Germany and Australia complete the group.