Russia prepares for World Cup draw amidst crisis


five confederations taking place on Saturday just as FIFA continues to reel from a corruption scandal.

Sepp Blatter confirmed earlier this week that he will step down as president after 17 years at the head of the game’s governing body when a new president is elected at an extraordinary elective congress on February 26.

The 79-year-old’s decision to step down just days after winning a fifth term as president in June came on the back of corruption charges being filed in the USA against seven FIFA officials. Swiss authorities have also launched an investigation into the process which saw Russia and Qatar awarded the 2018 and 2022 WC respectively. However, Russia is pressing ahead with its preparations to host the largest single-event competition in world sport with Russian President Vladimir Putin expected to share the stage with Blatter during Saturday’s draw.

Moscow has attempted to portray the US corruption probe as a Western-orchestrated attempt to strip Russia of its right to host the event. Billions of dollars will be poured into infrastructure projects across 11 host cities to welcome the tournament between June 14 and July 15, 2018. The draw will involve 141 national sides from all but the Asian confederation as their qualification process has already begun.

Russia are the only side to qualify automatically as hosts, so world champions Germany will have to secure one of the remaining 13 qualifying spots available to the European nations if they are to defend their crown in three years’ time. The nine winners of the European groups drawn at the Konstantin Palace on Saturday will progress along with the winners of four play-off matches between the eight best second-placed sides.

Africa’s five representatives will be decided by the winners of five groups of four sides after two preliminary rounds have whittled the participating nations down from 53 to 20. Four South American sides will qualify directly after a marathon 18-match round robin between all 10 competing nations with the fifth-placed side guaranteed an inter-confederation play-off.

CONCACAF, will have three direct entrants, whilst the Asian confederation retains its four places despite a poor showing at last year’s World Cup in Brazil.

Hulk pulls out

ST PETERSBURG: Zenit St Petersburg’s Brazilian striker Hulk has pulled out of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying draw, only days after complaining of “gross and ugly” racism in Russian football. The Brazilian international will be replaced by former Russia captain Alexey Smertin as one of the draw assistants for Saturday’s event in St Petersburg, FIFA said in a statement, adding that Hulk had withdrawn due to club commitments. Zenit are away to FC Ural on Sunday in a Russian Premier League match, although there have been no alterations to the fixture list since FIFA announced on Wednesday that Hulk would take part in the draw. On Monday, Hulk had complained bitterly about racism in Russian football. “It (racism) happens at almost every match in Russia but the world does not hear about it because they try to keep it quiet,” Hulk said. “I see it happening all the time. I used to get really angry about it but now I just send a kiss to the fans and try not to get angry.” — Reuters