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MOSCOW, September 18. /TASS/. At least 45,000 Russians gathered in 33 cities on Friday morning to mark the 1,000-day countdown to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Moscow’s Red Square, which became the center of the celebrations, was turned into a football fan park with the FIFA World Cup trophy made of 18 karat gold being exhibited in a special pavilion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, currently in Sochi, addressed the Moscow ceremony via video linkup.
"Everything will be done to decently host the planet’s best 32 national teams, to provide the necessary conditions, which would allow them to display their best skills and present the multimillion audience of fans with the real grand football," Putin said.
"We are always glad to receive guests and promise to organize a grand sports holiday, which I am sure will make the history of the world sports and global football," the president said. "The most important, it [the holiday] will further consolidate the biggest friendly international football family."
The huge countdown clock for the 2018 FIFA World Cup started on Manege Square in central Moscow at 1:22 p.m. Moscow time (10:22 a.m. GMT).
Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, Colin Smith, FIFA's director of competition, presidential aide Igor Levitin, Alexei Sorokin, the general director of the Local Organizing Committee, Leonid Slutsky, the head coach of the Russian national football team, and other officials and football stars took part in the ceremony.
Mutko compared the upcoming tournament with "a jewel of the world’s football crown."
"We will hold the best World Cup ever. But much hard work is to be done," the minister said.
Retired football players Lothar Matthaus of Germany, Fernando Hierro of Spain and Alexei Smertin of Russia and FC Zenit St. Petersburg forward Alexander Kerzhakov played a ten-minute match on Moscow’s Red Square as part of the countdown celebrations.
Four young footballers aged between eight and ten joined the game, which ended with a 4-4 draw.
Red Square also hosted a football tournament for Under-16 national teams. The competition brought together Russia and the countries that have won the last three editions of the FIFA World Cup: Italy, Spain and Germany.
The residents of Sochi, which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics, launched 2,018 balloons into the skies above the Black Sea and watched a ‘mega-football’ match involving 300 young players.
Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost city, will celebrate the countdown launch for three days with fireworks and other events.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter also praised Russia’s efforts to organize the event.
"Given the current level of preparations, we are fully confident that Russia will prove to be an excellent host both for the teams and the fans," he said in a statement.
The 2018 World Cup matches will be held between June 14 and July 15 at 12 stadiums in 11 Russian cities, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Saransk, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg and Samara.