KAZAN, May 13. /TASS/. Thousands of people streamed to visit Confederations Cup Park that was unveiled under Kazan’s Kremlin walls, some 800 kilometers east of Moscow, on Saturday. The visitors were flocking eager to catch a glimpse of Brazilian footballer, 2002 World Cup champion Ronaldinho and Nigeria’s former attacking midfielder Jay Jay Okocha, a member of the victorious 1994 African Cup of Nations squad and champion of the 1996 Olympics, who arrived in Kazan to snip the ribbon at the opening ceremony.
An hour prior to the ceremony, football fans, many with children, had been crowding at the main entrance hoping to occupy a place at the stage and to stand as close to Ronaldinho as possible.
Under Kremlin walls
Confederations Cup Park is located on the square outside the stadium under the Kremlin walls of Kazan, the capital of Russia’s mainly Muslim region of Tatarstan. Since the early morning, preparations for the grand opening ceremony were in full swing, since everything should have ‘shone’ by arrival of the world’s football legends, starting from banners with match timetables and finishing with the Confederations Cup trophy.
Seeking to see the park and iconic footballer Ronaldinho, the world’s most elderly freestyler Sergey Bronnitsky, 63, travelled with his son from the city of Yoshkar-Ola (some 120 kilometers from Kazan). Once watching Ronaldinho’s football tricks on television, Sergei could not believe that a man was able to handle a football so exquisitely well.
"We have come here to see Ronaldinho as he is our iconic football player and we have taken up freestyle due to his influence. We first saw Ronaldinho’s tricks on TV. Personally, I thought it was a television hoax, but then my son copied them. I was not going to lag behind and went in for freestyle as well," he said, adding the park was fascinating and he would be looking forward to returning to Kazan for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
The small area of the park hosted several red tents where visitors could compete in contests to win FIFA souvenirs and free tickets to matches played in Kazan.
The football celebrities were impressed with the atmosphere of joy and hospitality in Kazan’s Confederations Cup Park. Ronaldinho could not but say a few flattering words about the beauty of Tatar women.
"It is a magnificent city with rich history and people are hospitable," he told reporters. "Besides, women in Kazan are very beautiful."
Kazan has readied almost everything for this world-level event, Mayor Ilsur Metshin said. On May 17, Kazan’s FC Rubin and Moscow FC Spartak will clash on the Kazan Arena to put it to a test.
"It is a great honor to greet the world’s prominent football players. Right in a month, we will be hosting the Confederations Cup. I am so delighted this sporting event will be held in Kazan," Metshin noted. "Infrastructure is being readied. But the most important thing we would like to prepare are the kind faces of Kazan residents which are the most smiling and hospitable ones."
Former captain of Russia’s football team Alexei Smertin, an ambassador to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, joined Ronaldinho and Okocha in the opening ceremony. Smertin told TASS that the city would be a truly world class host for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
"It is a city of sports, a city of football. I became convinced of the fact ages ago when I used to be the bidding committee’s ambassador back in 2010. Sincerity and love of football are traced in the emotions pouring in down from the stage," he said.
Many spectators brought footballs, postcards and T-shirts to have them signed by Ronaldinho. However, a few were lucky since after the greetings and a short excursion around the park, Ronaldinho and Okocha sheltered in the VIP tent. Therefore, the queuing fans handed their belongings to the organizers for an autograph. Those who were standing close to the stage were lucky to take a selfie with the footballers.
The charming wolf Zabivaka, the Official Mascot of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, was popular with the park visitors, both children and adults lining up for a photo opportunity with the character. Another queue of ardent football fans was waiting for a chance to take a photo with the Confederations Cup trophy.
On May 20-21, St. Petersburg will open its own Confederations Cup Park, following Moscow, Sochi and Kazan. Stars of Russian and world football are honorary guests in each of the parks.
The FIFA Confederations Cup, which is also viewed by experts as a rehearsal a year prior to the FIFA World Cup, will be held between June 17 and July 2 at four stadiums in Russia and they are Spartak Stadium in Moscow, St. Petersburg Stadium, Fisht Stadium in Sochi and Kazan Arena in Kazan.
Russia is currently in full-swing preparations for the global football tournaments after the country clinched the bid, following the final vote held in Guatemala on December 4, 2010 at the FIFA Congress. The victory came following a tight race against the bids from England, Portugal and Spain, in addition to a joint bid on behalf of Belgium and the Netherlands.
2017 FIFA Confederations Cup
Participants in the 2017 Confederations Cup are hosts Russia, 2014 FIFA World Cup Champions Germany, 2015 Copa America Champions Chile, 2015 AFC Asian Cup Champion Australia, 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup winners Mexico, 2016 UEFA Euro Cup champs Portugal, OFC (Oceania Football Confederation) Nations Cup victors New Zealand and 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations Champion Cameroon.
The Draw for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup was held on November 26, 2016 in the Russian city of Kazan. Following the event, hosts Russia was placed in Group A alongside with Portugal, Mexico and New Zealand. Group B has brought together Germany, Chile, Australia and Cameroon.
The opening game will be held in St. Petersburg on June 17 between Russia and New Zealand. Russia will face Portugal in Moscow on June 21 and on June 24 it will play Mexico in Kazan.