Football fans in the westernmost 2018 FIFA World Cup™ Host City got to enjoy an early treat when the FIFA World Cup Football Park opened its doors in Kaliningrad this weekend. To mark the occasion, a magnificent constellation of FIFA Legends and local football stars came together to celebrate the final countdown to FIFA’s flagship tournament in Russia. The FIFA Legends line-up comprised goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbuehler (Switzerland), defenders Wes Brown (England) and Cafu (Brazil), midfielders Niko Kranjcar (Croatia) and Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria), and Nuno Gomes (Portugal) up front. They took on a team of Russian Legends including Ruslan Nigmatullin, Dmitri Sennikov, Dmitri Khlestov, Aleksandr Mostovoi, Andrei Tikhonov and Aleksandr Panov.
“As soon as you get off the plane here, you can see that Russia is a beautiful part of the world,” said Wes Brown. “We did some sightseeing today in Kaliningrad and it was tremendous. We also went to see Kaliningrad Stadium, where England will face Belgium. The stadium looks great; it’s a modern arena and you can see that it’s going to be very loud inside, and I am sure the fans will enjoy it very much.
“Obviously, I will support England at the World Cup and hopefully they do as well as they can and enjoy the games and do not let the pressure get to them,” he added. “It’s a young and enthusiastic side; we have some very good players. I hope England can go all the way and win, but as long as they do their best, the country will get behind them, like myself, with all our support.”
“Kaliningrad is a very nice city with very nice people,” said Nwankwo Kanu. “It’s really good to be here. The stadium is fantastic, I liked the atmosphere inside and also enjoyed being in the players’ dressing room. The pitch is marvellous and, actually, that’s all you need as a player. The FIFA World Cup is the greatest football tournament on the planet – every team dreams of being part of it and I am sure it will be a very special event in Russia. Nigeria will be a big surprise, for sure. We have good young and talented players; they are hungry for victories and want to do well – for themselves and for the country.”
“Kaliningrad is an amazing city, very beautiful,” added Nuno Gomes. “I am so glad to be here and to be part of this Football Park and the Legends match. I appreciate being part of the FIFA Legends team. And I can see that everything and everybody is ready for the World Cup. The stadium here is wonderful, with all the infrastructure needed for the players and especially the fans, who will enjoy being there supporting their teams. My expectations of the World Cup in Russia are: a lot of magic, a lot of goals and people coming together from every part of the world and enjoying football. As for Portugal, we have our chances because we have Cristiano Ronaldo. But football obliges teams to prove they are better on the pitch. I hope our players can prove they are strong enough. It’s never easy to win a World Cup, but we have our chances. Let’s see what happens.”
Pascal Zuberbuelher, impressive between the posts today, is also excited about the World Cup. “I am looking forward to the tournament in Russia,” he said. “I see beautiful stadiums and all the fantastic preparations made by the Host Country, and the feeling I have is that the World Cup in Russia will be just an amazing event. I’m sure the Russian people will make this tournament special. It will also be very interesting to follow the performance of all the 32 teams and, for me, especially the Swiss team – I hope to see them play from the stands. There are lots of possibilities for Switzerland because at the FIFA World Cup each match is like a final. So, on the day, and when the time comes, if the team has the right attitude, anything is possible.”
Local football fans were thrilled to see all the stars in action, and the friendly match ended with the FIFA Legends team claiming victory (6:4) as Nuno Gomes, Niko Kranjcar and Cafu all scored twice.
“The Legends game today was great,” said Kranjcar “We are happy that we won, but above all the players, fans and everyone had a lot of fun. I really liked the city of Kaliningrad and its hospitality. The World Cup is coming – you can see that on people’s faces, especially the kids, and I am very happy that Russia has the opportunity to host this great event. Croatia has a great team with fantastic players and I really hope that we can achieve something special this time in Russia.”
“I also really enjoyed the game,” added Cafu. “It’s a great experience and I want to thank FIFA for bringing us together in one city. I had a chance to meet friends, some of whom played for the Russian national team before, and I got to enjoy good football and this fantastic city. We had fun during the game, but it was just a friendly match, so I’m not sure the two goals I scored will impress the Brazil team. I really expect that my team will play wonderfully at the tournament and lift the Trophy after the Final.”
This was the tenth and last stop of the football Roadshow, before it permanently sets up in Moscow’s Red Square. Besides Kaliningrad this weekend, the Football Park has already visited nine other Host Cities. Local fans had a unique opportunity to meet FIFA Legends at each stop, with Nuno Gomes, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Sol Campbell, Peter Schmeichel, Ivan Cordoba, Marcel Desailly, Michel Salgado, Stipe Pletikosa and Hernan Crespo having visited Sochi, Rostov-on-Don, Volgograd, Saransk, Samara, Ekaterinburg, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod and Saint Petersburg respectively.