The guests invited to a meeting with the President of Russia included best player of the 2010 World Cup playing for Uruguay Diego Forlan, 1990 World Cup champion playing for Germany Lothar Matthaeus, 1988 European champion playing for the Netherlands Marco van Basten, six-time winner of the English Premier League and winner of the 2008 UEFA Champions League Rio Ferdinand, 1992 European champion playing for Denmark Peter Schmeichel, 1999 Confederations Cup winner playing for Mexico Jorge Campos, bronze winner of the 1998 World Cup playing for Croatia Zvonimir Boban, silver winner of the 2009 European Women’s Championship playing for England and winner of the 2007 UEFA Women’s Champions League Alexandra Scott, as well as 1956 Olympic champion, Merited Master of Sports of the USSR, Merited Coach of the USSR and First Vice President of the Russian Football Union Nikita Simonyan.
President of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) Gianni Infantino and Presidential Aide Igor Levitin also participated in the meeting.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Infantino, friends,
Welcome to the Moscow Kremlin.
First, I want to express my gratitude to the FIFA President for inviting all of you to Russia and the World Cup. I think we could start a very nice tradition for the future because you, as people who are well known not only in the football community but among all sports enthusiasts in your countries and around the world, are representatives of this wonderful sport, football. This is the first point.
Second, when people see you on the stands and how you communicate with your teams, with football fans from your and other countries, this inspires them to do sports and stay fit, and creates a special atmosphere of trust and celebration.
Therefore, I want to point out that football fans from all over the world – our fans are doing their best as well – so both foreign and Russian football fans are those who create this atmosphere of trust and celebration.
As you know, many of them are travelling all over our country. Tens of thousands of people came to Russia from across the world. Tens of thousands. And they are those who created this wonderful festive atmosphere.
Of course, they can see the hospitality and such a great welcome from our people, both sports lovers and ordinary people who are far from football. Our people are happy that so many fans came to Russia with such good intentions.
In this regard, I want to point out that the so-called people’s journalists, people who work independently on their own behalf in social media, have also helped destroy many stereotypes about Russia. People can see that Russia is a hospitable and friendly country.
To a large extent, our football enthusiasts deserve credit for this.
Everyone knows that fans in many countries behave differently, and so I will not comment on this now. However, our football fans view those who have come to cheer for their teams as their friends and members of the extended football family. This is why they are doing all they can to make visitors feel at home, as we say in Russia, and to tell them about our culture and the traditions of the diverse peoples living in Russia, because World Cup matches are held in different Russian cities and different regions. I am confident that the overwhelming majority of visitors will take back home the best feelings and impressions of our country, and that they will visit it again.
The championship itself, as I see it, being no football expert but just a person who loves this wonderful game, is proceeding very well, on high note. There have been many surprises, but then, we like it that way. It is interesting to see the strongest win, when victory depends on the team’s level of preparation and the tactics chosen by the coaches for each particular match. Unpredictability is what makes this game so interesting and why millions of people around the world love it.
Only eight out of the initial 32 teams are still fighting. You are world class experts, and maybe when the journalists leave, you will tell me which team you think will win the cup this year.
One more element of this championship, like any world football championship, is the amazing positive impetus it will give to the development of sports, in particular, football.
You can see that we love football in Russia. We have done a great deal and invested a lot of money in building football infrastructure. I am confident that it was the right decision to choose Russia to host the 2018 World Cup, and we are grateful to the FIFA leadership and everyone else who voted for Russia. To us, it is an opportunity to develop not only football but all popular sports, and football is one of the most popular sports. It is an opportunity to attract people, especially young people, to the values of sport so that they avoid self-destructive action and improve themselves, physically and spiritually.
We will pay special attention to the further development of our football heritage. As soon as the championship is over, we will get together with those who are in charge of sports and those who built and are maintaining these sports facilities and the sports infrastructure in general to discuss a plan for using this sports, engineering and transport infrastructure to promote physical culture in Russia.
I would like to thank you for coming to Russia. Thank you for taking part in this wonderful event.
I give the floor to Mr Infantino now. Gianni, please.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino (In Russian.): Spasibo bolshoye.
Thank you very much, Mr President,
Just really a few words to thank you for having us here today, for having these great legends here today who have written so many emotional, exciting, incredible pages in the history of our sport, a sport that millions, hundreds of millions of people, probably billions or certainly billions of people love all around the world. And I am particularly happy that we are here today, and that we are here in Russia during this month because, of course, Russia is a big country, is an important country in the world, and I think that two things have happened at this World Cup.
One is that Russia has become a true football country. I think at the latest since the qualification of the Russian national team against Spain for the quarter-final, the virus of football has entered the bodies of each and every Russian citizen from east to west and from south to north. In the whole country there were incredible celebrations.
And this passion for football in Russia together with what you were just saying – the infrastructure you have built, the stadiums that are beautiful, the 12 stadiums in 11 cities are absolutely beautiful, and there are other stadiums as well in other cities in Russia, not only in Moscow, which show what can be done with football. The plan that you have to not only organise an event but make this a legacy for the future of Russian football is absolutely crucial.
And one crucial element in addition to the stadiums, airports, infrastructure and transportation facilities is the passion for football. And now Russia is a true football country. This is the first thing that happened at this World Cup.
The second happening of this World Cup is that we all fell in love with Russia. All of us, everyone who has been here for a period of time now has discovered a country that we did not know. You were speaking about stereotypes, and it is true. When you come here, when you live here, when you meet the people in the street, when you see Moscow in its incredible beauty as it is these days with all the lights, with all the colours, and with the colours of all the participants of this World Cup walking around wearing their shirts, with their faces painted as their national flags, celebrating, partying, enjoying with the Russian people in an open, festive atmosphere.
This shows that all the fears that some were trying to put on us with regard to this World Cup, not only they are not true, but it is actually the opposite that is true. Everyone who is coming, everyone who is visiting, everyone who is living football in Russia can see what great work has been done, of course with your input by yourself and with input from all the population of Russia, and the volunteers.
I was told that police officers in Red Square are smiling when they are asked for some information. They are very friendly, and this is great. This is exactly what Russia is, and this is a new image of Russia that we now have. So thank you, and thanks to all Russian people for having us here. We are enjoying it incredibly. I feel like a child in a toy shop. I do not know how to explain it. And in addition to this we have a great World Cup from a football perspective which the whole world is enjoying.
Thank you very much on my behalf, on behalf of FIFA, on behalf of the whole world of football, and certainly as well on behalf of all the legends, who are here in Russia. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin (In English.): Thank Gianni, thank you for these kind words.
Gianni Infantino: Who wants to take the floor? Don’t be shy. Lothar, you’re half Russian. (Laughter.)
1990 World Cup champion playing for Germany Lothar Matthaeus: I am half-Russian, because my wife is from Russia. She is from the north, but she lived in Moscow, so I have been to Moscow a long time before the World Cup.
I came to Moscow for the first time in 1979 with a junior national team of Germany. We visited Red Square. It is completely different. I cannot believe that you can now play football on Red Square with kids, with the President. It was very nice. I saw how Russia and Moscow changed in the last ten, fifteen or twenty years.
Moscow is an international city with a national flair: great restaurants, great places, great places of history. I like Moscow not because of the football only. I like Moscow because it is a beautiful international city. I feel like at home here, and not only because of my wife or because of my relationship with Moscow. I always come to Moscow with a smile because I know what I can expect here. Beautiful people, and especially the World Cup is something special for Russia.
I know that Russians love football, but they were not happy that for the last ten or fifteen years there were no results from the Russian national team, especially two years ago they were not playing with this passion as they are playing now. This passion from the players is caused by spectators and makes this great atmosphere at the stadiums.
I have been to ten World Cups: five World Cups as a player, and five World Cups as a fan. And this is one of the best World Cups I saw in the last forty years.
Thank you, Mr President, thank you very much.