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To Russia, with love

sports Updated: Dec 03, 2010 02:18 IST
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Not even the surprising absence of Vladimir Putin could derail Russia's World Cup bid as FIFA voters once again demonstrated fondness for taking football to new frontiers here Thursday.

Putin had expected to be a prominent figurehead for the Russian bid in the final days of campaigning but instead remained in Moscow as voters gathered in Zurich ahead of Thursday's ballot.

However the absence of the Russian Prime Minister was no obstacle to success for a slick campaign which has secured the country its first ever World Cup, despite lingering concerns over infrastructure.

Russia has proposed staging the World Cup in 13 cities grouped into four clusters stretching from the exclave of Kaliningrad on the borders of the European Union to Yekaterinburg in the Urals on the fringe of Siberia.

With the exception of Yekaterinburg, all the cities are in the European part of Russia and teams will not have to fly out to far-flung regions.

Putin's promise to scrap visas was of crucial importance as nationals of almost all countries outside the former Soviet Union require visas to visit Russia, an often expensive and time-consuming process.

Putin also assured that construction works at the country's possible World Cup facilities would take place even if Russia's bid failed.

The Russian strongman - whose support was seen crucial in securing the 2014 Winter Olympics for Russia - also promised that football fans will have the right to travel free on public transport during the event.

Russia's plan for construction works and improving facilities in host cities fit FIFA's long-term plans of developing the sport, especially in regions with outdated infrastructure.

Russia already has some experience in hosting major football events, most notably the rain-drenched 2008 Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea and the 1999 UEFA Cup final, which Italy's Parma won.

But Russia's huge size, its remoteness from other countries and relatively weak transportation system have created questions about the country's ability to move fans, footballers and officials from one region to another.

Beckham, England stunned by 2018 snub
England football icon David Beckham expressed his disappointment after his country's bid for the 2018 World Cup ended in a crushing defeat.

Adding insult to injury, Mayor of London Boris Johnson revealed England may also have been eliminated in the first round of voting, winning fewer votes than rank outsiders Belgium-Holland.

"We're disappointed but we wish Qatar and Russia the very best, they're two great countries and I'm sure they'll make FIFA very proud," Beckham said.

"It's obviously hard to not come away with the World Cup in 2018 but a lot of congratulations have to go to the team, a lot of hard work has been done."