Sports

Russians take sceptical view ahead of World Cup

Almost every Russian football fan believes the World Cup hosts will make it out of their group for the first time since the Soviet era but almost no one gives them a chance of winning the trophy while nearly half will not be watching any games.

A study of Russia’s mood ahead of the June 14 kickoff published on Friday showed faith in the national team muted and interest weak.

The state-owned Public Opinion Foundation pollster said four percent of those who follow football think Russia can win their first World Cup.

A whopping 86 percent said the hosts will do well enough to finish in the top two of their four-team group and make the last 16.

Russia and Uruguay are odds-on favourites to progress from a Group A that includes Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Moscow is officially spending $12 billion on a tournament Vladimir Putin helped wrest from England when the hosting rights were decided in 2010.

The prestige event offers the Kremlin a chance to burnish Russia’s global standing in the heat of a new standoff with the West.

It also plays into the patriotic message that has been the refrain of Putin’s 18 years in power — a sign of Russia regaining its Soviet-era might.

But the government’s own poll showed 43 percent of the respondents saying they did not plan to watch any matches.

One in five only expressed interest in the ones played by Russia and less than a third intended to follow the whole thing.

“We should not be embarrassing ourselves by hosting,” said one unidentified respondent.

“Either way, we are not very good at football.”

The majority said they still supported the idea of the showpiece coming to their country for the first time.

The largest number of those who approved — 14 percent — said the World Cup would “raise Russia’s authority and prestige in the world”.

It is a message now being repeated on state-controlled TV channels and by lawmakers of all stripes.

But the number of people who thought the event will help lift Russia’s economy out of the doldrums fell from 39 percent in 2014 to 35 percent this year.

Russia has faced four years of Western economic sanctions over its actions in Ukraine.

And just two percent thought all the World Cup spending would help improve their cities’ infrastructure.

Double that number thought the money would just be stolen by corrupt officials or spent on vanity project that did no public good.

“They are spending vast sums on nothing,” was one answer.

“We are going to lose a lot of money from this,” another said.

Russia has qualified for three World Cups as an independent nation but has never made the knockout stage.

The Soviet Union’s best performance was a fourth-place finish in 1966.

Bookmakers put Russia’s odds of winning at about 40 to 1.

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