Facing hurdles, Russia gears up to host World Cup

Hooliganism experts say Russia’s powerful FSB security service has cracked down hard on football gangs and blacklisted many of its leaders as the World Cup nears.

Russia is also using Fan ID cards requiring visitors and locals alike to undergo security checks before they can buy match or travel tickets.

Authorities will want to avoid the scenes in Marseille during Euro 2016 when Russian hooligans beat up England fans, leaving some in hospital.

– Jihadists and bombings –

The threat of terror is ever-present and potentially growing because of Russia’s military support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

A Saint Petersburg metro bombing that killed 15 in April was just the latest of the numerous strikes to have hit much of Russia since the 1990s.

Yet the estimated 2,900 Russian jihadists who have fought alongside the Islamic State group and are now making their way back home are not the only danger.

Southern host city Volgograd fell victim to two suicide bombings and a bus blast perpetrated in November and December 2013 by North Caucasus Islamists that killed 39 people.

The entire city has since been on heightened alert.

Volgograd Mayor Andrei Kosolapov said canine units already check every bus and train carriage for potential explosives.

“Plus, we have installed and are continuing to install video camera where — online — we can monitor every single street,” he told AFP.

– Playing under Putin’s gaze –

Perhaps the biggest concern to Russians themselves is the fate of their team — a squad that has so often underperformed despite having Europe’s largest potential talent pool.

Singer Mikhail Boyarsky, a Soviet-era legend who is omnipresent on Russian TV and something of a self-appointed football expert, was blunt.

“I doubt we will get very far,” he told the Sovetsky Sport paper. “There are no miracles in sport.”

Something close to that happened at Euro 2008 when Russia stunned the Dutch and made the semi-finals.

Russia were then thrashed 3-0 by eventual champions Spain and have wallowed in misery ever since.

The current squad’s problem is twofold: they have no stars and must perform under the stern gaze of a black-belt judo president who does not take losing lightly.

“Of course I hope our national team wins. I am really looking forward to that,” then-prime minister Putin said after Russia was awarded the right to host The Beautiful Game.

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