The Latest: Russia plays Saudis in opening World Cup game
MOSCOW (AP) The Latest on the World Cup draw (all times local):
Russia will play Saudi Arabia in the opening game of next year’s World Cup, a match between the lowest ranked teams in the FIFA rankings.
The Group A match will take place on June 14 at the 81,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
Also in the group are Uruguay and Egypt.
Russia goes into its home World Cup ranked 65th in the world, the lowest-ranked of any of the 32 teams in the tournament. Saudi Arabia is 63rd.
Iceland’s debut at the World Cup will be against Lionel Messi and Argentina.
The smallest nation ever play at the World Cup will play the two-time champions on June 16 at Spartak Stadium in Moscow.
Iceland, with a population of 330,000 people, won its qualifying group after reaching the quarterfinals at the 2016 European Championship.
Portugal and Spain will meet in the group stage at next year’s World Cup.
The rivals will play in Sochi on June 15, the second day of the tournament.
The two countries haven’t played since meeting in the semifinals of the 2012 European Championship, when eventual champion Spain won on penalties after a 0-0 draw.
Spain also played on the second day of competition at the 2014 World Cup, losing 5-1 to the Netherlands before being eliminated in the group stage.
Vladimir Putin has formally opened the World Cup draw ceremony at the State Kremlin Palace.
The Russian president made a five-minute speech after arriving on stage with FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
Putin urged people to visit and enjoy a country ”so big and multi-faceted.”
”We will do everything to make it a major sporting festival,” he said, looking forward to a World Cup of ”friendship and fair play, values that do not change with time.”
Diego Maradona has arrived at the World Cup draw wearing a black tuxedo and a gold bow tie.
The 1986 World Cup-winning captain for Argentina will take part in the draw ceremony at the State Kremlin Palace.
Guests on the red carpet arrival at the venue have been sprinkled with wet snow on a chilly evening in Moscow.
Germany coach Joachim Loew has arrived for the World Cup draw.
Loew was among the first to get to the Kremlin for the draw, where defending champion Germany will learn who it plays in the group stage.
Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic and Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic have also arrived at the venue.
Playing greats including Pele and Diego Maradona are expected to assist with the draw, which will be presented by former England forward Gary Lineker – a frequent critic of FIFA – and Russian sports journalist Maria Komandnaya.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is also expected to attend.
The five World Cup teams from Africa will get $500,000 each from the continental governing body to help prepare for the tournament.
The Confederation of African Football says the money is ”mainly to strengthen and improve the technical supervision of each team.”
The soccer federations of Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia will also get $1.5 million from FIFA toward their preparations.
At previous FIFA tournaments, some African teams have been affected by disputes over unpaid bonuses promised to players.
In 2014, Ghana’s government sent $3 million on a chartered plane to Brazil during the tournament to pay players ahead of their final group game. The money was to be deducted from FIFA prize money earned by Ghana.
At a media event that overran its one-hour slot, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko defended Russia against allegations of doping and wrongdoing.
Mutko says ”we are a good partner of the world sports movement. I don’t understand why you have to trample Russia under foot.”
The 1-hour, 17-minute media event with FIFA President Gianni Infantino barely touched on the World Cup draw ceremony.
Mutko, who is also the head of the World Cup organizing committee, pointed to doping problems in other countries such as Britain and Norway.
Speaking through a translator, Mutko says ”if you don’t fight back you will just be smashed.”
Mutko was asked if he was embarrassed that a media event to showcase Russia hosting the soccer World Cup kept returning to an Olympic doping scandal.
He says he ”shouldn’t be ashamed about anything.”
FIFA President Giannni Infantino says he will not speculate on allegations in an American federal court linking 2022 World Cup host Qatar to payments received by South American soccer officials.
Infantino says he will not comment on ”things that are not proven.”
Witnesses in the trial of a former FIFA vice president and two other former soccer federation presidents from South America have provided details of irregular payments and offers of payment from Qatari officials. The three defendants deny wrongdoing.
Infantino also cautioned against western nations who try to ”paint with a dark paint, everything that comes from the east – Russia or the Arab world.”
The Swiss official says there is a tendency for the west to think ”we are the best ones … we know how democracy works.”
Infantino says he hopes the World Cup ”will change the way the world looks at Russia.”
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko says ”there is no proof” of a state-backed doping system in the country, despite an Olympic judging panel this week detailing why it believed there was an organized conspiracy at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Mutko gave a defiant answer of about 12 minutes when asked if the soccer World Cup could be affected by an International Olympic Committee decision on Tuesday which could ban Russia from the Pyeongchang Games in February.
Mutko, who is the head of the World Cup organizing committee, says ”we hope common sense will prevail.”
He also insisted the IOC ”cannot dictate” what positions individual people hold in member countries.
In July 2016, the IOC banned Mutko, then Russia’s sports minister, from attending the Rio de Janeiro Olympics when a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation detailed orchestrated cheating at the Sochi Games.
Mutko was further implicated this week when extracts were published from the diaries of the former director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratories. The IOC judging panel said it believed the diaries were ”significant” evidence.
Joining Mutko at a news conference on Friday, FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he is ”very relaxed” about next week’s IOC executive board meeting.
Officials from the 32 World Cup teams have gathered in Moscow to find out who will play who at next year’s tournament in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to appear at the draw ceremony, which will take place Friday at the State Kremlin Palace.
The draw will be presided over by former England striker Gary Lineker, who has previously called for FIFA to be disbanded over bribery scandals and questioned Russia’s legitimacy to host the World Cup.
The 32 finalists will be split into eight groups of four teams. Only Europe can have two teams in the same group.
Russia will play the opening game on June 14. The final will be held on July 15.