Russian stadiums readying to host Confederations Cup
MOSCOW (AP) The Confederations Cup is heading to unfamiliar territory in Russia, a country that will be hosting its first major multi-city soccer tournament.
The eight-team event, which runs from June 17-July 2, is a key test of readiness for next year's World Cup.
With venues spread up to 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) apart, the Confederations Cup will certainly be a test of transport links. Policing is another area under scrutiny, while Russian officials are also eager for initially slow ticket sales to speed up.
Here is a guide to Russia's four host cities and stadiums for the Confederations Cup:
Founded in the 18th century as Russia's ''window to Europe,'' St. Petersburg has a wealth of historic buildings, palaces and theaters. Its stadium stands out like a sore thumb.
Designed to resemble a spaceship, the bulbous 69,000-seat arena towers above other structures on the Baltic Sea coastline. It's the problem child of Russia's World Cup, with repeated cost increases, technical problems and corruption allegations.
Workers who built the stadium faced ''issues related to health and safety, timely payment of salaries and accommodation,'' according to a FIFA inspection, which also found ''strong evidence'' that North Korean laborers were used.
The field is a particular problem after it cut up badly during two Russian league games in the spring and needed to be relaid. Organizers will be hoping the opening game between Russia and New Zealand on Saturday won't wreck the new surface, too.
With one of Russia's most popular clubs, Zenit St. Petersburg, in residence, the stadium's legacy is secure.
St. Petersburg can be reached by Moscow by plane, in about four hours on a high-speed Sapsan train, or on a slower - and traditionally Russian - overnight train.
The Kazan Arena was the blueprint for many of Russia's new stadiums for the 2018 World Cup with its 45,000 capacity and huge price tag.
It's also ''Exhibit A'' for fears about the tournament's legacy.
Only 3,041 fans turned up to watch a Russian league game between Rubin Kazan and FC Krasnodar on April 15, an attendance which would be disappointing almost anywhere in Europe.
Despite Rubin's two Russian titles and occasional wins over European powers, soccer just hasn't caught on in Kazan, a city of more than a million people.
Operationally, the stadium has few problems. It opened in 2013 and has hosted the world swimming championships, Russian league games and the international University Games with minimal fuss.
Kazan itself is an old and traditionally Muslim city, though one which wears its religion lightly. There are no restrictions on, for example, alcohol sales.
From Moscow, it's a 90-minute flight or an overnight train ride.
Nestled between ski slopes and the beach, Sochi is Russia's best-known vacation destination.
Russian organizers hope it'll be a treat for foreign fans, especially the 47,700-seat Fisht Stadium, which offers views of the Caucasus Mountains at one end and the Black Sea at the other.
The weather should be warm, and strong sea breezes could hurt teams who like to pass the ball long and high.
The stadium was built to host the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but lay empty for almost three years after as it was reconfigured ahead of hosting its first soccer game in March.
During that time, new seats were installed behind the goals, but tickets haven't gone on sale for some of those spots at the Confederations Cup because construction remains unfinished.
The stadium also has serious legacy concerns because it's a half-hour train ride from the city and Sochi's only professional club is a third-tier side which attracts tiny crowds.
Sochi is a short flight from Moscow, or a 24-hour train ride for adventurous fans.
The Russian capital's Confederations Cup venue isn't the vast Luzhniki Stadium, which hosted the 1980 Olympics and 2008 Champions League final.
While Luzhniki is being renovated in time to hold next year's World Cup final, the spotlight will be on Spartak Moscow's 45,000-capacity arena across town.
The only one of Russia's 12 World Cup stadiums not built with government money, thanks to Spartak's oil-billionaire president, it has operated smoothly since opening in 2014.
Attendances were high this season as Spartak won its first league title since 2001, and the stadium security and catering services have coped.
Transport links from the center of the city are convenient, with two metro stations nearby.