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Confederations cup offers stress test for Russia
Russia faces a stress test of its readiness to host the 2018 World Cup as the Confederations Cup kicks off Saturday amid concerns over hooliganism and security. World Cup holders Germany and the FIFA confederations champions compete in the eight-team tournament, which will put Russia's ability to handle thousands of visiting and home fans under the spotlight.
Security will be a concern over the two weeks in stadiums which have been dogged by construction delays and structural problems.
Next year's World Cup will take place in 12 stadiums spread across 11 cities, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi, the host cities for the Confederations Cup.
President Vladimir Putin will attend Saturday's Group A opener in Saint Petersburg's Krestovsky Stadium between Russia and Oceania champions New Zealand.
The Krestovsky Stadium has been mired in scandal, taking over a decade to build at an estimated cost of $800 million, amid allegations of corruption.
A new pitch had to be laid hastily after the old one broke up during test games this year, but organisers insist the 68,000-seater arena is ship shape for the June 17 opener and July 2 final.
"We're completely ready for the tournament," Russia's deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko told Friday's press conference.
"The infrastructure, hotels, transportation systems -- everything's ready. And we've took the full-scale measures to assure the event's security. Welcome to Russia
"The Confederations Cup is the champions' tournament. And it's a great football occasion," added Mutko, who is also president of the Russian Football Union.