Blatter reiterates support for Russia as 2018 World Cup host
Blatter reiterates support for under-fire 2018 World Cup host
Fifa president Sepp Blatter yesterday vowed "total support" for Russia's World Cup preparations in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin in turn promised a "grandiose" World Cup in 2018 at their talks ahead of the draw for the qualifying phase.
Some US senators have called for a boycott of the World Cup because of Russia's involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
But Blatter, whose organisation is at the centre of a major corruption scandal, has strongly rejected any such suggestion and condemned political interference in sport.
"Fifa will always be behind Russia" and give "total support" to the 2018 World Cup, Blatter told Putin at the Konstantin Palace in St Petersburg where the draw was held.
"We say 'yes' to Russia," Blatter added.
"Football does a lot for peace. It is especially important in the current geopolitical situation."
Blatter gave the same message at the draw ceremony, insisting to the 2,000 guests that Fifa will "always stand behind Russia".
He added that Fifa's executive committee had this week reaffirmed its "trust and confidence" in Russia.
Putin said Russia will "do everything to make sure that the sportsmen and supporters who come will feel at home and that those who watch the television will feel that they are participating in a grandiose international sporting festival".
The Russian leader also made a reference to the scandals that have embroiled Fifa, partly over the award of the 2018 tounament to Russia.
"We see what is happening around football," Putin told Blatter.
"We are grateful that you still concentrate your time and attention above all on sport."
Putin told the ceremony that Russia has "a long history of football" and that the World Cup was an opportunity "to show a multi-faceted and open Russia that can surprise and inspire".
Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup in a vote in 2010 when Qatar got the 2022 tournament.
The vote process is now at the centre of a corruption probe by Swiss investigators.
The inquiry was launched in parallel to a US corruption investigation in which seven Fifa officials were detained while they were at a congress of the world governing body in Zurich in May.
The Kremlin said at the time that the arrests were a bid to influence the re-election of Blatter.
The Swiss official secured a fifth term but has since announced he will stand down and a new election for a replacement held on Feb 26.
Meanwhile, Cameroon will have to negotiate a tricky two-legged knockout tie against Somalia or Niger at the start of their World Cup qualifying campaign following the African zone draw made yesterday.
Somalia and Niger will meet in the first round and the winners play the Indomitable Lions over two legs in the second.
South Sudan, who joined Fifa in 2012, will face Mauritania in their first-ever World Cup qualifier, with the opening leg at home.
The winners play Tunisia in the second round. Nigeria will face Djibouti or Swaziland in the second round and African champions Ivory Coast must face Liberia or Guinea-Bissau.
Angola will meet South Africa in arguably the toughest of the second-round meetings.
The 26 lowest-ranked African teams take part in the first round and the winners join the remaining 27 African sides in the second stage, again played on a knockout basis with each tie over two legs played from Nov 9-17.
This creates a potential pitfall for the established teams who run the risk of being eliminated because of a single shock result.
In the third round, the 20 teams are divided into five groups of four and the winners of each group qualify for the World Cup.
The qualifying draws for the other regions were not available at press time. - Wire Services.