Putin, Blatter put troubles aside for 2018 World Cup
By Mike Collett
ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin and FIFA's president Sepp Blatter will put aside their troubles when they take center-stage and kick-off the countdown to the 2018 World Cup on Saturday.
Putin has been cast as a villain in the West because of Russia's military involvement in Ukraine, while Blatter's presidency is ending next year in the wake of a huge scandal over alleged FIFA corruption.
But any doubts that Russia will host the World Cup because of alleged vote-rigging in their winning bid five years ago now appear irrelevant, with huge construction programs going on in all 11 venue cities and this draw heralding the official start of the countdown to the finals in 2018.
A worldwide TV audience of around 100 million people in 170 countries will watch as the two men open proceedings at the draw for the qualifying round of the competition which has involved 206 of FIFA's 209 member nations.
Security at the Konstantin Palace, built in 1715 and now used as Russia's National Congress Palace, some 35 km (20 miles) outside St Petersburg, will be re-doubled, not just because Putin is attending, but also because Blatter was the target of a stunt at FIFA headquarters on Monday when he was showered with fake money by a British interloper before the start of a news conference.
The draw has become something of an extravaganza in its own right. Continued...