‘Are we going to play football or not?’: Putin on Russian football team during annual Q&A

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Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his annual televised question and answer session on Thursday, during which he was asked some tricky questions about the Russian national team’s chances at the FIFA 2018 World Cup.

Over the course of the four-hour phone-in broadcast live by Russia’s Channel One, questions were submitted by video link, text message and by the studio audience, which included former Russia manager Valery Gazzaev, who caught the president’s eye.

“I see Gazzaev! I too am concerned about football. Are we going to play football or not?” the president asked Gazzaev, who managed the national team from 2002 to 2003.  

After thanking the president for his focus on the active, healthy lifestyle of Russian people and on new sporting infrastructure, Gazzaev said: “As regards football, I myself feel a little uneasy about it. Honestly speaking we hope that in the [upcoming] Confederations Cup, the new young national team will be successful.

“In the build up to the [2018 World Cup], the Russian Football Union (RFU) announced that in football you can never guarantee the success of the national team, so it makes sense to establish another goal: to popularize football aside from the results of the team. I think that if we are to establish such targets, then we will never achieve anything,” he continued.

“More importantly, this is a home World Cup, and we should play our absolute best. As has already been said, I would like for you to have some influence on that. What are your thoughts – how should the team play and how will they play in the World Cup in Russia?”

Putin jovially countered the question by replying: “Valery, I wanted to hear that from you, you have very cunningly put the ball in my court,” to laughter from the audience.

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“We will hope that the guys will play with maximum effort, like real fighters and athletes, that they will please the fans with their determination to win. In fact, the last games have showed that we do have potential,” the president said.  

On Thursday, the Russian national team left their hotel base in Moscow to fly to St. Petersburg, where they will take on New Zealand in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup opener on Saturday at the purpose-built St. Petersburg Stadium.  

The tournament, which runs from June 17 to July 2, will be held in four different host cities: St. Petersburg, Sochi, Moscow and Kazan. The Confederations Cup acts as a rehearsal for the FIFA World Cup, which will be held in Russia for the first time next summer, from June 14 to July 15.

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