From L: Russia’s coach Stanislav Cherchesov, New Zealand’s coach Anthony Hudson, Portugal’s coach Fernando Santos and Mexico’s coach Juan Carlos Osorio attend a press conference following the draw for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup at the tennis academy center in Kazan on November 26, 2016.
Alexander NEMENOV / AFP
World Cup holders Germany were placed in Group B for the 2017 Confederations Cup alongside Chile, Australia and the winner of next year’s Africa Cup of Nations at Saturday’s draw in Kazan.
Hosts Russia will come up against Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Mexico and New Zealand in Group A in the event billed as a warm-up for the World Cup to be held in Russia in 2018.
The tournament kicks off in Saint Petersburg on June 17 and will end at the same venue on July 2. Matches will also be staged in Kazan, Moscow and Sochi.
Russia will take on Oceania champions New Zealand in the opening game before Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal face CONCACAF champions Mexico in Kazan a day later.
The opening match in Group B will be played in Moscow at the home of Spartak Moscow and will see the Chile of Alexis Sanchez — Copa America winners in the last two years — meet the winners of the Africa Cup of Nations to be held in Gabon in January and February.
Australia, the 2015 Asian Cup winners, will be the first opponents for Joachim Loew’s Germany in Sochi on Monday, June 19.
With just over six months to go until the tournament begins, Russia is having to deal with numerous challenges ranging from delays in stadium construction to corruption scandals and worries about their own national team.
After a disastrous Euro 2016 in which they were eliminated in the group stage while the country’s football hooligans dominated headlines, Russia are rebuilding under a new coach in Stanislav Cherchesov but they currently languish in 55th place in the world rankings.
A key area of concern is the delayed construction of the venue for the final in Saint Petersburg, where a solution must be found to the retractable pitch at the futuristic 68,000-seater stadium that is unstable and unsuitable for play.
“We are meeting all our obligations. The World Cup is the main sports event worldwide and Russia will do everything to guarantee the highest level,” assured Russia’s deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko, who is also the president of the Russian Football Union, at a press conference ahead of the draw.
“We are finishing preparations for the Confederatons Cup. The Fisht Stadium in Sochi will be finished in November. The venue in Saint Petersburg is to be ready in December. In March and April 2017, we’ll hold test friendlies there.”
Brazil have won the last three editions of the Confederations Cup, most recently as hosts in 2013.
The tournament in its current guise, organised by FIFA, was first played in 1997, when Brazil also lifted the trophy. In total Brazil have won it four times.