The ultimate guide to Fifa 2018 in Russia
I vividly remember my first live Fifa World Cup match, when Spain faced off against Paraguay in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium. While Spain, the pre-tournament favourites, eked out a win, my lasting memory of that 3 July 2010 night is not of the game itself. It is of walking towards my seat before play started as the tournament’s promotional anthem, K’naan’s Wavin’ Flag, played on the stadium speakers. As the chorus They’ll call me ‘Freedom’, just like a wavin’ flag rang out, I looked into the stands filled with thousands of people waving flags from across the world.
It was a surreal moment.
For sports fans, few experiences rival the thrill of seeing a Fifa World Cup match live. though planning that experience can be a challenge. If you’re hoping to attend the 2018 Fifa World Cup, here’s a primer.
The 2018 tournament will be held in Russia, from 14 June-15 July, and will feature 32 countries. There will be 64 matches in 11 cities.
The qualifiers for the event and the final line-up will be known by mid-November. The draw, which will determine group compositions, will be made on 1 December.
Before you buy the tickets (available on www.fifa.com/tickets), ask yourself, “What kind of a football fan am I?”
Are you a diehard Brazil fan who wants to follow the Seleção across the country for each of their encounters? Then you need Team Specific Tickets that allow you to watch between three and seven matches of your favourite team. If your team is knocked out at the group stage and your ticket covers more than three matches, you will be able to follow the winner of that group. If that team gets knocked out and your ticket covers more than four matches, then it remains valid for the next match involving your team’s opponents, and so on.
Locals in a city, or immersive travellers who prefer to stay in one city a longer time, will need Venue Specific Tickets that are valid for all matches in a host city, other than the opening match, the quarter-finals, the semi-finals or the final.
High-flyers, who want to be seen checking in at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow for the final, or those who have specific travel plans and are happy soaking in the atmosphere of any group match as long as it fits their schedule, tend to opt for Individual Match Tickets. These are valid for a specific match during the tournament.
The final type of tickets are Supporter Tickets and Conditional Supporter Tickets: These are sold to the “recognized supporters” of teams playing the match (the ticket type is based on the requirements of the participating member association), which come out of the 8% allocation made available to each of the teams playing.
Purchase tickets from the official website, www.fifa.com/tickets. I have found the ticket-buying process for the previous editions of the event to be quite fair and transparent. And if you plan early enough, you can get the tickets of your choice.
Closer to the event, tickets for highly awaited matches begin to run out on the official website and become available on ticket- exchange platforms at a significant premium. Fifa has tried to clamp down on such sales and you should avoid these as well, because there are no guarantees that the ticket will be genuine and you will also end up paying a lot more.
Ticket sales for the Fifa World Cup will happen in three phases, with the first two divided into the “Random Selection Draw” (RSD) and “First Come First Served” (FCFS) periods. The dates for the Fifa 2018 World Cup ticket sales are:
■ Phase 1:
—RSD period: 14 September-12 October; results announced on 16 November.
—FCFS period: 16-28 November
—RSD period: 5 December-31 January
—FCFS period: 13 March-3 April
■ Last Minute Sales Phase:
—FCFS period: 18 April-15 July
Team Specific Tickets can only be purchased during Phase 1, while Venue Specific Tickets are available in the first two phases. To buy tickets for a specific match, you will have to wait till the main draw is announced in December. This will also give you a chance to buy tickets for potentially mouth-watering encounters beyond the group stage. But this can backfire. In 2010, I had bought tickets for the 3 July quarter-final, hoping to see Spain play defending champions Italy. The Azzurri didn’t make it past the group stage and I ended up watching Spain just about managing to win against Paraguay with a score of 1-0.
Also, since fans from across the world usually wait for the main draw that decides the groups, getting tickets of choice in phase 2 is harder as they get snapped up quickly.
If you’re not keen on a particular match, purchasing tickets in phase 1 is a good option. Worried that you might end up seeing two low-ranked teams play an inconsequential game? Don’t be. The experience of being at a live match will more than make up for it.
Another option is to select any of the knockout matches (second round onwards) during phase 1, so you have a fair chance of seeing at least one of the big-name teams play. I did this during the 2014 Fifa World Cup and ended up seeing the high-quality France-Germany quarter-final at the Maracanã in Rio (Yes, I am 2/2 in seeing World Cup winners in the quarters!).
There are four ticket-price categories for the 2018 Fifa World Cup. Individual Match Tickets and Venue Specific Tickets are offered in categories 1-4 while Team-Specific Tickets are offered in categories 1-3.
■ Category 1: These high-priced tickets provide seating in prime areas of the stadium. These are generally along the left and right sidelines, in either the upper or lower tiers (from $210, around Rs13,650, for a group match to $1,100 for the final match).
■ Categories 2 and 3: These are located outside the category 1 area. Typically, these are the seats behind the goalposts in either the upper or lower tiers (category 2 from $165-710, category 3 from $105-455).
■ Category 4: This lowest-priced category is reserved for Russian citizens.
I have seen matches from seats in both categories 1 and 2. While the atmosphere and access to facilities is the same, the view that category 1 tickets afford is worth the additional price. If you’re planning to watch just one match during your trip, then it makes sense to buy a category 1 ticket and make the most of the experience.
Tickets allocated during phases 1 and 2 are couriered to your address free of charge. Deliveries are expected to start in April-May. The remaining tickets can be collected from Fifa Venue Ticketing Centres in all host cities of the 2018 Fifa World Cup prior to and during the tournament. For security reasons, tickets cannot be collected at the stadium on match days.
Deciding where to stay can be tough, for options are significantly more expensive during major sporting events and availability at the better-rated places can be limited.
While choosing which part of the city to stay in, ensure it has good public transport connecting it to the stadium. Opt for a reasonably central location, so that you can use your remaining time to explore the city.
Depending on your budget, you can stay in a hotel, a hostel, an Airbnb apartment or Couchsurf. Besides the tariff being higher, rental terms tend to be more stringent too. Some places demand a 100% cancellation fee, while others might require a booking for a minimum period of four days or more.
To make the most of your time at the venue, keep the following in mind.
The Russian government has made Fan-IDs mandatory as part of its security measures for the World Cup. Fan-IDs are personalized spectator identity cards without which you will not be allowed entry into stadiums during the tournament.
Fan-IDs will also serve as visas for foreign visitors, allowing stay for the duration of the tournament, as well as for 10 days before and after. Fan-IDs will also entitle holders to free travel in special trains between host cities and in public transport in the host cities on match days.
Fan-IDs will be issued and delivered free of cost. Apply for them at www.fan-id.ru after your ticket application is approved by Fifa.
Do not carry
Security is strict, so do scan the list of forbidden items on the Fifa website and ensure you’re not carrying prohibited items like bottles and flasks, deodorants, lighters, food and drinks, medicines (unless accompanied by prescriptions), selfie sticks or tripods, and more.
Getting to the venue
On match days there can be almost a hundred thousand people, including fans, security personnel, media professionals and locals, travelling to the stadium. Plan for delays everywhere, whether it’s finding transport or being stuck in traffic jams and snaking queues at venues. Host countries usually promote the use of public transport on match day, making services free for ticket-carrying fans.
At the venue
Tickets mention the gate from which you should enter the venue, along with the section and seat number. Depending on where the public transport drops you, there might be a long walk to the security checkpoint and your designated seat.
There will be multiple food and drink outlets, event memorabilia kiosks and restrooms on each stadium floor. Do spend some time scoping out the area nearest to your section so you already know where to go when everyone rushes out at half-time. Try and time your breaks, and don’t wait for the half-time whistle to hit the restroom or the food stalls. You might just find yourself standing in a queue till the second half starts.
Once the action on the field starts, sit back and soak it in. Scream. Shout. Join a Mexican wave.
Fan fests are a great way to experience the World Cup outside of the stadiums. These festivals are held across host cities on match days, with giant screens showing the games live. Fan-fest venues are typically located in the more touristy parts of a city, like a central square or a park. During the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil, I saw several matches at the fan fest at the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro—an incredible mix of sea, sun and football!
Not only do you get to watch the match with thousands of other fans, but also you can enjoy live music, buy souvenirs from Fifa sponsors and partners and, if you are lucky, you may even catch star footballers and celebrities at these fests.
Event-specific apps will start coming out closer to the event date. At this point you can consider the following:
Official FIFA app:
■ Gives comprehensive, real-time coverage of each game, updates from Fifa’s live blog, team and player profiles, and more.
■ During the 2014 Fifa World Cup, the app allowed users to vote for the Man of the Match for each game.
The ESPN app:
■ Gives fast access to scores, highlights, breaking news and more.
The Welcome 2018 app:
■ This is the app for the official 2018 Fifa World Cup tourist website, Welcome2018.com.
■ The app provides the latest news about the event, including updates about the preparations.
■ It also acts as a guide-cum-planner for your trip with itineraries for host cities, information on event tickets, local travel, etc.
A list of the host cities and their top attractions
■Kaliningrad is situated along the Baltic Sea, between Poland and Lithuania. Visit the Königsberg Cathedral (with philosopher Immanuel Kant’s tomb) and the 98km-long sand-dune Curonian Spit, which separates the Curonian lagoon from the coast.
■ Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, is often described as the “sports capital of Russia” because of the many sporting events it has hosted. Major attractions include the Kazan Kremlin and the Suyumbike Tower.
■ Russia’s magnificent capital, Moscow, is full of sightseeing choices, including highlights like the Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, and the Bolshoi Theatre.
■ Known as Gorky till 1990, Nizhny Novgorod is the administrative centre of the Volga federal district. With more than 600 architectural monuments, it is on Unesco’s list of top 100 cities that are of immense historical and cultural value.
■ Rostov-on-Don, the largest city in southern Russia, is known as the “Gate of the Caucasus”.
■ Founded by tsar Peter the Great in the early 18th century, St Petersburg is a Unesco World Heritage site, with attractions like the Hermitage and Peterhof museums, Winter Palace, Peter and Paul Fortress, and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.
■ Samara is the sixth largest city in Russia, known for the Samara Embankment, Stalin’s Bunker, and Kubychev Square.
■ Located in the Volga basin at the confluence of the Saranka and Insar rivers, Saransk is the capital of Mordovia. Its attractions include the Cathedral of Saint Righteous Warrior Feodor Ushakov and the Mordovian Republican Fine Arts Museum SD Erzia.
■ The Black Sea resort city of Sochi hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. Visit the Sochi Arboretum, Riviera Park, Akhun massif, and Agura River waterfalls.
■ Volgograd, formerly the city of Stalingrad, built in the 16th century, became famous for its resistance during the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II. See The Motherland Calls sculpture and the Mamayev Kurgan hill monuments.
■ Yekaterinburg is located on the border of Europe and Asia. Founded in the 18th century, it’s named after the wife of tsar Peter the Great. Major attractions include the Church on the Blood, Yekaterinburg State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, and Iset River Dam.