POST TIME: 7 July, 2018 00:00 00 AM
FIFA tells Putin world ‘in love’ with Russia

FIFA tells Putin world ‘in love’ with Russia

Frome left to right,former German footballer Lothar Matthaus, FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Russian President Vladimir Putin, first Vice President of the Russian Football Union Nikita Simonyan and Mexican footballer Jorge Campos Navarrete pose during a meeting withworldfootball legends at The Kremlin in Moscow yesterday. AFP PHOTO

AFP, MOSCOW: FIFA president Gianni Infantino told President Vladimir Putin on Friday the world was “in love” with World Cup hosts Russia and praised him for overcoming negative stereotypes about the country.

Infantino spoke at a meeting with Putin and former world football stars including former England defender Rio Ferdinand and ex-Denmark goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel.

“We all fell in love with Russia," Infantino told a beaming Putin at the televised meeting in the Kremlin. “Everyone who has been here for a period of time now has discovered a country that we didn't know.”

Despite high tensions with the West, Putin has presided over a well-organised, good-humoured tournament.

Human rights groups warn however that he is using the world's biggest sporting event to gloss over his authoritarian rule.

Human Rights Watch said the tournament is taking place "during the worst human rights crisis in Russia since the Soviet era."

But the World Cup has created an unusual carnival atmosphere in traditionally conservative Russia -- not least due to the home team's own unexpected success.

“Russia has become a true football country. The virus of football has entered into the bodies of each and every Russian citizen," Infantino said.