NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (RIA Novosti)
Nizhny Novgorod has begun updating its hotel and transport infrastructure so the historic Russian city on the Volga river is fit to host 2018 World Cup matches, the region's sports minister told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.
The announcement by Viktor Kharitonov comes two weeks before the final list of 11 cities is approved by world governing body FIFA, with only five population centers thought to be guaranteed host status.
Nizhny Novgorod, about 420 kilometers east of Moscow, is among 13 cities bidding to stage the football extravaganza.
Although it was not among another five cities that Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said were under threat of being axed, officials are keen to demonstrate all is well.
"The regional organizing committee is doing everything necessary," Kharitonov said. "The site for building the stadium has been identified, a working group on hotel construction has been set up, transport infrastructure projects have been initiated," he said.
Despite the lack of ready-to-go facilities, Nizhny Novgorod is considered a safe bet to remain on the list.
In its favor is a high-speed rail link from Moscow and a population of 1.3 million that can sustain a world class stadium of a 45,000 capacity - to be built on an island in the midst of the Volga.
"The choice of Nizhny Novgorod as a host city for the World Cup will be a big achievement," Kharitonov said.
He vowed to announce plans for a "big city holiday" on the eve of the September 29 announcement of the final list.
Last week, Mutko warned the cities of Saransk, Volgograd, Yaroslavl, Kaliningrad and Rostov-on-Don had "several problems" that may kill their bid.
Moscow is guaranteed the final at the iconic Luzhniki Stadium, with proposed new arenas for Dynamo and Spartak hoping to share the capital's World Cup fixtures.
St. Petersburg is likely to be given a semifinal at Zenit's new stadium, which should be completed by 2014.
Two other dead-certs are Sochi, which will use the Fisht Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Games as well as World Cup matches; and Kazan, which will have the infrastructure in place by next year, when it hosts the University Games.
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