World Cup 2018: how Russia’s host stadiums are shaping up (or not)…part one

At the time of writing, the 2018 World Cup tournament is planned be held in eleven Russian cities and twelve stadiums – though this could change (see Kaliningrad, below). The eleven cities are on the western side of the country, with the furthest east being Ekaterinburg (close to the Ural mountains).

Below is a look at the progress being made with each stadium – and whether they’ll likely be in demand after the tournament.

Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow


The host venue for the 2008 Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester United has been undergoing renovation since the start of 2014 in a project costing £600m. Things will be finished by 2017, and the stadium will have an increased capacity of 81,000. There will also be a grass pitch (rather than the previous synthetic surface), and fans will be able to choose from a choice of three the colour of the stadium’s seats. Once it has hosted the 2018 World Cup final, it will join an elite group of four (along with Wembley, Olympic Stadium Berlin and Olympic Stadium Rome) to have hosted the World Cup Final, European Cup Final and been a main Olympic venue.

Is it really needed?

Luzhniki is a Moscow landmark – its removal from the landscape would be more or less akin to Wembley disappearing from London. Without it, Moscow would not have a huge stadium. But with three Moscow clubs building new arenas of their own, it will likely be used mainly for international matches, concerts and perhaps Torpedo Moscow games (whose home attendance figures rarely get above four figures).

Otkrytie Arena, Moscow


Spartak Moscow have never had a proper home stadium of their own (the Luzhniki Sports’ Complex served this purpose for many years), but this will change on 5th September when the Otrkytie Arena opens with a friendly match again Crvena Zvezda. The stadium will possibly hold the opening match of the World Cup tournament. It will have a 42,000 capacity, and has been certified in the highest category by the Russian football authorities. Outside there will be a 24.5m statue of a gladiator, and inside another statue of four Spartak legends.

Is it really needed?

Spartak must be one of the biggest clubs in the world to never have had a stadium of their own, so in that sense it’s needed. That the club have built a pretty generic modern stadium but used the statues to keep a link to the past is good news too. However, with CSKA and Dinamo Moscow also building new stadiums, it may be that we quickly go from a situation where there are not enough stadiums in the city to having too many.

Arena Baltika, Kaliningrad

An unusual stadium for a modern one in that it will be located close to the city centre; it is also planned to be a ‘green’ stadium with a roof that harvests rainwater. At the time of writing, though, building work has yet to start and has been postponed several times. In August 2014 reports surfaced suggesting the stadium may not be built at all: in this case, Kaliningrad would be removed from the list of host cities. Key issues appear to be that the project is likely to well exceed its budget, and that it will be built on a difficult terrain (marshland).

Is it really needed?

If it is built, Arena Baltika will have a capacity of 45,000 – this will be reduced to 25,000 at the end of the tournament. A sensible decision given that local side Baltika Kaliningrad are perhaps akin to Barnsley – they’ve spent most of the last twenty years in the second tier, with occasional excursions both up and down. They are one of the best supported sides in the Football National League, however, and will hope that by the time the new stadium opens they are a top flight side again.

Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi


Constructed for no small fee for the 2014 Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, the Fisht Stadium is now undergoing considerable renovation to become a football venue. The 45,000 capacity arena will definitely be ready by 2017, when it is a host venue for the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Is it really needed?

Sochi is currently on its third post-Soviet football team, the previous two having been disbanded due to financial problems. There is hope that a local side will become a force in Russian football – but currently the city’s team plays in the third tier. A top quality stadium in a relatively balmy climate and with a bit of history behind it cannot be sniffed at, though. The Russian national team will surely make good use of it, especially in the colder months. Just don’t expect FC Sochi to get anywhere near filling it to capacity.

Coming soon…parts two and three – including a look at one city that has been inexplicably overlooked as a host…

Saul Pope is a Russian/Ukrainian Football Blogger and contributor to When Saturday Comes magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @saulpope.


Picture attributions:

Luzhniki: “Moscow (3)” by Maarten from Netherlands – DSC_0103Uploaded by huhbakker. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Otkrytie Arena: “Moskva spartak stadion”. Via Wikipedia –

Fisht Olympic Stadium: “Стадион Фишт” by Ivanaivanova – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –



2 thoughts on “World Cup 2018: how Russia’s host stadiums are shaping up (or not)…part one

  1. Good article. Of course, if that corrupt scoundral Putin’s present antics continue, Russia may get banned from hosting the competition and football might end up coming home.

    • Saul's (mostly) football blog

      Thanks for the positive feedback. I’d be surprised if the World Cup got moved, unless things escalate further. You probably know that three sides from Crimea have started playing this season in the Russian second division. FIFA/UEFA have done nothing other than to acknowledge they’ve received a complaint about this from the Football Federation of Ukraine.

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