Football fever is creeping in, with the FIFA World Cup being held this year in Russia and the commencement being just months away! It’s time to rally up your fellow supporters and start making travel plans because watching the game on a T.V. screen isn’t the same as actually being at the stadiums with the massive crowds! It’s a euphoric, powerful experience and besides you get to see your favourite players in the flesh!
The FIFA experience may be overwhelming with all those matches and stadiums to get to and all the keeping up to do, as well as where to find proper prayer facilities and Halal restaurants. Don’t worry we’ve got you covered with this ultimate Muslim traveller’s guide to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia!
The FIFA World Cup, also simply referred to as the World Cup is a tournament organized by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which is the sport’s global governing body. The championship’s inaugural tournament was held in 1930 and has been awarded every four years since – except in the years 1942 and 1946, the tournaments were not held due the Second World War. The current World Cup champion is Germany; they won their fourth title at the 2014 tournament which was held in Brazil.
The World Cup Finals is a three year long qualification phase and determines which teams will qualify for the tournament phase. The 32 selected teams as well as the automatically qualifying host nation/nations compete for the title in the different venues within the host nation/nations for about a month.
As of now, 20 World Cup tournaments have been held, and the title has been won by eight national teams. Brazil was the reigning champion for five World Cup wins, and is the only team to have qualified for every tournament.
The World Cup is the most watched and followed sporting event in the world! The overall audience of the 2006 FIFA World Cup was an estimated 26.29 billion people, while the final match garnered a staggering audience of 715.1 million which is a ninth of the entire population of the planet!
Due to it being one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events, it is no stranger to scandals and hooliganism. The media has often revealed many corrupt officials of FIFA and reported many acts of violence performed by fans themselves, which has tarnished the name of the World Cup. However, fans are not giving up on the World Cup yet, because at the end of the day, it brings people together to enjoy the sport loved by the world over.
The 21st FIFA World Cup will be held in Russia, with the opening ceremony to be held on 14th June 2018 and ending on the 15th of July 2018.
Moscow is Russia’s largest city and capital with a population of 12, 380 664, it is also the country’s main cultural hub. Football is a major part of the city’s history with four clubs - CSKA, Spartak, Dynamo and Lokomotiv – which were placed in the top division of the 2015/16 Premier League championship of the country. Two stadiums in Moscow would be hosting the tournament for the 2018 FIFA World Cup - Luzhniki stadium and Spartak stadium.
Moscow’s Luzhniki Olympic Complex is the biggest stadium in Russia and will host the opening ceremony and closing ceremony as well as the first match and final match, along with four group matches, one round of 16 final and one semi-final.
The stadium first opened in 1956 and is situated by the Luzhnetskaya Embankment of the Moskva River across from Vorobyovy Hills. Luzhniki hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 22nd Olympic Games of 1980. The 1999 UEFA Cup final was hosted by this stadium. It was at this stadium during a Euro 2001 qualifier that Russia beat England 2-1.
Luzhniki was reconstructed in preparation for the 2018 World Cup, it was completed in 2017. The expanded stalls can accommodate 81,000 spectators instead of only 78,000, which was its previous capacity. Before the recent remodelling, the seating arrangements caused poor visibility from some sections of the stalls, however, now the stalls have been moved as close to the pitch as possible fixing the visibility issue. From the total number of seats, 300 have been equipped for people with disabilities, 1,700 seats are reserved for VIP spectators and 2000 seats for the media.
A little fun fact about the stadium; state-of-the-art technology has been used to equip the goals. Several cameras watch the goals, while an electronic bracelet alerts the referee.
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The second stadium to host matches is the Spartak stadium; it is the arena of Russia’s No.1 football club, FC Spartak Moscow. The stadium can accommodate 45,000 spectators and has its own metro station, the Spartak Metro station, which makes it easier for football fans to reach the stadium.
Moscow is home to 2 million Muslims, therefore finding restaurants serving Halal food would not be too difficult, and restaurants can easily be found by searching on the net. Due to the city’s large population of Muslims finding a mosque won’t be a hassle. Moscow is home to the city’s largest mosque – Moscow Cathedral Mosque – it has a capacity of 10,000 worshippers.
While visiting the city to watch the World Cup matches, make sure to visit Moscow’s most famous attraction, the Kremlin. The city has other delights to offer, like the Moscow Zoo, circuses, and a cat theatre!
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Ekaterinburg is the fourth largest city in Russia, it was named after Russian Empress Catherine I. The Trans-Siberian Railway ran through the city across the vast expanse of Siberia into China, making Ekaterinburg Russia’s gateway to Asia.
The FC Ural is Ekaterinburg’s football team, it was founded in 1930. The team is placed in the top national football division of Russia’s premier league. They are two-time winners of the Football National League Cup, which is the second most influential division in Russian football.
The Ekaterinburg Central Stadium will host four group stage matches, for the duration of the tournament the stadium will be referred to as Ekaterinburg Arena. The stadium is located in the Verkh-Isetsky district, which is the central part of the city. The Polschad 1905 Goda is the nearest metro station; there are four bus stops from here to the stadium.
The city was named one of the twelve ideal cities to live in by UNESCO. Ekaterinburg is full of natural resources such as oil, gas, gold mines, and Europe’s largest deposit of Emeralds!
Though Ekaterinburg has a population of 200,000 Muslims, the city lacks Mosques. There are two Mosques, the Congregational Mosque, which is the main Mosque in the city, and the Ramadan Mosque. Finding Halal restaurants may be challenging, there is only a scattering (around four restaurants) of Halal friendly restaurants in the city. One of the known restaurants is Halal Cafe Ramazan. However, there are many Halal friendly grocers in the area.
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Saint Petersburg is the cultural capital of Russia. Once referred to as Petrograd and Leningrad, the current name “Saint Petersburg” comes from Latin-Dutch word-formations. The locals of refer to their city as Piter. The city has a population of 5,281,579 people.
The center of the city is an open-air museum. Some of the city still looks like it did in the 1900s, it is an eclectic mix of neo-classical architecture and modern buildings. It boasts 200 museums, 70 theatres, 50 cinemas and 1100 libraries.
Saint Petersburg’s local football club is FC Zenit Saint Petersburg, the team was founded in 1925. The squad plays in the Russian Premier League, and were the champions in 2007, 2010, 2011-2012, and 2014-2015. They won at the 2007-2008 UEFA Cup as well as the 2008 UEFA Super Cup.
The stadium is located on Krestovsky Island, which you can access through the new Novokrestovskaya Metro station, and the new pedestrian bridge linking the island with the southern coast of Primorsky District. The stadium was designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kuroko, and is one of the most technologically advanced stadiums in Europe. It has a retractable roof which takes 15 mins to open or close, and a roll-out pitch. The stadium has a capacity of 68,000 spectators, and will host two matches.
The easiest way to travel to the arena is by metro. The closest station - Krestovsky Ostrov – is only a 2 minute walk away from the stadium (Metro line no. 5). There may be some restrictions on traffic close to the stadium however, shuttle buses will be provided on game days. The buses will stop at two locations the Krestovsky Ostrov bus station and the intersection of Sportivnaya Street and Morskoy Prospect.
The Saint Petersburg Mosque is a must visit, when it was first opened in 1913, it was the largest Mosque in Europe. This is also the only Mosque in the city, however certain Halal restaurants offer prayer facilities. There are quite a few Halal friendly restaurants in the area, so you won’t have a problem with finding the right restaurants. Navruz is a good restaurant to visit while in Saint Petersburg.
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Sochi became famous for hosting the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, whose preparations caused the city to experience great improvements in infrastructure. Among the many new facilities is the Fisht stadium, which will play host to the 2018 World Cup matches.
The stadium is named after one of the peaks of the western part of the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range. In the Adyghe language “Fisht” means “white head”. The stadium has been designed in a unique way to give spectators a mountain view on one side and a sea view on the other side. The stadium can house 40,000 people. The best way to get to the stadium is by cab or bus, and travelling is easy due to the many renovations made to the city for the Winter Olympics.
Unfortunately, in spite of all the money spent on the Olympics, the city has still not managed to build a Mosque. The only available Mosque in the region is a 2 and a half hour drive to the Adyhge village of Tkhagapsh. There are a few Halal friendly restaurants in the region namely, Cafe “Halal House”, Cafe Uzgen and Cafe Lebanon House.
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Photo credit - Maksim Tumanov/TASS
Kazan was founded a thousand years ago and is one of the main cities in Russia. The city is a port located on the left bank of the Volga River – a religious, economic and cultural center – it is the third capital of Russia. The city has a population of 1,231,878 people. In 2009 Kazan was chosen as the Sports Capital of Russia.
The structure of the stadium is reminiscent of a water lily, giving it an almost ethereal look. The stadium was built for the 2013 Summer Universiade, and hosted both the opening and closing ceremonies. The arena is the only football stadium where 12 world records in swimming was set. It will play host to two matches for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
During the match days traffic around the Kazan Stadium will be restricted. Public transport will be provided from the airport to the stadium via shuttle buses. Spectators can also get buses at the Adoratsky Street and Yamasheva Prospect intersection, and even use the Kazan-1 Railway route from Fan Zone to stadium or the route from Kazan-2 Railway station to the stadium.
Kazan is a predominantly Muslim city therefore finding Mosques and Halal restaurants will not be difficult. Kazan has its own distinctive cuisine – Tartar Cuisine – which is Halal, so be sure to try some dishes in the many restaurants available in the city. One of the most important heritage sites in Kazan is the Kul Sharif Mosque, it is located in the Kazan Kremlin.
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Saransk is situated on the banks of the Insar River, which is joined by the Saranka and Tayla Rivers within the city limits. The city is full of myths and legends, with many landmarks in its vicinity. The city has a population of 300,000 people.
FC Mordovia is the local football club which was founded in 1961. The team won at the 2009 Pro Football League, going on to win the National League Championships in the 2011/2012 and 2013/2014 seasons.
The Mordovia Arena will host 4 matches for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The stadium has a capacity of 45,000, and can be reached by car in 10 minutes from the airport, and 5 minutes from the railway station. Shuttle buses will run between the stadium and railway station, airport, as well as hotels.
Saransk has three Mosques, the Ikhsan Mosque, Aal-Mansur Mosque and the Uskudar Mosque. You can easily find Halal friendly restaurants in the city by doing a quick search online, one of the recommended restaurants is BurgerBoom.
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This city is the westernmost regional capital of Russia, parts of Lithuania and Belarus lie in between the Kaliningrad region and Russia. Kaliningrad is an important shipping hub where many international routes interconnect, such as rail lines, and sea and air routes. The Kaliningrad region boasts of the largest field of amber in the world, 90% of the world’s prospected stocks of amber.
Kaliningrad has their own football club – Club Baltika – founded in 1954. The team is one of the leading clubs on the National Football League.
The Kaliningrad stadium will host four group stage matches for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The stadium has been built on the shore of an island, October Island. The stadium has five storeys and will be able to hold 35,000 spectators. As of now, there are public transport routes to the stadium, the nearest stop is a 20 minute walk away from the arena. As stated on the official website, access roads will be built in time for the World Cup.
There are very few Halal friendly restaurants in this area, with just a very few speckled across the city and only around two Mosques for the whole city.
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Samara is the main economic centre, transportation hub and cultural magnet for the whole Volga basin. The city celebrated 45 years in aerospace engineering by opening a museum and exhibition centre in 2001, the museum houses Europe’s only Soyuz booster rocket in launch position. The museum hosted the Wings of the Future exhibition in dedication of the city’s preparations for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Samara also has Russia’s first public football museum, most of the exhibits are devoted to the local team – FC Krylya Sovetov. The team was put together during the Great Patriotic War of 1942, marking its 75th jubilee earlier in 2017. The squad has their own stadium, the Metallurg stadium which was Eastern Europe’s best attended arena in the year of 2004.
The club has played in top division for over 45 seasons of the Soviet national championships, also going on to the USSR Cup finals in 1953 and 1964. FC Krylya Sovetov scored a bronze at the Russian championship and played at the 2004 Russian Cup finals. The team went competed in the 2005 UEFA Cup and also played at the UEFA Europa League in 2009.
The Samara Arena will host four group stage matches in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, including one match with the Russian national team. The stadium has been designed to look like an object from space, it is symbolic of Samara’s role in the world history of space exploration.
Samara is the location of one of Russia’s largest Mosques, the New Mosque. It was built in the 1990s with red brick, and has an apple orchard by the walls. The Mosque was designed by Rasim Walshin, a local architect. It will not be easy finding Halal fare in Samara, there are very few restaurants that serve Halal food. Cafe Al-Halal and Lagmannaya, are recommended restaurants in the area.
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Rostov-on-Don is a major transport and industrial hub as well as cultural centre in southern Russia. Rostov-on-Don is also the unofficial “southern capital” of Russia and one of the gateways to Caucasus.
The city has a football club, FC Rostov, which was founded in 1930. The team was placed second in the Premier League competition in the 2015/2016 tournament, they made it into the 1/8 finals of the European League in 2016/2017, and they were placed third in the group stage match of the UEFA Champions League.
The Rostov stadium will host four group stage matches as well as a 1/8 final for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The Rostov arena has a seating capacity of 45,000. The stadium was built in 2012 in the Kirov district. After the World Cup, the stadium will become the official arena for the FC Rostov.
The stadium can be reached by bus number 591 if travelling from the northern areas of the city. When arriving from the southern areas of the city, travelling by train is the best option. The closest railway station is the Zarechnaya station which is two bus stops away from the stadium.
Rostov-on-Don has only one functioning Mosque, the Rostov-on-Don Cathedral Mosque. Halal food is not readily available in this city however you will be able to find a few groceries and markets that sell Halal products.
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During the 18th and 19th centuries Nizhny Novgorod came forward as a regional economic, industrial, scientific and educational hub. The railway connecting Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod, built during the 1850s and 1860s, was one of the first railways to be built in Russia. Nizhny Novgorod is 3.5 hours away from Moscow by train, making it the closest host city to Moscow.
Nizhny Novgorod has a population which exceeds 1.3 million; it is the largest city within European Russia after Moscow and St. Petersburg. Located in Upper Town is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin. It was built in the 1500s and houses the City Hall and the regional government.
A football club was only recently founded, the FC Olympiets, the official squad was put together in 2015. The team will compete in the 2017/2018 National Football Championship, this will be their first match.
The Nizhny Novgorod stadium construction commenced in 2015, the stadium will be able to accommodate 45,000 spectators. The stadium will host four group stage games, including one match of the 1/8 and ¼ finals during the 2018 World Cup. The arena is built on Strelka, offering a picturesque view of the Oka River meeting the Volga River. After the World Championship the stadium will be utilized as a multifunctional sports complex as well the home field of the local football club.
The nearest metro station is said to be situated in Strelka, it will be opened in time for the World Cup. The stadium is a five-minute walk away from the station.
There are two recommended Halal restaurants in the area, Uzbekcha Halal Restaurant and Гарцующий пони (Gartsuyushchiy poni). However, ask around for other Halal restaurants that may be in the area. There are three Mosques in Nizhny Novgorod, the Nizhny Novgorod Mosque, the Taub Mosque and the Nizhegorodskaya Sobornaya Mosque.
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Volgograd’s original name was Tsaritsyn, it was renamed to Stalingrad in the 1920s and was given its current name in 1961. The city has been a regional industrial capital since the 18th century, Volgograd is full of industrial enterprises, which played a defining role in the city’s history. The population of Volgograd is said to be more than one million.
Volgograd was one of the cities that pioneered Russian football. The city’s first ever football team was formed in 1909 and comprised of steel works and oil industry workers. The present day team, FC Rotor, is the winner of the 2016/2017 Pro Football League Championship (South Zone). FC Rotor was founded in 1929, their greatest achievements were a Soviet Cup semi-final, a Russia Cup final, one National Championship bronze and two silvers.
The Volgograd Arena replaced the Central Stadium, which was the home field of the Rotor-Volgograd football club. The Central Stadium was opened in 1962 and in 1963 Fidel Castro delivered a speech to a crowd of 60,000 people. The stadium was dismantled in 2014 to be replaced with the new Volgograd Arena.
The stadium is shaped like an overturned truncated cone and is able to accommodate 45,000 spectators. The stadium will host four group stage matches for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and will become the home field of the FC Rotor football club after the World Cup ends. It is set to be opened in 2018.
The Volgograd Arena can be accessed by bus, trolleybus, high-speed tram or commuter train, the closest station is the Mamaev Kurgan station.
There aren’t many Halal friendly restaurants in the Volgograd city, however there a few restaurants scattered around the surrounding districts, a quick search on the internet should help you locate them. Two recommended restaurants are Khalyal and Халяльa which serve Halal fare. Volgograd has one functioning Mosque, the Volgograd Cathedral Mosque.
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So book those match tickets and flight tickets! And don’t forget to check hotel availability; this is an opportunity that’s not to be missed, also take as many photos as you can! The World up may be the main highlight of your Russia trip, but Russia is a great country with lots to offer so don’t forget to do some sightseeing.
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