There is not long to go now. In 500 days' time, football fans from all over the world can put an end to the anticipation and once again enjoy an entire month of the best national teams on the planet going head to head.
The Host Cities of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ are particularly looking forward to the start of the tournament and organised a series of eye-catching celebrations for the milestone date, involving fans, Russia 2018 Ambassadors, volunteers and regional and urban administrations.
The winter weather did not hamper the footballing festivities and even gave the events a certain charm. In Sochi, for example, supporters were treated to a fire-and-ice show, during which the performers created a structure depicting the number “500” using pyrotechnic effects. Guests at the event, such as former USSR defender Evgeny Lovchev, could also take part in a football quiz, receive souvenir gifts and watch football freestylers in action. The celebrations were held on the bridge facing the main square in the Rosa Khutor ski resort, where the BUD Alcohol Free countdown clock was launched in a special ceremony – the second countdown clock in the city (the first was launched last year in the Port of Sochi).
"It's great that such a huge footballing festival like the World Cup is taking place in Russia," said Evgeny Lovchev. "I'm sure we'll organise and host everything excellently, and the best players on the planet will be on show. Football unites people from all over the world and this will be reaffirmed at Russia 2018."
BUD Alcohol Free Countdown clocks have also been launched in Kaliningrad and Ekaterinburg. Kaliningrad, the westernmost Russia 2018 Host City, has set up their tournament timer in the square by the Monument to Mother Russia in the centre of the city. Five-time Olympic champion in synchronised swimming and Host City Ambassador Natalia Ishchenko was invited as the guest of honour for the ceremony.
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This was mirrored in the Host City located furthest to the east, Ekaterinburg, where now there is also a visible reminder of the time remaining until the tournament begins. Irina Zilber, Olympic gold medallist in rhythmic gymnastics and Russia 2018 Ambassador for Ekaterinburg, took part in a ceremony unveiling the timepiece in the city's historic square. Those who attended the celebrations were also able to get involved in table football competitions, test their footballing knowledge in special quizzes in the main marquee and try their hand at more active games.
Nizhny Novgorod hosted their celebrations for the 500-day mark in the centre of the city. During the weekend, participants got involved in the game 'On the fan's way!', where they had to complete various tasks associated with the FIFA World Cup at different spots located on Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Ulitsa. The contest finished on Minin and Pozharsky Square, where the FIFA Fan Fest will be located in 2018. Host City Ambassadors Dmitri Bulykin, the former striker with 15 caps for the Russian national side, Daria Shkurikhina, who won Olympic gold in rhythmic gymnastics, and Pavel Zanozin, presenter and commentator on Match TV, also took part in the competition. They were joined by footballers from local side FC Olimpiyets Anton Khazov, Artyom Abramov and Egor Evteev.
“The World Cup is not just about building stadiums, roads and airports,” Pavel Zanozin cheerfully observed. “It's a huge celebration for everyone who lives in the Host Cities. More than ten national teams will be competing in Nizhny Novgorod in a year and a half and their fans will be able to discover our wonderful city for themselves.”
An exhibition of drawings entitled “Football through the eyes of children” was opened in Samara, along with two ice sculptures – a football and the hashtag #wc2018 – that were created in part by locals and volunteers. FK Krylia Sovetov club legend Valerian Panfilov was present for the unveiling of the sculptures and handed out awards to the most active volunteers and participants in the art project.
People in Rostov-on-Don now know exactly how far it is to the other Russia 2018 destinations, after a special road sign marked with the distances to the other Host Cities was erected in Soviet Square. Designed in Rostov's signature style, the sign is meant to portray the unity between all the Host Cities in the build-up to the World Cup and become a new tourist attraction. Prospective volunteers from Rostov Oblast also organised a “500 days” flashmob, using their bodies to spell out the figure “500” and releasing light-emitting air balloons in the colours of the Russian flag into the sky. Other festive events around the theme of football, like relay races and quizzes, were organised in parks in Rostov-on-Don to mark 500 days to the start of the World Cup.
The first Russia 2018-branded bus was revealed in Saransk during the celebrations. The vehicle depicts the World Cup's Official Mascot Zabivaka™, the city's symbol of a fox and local landmarks Aleksandr Nevsky Chapel and the Cathedral of St. Theodore Ushakov. Media officials and representatives from two Volunteer Centres were the first passengers on the bus, which made three stops on its debut journey: two by new hotels being constructed for Russia 2018 and the third near Mordovia Arena. Some volunteers also organised their own flashmob, lighting up the windows at Mordovia State University to spell “500”.
Volgograd had their own unique take on the countdown clock, designing a sand timer with the hashtag #500days_to_go. The clock began counting during the city's volunteer forum, organised to coincide with the 500-day milestone to the start of the tournament. Now we can say with total confidence that Russia 2018 is getting closer than ever.