By David Owen
January 30 – Twenty years have passed since I was dispatched on one of those hardship assignments: a visit to L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Pâtisserie in a quiet little town noted for its brioches in La France profonde.
I remember being impressed by a Citroën 2CV, made entirely of chocolate, just inside the entrance. But it was what had put the establishment in the news that really intrigued me: the school was the chosen 1998 World Cup base of the football team from the Islamic Republic of Iran, who had qualified for the tournament thanks to Khodadad Azizi’s “goal of joy”.
Since then, I have taken a keen interest in where the various World Cup qualifiers will be staying – and now a Russian Football News piece has provided extensive details for the teams competing in this year’s competition.
The 32 are to be scattered around the western side of the vast host-nation, from Saint Petersburg in the north to Sochi in the south. The biggest cluster of nine – including fancied teams such as France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal and Argentina – is around the capital Moscow. Holders Germany will be using CSKA’s training facilities south-west of the city. Mexico will be at Novogorsk, like the hosts, with Peru, apparently, in the Sheraton opposite Sheremetyevo airport.
Iran, somewhat disappointingly, have this time eschewed any connection with cakes and will instead be based at Lokomotiv’s centre west of Moscow.
England is one of four teams – the others being Croatia, Costa Rica and South Korea – who have plumped for sites in the northern city of Saint Petersburg, while Serbia will be in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave tucked between Poland and Lithuania.
To the south, the Black Sea resorts of Krasnodar Krai and Sochi, the Winter Olympic city, have been in demand, with the former chosen by Sweden, Denmark and Iceland, and the latter hosting South American giants Brazil, along with Poland.
Three countries – Australia, Colombia and Japan – will be in Kazan, capital of Tatarstan, with Uruguay opting for Nizhny Novgorod. Saudi Arabia is expected to be near Rostov-on-Don.
The most eye-catching choice highlighted by Russian Football News is that of Egypt, who should have stars such as Liverpool’s Mo Salah and Mohamed El Neny of Arsenal at their disposal. They are said to be staying in Grozny.
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