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‘I understand the difficulties’: Putin backs Qatar for World Cup 2022, says Euro 2020 games in Russia highlight ‘return to normal’

The city will host the first of its seven matches in the tournament next Saturday, when Russia play top-ranked Belgium before also facing Finland on Wednesday in Group B.

While Covid-19 restrictions remain in place, Russia are expected to be fervently backed by much of the crowd of more than 30,000 that will be allowed to attend the Gazprom Arena, which will also host matches between Slovakia, Poland and Sweden as well as Finland against Belgium and a quarterfinal.

“Despite the challenges presented by the global pandemic, life is gradually returning to normal,” said Putin in his closing remarks at the International Economic Forum in the city.

“To reiterate, our meeting in St Petersburg is a case in point. Next week, St. Petersburg will be hosting matches of the 2021 UEFA European championship which is getting underway.”

Putin publicly wished Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the monarch of Qatar, a happy birthday after he turned 41, calling him “our great friend.”

“Our best wishes to you, Your Highness,” he added. “I am confident that Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup 2022 with great success.

“Such major events and forums truly unite and bring people from different countries closer.”

The World Cup has not been without controversies, including the switch to a winter tournament for the first time in history and protests from high-profile players over reported human rights abuses.

Having been part of the successful World Cup in Russia in 2018, Putin has an insight into the organization needed to host football’s most prestigious showpiece.

“The preparation of Qatar for the World Cup is becoming more and more important,” he told Qatar News Agency General Director Youssef Ibrahim Abdulrahman Al-Maliki.

“I spoke with Emir and I understand the difficulties that Qatar is facing – I mean regional problems as well as problems in relation to the pandemic, as well as other problems that need special attention.

“From our side, we will do anything necessary to support our friends in Qatar to help them to prepare for this important global event.”

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