A lot goes into the planning and execution of a World Cup, not least the building, renovation, and preparation of the stadiums and infrastructure that will host hundreds of thousands of fans during the month-long tournament.
Unlike other host countries such as South Africa in 2010 and Qatar in 2022, Russia is already home to a handful of large clubs such as Zenit Saint Petersburg and Spartak Moscow, and hosted a Champions League final in 2008. That means that, while a number of new stadiums have been built or renovated for 2018, there was already a decent measure of infrastructure and football pedigree in place for this year’s host.
Still, modernization and expansions were necessary, as FIFA has stringent rules on how big stadiums need to be for certain stages of the World Cup, and all stadiums must meet safety requirements. After years of preparation, Russia now has 12 state-of-the-art stadiums ready to host the world’s biggest sporting event. Here they are in more detail.
Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
Opened: 1956 (reopened after renovations in 2017)
Notable Matches: Russia vs. Saudi Arabia (June 14), Germany vs. Mexico (June 17), Denmark vs. France (June 26), last 16 (July 1), semi-final (July 11), final (July 15)
Editor’s Notes: The largest stadium in Russia, the Luzhniki is a few miles southwest of Moscow city center and has hosted high-profile matches already, including the 2008 Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea. This summer it will become the fifth stadium to have hosted the final of the World Cup, Champions League, and featured as the main stadium of the Summer Olympics.
Spartak Stadium, Moscow
Notable Matches: Argentina vs. Iceland (June 16), Serbia vs. Brazil (June 27), last 16 (July 3)
Editor’s Notes: Situated in northwest Moscow near the banks of the River Moskva, Spartak Stadium is home to Russian club giant Spartak Moscow and features hundreds of tessellated red and white diamond panels on its exterior, a reference to the club’s crest and colors. While normally red and white, the diamonds can be changed to reflect the teams playing.
Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
Notable Matches: Argentina vs. Croatia (June 21), last 16 (July 1), quarter-final (July 6)
Editor’s Notes: Approximately 260 miles east of Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod (literally “lower new city” — zero points for creativity there) is a city of 1.25 million people on the River Volga. This stadium’s circular design is inspired by wind and water. When lit up at night, it creates a beautiful effect that aerial TV cameras will be looking to capture.
Mordovia Arena, Saransk
Notable Matches: Peru vs. Denmark (June 16), Colombia vs. Japan (June 19), Iran vs. Portugal (June 25)
Editor’s Notes: Like Nizhny Novgorod’s, this stadium was built especially for the World Cup. But unlike Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Mordovia Arena will host a club side after the World Cup is finished — albeit lowly second-tier Mordovia Saransk. To reflect that, the stadium’s 44,000 capacity will be brought down to 28,000 after the World Cup by removing the upper tier and turning it into a walking concourse.
Kazan Arena, Kazan
Notable Matches: France vs. Australia (June 16), South Korea vs. Germany (June 27), last 16 (June 30), quarter-final (July 6)
Editor’s Notes: Home to Russian Premier League team Rubin Kazan, Kazan Arena was designed by Populous, the same architecture firm that oversaw the new Wembley and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in London. In 2015, the stadium played host to the World Aquatics Championships, during which two swimming pools replaced the football field. Soccer being soccer, however, we can still expect plenty of dives this year.
Samara Arena, Samara
Notable Matches: Denmark vs. Australia (June 21), Uruguay vs. Russia (June 25), last 16 (July 2), quarter-final (July 7)
Editor’s Notes: If you think this stadium looks like it wouldn't be out of place on Mars, that’s the idea. The Samara Arena was designed around the theme of space to reflect Samara’s history as the home of Soviet and Russian rocket-building. Once the World Cup is over, the stadium will be rebranded the Cosmos Arena and become home to local side Krylia Sovetov (or: “wings of the Soviets”).
Ekaterinburg Arena, Ekaterinburg
Opened: 1956 (temporary stands and roof installed for 2018)
Notable Matches: Egypt vs. Uruguay (June 15), France vs. Peru (June 21), Mexico vs. Sweden (June 27)
Editor’s Notes: Despite being the easternmost host city at the World Cup, Ekaterinburg is still some 3,000 miles from Vladivostok at Russia’s eastern tip. Big, big country. With a capacity of 28,000, FC Ural’s stadium was initially too small for use at the World Cup, so temporary stands have been erected behind the goals outside the stadium’s usual footprint, creating an unusual finished appearance.
Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg
Notable Matches: Russia vs. Egypt (June 19), Brazil vs. Costa Rica (June 22), Nigeria vs. Argentina (June 26), last 16 (July 3), semi-final (July 10), third-place play-off (July 14)
Editor’s Notes: Construction of Zenit Arena, as it is more commonly known, started in 2007 and was due to be completed in 2009. However, countless delays — including a redesign to comply with FIFA requirements — and controversies meant it was only completed in 2017. Architect Kisho Kurokawa designed the stadium as an enlarged version of his Toyota Stadium in Toyota, Japan. Zenit Arena is one of the most technologically advanced stadiums in the world, featuring a sliding pitch and retractable roof.
Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
Notable Matches: Croatia vs. Nigeria (June 16), Spain vs. Morocco (June 25), England vs. Belgium (June 28)
Editor’s Notes: Kaliningrad Stadium, located in the Russian exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, is loosely based on the design of Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena. It was initially supposed to be a 45,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof. However, budget issues and the bankruptcy of Mostovik, the company responsible for building it, meant that expectations and the final result had to be scaled back.
Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
Notable Matches: Tunisia vs. England (June 18), Nigeria vs. Iceland (June 22), Japan vs. Poland (June 28)
Editor’s Notes: This stadium is located in the city once known as Stalingrad, on the western bank of the River Volga. After the World Cup, the stadium’s capacity will be reduced to 35,000 and become the new home of second-tier club Rotor Volgograd.
Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
Notable Matches: Brazil vs. Switzerland (June 17), South Korea vs. Mexico (June 23), Iceland vs. Croatia (June 26), last 16 (July 2)
Editor’s Notes: During construction, which began in 2013, five near-perfectly preserved World War II-era shells were found at the building site, causing a slight delay in completion. This is another stadium that will have its capacity reduced (to 25,000) after the World Cup. FC Rostov, which won the Russian Cup in 2014, will take over the stadium once the tournament is over.
Fisht Stadium, Sochi
Notable Matches: Portugal vs. Spain (June 15), Germany vs. Sweden (June 23), last 16 (June 30), quarter-final (July 7)
Editor’s Notes: This stadium in the resort town of Sochi has already been in the international spotlight as the centerpiece of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The arena, which has been modified for the World Cup, is named after nearby Mt. Fisht (“white head”) and, like Kazan Arena, was also designed by Populous, which wanted it to look like a snow-capped mountain peak.
Which of the stadiums is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.