Zenit Arena, St Petersburg’s new 68,000-capacity 2018 Fifa World Cup venue, has received mixed reviews after finally hosting its first match 10 years after construction began.
The venue – also known as the Krestovsky Stadium – on Friday staged a Russian Premier League game between permanent tenant Zenit St Petersburg and visitors Ural Yekaterinburg. It is a full decade since ground was first broke on the project.
The venue has come under heavy criticism after a series of incidents delayed its opening, including a number of corruption cases and workers’ deaths. Zenit Arena is now expected to host games at this summer’s Confederations Cup, having already passed a Fifa inspection, including the final. It will also stage seven matches at next year’s World Cup, including a semi-final.
The Associated Press news agency reported that several issues were also apparent at the opening game. The stadium was only partially full as organisers opted against opening the top tier, while the playing field appeared to be in poor condition, with large brown patches and chunks of the pitch coming loose during the match.
The quality of the pitch has been the subject of much criticism, as the grass on the first field had to be replaced after it died. Several sources blamed the incident on a lack of light, as the stadium’s retractable roof has often been closed and a mechanism to move the playing surface outside is not yet in use.
Zenit St Petersburg won the game 2-0, while visiting side Ural ended the match with just eight men, after having three players sent off.
Earlier this year Aleksander Ceferin, president of European football’s governing body, Uefa, said Zenit Arena has the potential to be one of the top venues in Europe.
“I am sure that when it is ready, it will be one of the top arenas in Europe,” Ceferin said. “At Uefa, we all know all about the atmosphere at the Stadion Petrovski (the 21,000-capacity facility currently used to stage football matches in Saint Petersburg) and I am sure that the new stadium will be even more impressive for fans and players alike.”