Confederations Cup Diary: It's all Greek to Achilles the cat as Kazan offers a sweet welcome

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The four-year wait is over (yes, it really has been that long): the Confederations Cup 2017 is under way at last.

Russia are eager for the tournament to be seen as more than a mere proving ground for next year's World Cup, while simultaneously using it to prove to FIFA and the watching world that 2018 hopefuls have nothing to worry about. It's a tough balancing act.

Amid ceremonies, speeches and actual football going ahead on day one - all the things organisers like to show off at these events - there have already been some more amusing and no less memorable moments across the four host cities.

Omnisport's team on the ground will be compiling the pick of these stories every day between now and July 2. The first batch includes traditional Tatar fare in Kazan and a certain (soon-to-be) celebrity feline...

 

THE GLADIATOR WATCHES ON AS RUSSIA HOPE FOR MAXIMUS LIFT-OFF

The first thing you notice when approaching the impressive Spartak Stadium is the huge statue guarding the entrance.

It is of gladiator Spartacus, who led a slave uprising against the Roman Republic and was the inspiration behind the naming of Spartak Moscow - the people's team - by founder Nikolai Starostin in 1935.

It also serves as a fitting reminder at the start of the 2017 Confederations Cup, and the World Cup in 12 months' time, of the need for Stanislav Cherchesov's men to give the Russian people some hope over the next fortnight.

A dismal showing will do little to dispel the theory this is one of the worst Russian teams in recent years. A positive display and a run to at least the semi-finals will provide a welcome boost ahead of the world showpiece next year.

"What we do in life echoes in eternity" says Russell Crowe in one of many quotable speeches from the movie Gladiator. Russia is watching...


FANS WON'T WANT THE EXTRA BAGGAGE AT THE WORLD CUP

The Confederations Cup is, essentially, a test event ahead of World Cup 2018.

It is to be hoped the half-finished infrastructure surrounding the four venues in use, in particular the Spartak Stadium in Moscow, is finished in time.

It would also be useful for the fans that will congregate in Russia having travelled vast distances that baggage issues are resolved over the next 12 months.

Of the 11-strong Omnisport team in Russia for the Confeds, over half - including all three in Moscow - saw their luggage fail to arrive as scheduled. It may be good for the local economy in the short term as new toiletries and clothes are hurriedly purchased but it will do little to encourage positive PR from fans and the world's scribes in 2018.
 

THE LITTLE PEA'S LOOKING A LITTLE RUSTY

Javier Hernandez didn't have the finest couple of months in preparation for this tournament. Injury problems saw him in and out of the Bayer Leverkusen side and he only scored once in his last seven Bundesliga appearances of the season.

The striker looks to have shaken off any muscle worries and appeared sprightly when Mexico held their pre-game training session at Kazan Arena prior to their opening game against Portugal.

That said, his first touch during one particular quick-passing drill left a little to be desired. If Juan Carlos Osorio's side are to surprise the European champions, they might need a little more composure...


A TASTE OF TATARSTAN

One sure-fire way to win the admiration of reporters around the world is through the offer of free stuff. Throw in elegant locals in traditional attire and the chance to pile said free stuff on a plate to your heart's content, and you've got one happy press room.

That was the greeting on offer at Kazan Arena on Saturday, 24 hours ahead of Portugal's clash with Mexico, the stadium's first of four matches in these finals. The city is the proud capital of the Republic of Tatarstan and made sure there was a local flavour to the media centre.

Six ladies dressed in traditional garb of the region posed for photographs, and if the sartorial splendour wasn't enough, there was a selection of local sweet cakes to try, including the fabled 'chak chak' (a kind of deep-fried honey cake).

A welcome fit for a Romanov at the Tournament of Champions.


ACHILLES - HEEL!

Move over Paul the octopus and Mani the parakeet - there's a new player in the prophetic animal game.

Russia's very own Confederations Cup oracle, Achilles the deaf cat, made his debut on Saturday at a ceremony at the St Petersburg Hermitage Museum.

It is claimed that the feline's natural ability "to choose and analyse", coupled with the fact that he cannot be distracted by sounds from elsewhere, make him the perfect exponent of this most bizarre of tournament rituals, in which he must predict the winners of a match by selecting a certain bowl of food.

His first appearance succeeded only by a whisker, though. Achilles needed some coaxing before showing interest in the bowls marked with the flags of Russia and New Zealand, and although he did eventually suggest a preference for a win for the home side, he didn't actually eat anything.

Perhaps he was hinting at a draw; maybe it was just a paws for thought over (just about correct) guess. Either way, a place alongside Paul in the predictor Pantheon is no guarantee just yet.