by James Ellingworth, The Associated Press, May 3, 2018
MOSCOW (AP) — The 11 World Cup cities — all in European Russia — don't always reflect the diversity of a country with dozens of native ethnic groups. With its largely Muslim population and distinctive local culture, Kazan offers a different perspective.
With Germany, France and Spain all visiting in the group stage, fans will get to see some of Europe's biggest stars.
Here's what you need to know about one of the 11 host cities in Russia:
The 45,000-seat Kazan Arena has a flowing, elegant design and was Russia's most modern stadium when it opened five years ago. Going from the city center, it's on the other side of the Kazanka river (a Volga tributary), so public transport is recommended.
It hosted the 2015 world swimming championships in a temporary pool to capacity crowds, but has been barely 20 percent full on average for Rubin Kazan's league games this season.
WHAT TO KNOW
Kazan, an hour and a half flight east of Moscow, is a city which wears its religion lightly but has intense pride in the culture of the local Tatar ethnic group.
There's a mosque behind the walls of the historic Kazan Kremlin, but the city center abounds with bars and other nightlife. Occasionally you might hear the Tatar language — similar to Russian — spoken on the street.
Rubin Kazan's exploits winning the Russian league title — and beating Barcelona at Camp Nou in 2009 — gave Kazan some soccer history. Expect locals to cheer Rubin forward Sardar Azmoun when Iran takes on Spain.
WHAT TO DO
The central Baumanskaya street is pedestrianized and has many of Kazan's bars, restaurants and historic buildings. The white walls of the Kazan Kremlin are a short walk away.
Local Tatar cuisine is great for fans of pastries, pies and stews, plus some honey desserts.
Games will be shown on a big screen near the Family Center — just look for a giant bowl-shaped building on the riverfront. Fans can relax at artificial beaches along the Volga River, but swimming isn't recommended.
GAMES TO SEE
Kazan will host six matches, staring with a Group C game between France and Australia on June 16.
Spain and Iran meet in Group B on June 20, before Poland takes on Colombia on June 24 in a match between the two top-ranked teams in Group H.
The reigning world champions visit on June 27 when Germany plays South Korea in Group F.
Kazan will also host two knockout games — one game in the round of 16 on June 30 and a quarterfinal match on July 6.
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