by James Ellingworth, The Associated Press, May 10, 2018
MOSCOW (AP) — Visiting Sochi is a mouthwatering prospect for World Cup fans, with beaches, blue skies and arguably the best game in the group stage.
Portugal and Spain meet on June 15 in Sochi, which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics and is a top Russian tourist destination.
The legacy of the estimated $50 billion spent on those Sochi Games is a variety of tourist options. Fans will be able to relax in the beach bars of Adler, a town near the stadium, or hike in the mountains above the city.
Here's what you need to know about one of the 11 host cities in Russia:
The 48,000-seat Fisht Stadium was built to host the lavish opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 Olympics. Ironically, in light of the later doping scandals, the Russian team entered the opening ceremony to a song entitled "Not Gonna Get Us."
Since then, it's been largely empty apart from hosting occasional friendlies and a Russian Cup final. The local club team, FC Sochi, withdrew from the league at the end of the 2016-17 season, though officials are hopeful of setting up a replacement team so the stadium doesn't lie empty.
WHAT TO KNOW
World Cup organizers are offering free train tickets to fans, but it will be a stretch to get to Sochi, with many services taking more than 30 hours from Moscow. Long train journeys are a Russian tradition — and a good way to meet locals — but you would miss out on watching World Cup games.
Sochi was conquered in the 19th century by the Russian army, which drove out most of the native Circassian people. Later on, it became famous as the site of sanatoriums for the sick, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's summer house and most recently the Olympics.
WHAT TO DO
If you're flying into Sochi airport, you will probably have no need to go to the main city of Sochi, 24 kilometers (15 miles) up the road.
Instead, the area around the Olympic Park is packed with hotels, and the neighboring suburb of Adler has long beaches with cafes and bars. The Caucasus Mountains above Sochi are big hits with hikers in summer and skiers in winter.
In an unusual twist, the laboratory at the center of Russia's Olympic doping scheme is now a bar with doping-themed cocktails.
WHAT TO WATCH
Sochi will host six matches during the World Cup, starting with Spain and Portugal on June 15 in Group B.
Belgium will take on Panama in Group G on June 18, and defending champion Germany will then arrive to play Sweden in Group F on June 23.
The final group match will be between Australia and Peru on June 26 in Group C.
In the latter stages, there will be a round of 16 game on June 30 and a quarterfinal match on July 7.
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