Matches: Group Stage x 4, Last 16 x 1, QF x 1
flight time from moscow: 1h 40m
Stadium: COSMOS Arena
Local Team: FC Krylia sovetov
Fun Fact: The city was the nucleus of the Soviet space race and closed to foreigners between 1960 and 1991.
Samara’s World Cup project is ambitious. Construction is everywhere, from new hotels and roads to the 45,000-seater stadium. But the city played a key role in the Soviet space race, supplying vast quantities of rocket parts, and is no stranger to realising ambitious dreams.
In both name and design, the new Cosmos Arena is a tribute to the city’s achievements in space, rising out of the trees in the forest near Samara like an enormous UFO. One of the city’s World Cup ambassadors is Oleg Kononenko, a famous astronaut.
Of course, Samara has more to shout about that just its involvement in space industry. During the summer months, the River Volga becomes the central attraction, with five kilometres of official sandy beach running along the shore.
A long beachside promenade is full of joggers, cyclists and roller skaters, while sunbathers bask in the heat on the sand below. In the evenings, long sunsets fill the streets with a warm glow that rises up the hill towards the centre of town.
The Fan Zone will be in Kuybysheva Square, the largest square in Russia, which will hold 35,000 people. As well as having plenty of restaurants nearby, the square is also home to the opera and ballet theatre of Samara, perfect for those looking for a cultural break from the football.
The local team, FC Krylia Sovetov, is well-supported and especially popular among travelling away fans, who often combine the trip with a visit to Samara’s Zhiguli brewery. Visitors can bring their own plastic bottles to fill up with the local nectar.
The club were relegated to the second division in 2017, but are confident of using the new stadium to bounce back to the top flight and beyond. Much like the local organisers, the club’s ambition is strong.
The Cosmos Arena is a little out of town, which fans should bear in mind, but the setting is beautiful, with rolling hills and national parks extending to the horizon. The brand new airport is a little further out of town and Moscow is only a short flight away.