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CONNECT THE WORLD

Canada, USA and Mexico Selected at 2026 Hosts for FIFA World Cup; Spain Names Former Real Madrid Captain as New Manager; Saudi Arabia Train with La Liga Ahead of Tournament; Trump Says North Korea No Longer a Nuclear Threat; World Cut Kicks Off with Russia VS Saudi Arabia; Saudi Led Forces Attack Key Rebel-Held Port in Yemen. Aired 11-12n ET

Aired June 13, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00] BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Like a roaring bonfire of brick and color jumping to the sky, the glowing domes of St. Basil's cathedral

shining above Moscow for 500 years, right behind me in Russia's grand capital. The Kremlin, Lenin's mausoleum, all here too. In a place that

has been the stage for revolutions, communism and triumphant in this immense land. And that is why CONNECT THE WORLD as we connect you to

Russia. Writing a new page in its incredible history. In just 24 hours from now, hosting its first ever World Cup. I am Becky Anderson in the

beautiful Red Square. A very warm welcome to you.

And so, we begin this hour with a tale of two World Cups and multiple cities. One of those tournaments is of course, right here and almost right

now. The fans, footballers and officials preparing for kickoff in Russia this time on Thursday. The other is on the other side of the world and the

better part of a decade away. In the past few hours, we found out who will host the World Cup in 2026.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The member associations of Canada, Mexico and USA have been selected by the FIFA congress to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Thank

you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Donald Trump has added his congratulations to that joint bid, which beat Morocco. And there's been even more drama. You are looking at

the pictures of Spain's new manager. Fernando Hierro, he replaces Julen Lopetegui, who was sacked after the news he would take over Real Madrid

next season.

So, there is a lot of football and who better to get started right in then CNN's "WORLD SPORT", Alex Thomas. And Alex, two stories dominating the

headlines been for North America. Football will be coming home to coin a lyric. The tournament will be hosted there by the USA, Canada and Mexico

eight years from now. A fitting tribute to a good campaign?

ALEX THOMAS, CNN WORLD SPORT: Yes, they ran a very good campaign. And in 1994, they hosted alone. And now they'll be joined by their neighboring

nations Canada and Mexico. An interesting time for that decision to be made considering diplomatic relations between those three countries right

now. The bid team very adamant. They wanted to keep politics out of it. They were successful doing that, and that's one of many reasons why the

FIFA members across the world voted for them, and the other of course, being money. They are promising an $11 billion profit windfall for FIFA at

a time when really, they are looking to replenish their coffers. There's no doubt about that. We've been speaking to the head of U.S. soccer,

Carlos Cordeiro, about whether the Trump factor actually -- unlike Morocco claims, saying it was in their favor -- maybe played in United bid's favor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARLOS CORDEIRO, U.S. SOCCER PRESIDENT: Well look, a tournament of this size, you're talking about 48 teams, 80 matches, you know, over 1,000

players, millions of fans requires a degree of coordination and cooperation across three governments. It requires a huge amount of work. And at the

end of the day, we're very grateful for the support we got from our administration just overnight. We got word of a unanimous resolution that

was passed by the Senate, bipartisan. We had something similar from the House a few weeks ago, and yes, terrific cooperation from the White House,

from the President, and all his team. And we wouldn't have been in this position today requiring the guarantees we need to host an event of this

magnitude without that support.

THOMAS: Should all three host nations get automatic places in that 2026 World Cup in your opinion?

CORDEIRO: As you know, this is a decision that is ultimately made by FIFA, it's their tournament, not ours. We are host. We think that insofar that

this is very important for the grass roots for all three countries. That yes, all three countries will be given an automatic bid, but this decision

will be taken in time by FIFA.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: I mean, actually, there's the scope. Isn't there? It's about Canada, USA and Mexico, three host slots. It's going to be an expanded 48

team World Cup for the first time.

ANDERSON: Amazing. In many ways, of course, this was not unexpected, this result. FIFA's evaluation report. Let's bring that up for the viewers.

It deems several of Morocco's critical components for the bid to be too high risk.

[11:05:00] Leaving the United bid, as it's called, it clear front runner in four out of five of the key criteria, as you can see here. And there's

something significant about the manner in which this bid was won. After the controversial awarding of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to Russia and

Qatar. FIFA, Alex, had promised to be more open and more transparent with its vote this time. Did they manage that?

THOMAS: Well, it's certainly transparent from the point of view, for the first time you get to see which bid every country voted for. Previously it

was an old-fashioned write it down on a piece of paper and no one knows what you've done. And that way votes can be promised to bid and then the

person could change their mind once they get in the ballot box, so to speak. This way, it's better. If you promise somebody a vote, it's for

proper reasons because know that they'll be able to check further down the line.

ANDERSON: You can see who vote for whom, right.

THOMAS: Yes, and there weren't that many surprises really, Brazil, France, Italy, the Netherlands, countries that may be voted out of context with

their neighboring nations. Spain interestingly, so close to Morocco geographically, abstained from the vote completely. One of three nations

to do that. Pretty much a lot of African countries, not all voted for morocco. They didn't get enough votes from Asia and Europe.

ANDERSON: Let's talk about this World Cup which starts literally 24 hours from now when we sit here tomorrow hosting a special show between the two

of us, it will be kickoff. One of our favorites, Spain, not the favorite, one of the favorites, kind of a shock in its camp today. It's a shocker.

Tell us why.

THOMAS: Yes, we thought the shock might come to that in 2026, but instead the gasps whatever the news that came through as we waited for the vote

announcement. And that was Spain sacking Julen Lopetegui who's gone 20 games on beating run with Spain since taking over as coach from Vicente del

Bosque. Vicente del Bosque was the man that actually took Spain to that World Cup win in South Africa in 2010. Part of a period when Spain

dominated winning two European championships either side of that World Cup.

So, they were back again here being big favorites to win this tournament. So many good players from giant clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona. I

think it was Lopetegui that announced this week, he was going to replace the outgoing Zinedine Zidane as Real Madrid boss. Zidane stepping down

after that third successful Champions League win. OK, that seems fine. Then the Spanish, they say, Julen, you gave us five minutes notice, didn't

tell us. The President of the Spanish Football Association was furious, left Moscow here, where he was due to go to congress. Flew to the Spain

camp, fired Lopetegui. Despite the players saying, oh no, please don't. I'm furious because I had Spain in the office sweepstake.

ANDERSON: Well, the mood on the ground -- thank you, Alex, his jubilant fans singing and dancing. Genuinely getting ready for the football, and so

they should be. But of course, you really can't escape international tensions. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is praising FIFA for keeping

-- and I quote him, sports outside politics. But as always, politics leak in as our Fred Pleitgen now reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The flags and banners are up, and Moscow is sending a clear message, Russia

is ready and excited for the World Cup to begin. The head of the parliamentary committee for sports telling me everything is ready to go.

We want this World Cup to be a celebration of soccer for the whole world, and we want to use the tournament's legacy to develop sports in our

country, he says. The way we will host the cup will be the gold standard for such events by every measure.

But internationally, the World Cup vibe seems tainted by Russia's recent altercations with Western nations. Both the Netherlands and Australia

recently officially blamed Russia for the 2014 shootdown of a civilian airliner. And Britain and other Western countries kicked out dozens of

Russian diplomats for the poisoning of former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter. Using the military grade nerve agent Novichok in the

middle of an English town. Russia vehemently denies it was behind either of the incidents. But Russian politicians like Mikhail Degtyarev, warn

against politicizing the biggest event in world sports.

We in Russia always say that sports and politics must be separated, he says. Sports must unite people, not divide them, and if there are tensions

among politicians they must put them aside.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Well, politics and sports don't exist in a vacuum, we all know that. And that is the reality facing Iran right now. U.S. firm Nike says

it can't supply boots to the country's team because of new U.S. sanctions on the country, and Iran's friendlies with Greece and Kosovo have also been

canceled, denying it valuable warm-ups ahead of the tournament.

Well none of that seems to have dampen the mood of the Iranian fans here. They've been out and about. We've seen them on the streets of Moscow.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen whose report you saw just moments ago, has found himself some Iranian fans to speak to.

[11:10:01] We've been talking, Fred, about the interplay of politics and soccer or football. What are some of the fans there telling you about all

of that?

PLEITGEN: Hi, Becky. Well, I think most of the Iranian fans here -- you are absolutely right, we are amazed at how many Iranians seem to be on the

streets of Moscow. I mean, we've seen people from many nations, but the Iranian flags do seem to stand out in the crowd, so there are many of them

here. I think for many of the Iranian fans for them they really want to leave politics behind for the time that this World Cup is on and hope that

their team really performs. As you can see, we have Iranian fans here.

What's your name again sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mohsen (ph).

PLEITGEN: Mohsen, how are you? Good to meet you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good, nice to meet you.

PLEITGEN: So, tell me, how do you think your team is going to perform? Because they are in a really, really difficult group, aren't they?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes, this for sure is going to be very difficult groups. We have three games, the first one is going to be with Morocco.

That one we have a chance to get a win or the second one is going to be with Spain and then the last one is going to be with Portuguese. Also, we

wish to get very good games and then get to the next level.

PLEITGEN: How big is the excitement in Iran and here among the fans?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iranian loved soccer, and that's just one -- I mean, it's going to be one of the first sports, peoples like it in Iran, that's

very popular, and also Iranians very excited right now to get to see the champion from the TV, a lot of Iranians in Russia right now. It's going to

be great. It's going to be awesome.

PLEITGEN: Best of luck to you team, best of luck to you guys. And have a good time in Russia.

Becky, the Iranians, they have been doing a lot to try and prepare for the tournament as you know. But for them it has been quite difficult. I was

in Tehran very recently, and I spoke to Iran's national coach, Carlos Queiroz, and he told me about some of the excitement in Iran. He told me

about some of his work but --

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Away from the hustle and bustle of the Iranian capital, Tehran, the country's national football team calmly gets ready for

the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Iran pretty much cruised to Russia, finishing its qualification campaign undefeated. And the team fifth appearance at the

World Cup is also the first time its qualified four back to back finals. But Iran has never managed to advance beyond the group phase and doing so

this year means finishing above two of Portugal, Spain and Morocco in Group B. For Carlos Queiroz, Iran's revered head coach, that's no easy task.

(on camera): What do you think is the realistic expectation for your team?

CARLOS QUEIROZ, IRAN'S HEAD FOOTBALL COACH: The expectation is to fight for our position in the second round. The reality is it's very simple and

telling one thing. We go there, with only two results. We only can win or learn.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): For many football fans, Queiroz is known for his work alongside the legendary Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. And his

brief stint as the manager for Real Madrid. But the Portuguese is no stranger to the World Cup either. He's previously taken Portugal and South

Africa to the finals as well as leading Iran to the 2014 tournament in Brazil and now in Russia.

(on camera): How do you think this team compares to the 2014 team? Because that was already a very, very good team. What you have guys

improved now? Where do you think you stand now?

QUEIROZ: I think this team is more adventurous. The team from Brazil was more possible and more solid, more mature players with different experience

in the game. Even players more older. This team is more adventure, because we have young and fresh team. So, you have talents with fresh legs

you can expect everything.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Young talents like Sardar Azmoun, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, or Karim Ansarifard all of whom have had successful seasons

playing outside of Iran.

(on camera): What do you tell them, so they don't choke also on the field? You know, sometimes you can be star struck.

QUEIROZ: When you play again all these great players, those skills, they talk when the games start, second by second, ball by ball, action by

action, we need to fight for everything and always try to do the best. Again, only God knows the results.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Despite the tough draw and the long odds, Iran fans are looking forward to cheering on TeamMelli this June. And should they

achieve the impossible they'll advance to the sudden death phase of the competition where anything could happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: One of the interesting things that Carlos Queiroz also said, he said look, on the one hand, yes, it's an uphill battle for the Iranians,

but he also believes that none of the teams really want to play Iran. They are a tough team to play again. So, Iranian fans looking forward to

things. I think everybody's looking forward to the World Cup beginning tomorrow.

[11:15:00] Again, best of luck to you guys. Thank you for being on. And, Becky, I think we will have a great World Cup.

ANDERSON: That's right. And I'm going to see you a little later this hour. Thank you for that. There is more representation, folks, from MENA,

The Middle East and North Africa, at this World Cup than ever before. And if you are a regular viewer of this show, you'll know that we are normally

from Abu Dhabi. So that fact, more teams from MENA than any other World Cup is really important for us. Well, Iran is not the only regional

heavyweight presence here in Russia. Saudi Arabia has also qualified and is playing in the opening game against Russia. Ahead of the tournament the

Green Falcons, as they are known, actually sent some of their players to train in the Spanish La Liga.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED SAUDI FOOTBALL PLAYER (through translator): The experience has been successful. Everything I learned here in Spain will be reflected

in the games I play moving forward.

ANDERSON (voice-over): This year marks Saudi's return to the World Cup after a 12-year absence in a group Russia, Egypt and Uruguay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Much more on that Saudi team and its preparations. Still ahead also this hour. You can sleep well tonight. Because the North Korean

nuclear threat is over. Well, at least that is according to Donald Trump. We'll tell you what he is saying after that historic summit in Singapore.

Don't go away, we are live for you in Moscow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KOREAN CENTRAL TV (through translated text): The top leaders of the two countries came to take their first step towards reconciliation for the

first time in the 70 odd years long history of standoff and antagonism since the division of the Korean Peninsula, and to stand face-to-face at

the venue of dialogue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: The so-called pink lady of North Korea's state-run TV there, heralding the historic summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.

Welcome back. And we are in Moscow's Red Square for you tonight waiting the kickoff of the 2018 World Cup just 24 hours from now.

U.S. President Trump also talking about the World Cup today, and with good reason. FIFA has announced the U.S., Mexico and Canada will jointly host

the 2026 tournament, eight years from now. Mr. Trump tweeted congratulations, a great deal of hard work.

[11:20:00] Trump also speaking out on North Korea, saying after one day of talks with Kim Jong-un, the nuclear threat is over. And we can all sleep

well tonight. A bit of a stretch to put it mildly. Kim agreed only to covey commitment to denuclearize. A commitment North Korea has made and

broken before. In exchange Mr. Trump made a relatively big concession that blind-sided U.S. ally South Korea, agreeing to stop military exercised with

Seoul. My next guest says the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore undeniably deserved the overuse epitaph, historic but White

House reporter and regular guest on this show, Stephen Collinson, says lingering questions remain, not least, Stephen, what Donald Trump actually

got from the summit, and what he gave up in return, correct?

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Becky. The President arrived back on U.S. soil this morning. Orchestrating a huge

propaganda blitz. Basically, saying that this summit was a huge success. That Americans are now able to sleep safely in their beds. What he's

trying to do is make the case that he single-handedly has removed the threat of war on the Korean Peninsula. But if you look at the details of

what happened, as you said, the summit declaration gives a very vague commitment to denuclearization by the North Koreans. Kim Jong-un got a lot

out of the summit and gave very little up, and it's not clear exactly what the U.S. got that it didn't have before Donald Trump headed to Singapore.

ANDERSON: Stephen, Donald Trump taking aim as his favorite punch bag today as the world weighs in fact, of his concessions to North Korea. I know

you've written about those as well. He tweeted that the, quote, fake news, are fighting hard to down play the deal with North Korea adding that,

quote, our country's biggest enemy is the fake news so easily promulgated by fools, he said. Stephen, is that fair to say? Are the media really so

anti-Trump right now that it's hard to appreciate just how great of a job he's doing as he would have us believe?

COLLINSON: No, I think the problem is a lot of the media coverage is orchestrated by the President himself. He'll say something and then it's

the job of journalist to explain that well, this is not exactly the case. The North Korea issue is something that's completely in line with this.

The White House went into this summit saying they were going to get undertakings from North Korea to immediately, irreversibly, verifiably get

rid of their nuclear weapons. The summit fell short of the expectations that Donald Trump had for himself. I think a lot of the media coverage is

pointing this out.

It's true, particularly on the liberal side of the media, there are people who six months ago were castigating the President for using confrontational

fire and fury rhetoric against North Korea. And then now saying, well, he came back from the summit and got nothing, and diplomacy hasn't solved

this. I mean, that's a fair point.

But conversely on the conservative side of the media, you have this massive propaganda operation that's winding up, basically pointing this out as or

portraying this as the biggest success for American diplomacy in decades. Had President Barack Obama gone to meet Kim Jong-un, a reviled dictator,

and come back with basically nothing more he went there with, I don't need to tell you how that would be portrayed in the conservative media. So,

there are lots of double standards. But the fact is that this summit in terms of what it achieved for the United States, did not live up to the

expectations that was set by the President himself and I think that's why he's objecting to a lot of this coverage.

ANDERSON: He'll say that whatever happens next, the fact that this meeting happen at all has been a win for diplomacy. He's made diplomacy great

again, is likely to be his line. It is though dangerous that he is calling the free press America's greatest enemy at this point, isn't it?

COLLINSON: Yes, I mean it happens almost every day but it's still a pretty unbelievable thing for the President to accuse the press of being America's

enemy, given that in one of the earliest parts of the U.S. Constitution that the right to free speech is guaranteed. Having said that, this is

part of what this President does. This is the North Korean summit for him is more of a political exercise then I think it is a geostrategic one.

It's already being used by Trump supporters and people are going to have to run alongside of him on the Republican ticket in the mid-term elections as

proof that this President is a peacemaker.

[11:25:00] He's a great global statesman. He's made Americans safer and he's made more Americans more prosperous. Given the fact that the economy

is going well. So, you can see the formation of this political narrative.

Now the hard stuff happens in the diplomatic sense, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has to sit down with the North Koreans and get the undertakings

for denuclearization that ought to have been negotiated in the run-up to the summit, but which weren't basically because of the President's style of

sort of diplomacy. And that is going to be the real test of this if this period of goodwill and friendship that Donald Trump says he established

with Kim Jong-un can survive what is likely to be an agonizing and frustrating set of diplomatic negotiations going forward.

ANDERSON: Stephen Collinson in Washington. It is 11:25 a.m. there, and keeping us bang up-to-date on news from that, and I am sure keeping one eye

on what is going on out here in Moscow as well. Stephen, thank you for that. You can get a lot more of Stephen's analysis by going to our

website, and there you will find his piece on lingering questions from the summit and what he calls the quote, reality star turned President's most

spectacular made for television event yet. That is CNN.com.

I am Becky Anderson for you in Red Square, and from Red Square to fever pitch. Excitement building here in Russia with the World Cup just 24 hours

away. Everything you need to know in just a moment.

[11:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Dramatic few hours, a dramatic few hours for the world's most popular sport. FIFA has announced that the U.S., Canada and Mexico will be

the host of the 2026 World Cup eight years from now. The joint bid beat Morocco. It's the first time the World Cup will be heading to North

America since it was hosted by the USA back in 1994. I went to that tournament.

But on the eve of this year's event former winner Spain thrown into uncertainty. There manager was sacked after news that he would take over

Real Madrid next season. He has been replaced by Fernando Hierro.

And kickoff fast approaching, 24 hours from now host Russia will begin proceedings as they take on Saudi Arabia. And not far from here is a

stadium where that will all happen at the Luzhniki Stadium. Where the Russia team is gearing up for that match. And "WORLD SPORTS" Amanda Davies

has details on what the host country is up against.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMANDA DAVIS, CNN WORLD SPORT: The last time I was inside here, the Luzhniki stadium was one of my favorite nights as a football fan, watching

Manchester United claim the Champions League in 2008. But it's fair to say that the Russian team and their fans are not expecting anything quite as

historic either in Thursday's opening game against Saudi Arabia. All for their remaining matches in this tournament. This is the Russian side that

hasn't won a match in 2018. They haven't actually won a game since October last year. They dropped down to 70th in the world rankings that makes them

the lowest ranked side in the tournament. And even President Putin has admitted he expect them to struggle. So, that puts this group of players

in the relatively unusual position of being a host nation going into their opening match of a World Cup with relatively little expectation.

ALEKSANDR SAMEDOV, WINGER, RUSSIA NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM (through translator): I believe all of us would really love it if there could be a

bit more positive spirit around our team. But we as footballers, we have to contribute to creating this positive atmosphere, so this would emanate

from the press. And I think we have this chance and will try to demonstrate it at the World Cup.

STANISLAV CHERCHEXOV, MANAGER, RUSSIA NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM (through translator): We are trying to keep doing what we are doing and the fact

that we are getting criticized a bit, well this is a natural thing in the world we live in today. We have to do everything to deserve praise, and

praise is a form of criticism if you really think of it. So, we have to do everything we can to turn criticism into some positive feedback, and I

think we have everything we need to do it.

DAVIS: The good news for Russia and their fans is that they're up against a team in Saudi Arabia, not in that much better a state. They've had three

coaches in three months in the buildup and have not won a game at a World Cup since 1994. It's fair to say it's not expected to be a classic opening

game. We would love to be proved wrong, but the good news, it's the start of 64 matches in 4 1/2 weeks, and that is definitely something to get

excited about. Amanda Davis, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Isn't it just? Isn't it just? All right, we've been following the Green Falcons as the Saudi's are known, as they spent several weeks

training with La Liga. And I'm going to come to that in the moment. I'm joined once again by "WORLD sports", Alex Thomas and Fred Pleitgen back

from Red Square and joining us now.

Before we look at the Saudi team and what will be this first match. Let's just talk as we always do before these tournaments, before we actually get

to the football, about infrastructure and about security. How is Russia geared up for this tournament?

PLEITGEN: Security was a big issue for the Russians. Of course, especially since the Russians have been involved in Syria. They do have

that terror threat that they keep talking about. They say one of their airliners brought down in Egypt. So, I think security is something they

are taking very seriously. Very much so here in Moscow, very much so also in the southern venues, especially around the Rostov and Sochi as well.

So, they do have a lot more police on hand. They have intelligence cooperation even with the Americans. It was a couple weeks ago where they

apparently busted a terror ring they claim in St. Petersburg, with the help of the United States. So, that was big. Infrastructure is a special

one here. The stadiums, I visited a few in the run-up to the World Cup. The stadiums all seemed in great condition, all on track. The one thing

that might be a bit of a concern is the roads leading to those stadiums.

And I think one of the things that the Russians are trying to do is their trying to move a lot of the fans going to these places from the roads to

especially trains and then also by air as well. Because this is such a very big country. Even though we are in the smallest part of that very big

country the distances are so far apart.

[11:35:04] ANDERSON: Yes, or if the traffic is going --

THOMAS: But we say that in previous World Cup. Moscow.

ANDERSON: Yes, I was going say, yes, and traffic is anything like it is in Moscow it stopped. But your right, this is fourth World Cup, right?

THOMAS: Yes.

ANDERSON: How do you think Russia sets up at this point?

THOMAS: Pretty good so far. We went to San Paulo four years ago for the opening game there and I was a piece and the stadium was due a couple days

before them. They were still being things in, you know. I don't think were quite at that stage. Russia is ahead of the game. And also, like

Amanda in her report there. I was last here 10 years ago for that Champions League final when Manchester United beat Chelsea in a torrential

downpour on that evening.

And cafe culture was still relatively new here, although it came in a few years before that. It feels like a different city now. What our viewers

can't see behind us here is the local park, beautifully landscaped with a sort of architectural overhang across the Moscow River. Cafes that you

would expect in any other major European capital. So, it does not feel like the kind of Russia sometimes that's portrayed by us and others in the

media, early days.

PLEITGEN: That's one of the things I have to say from living here, is that the city has really been transformed, not only in the run-up to the World

Cup, but in general. I mean, the amount of cafes, the amount of restaurants, the night life, the quality of a lot of things, of the public

transport. And I know that there were some fans who before the World Cup were, you know, not concerned but sort of looking at what about air travel

in Russia. Because that had kind of a spotty record in the 90s, world- class airlines now.

THOMAS: Tickets sales are way down, and I think maybe --

PLEITGEN: It might be because of that as well. But they really have their act together as far as that is concerned. Especially this city St.

Petersburg, Cusano's is doing really, really well.

ANDERSON: Let's talk about football, then. Because Saudi has gotten some extra practice as a team in Spain ahead of this tournament. Of course, a

reminder once again, at this time tomorrow the first match of this 2018 World Cup will be kicking off and it will be Russia, Saudi Arabia. Some of

the players spent several weeks training with La Liga ahead of the tournament. We caught up with them. Have a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON (voice-over): The Saudi national football team gently go through their paces as they come to the end of a three-week training camp ahead of

the World Cup. The mood is relaxed. A far cry from the cauldron that awaits them on the 14th of June they will play host Russia in the

tournament's opening game at the 81,000 capacity Luzhniki Stadium.

To prepare for the World Cup, nine of Saudi's best players have spent the last four months playing with Spanish La Liga clubs. Midfielder, Salem Al-

Dawsari, was one of them.

SALEM AL-DAWSARI, SAUDI ARABIAN FOOTBALLER (through translator): The experience has been successful. Everything I learned here in Spain will be

reflected in the games I play moving forward.

ANDERSON: This year marks Saudi's return to the World Cup after a 12-year absence in a group of Russia, Egypt and Uruguay. All of these have true

stars in the world game to call upon, like Mohamed Salah and Luis Suarez. Most of the Saudi team are largely unknown beyond the kingdom's domestic

league.

Win or lose the Saudi team will be bolstered by traveling supporters in Russia and millions in front of the television back home. Sport a major

tenor of the kingdom's vision 2030 strategy to boost the economy. Resources and opportunities are being poured into football in Saudi Arabia.

TURKI AL-SHEIKH, HEAD OF GENERAL AUTHORITY FOR SAUDI SPORT: We have been awoken like a Saudi genie. And will achieve results that'll astonish

everyone.

ANDERSON: According to the chairman of the General Sports Authority, Turki Al-Sheikh, the domestic league will be one of the top leagues in the world

by 2020.

No matter what happens we are likely to see more sports participation in the kingdom moving forward, and until then while qualifications from the

group stage, it's probably beyond them. The team heads to Russia with one thing in mind.

OSAMA HAWSA CAPTAIN, SAUDI NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM: We hope you watch us in Russia. And we hope we deliver levels worthy of our country, the kingdom

of Saudi Arabia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: I think the Saudi's being a little ambitious. Suggesting that they will have one of the top footballing leagues in the world by 2020.

But listen, be that as it may, let's get a prediction from somebody who has been making some predictions ahead of this World Cup and will continue to

do so. This is our character from the Middle East. Stand by.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Meet Faro, a two-year-old female Saker Falcon. Who think she's Nostradamus at least when it comes to World Cup football. Well

it's nyet for Saudi Arabia and Russia with love Falcon for this falcon. Russia then to win the opening game.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: And you will see the falcon as we move through our World Cup coverage. For all we know, Alex, that bird is totally right. Who do you

fancy?

THOMAS: Russia will have the edge if they can take that home support and motivate them. I remember France playing the opening game of Euro 2016,

and they looked overwrought, went on to have a good tournament and lost in the final to Portugal. These are the two lowest ranked teams in the whole

competition. Russia the lowest ranked at 70th in a world, on a dreadful run and form. And they need to find something from somewhere. No host is

ever lost in opening match at a World Cup before. That's not a record they want. I think that's basically pointing toward the Saudi Arabia win for

me.

ANDERSON: Why is the Russian team so bad?

PLEITGEN: That's a good question. I think a lot of it has to do with maybe the lack of youth programs here, like the Rio youth programs. I know

that the Germans, for instance, turned their entire youth soccer program around after 2000. They had a horrible European cup. And that's really

made their team stronger. I don't think Russia really has that to that extent.

Even the Poles, for instance, instituted a large youth soccer program before Euro 2012. I think that's one of the big issues. And I am not also

totally sure about the team coherence. I think that's a big problem. They have some pretty good players, individual players. But the team coherence

seems to be an issue. I saw one of their test matches against Argentina, it was a first game at Luzhniki. And they stood up to the Argentinians

quite well. Well, you know being a friendly and all. I think they lost 1- 1-0. It seems that the team coherence, when you look at the passing overall, not really there. I think if they want to win it, they'll have to

fight pretty hard.

ANDERSON: Win the match?

PLEITGEN: Win the match. Start small and then they work forward.

ANDERSON: Yes, we talked about this being your fourth World Cup. How important is it that the host country does well? Because they, you know,

often get through the qualifying.

THOMAS: Historically they have done really well. Because if you look at the results of host nations, compared to their average results, nearly

always -- except maybe Germany and Brazil -- they've done better when they have the home advantage. And that makes sense. South Africa did not get

out of their group in 2010. But nonetheless, the country still partied, had a good time. I think if the Russians are realistic about their team

chances, and they must be by now, it's not a sudden thing they've lost form, then hopefully they'll enjoy hosting the world at this football World

Cup anyway. It just makes it so much better if they get deep into the tournament.

ANDERSON: We talked about the English teams earlier on. English fans have been warned to not necessarily stay away but warned about the possibility

of hooliganism and racism. How much of a concern do you think that should be?

PLEITGEN: I look at the Russian authorities have given assurances that racism won't be a problem here. I'm not totally sold on the fact that that

is going to completely be the case. I think it still could be an issue. I do think that they are trying to work on it.

Hooliganism I think is going to be less of an issue. Especially like some sort of things I've seen over the past couple of days where some high

profiles sort of hooligans have essentially been banned from coming here. And there have been some pretty stern public warnings as well. So, I do

think -- and the other thing I would like to keep in mind is that the Russian police are tough as nails as well. They're not the kind of guys

you want to mess with.

THOMAS: I think that's a crucial point. We saw those scenes in Marseilles here in Euro 26 and seeing the fighting in the stands. The French police

were caught napping essentially. The Russian police know how organized it is in this country.

PLEITGEN: Yes, I was in Lille when there was a bit of stuff going on there as well. That was the next match where there were some fan bases where

there. And you know, sometimes we're allowed to roam around that town and throw around beer bottles for a very, very long time before the cops did

anything. I don't see Russian police allowing people to do that for very long

ANDERSON: Yes, if it is the scourge of the beautiful game and if we don't see it during this tournament, so much the better, absolutely. All right,

guys, just before we go, we have had a bird as in the falcon, so let's meet Achilles. He's not just good on two feet, but chaps on four. A deaf cat,

but although he can't hear he can see the future, apparently. He gets two food bowls each labeled with a flag, and if all goes according to Achilles

as planned, the kibble that gets the nibble should be the team that wins the match.

[11:45:00] Are cats better than birds?

THOMAS: We should Farah an Achilles together. I like to see what happens then.

ANDERSON: Bring them on. Thank you, chaps.

Live from Moscow, you are watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Up next, working to do more football, but I need to turn to Yemen for a moment. New offensive

could end the country's civil war there, but at what cost to its people? That up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: The war in Yemen has entered a potentially decisive but dangerous new phase. The Saudi-led coalition has launch an attack on the

port city of Hodeida, held by Houthi rebels. Now, the Saudi backed Yemen government says it'll be a turning point in the war, but the attacks puts

hundreds of thousands of lives at risk and jeopardizes a supply chain that provides Yemen's people with most of their food, fuel and medicines. CNN's

Sam Kiley is watching developments and joins us now. What do you know at this point, Sam?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They have launched an operation jointly with the Saudis, the UAE, the Sudanese forces and of

course, a lot of infantry from various militia groups on the ground, including the officially recognized Saudi government. They, as you were

saying there, Becky, hope that this will be a turning point, the point at which from their perspective they can drive the Houthis, who are backed by

Iran, out of Hodeida, their major base. Move on perhaps simultaneously to Sunna, also held by the Houthis, and put an end, in their view, to this

war.

The Houthis will get a substantial vote in this, and indeed one suspect with their Iranian backers. And this all hangs really on who controls the

ports. Now the Saudi's-led coalition and the UAE and others are insisting they will not allow a humanitarian situation to explode as a consequence of

taking that port. But they are assuming that that's going to be done without a fight. So far there's been no sign of the Houthis folding up.

Even though there have been reports of very heavy airstrikes around the port and to the south of the city -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Reporting there from the UAE, Sam Kiley for you. Saudi's ambassador to the U.S. tweeting this, that the Yemeni government and the

coalition have accepted a proposal to hand over the port to the U.N., but that unfortunately the Houthis spurred by Iran rejected the initiative as

did it to all other initiatives. The coalition remains supportive of U.N. efforts to implement its plan.

All right, live from Moscow. You are watching CONNECT THE WORLD. And we are watching preparations for the opening game of this the 2018 World Cup

tomorrow.

[11:50:00] Coming up the U.S. likely to host the majority of games during the 2026 World Cup. That's eight years from now but it's important. Could

that be a game changer for football in America? That we'll discuss, up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: This time of day from now, Russia will be playing Saudi Arabia in the World Cup's first match. Let's get more from Amanda Davis also here

with us in Moscow. And you're just back from the stadium that would host the first game.

DAVIS: Yes, absolutely, my first time back at the Luzhniki Stadium for ten years, and a lot has changed since the last time I was there. And it

really does look spectacular. I have to say there were a few teething problems, should we say, a lot of the world's international media there as

if often the case for match day minus one. It's more of an open media session. We did not have the right numbers on our badges, we did, but they

thought we needed different number. There was a mix-up between FIFA and the local security people, but it's better to be safe than sorry. And we

had that kind of ring of steel around the stadium that we've become used to at these major sporting events. You kind of can only drive a certain way

and then walk quite a distance, a quite number of checkpoints for the media and the fans to go to before they get to the stadium. The other thing I

have done today is pick up my fan id, which all of the fans from around the world who have a ticket to a game need to collect before they are allowed

into the stadium. There's a photo taking process. They check details with your passport. I have to say, it was an epic cue, but everybody --

ANDERSON: You have no patience.

DAVIS: You've got work to do. Everybody kind of knew what it was there for, it's a security measure, and make sure everybody knows who everybody

is going into the games. And people say, you know what, this is now what it's like. Once you got it once, that's it, you can use it around Russia

for the next few weeks. So, it was a system I think working well on the whole.

ANDERSON: Remind us of how many games we have forthcoming?

DAVIS: We have a lot. And I should know that, 64, 64 over 4 1/2 weeks. The first one of course is --

ANDERSON: I do know how many people are playing, 736. 736 sportsmen on the field for those games.

DAVIS: Yes, 32 teams, the first game, of course, I think it's fair to say the people are the most excited about this Russia against Saudi Arabia as

an opening match of the World Cup. But it was very funny speaking to a lot of the Russian media. I don't think in my experience it has ever been a

host nation with less expectation around them.

It was a few comical moments in the news conference. There was one man that asked a question about whether or not people in Russia should start

growing their mustaches and their beards to keep supporting the national team as long as they are in the competition.

[11:55:00] How are Russia going to prepare for what many people describe as the biggest night of their life, well, apparently, they're going to play

Trivial Pursuit. I suppose at this point there is not much more they can do on the pitch so they're going to play Trivial Pursuit.

ANDERSON: Fantastic. Before I let you go, just one of the headlines, or the headline really today, was the announcement that in 2026 what is known

as United bids, the host countries of the States -- mainly the states -- but the States, Canada and Mexico will be hosting the World Cup. I know

it's nearly a decade away, but very important. A very transparent process, FIFA promised that. With all the machinations that go on within that

organization I think they should be applauded at least for their transparency this time. And that will be good for the game in North

America, wouldn't it?

DAVIS: absolutely. It's been fascinating actually, the run-up to that bid. The bookies won't put their money either way for the first time,

really, and that's because for the first time since that now very controversy will double vote in 2010, you didn't know there were that many

more people who had a say in the outcome. And you have to say it was a great success, I think, from FIFA's perspective. And yes, the FIFA

President, Gianni Infantino, when I spoke to him just after he had taken office, he said he was in favor of the continental rotation, which would

have pointed towards a Compucap or united bid World Cup for 2026. It's a region they have not had a World Cup for a number of years. So, it is

definitely --

ANDERSON: Yes, 32 years by 2026. I was there way back when.

DAVIS: England was.

ANDERSON: At my age. Yes, they were.

Watching Sweden and Cameroon I think. Thank you. Amanda is here, of course, for the duration of the competition. For now, it's good very

evening from me, from Red Square. We'll see you here tomorrow.

END