July 24, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) Russia insists fans will not face problems following their teams around Russia for the 2018 World Cup, even as FIFA's schedule gave some competitors lengthy travel distances in the group stage.

FIFA announced the full World Cup schedule Friday, a day ahead of the preliminary draw. Even though no venues are in the Asian part of Russia, some teams will rack up the miles in the world's largest country.

One team in Group D will start in the western exclave of Kaliningrad, near the border with Poland, before heading more than 1,000 miles south to Volgograd and then back north to St. Petersburg for a total distance of 2,064 miles (3,300 kilometers).

Another team in Group G will head from the southern city of Sochi, last year's Winter Olympic host, then Moscow before going east to Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains for a total distance of 1,728 miles (2,800 kilometers). Still, the distances are far shorter than the ones during last year's tournament in Brazil.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who also oversees World Cup preparations, said fans would be able to cope.

''In Russia it's easy,'' he said. ''Communications are very well built, we've actually got air travel, rail travel, car travel, water transport. We don't see any problems here.''

The cities of Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara and Sochi will host the quarterfinals as FIFA skips the big cities where the semifinals and final will be played. With the exception of Sochi, all are in central Russia on the Volga river.

Moscow will host two games in the round of 16, one at Spartak Stadium and one at Luzhniki Stadium.

Each of the 12 stadiums will host four group matches, with all seeded teams playing once in Moscow.

Organizers previously announced the semifinals will be in St. Petersburg on July 10 and at Luzhniki the following day, and the final will be at the 81,000-capacity Luzhniki on July 15.

Host Russia will open in Moscow on June 14, then will play its second Group A match in St. Petersburg and close its first round in Samara, which Mutko called ''a major football region.''

Some teams are expected to base in cities away from the venues, adding distance to their travels. Base locations suggested by organizers include cities in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region, such as Grozny, the capital of Chechnya.

Russia says the North Caucasus cities are safe despite occasional outbreaks of violence, including an incident in December in Grozny when Islamist militants waged a gun battle with police that left at least 20 dead.

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