UEFA President Michel Platini has praised Russia's football heritage and their players and personalities who have left a mark on the European and world game amid festivities to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Russian Football Union (RFS).
Mr Platini and senior UEFA officials joined national association leaders and dignitaries from world football in commemorating the RFS's centenary in St Petersburg, as well as attending the opening ceremony of the 20th Commonwealth of Independent States Cup, which features national youth teams from 12 countries.
"I must acknowledge that I have always been fascinated by your immense country," Mr Platini told guests at the centenary gala evening. "I have often celebrated the origins of various national associations ... I must always recall that in this or that country, football began thanks to the arrival of British engineers in countries without an opening to the sea, or thanks to the presence of British sailors for those which had ports. Obviously, Russia is no exception to this rule – sailors in St Petersburg, and traders and engineers in Moscow.
"However, I must admit that in studying the history of your football, I felt an unexpected satisfaction," he added, "in discovering that one of the main, if not the main protagonists in the founding of the Russian Football Union was a Frenchman who was born in Russia – Georges Dupéront. His initiative, and affiliation to [the world football body] FIFA in 1912 led to Russia taking part in its first international competition, the Olympic Games in Stockholm in that same year." The RFS was founded on 19 January 1912.
"These beginnings, which I would qualify as modest, opened an epic journey which has been as turbulent and contrasting as the history of Russia itself, and which will find a fitting epilogue and crowning moment with the World Cup in 2018."
Mr Platini also remembered the Russian footballers who had contributed in particular to the success of the Soviet Union in winning the inaugural UEFA European Football Championship in 1960, and recalled the admiration that he felt as a youngster for Moscow-born goalkeeper Lev Yashin, one of the greatest custodians in history.
"My contemporaries and I, we were brought up with the myth of the great Lev Yashin, and youngsters today still watch slightly blurred images in black and white of this legendary goalkeeper with his cap, black outfit, his flying through the air and saves, the gentleness of his character as told by those who knew him.
"Unfortunately, I would never have the honour of presenting him with the UEFA President's Award, he left us too early," Michel Platini concluded. "However, he merits a prime place in the eternal history of the most beautiful game in the world."
More details on the RFS, its history and competitions, can be found here.
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