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Tennis ace Kafelnikov rooting for Russia in 2018 World Cup race

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Kafelnikov backing Russian bid
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yevgeny Kafelnikov gives his backing to Russia's 2018 World Cup bid
  • Former tennis No.1 points to progress made by 2014 Olympic hosts Sochi
  • 36-year-old Kafelnikov was born in Sochi and won two grand slams in his career

(CNN) -- Russia's former tennis world No.1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov is backing his country to come out on top in the race to host football's 2018 World Cup.

Kafelnikov told CNN that he was confident they would get the nod when the decision is made by FIFA's executive committee in Zurich on Thursday, but said the competition was tough.

"It's hard to compete against major footballing countries like England or Spain (joint bidders with Portugal) but we still think we are going to do it."

Kafelnikov, a two-time grand slam champion, was born in Sochi, which was chosen to host the Winter Olympics in 2014.

He admitted to be "laughing" when that decision was made, but has been pleasantly surprised by the pace and scale of the preparations in his home town.

I'm sure Sochi will succeed and I'm sure if Russia gets the World Cup we would succeed as well
--Yevgeny Kafelnikov
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"I stopped laughing and now when I go home I am amazed by the construction and right now I believe Sochi will be a very successful host of the Olympics."

He went on: "I'm sure Sochi will succeed and I'm sure if Russia gets the World Cup we would succeed as well."

"All the people are behind it and the government has invested so much money," he added.

Kafelnikov, 36, also helped his country to win the Davis Cup and took gold in the men's singles at the Sydney Olympics.

In the countdown to Thursday's vote, a number of sports stars from Russia have thrown their weight behind a bid which is gathering momentum.

Arsenal's Andrey Arshavin is a bid ambassador as well as captain of their Russian team.

He is convinced the footballing legacy will help swing the vote Russia's way.

"We have never had a World Cup. Hosting it here would open up new minds and new hearts for the game. It would be a completely new chapter for the FIFA World Cup itself," he told their official bid website.

Russia is up against England, plus joint bids from Spain and Portugal and the Netherlands and Belgium to win the right to stage the 2018 World Cup.