Heating up: England change cool Repino for Volgograd

England’s World Cup preparations will move up a gear on Sunday when they swap the sleepy streets of Repino for the wide, warm boulevards of Volgograd.

This former industrial heartland is a world away from Gareth Southgate’s hand-picked base camp in Repino, whose cool, tree-lined avenues and pleasant sea breeze from the Gulf of Finland make it the perfect place to train.

Over 1000 miles south, Volgograd is hot and sticky, the temperature regularly topping 30°C in June.

Europe’s longest river, the Volga, runs parallel to the city, affording some respite from the summer heat, but bringing with it flies and midges.

Mercifully, England’s opening World Cup match with Tunisia kicks off at 9pm local time, meaning the hot Russian sun will not cause any problems.

But if Volgograd’s climate is a little undesirable, it certainly betters Repino in terms of things to do, not that the players will have much time to look around.

Razed to the ground in World War II, Volgograd, then Stalingrad, was the heart of Soviet resistance to Nazi Germany and the scene of a crucial counter-attack in the winter of 1941-2 that would ultimately lead to an allied victory.

Some estimates put the number of Soviet casualties during World War II, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, at as high as 26 million, and the impact of those losses is felt no keener than in Volgograd.

The Motherland Calls statue overlooks the city from on high, an enormous tribute to those who died and a constant reminder of the sacrifices made.

Standing at 91 metres tall, she symbolises the call to arms, looking east towards her country and raising her sword to the invaders from the west.

Volgograd’s streets are wide and lined with big, hulking buildings, a product of rebuilding work at the high of Stalinism.

Once a beating hub of Soviet industrialism, the city has struggled since the fall of communism in these parts, and factories and buildings stand empty.

Aleksandr Petrovich, a taxi driver, said: “All these buildings on the outskirts of the city are empty. Since perestroika, the number of factories has fallen.

“There used to be countless industries here, but they keep leaving.

“They have spent millions of roubles on the new stadium here, but that money could have been better spent on improving the city.”

Though World Cup fever may not have caught everyone’s attention, England’s opener is a sell-out and 45,000 fans will pack into the Volgograd Arena.

Repino is the perfect base, but England’s players must now face their first test in Volgograd.

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