June 28, 2018 / 2:16 PM / 5 months ago

Soccer-England and Belgium fans get Kaliningrad party started

KALININGRAD, Russia, June 28 (Reuters) - England and Belgium supporters piled into Kaliningrad’s main square on Thursday and happily mingled as they warmed up under a blazing sun for a World Cup showdown between the European neighbours for top spot in Group G.

The tension that usually follows the arrival of England supporters at World Cups gave way to friendly banter and laughs on a beautiful Baltic afternoon as fans of both sides mixed with curious locals.

Kaliningrad is situated just 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the Polish border and was pinpointed early on as a potential flash point for fan unrest.

The threat of trouble, however, might have been partly defused by the fact that both England and Belgium have already secured spots in the last 16, leaving little riding on the outcome of match.

The regional government in Kaliningrad had said it was well prepared for any situation and that no added security measures were planned.

The police presence around the main square was unnoticeable on Thursday creating a relaxed atmosphere that had good humoured fans dancing, singing and exchanging photos.

Belgium Red Devils supporters decked out in devilish masks and face paint were particularly popular as locals pushed their children to have their photograph taken with the sinister looking fans.

At nearby Pobedy Park many England supporters gathered lining the walls with flags but again security was low key and the atmosphere friendly.

Officials, however, were bracing for a late wave of fans to enter the city with many choosing to setup camp across the border in Poland and travel to Kaliningrad early on match day.

According to Poland’s border agency, big groups of fans are expected to cross the Polish-Russian border on Wednesday night and on Thursday before the match, which kicks off at 1800 GMT.

Gdansk has a well-developed hotel infrastructure and is easily reached via a number of budget airlines — in contrast to some Russian cities that are hosting games.

Some supporters pointed to costly airfares and accommodation prices in Kaliningrad and a lack of direct flights as a reason for not staying in the city overnight. (Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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