efe-epaSaint Petersburg, Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country will host the World Cup starting June 14, said here Friday that Spain was one of the favorites to win the title.

In an interview with a dozen heads of leading international news agencies, including Spain's Agencia EFE, Putin praised the abilities of the Spanish national team, which won its first World Cup title in 2010.

A big fan of judo and winter sports, Putin said the goal in hosting soccer's showcase event was not to improve Russia's image globally but to modernize the country's infrastructure for the benefit of future generations.

"We want this World Cup to be a worldwide celebration and I think we'll achieve that," the president said.

Spain has been drawn into Group B and will make its 2018 World Cup debut against Portugal on June 15 in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi and then take on Iran in Kazan (on the Volga River) on June 20 and Morocco in Kaliningrad on June 25.

The Spaniards could face off in the round of 16 against Russia, which has been drawn into Group A along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay.