From expecting a group stage knock-out to being just one kick from the semi-finals, Russian fans saw a true World Cup revolution in a month of madness
Kashinath Bhattacharjee, Sochi
The Fisht Stadium faces the Black Sea. Cross the road and you are on the seashore with people coming from all over the world to enjoy the beauty of Sochi. Against the backdrop of the Caucasus mountains, the sun-bathed city has long been the most popular tourist attraction in Russia.
Named after Mount Fisht, the stadium was built in 2014 for the Winter Olympics. The British construction company that built the ground gave it the appearance of a snowy peak which, in red, blue, yellow and green at night and white under the sun, makes you a happy soul to visit it. The sea is so close, you can go there at the half-time to enjoy your can of beer and come back in time to see the proceedings of the second half.
The Russians did not pass on the opportunity to see their team scaling new heights as hosts. They were on the verge of a semi-final place. Their soldiers were brave enough to deny Croatia an outright win in the second 15 minutes of extra-time. Igor Akinfeev, the modern version of Russia and world’s best custodian ever, Lev Yasin, saved a penalty from Mateo Kovasic with his left hand to give his team oxygen after Fedor Smolov’s first penalty was saved by another fighter, Danijel Subasic.
But this World Cup is not for the South Americans as proved by Mario Fernandes, the Brazilian-turned-Russian. The defender equalised with a brilliant header but shot his penalty wide. Ivan Rakitic, for the second time in two matches, calmly buried the ball into the net to earn the Croatians a right to be in the last four for the first time in 20 years.
Normally, we sports journalists have some duties to perform immediately after the match is over. Filing reports, attending press conferences, trying for an extra quote in the mixed zone. It takes an hour or so even after the match is finished to complete your professional tasks. By that time, spectators normally have normally left the stadium when you take your backpack and get out of the media centre.
However, in Russia and after the matches where Russia had played, it was a completely different scenario. People leave the stadium, but they stay around. They sing, dance and shout, “Raa-ssi-aa”, “Raa-ssi-aa” with their country’s colours painted on cheeks and faces. Even after the defeat, their exit from the World Cup, people were there at the seashore chanting.
“We are happy, They gave us the joy to watch the game. They fought till the last. What more could we have asked for from our national team,” they said. They were right. At first, they could not think so. Before the quarter-final, especially after the way they had shut their doors for Spain in the second round, their national football team had given them something to cheer about after so many years. So, even after the elimination, they were there to show their support to their national heroes. Fisht Stadium and the Black Sea, on a black night, witnessed a rare sight at midnight.
People thanked Stanslav Cherchesov and his men, saluted their effort. Even the President of Russia was thanked by the cheering crowd who did not shed a tear. “Thank you Putin, we love you”, a section called. They could be heard despite the roaring waves of the Black Sea.