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WEDNESDAY: Uruguay 1-0 Saudi Arabia; Portugal 1-0 Morocco; Iran 0-1 Spain

We were making plans for Wednesday – maybe go to the beach – because the early matches were not the most compelling.  But then I got summoned by the school, with barely a couple of hours notice, they wanted me to go and teach two classes in the Traktorniy district at the city’s northern end.  I could have said no – I’m supposed to be given 24 hours notice of any schedule changes – but unlike Tuesday we were still in the city and had no fixed plans, and it’s always a good idea to try and keep the school happy.  So I agreed, we drove down to Traktorniy, my friend found some nice fish to take home with her in a market, and washed her car while I taught my lessons.

Either way, we weren’t going to catch the early two games, but we watched Iran v Spain in the evening over dinner cooked by my friend, it looked like Iran were going to pull off a surprise result but Spain found the goal they needed for the 3 points meaning they will probably qualify while Iran and Portugal fight it out for the second spot, with Portugal favourites only needing a draw.

THURSDAY: Denmark 1-1 Australia; France 1-0 Peru; Argentina 0-3 Croatia

Sadly on Thursday I had to work all day, there was no possibility of my seeing the two earlier games, and even finding time to check the results was difficult.  I got to see the goals later on because we watched Argentina v Croatia at home on a stream that showed highlights from earlier games.  This was a big shock, Croatia played exceptionally well and Argentina were totally outclassed even before the goalkeeper’s mistake that led to the first goal.

FRIDAY: Brazil 2-0 Costa Rica; Nigeria 2-0 Iceland; Serbia 1-2 Switzerland

The reason I was so busy on Thursday was that all my lessons had to be moved there from Friday.  And why was that?  We had tickets for the Nigeria – Iceland game, which clashed with all my lessons!  We set off to watch the early game, Brazil v Costa Rica at the Fan Fest, with what seemed to be an army of Icelandic fans, and a scattering of smiling, dancing Nigerians.  This turned out to be an intriguing game – Brazil urgently needed a win but Costa Rica were solid and disciplined and just would not let them through.  At half time we finally spotted ourselves on the big screen.   I was keeping an eye on the Icelandic fans for an indication of when we would need to leave for the stadium – almost all of them disappeared at half-time, but a few Nigerians (with a stereotypically African attitude to timekeeping) were still waiting.

We held out until about the 70th minute and then I decided we needed to go, to be sure of making the start of the game at the stadium.  As it happened Costa Rica held out for another 20 minutes after we left but then conceded 2 goals in injury time to give Brazil the win.

We really didn’t need to leave so early, the journey to the stadium was quite straightforward, although the trams only went to Europa Mall so we had to walk the rest of the way, in the crowd.  There were lots of Icelanders and a few more Nigerians than we had seen earlier, but both were heavily outnumbered, of course, by the Russian fans.

This time we entered through a gate at the front of the stadium and enjoyed the walk towards it across the wide plaza thronging with people.  We stopped and bought a programme – my friend was more interested in the World Cup branded bag in which it was given to us.

With the benefit of our Monday night experience we found our seats pretty quickly and negotiated the purchase of refreshments with a lot more ease and efficiency.  For some reason I was surrounded by Brazil supporters – there were two obviously Brazilian men in the seats next to me who only arrived at the second half, but behind us was a Brazilian flag and there were other signs of Brazilian presence in the stadium.  The same went for Mexico.  I wasn’t sure why there were more people from those countries here than from any others (apart from Russia, Iceland and Nigeria, of course) and it remains a mystery.

An Iceland fan spotted my Newcastle shirt and chided me that I was at the wrong game.  It turns out he was a Liverpool supporter, we had a little chat before we hurried to our seats.  I told him, honestly, that I wanted Iceland to win this one.  Despite what they did to England in the European Championships.

The game itself was a bit lacklustre in the first half, Iceland were strong and determined, Nigeria were technically comfortable and patient.  The highlight was probably the Iceland fans doing the famous “thunder clap” – a haunting rhythmic synchronised grunt.  At half-time the Icelanders went off the pitch while the Nigerians gathered in a huddle for about 3 minutes.  In the second half, Nigeria came out flying, and Ahmed Musa scored a great goal early on.

Nigeria were in control then, Musa got a second, and then there was an interesting VAR (Video Assistant Replay) incident which resulted in Iceland being given a penalty.  The referee initially said no penalty – I called penalty out loud straight away as soon as it happened.  Maybe I should be a referee?  In any event, Sigurdsson missed it.

 

The full time score was 2-1 which opens the group up and could save Argentina.  Any one of the three teams could join Croatia in the next round.  I smiled as I heard Nigerian fans chanting “Musa! Musa!” on the way out of the stadium – in Russian this word means “rubbish.”  We walked back to the tram stop and got on a tram – I managed to position us so that we got a seat before it filled up completely.  It was a loud journey home with the whole tram joining in singing some traditional Russian songs.

There was one more game which we watched in the evening; Switzerland mounted an impressive comeback against Serbia.  I missed the sight of a Newcastle United player scoring in the World Cup because Mitrovic got his goal before we got home, but we saw Switzerland’s goals to turn the game around.  Costa Rica are out, but again any two from three teams can still qualify after the final round of games.

SATURDAY:  Belgium 5-2 Tunisia; Mexico 2-1 South Korea; Germany 2-1 Sweden

My friend went back home early on Saturday, I had lessons in the morning, and in the afternoon I had to go to Dzherzhinsky for a couple of scheduled lessons.  Having not been there for so long, I got on the wrong bus and ended up in the middle of nowhere, I had to walk for half an hour under the afternoon sun and navigate my way to the office.  I arrived half an hour late but my student was waiting, and after a rocky start I think I gave him quite a good lesson which he seemed to enjoy and gain from.  In the event the second lesson was cancelled, so I made my way home on the right trolleybus, and caught the end of the Belgium game.  Lukaku has now joined Ronaldo on 4 goals as tournament top scorer.

I decided I would relax in the comfort of my home for the crucial Germany v Sweden game and watch it on my computer, but I had so many problems with the streaming.  I managed to miss both Sweden’s opener and Germany’s equaliser which was frustrating because as a drama and a spectacle the way the match unfolded was unmissable.  I also missed Boateng’s red card reducing the Germans to 10 men, dashing their chances of getting the winning goal that they surely needed to give themselves hope of qualifying for the knockout stages.  It was at this moment I decided that I would not be watching the England game this way, I would go to the Fan Fest and put up with the Russian commentary.

And then, in the 90th minute, with a dangerous free kick on the edge of the area, the Streaming Gods smiled on me and I was able to witness the historic, decisive moment when Toni Kroos saved his country from the indignity of almost certain elimination by curling the free kick past the Swedish goalkeeper.  They knew it was coming, they couldn’t stop it.  Never bet against the Germans.

SUNDAY:  England 6-1 Panama; Senegal 2-2 Japan; Poland 0-3 Colombia

I got myself confused between BST times and Russian times and set off for the game at 13:00 only to find the Fan Fest was still closed.  So I came home and started writing this blog.

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When I went back everything seemed just right.  There was cloud cover so there was no burning sun, although it was still very hot.  The Fan Fest was populated but not crowded, and I was able to take a seat in the centre near the top with a great view of the screen.  I even brought my rug to sit on (rolled up, not spread out).

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There was one group with an England flag but apart from that, I seemed to be the only one cheering for England.  There were plenty of Egyptians (they play Saudi Arabia in Volgograd tomorrow), a smattering of Australians, but I didn’t see anyone from Panama, or Saudi Arabia for that matter.

Of course it was a terrific game, England roared into a 5-0 half-time lead with the help of a couple of penalties and goals from free kicks and corners.  The one goal not from a set piece was a beautiful Lingard shot.  Things calmed down in the second half, Kane got an outrageous third before being substituted and Panama later pulled a goal back.  I thought that meant England losing top position in the group but apparently yellow cards are now more important than goals scored, so England only need a draw against Belgium to top the group.  It was also nice that Kane is now the leading goalscorer with 5, ahead of Lukaku and Ronaldo.

I came home to watch Senegal v Japan – winner goes through (they drew).  In the evening was Colombia v Poland – loser goes out (bye bye Poland).  Whether England top their group or come second they will play someone from this group, and there is nothing really to fear here.  With the quarter final against someone from either underperforming Brazil’s or Germany’s groups, they should be quite confident of reaching at least the semi-final before they have to face a team of the quality of Spain, France, Portugal, or Croatia or with the momentum of the hosts.  Perhaps the most dangerous team are Belgium, England get a free shot at them on Thursday and then can’t meet them again until the final.   Very interesting tournament!

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