Friday 17:00 – France 2-0 Uruguay
With one of my students moving a lesson it became possible for me to watch most of this game, but I had to go straight from my previous lesson and I had to return by 18:45 for the next one, which would probably be before the end.
I actually missed kick-off but didn’t miss much action. France scored a header just before half-time and seemed very much in control. I got my times mixed up and decided I needed to leave at about 18:10 (I could have stayed another 20 minutes), France did get a second goal somewhere between my leaving the area where I could hear cheers in the distance and my arriving at the school, but it was clear from what I had seen they were on course to win this one comfortably.
Friday 21:00 – Belgium 2-1 Brazil
Hungry after a long day at work, and carrying a bag that I couldn’t take to Fan Fest I decided to watch the first half at home while I had some food, then head over to the Fan Fest for the second half. By the time I got there Belgium were 2-0 up but Brazil were very much still in the game. It was quite miserable, a little colder than was comfortable and incessant rain falling, I stuck it out for about 20 minutes and then decided that was enough “experience” for me and retreated to the company of my home. Between my leaving the fan-fest and arriving home, Brazil pulled a goal back. Despite the jumpy stream there were no more decisive moments to miss after I got back, so Belgium finished the winners 2-1.
Saturday 17:00 – England 2-0 Sweden
I finished all my lessons for the day a good 4 hours before this one started so I was able to get through the whole England playlist and read all the build-up on the internet and listen to British TV broadcasts. Suitably psyched, I headed for the Fan Fest and secured a prime spot front and centre, no Colombians in sight (although in the second half a couple came and sat uncomfortably close to me).
As the game was kicking off there were flashes of lightning across the Volga and a storm in progress. Fortunately the rain never came in our direction, and later on the sun came out!
England were never in any danger and scored a couple of goals to secure the result long before the final whistle. It was such a difference to the nervy Colombia game. First clean sheet of the tournament too, that will be good for the goalkeeper’s confidence. The only disappointment was that Kane didn’t score, but our other Harry got one, so it all works out. I’m pretty sure this is the longest sequence of England games where someone called Harry has scored. Ever.
At the final whistle a group of other English guys in the crowd acknowledged me and I saluted them back with a croaky “It’s coming home!”
Saturday 21:00 – Russia 2-2 Croatia (Croatia win on penalties)
This one was electric. The steps were full. The grass banks were full. The concrete area under the screen was full. The place was just absolutely packed. It was packed for every Russia game but for this one the crowds just seemed to go on for miles. People continued arriving after me – I found a seat on a slightly raised cable-cover crossing the road between the screen and the steps, and sat on my trusty rolled up rug so that my height wouldn’t obstruct those behind me.
The crowd went absolutely wild when Cheryshev scored the opening goal, a beautiful curling shot from outside the box. Sadly, Croatia equalised within minutes, Kramaric getting his head on the end of a good cross. After that it was quite an exciting game, every Russian attack greeted with cheers of excitement, while the Croatians largely sat back.
At half-time I went for a drink. The queues were massive but I could still see the screen from the queue so I wasn’t too worried. It was about 10 minutes into the second half before I made my way back.
The game drifted into extra time when once again the crowd – and indeed the commentator – were silenced as an innocuous header from Vida rolled past the Russian goalkeeper into the net, catching everyone by surprise. Around me I could see tears and despair as the dream started fading away and hope disappeared. But then the crowd rallied, and started chanting “Ross-i-ya! Ross-i-ya!” and it almost seemed that the team, in Sochi could hear them and responded. With only 5 minutes remaining until they went out, Russia won a free kick on the edge of the area, it came in high and “Super” Mario Fernandes headed it into the net, to the absolute delight of the crowd.
Of course that only meant the drama was extended into the lottery of a penalty shootout. But it seemed the crowd now believed Russia were destined to win. It didn’t start well. Fyodor Smolov missed the first penalty. The next two were scored but then Akinfeev saved Kovacic’s penalty for Croatia and everything was level again.
All Russia had to do was put the next one away to get some momentum, and put the pressure on Croatia. Up stepped Super Mario, the goal hero. He blazed it wide of the left post. Modric stepped up and confidently scored. Russia’s ageing warhorse, 38-year old Sergei Ignashaev needed to put the next one away, and he did, confidently and powerfully.
With every Croatian penalty the crowd were chanting “Igor! Igor!” hoping that Akinfeev could reproduce his heroics against Spain. But he couldn’t stop Vida beating him again, and after Kuzyaev kept Russia alive, he needed to stop Rakitic or Russia would be out.
He couldn’t. The crowd just stared blankly at the screens as the Croatians started to celebrate, and one or two turned their backs and started to move towards the exits. Then the Russian TV channel switched to the distraught Russian players and I automatically started applauding. Simultaneously applause broke out all around the crowd, and even a few chants of Ross-i-ya. Their team had lost but they had fought right until the end, they had come from behind in extra time, they had taken their opponents to penalties and made them take all 5. This is after beating former World Champions Spain, and scoring 8 goals in the group games. From being the lowest ranked team in the competition, branded as no-hopers, they had come within an inch of the semi-finals, and engaged almost the whole country in a tournament that had largely been put on for the benefit of foreigners.
I was so proud of them. I was proud of Russia for being proud of them. Of course my team were safely through to the semi-finals so I could afford to be magnanimous, and Croatia having to play an extra 30 minutes and penalties didn’t harm England’s chances either. Well done Russia!
With a real possibility of England being in the World Cup Final I wondered how viable it would be for me to get tickets. There were some available on various websites but always at extortionate prices. I started checking out the official ticket website and to my surprise it was – occasionally, and intermittently – showing tickets available for the Final. Unfortunately whenever I tried to purchase them, I got an error message, either “the tickets are no longer available” or a more generic “something went wrong, please try again.”
I spent almost the whole of Sunday on that damn website. Queuing, refreshing, applying, entering the code, getting the error message, going back to the beginning. I know I am supposed to start Summer Camp the day after the Final so flying back from Moscow that day isn’t ideal but I’m sure I could smooth over any loose ends with the school, it isn’t every day you get the chance to see your country in a World Cup Final (or even just see a World Cup Final!).
At some point I started wondering, why not the England semi-final? Again, tickets for that were generally either completely unavailable or low availability, but I started requesting them as soon as I saw them. I have lessons on Wednesday, I can’t teach and go to Moscow at the same time, so if I was successful in getting tickets I’d have some explaining to do. But again, this is a humongous opportunity for an experience I’d have for the rest of my life. But again, the technology just wasn’t working for me. The tickets were (according to the website) available for purchase, its just whenever I attempted to purchase them, “something went wrong.”
Today I continued my efforts but most of the afternoon was taken up with lessons. I kept losing my place in the queue – you have to wait half an hour or so but then you have to confirm within 10 minutes or start again. That’s not really compatible with a timetable of hour-long lessons and half-hour gaps. Also, tickets for the final have completely stopped appearing altogether. And as of this evening (Monday night) the England match has been removed from the website as an “available product”! The final is still there – I can apply for and successfully reserve tickets for France v Belgium (don’t worry I put them back in the system as soon as I checked it was working), but England v Croatia has vanished. My hope is they are just letting the supply of (presumably returned) tickets build up so that when they put it back online, people have a realistic chance of buying one, rather than it just being a lottery of whoever happens to be entering a code at the very moment a ticket in a certain category becomes available.
I’ll be honest, I’ve no idea how it works or if it works and my chances of getting a ticket seem to be minimal. But if I am successful… if, if, if… then boy, will I have a story to tell you!