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FIFA World Cup 2018: Russians accept defeat, take pride in historic run

Despite losing to Croatia in the quarter-finals, Russian fans were proud of their team’s performance at FIFA World Cup 2018.

football Updated: Jul 08, 2018 21:46 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Nizhny Novgorod
FIFA World Cup 2018,Russia 2018,Russia national football team
Russia defender Mario Fernandes reacts after missing a penalty during the FIFA World Cup 2018 quarter-final against Croatia in Sochi on Saturday. (AFP)

A pall of gloom fell over the FIFA Fan Fest in Nizhny Novgorod as Ivan Rakitic fired in the winning penalty for Croatia, over 1800km away at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, to knock Russia out of the World Cup.

It had been a night of rollercoaster emotions for fans who had gathered in the area and in adjoining pubs to watch the national team continue its unprecedented journey in football’s biggest stage.

It turned out to be the final stop of the journey and there were, understandably, a few tears.

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“I am devastated. It would have been less painful if we had lost in normal time. But we can be proud today. We have proved that we can play against any team,” said Sveta, a student who had come to watch the game with a group of friends.

There were a handful of French and Uruguayan fans, who had stayed back in the city following their national teams’ quarterfinal game on Friday.

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They joined in with the ‘Russia!’ chants with their hosts. It didn’t take long for the area to clear out though as a heavy security cordon escorted the crowd out of the area.

Then the fans poured into the streets of the city centre. Earlier in the day, heavy, incessant rains had ensured that most pubs in the area had to close down their open-air sections.

By this time, the downpour had stopped and the open-air sections reopened just in time for the thousands of fans who had come over.

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Suddenly, there was a huge round of cheers and clapping outside one of these pubs. A closer look revealed the face of Stanislav Cherchesov on the TV screen. The national team coach had become a national hero within a span of three weeks and the adulation for him wasn’t going to die down anytime soon.

Earlier in the day, Russian ice hockey star Aleksandr Ovechkin had displayed the Stanley Cup he had won with the Washington Capitals in the National Hockey League, at the FIFA Fan Fest in Moscow.

“Hockey is big. You saw Ovechkin on TV? People are mad for him and for hockey. But today nothing is as big as football and nobody in sports as popular as Cherchesov,” said Oleg, a middle-aged Russian fan who had come to one of the pubs to drown his sorrows.

There was no western rock music playing at this pub unlike two days back when it had been the venue of a sing-off between fans of France and Uruguay. Instead, the Gosudárstvennyy Gimn Rossíyskoy Federátsii, Russia’s national anthem, played a few minutes later. The fans sang along.

Shortly after the game, the Kremlin released a statement on behalf of president Vladimir Putin. “We lost in a fair and great game. They are still great guys for us, they are heroes. They were dying on the pitch, we are proud with them,” he said.

It is a feeling that will echo among many of the host nation’s fans. As the hysteria of the World Cup starts to die down, the enormity of Russia’s campaign will start to truly register.

First Published: Jul 08, 2018 21:31 IST