A month ago I was scared. Not that I thought Russia is not capable of hosting a big super significant international event but everything around that time was screaming ‘danger’. I wouldn’t say that every day of my life I feel like I have a lot of reasons to be proud of my home country. I have a love-hate relationship with Russia, but I can’t handle foreigners talking shit about it. Politics aside, it hurts me that people who don’t sometimes know a single thing about a country with more than 140 million citizens are very quick to judge all of them based on what they hear and read in media. But that how it works, with all of us. And I was afraid that people around me would have one (or several) more reason to judge.
But I couldn’t be more wrong! I can’t count times when I heard this month how amazing and beautiful Russia is, how great the whole thing was organized, how happy people who visited Cup are and how they felt welcomed, loved and showered with warmth. I never in my life wanted to be in Moscow more than in a last couple of weeks. I didn’t have a chance to be there, but I lived through hundreds of videos and photos my friends posted to feel the atmosphere. And it felt magical.
The whole Cup did. I find it amusing and very fitting that this tournament was such a distinctive one. Cup of many ‘firsts’, of record-breaking own goals, unpredictable wins and upsets, Cup, where South Korea won over Germany and Russia knocked out Spain. Cup of ‘unbalanced’ board where almost every game of playoff was fun to watch.
I never was a football fan. I’m what some segmentations call ‘Cup follower’ – I’ve been watching big events since 2004 but nothing more. I never liked the game itself, but I was always very curious to see how it all was playing out. I liked to read articles and participate in sweepstakes, liked to watch matches in a bar with a good company. But as Russia is known for being not the strongest team in the world, I never felt strong personal affiliation after they got kicked out. Till this year.
I now work in a global organization with many-many international people around. English, French, Spanish, German, Brazilian, Portuguese – you name it! In almost every game there was a team I could support just because it was a team of my friends. And with this personal affiliation, I suddenly found out that I like to follow the game because of the game! When teams were not too close to my heart, I wanted the game to be as unpredictable, eventful and tense as possible. And I almost always chose to root for an underdog – and this Cup delivered!
Despite having tons of French friends, I wanted Croatia to win. Because I love fairy tales. I love an idea that everybody can win if they put all their dedication, sweat and blood into it. How Japan did playing against Belgium. How Russian team did both in 1/8 and 1/4 (even though that one they lost). How Croatia did throughout the whole tournament.
They lost. But it is still a fairy tale. For England who got into the semi-final without expecting this at all before the tournament. For Croatia as they got to the final stage for the first time in history. For France who now celebrate their well deserved World Championship. And for my home country – you made it all possible. Thank you, Russia. I couldn’t be more proud.