From Russia with love: Hosts wow the world
- Fans, players and journalists have lauded the 2018 World Cup
- Russia and its people have drawn praise from across the globe
- Volunteers have helped change preconceptions about the country
It was just three sentences, 22 words and 92 characters. But in this single tweet, Gary Neville said it all: “This tournament is the best I’ve ever seen. This country has risen to the occasion!! Come and enjoy it if you can”.
High praise indeed, and what made it more remarkable was the source: a passionate, 85-times capped Englishman. After all, ahead of this tournament, nowhere was scepticism about Russia and the 2018 FIFA World Cup greater than in England.
Such was the level of negativity in UK media coverage, in fact, that Three Lions left-back Danny Rose even warned his family against coming out to watch him. It took just a few days of experiencing the country, and enjoying the hospitality of its people, for the defender’s mind to be changed.
“I’d definitely be open now to having my family out here,” Rose said. “It’s different to what I expected. I’m having a great time.”
Among fans, players, coaches and journalists, these sentiments – “different to what I expected”, “having a great time” – have been repeated time and again. Supporters from all continents and cultures have found themselves welcomed with open arms, both by smiling locals and ever-helpful tournament volunteers.
Within the teams, there is also widespread acceptance of new standards having been set. “Everything is top, top, top,” was the glowing verdict of Iran coach Carlos Queiroz. “I think this is what really matters at the World Cup: the spirit of the game, the great facilities and the great environment. And for us, everything has been perfect. Everyone has been so kind, and I must congratulate the Russian people on their wonderful World Cup.”
“It’s all very impressive,” agreed Belgium coach Roberto Martinez. “I’ve been directly involved in the last two World Cups, seeing every day the logistics and the way the organisation works. And I must say that this World Cup is by far the best I have been involved in.
“The hospitality we have experienced has been incredible. The level of it has surprised everyone, and it has given a fantastic image of Russian people and Russia in general.”
Russia 2018 has, of course, looked spectacular. After Sweden’s last-16 tie on Tuesday, coach Janne Andersson praised the “absolutely magical “ Saint Petersburg Stadium – one of several amazing arenas packed to the rafters game after game. Yet it is the stories of friendship and warmth that have stood out.
One British journalist shared just such a tale in The Telegraph, recounting how two Russian policemen drove 200 miles to reunite an Iran supporter with a jacket and wallet left behind in Kazan. Then there was the volunteer who stunned the Sweden squad by learning and serenading them with their own national anthem.
And if the visiting world has fallen in love with Russia and the Russian people, the feeling has undoubtedly been mutual. From Kaliningrad in the west to Ekaterinburg in the east, and everywhere in between, there has been enchantment at the friendly invasion of fun-loving fans.
There was a sense of awe, too, at the Senegal and Japan supporters, who remained after their team’s matches to tidy their sections of the stadium. Even Japan’s players did the same after their heartbreaking last-16 loss to Belgium, leaving a spotless dressing room and a note for their hosts.
It was written in Cryllic and, like Neville’s tweet, it was short and to the point, reading simply “Spasibo” (Thank You). For everyone who has enjoyed Russia’s World Cup, that note spoke for us all.