Russia celebrates its team and is proud despite the dramatic failure in the World Cup quarter-finals. "They gave us hope." Only one stands aside: Vladimir Putin. For good reason.
When Croat Ivan Rakitic took his last penalty in the semi-finals of the World Cup, spectators at Universitetsky Prospekt in Moscow were as if turned to stone. Their disappointment did not last long. Just a few moments after when it became clear that Croatia would emerge as the lucky winner of this quarter-final duel, tens of thousands congratulated their team with chanting "Rossiya, Rossiya" at the Fanfest in the capital. The home team had lost by 5:6 on penalties in the match vs Croatia; the dream of winning the title did not come true. But the team which had reached the quarter-finals contrary to all expectations had made the whole country proud.
"That was a great achievement, although it was not enough in the end," Artem Eremin said after the exit. The racer had watched the match with the whole family. Already before penalty shoot out, the thought that it would not end well crept in his mind. "Somehow I do not believe they will manage". He must be right.
It is this basic skepticism about things that are often fostered in Russia, a traditional resignation to fate, which perhaps also affected the "Sbornaya" at the crucial moment. They fought bravely against permanently attacking Croats for 120 minutes, eventually losing their nerves.
Applause for the coach and the players
Russia’s coach Stanislav Cherchesov was depressed after the match. "We feel a bit like conscripts who were discharged early," the 54-year-old said. "There is only one cup in sports. And now, we have no chance to win this cup". The former goalkeeper of Dynamo Dresden was greeted with applause at the press conference and in the mixed zone. The players were also applauded as they were passing by the reporters. Cherchesov also got a consoling embrace from Croatia's association president Davor Suker. When the first frustration passed, Cherchesov said: "We have turned the country upside down, we are glad of that."
The situation was as follows. Russia’s match vs Croatia turned out to be a TV-hit. In Kazan, one of the busiest cities, everything seemed to remain quiet during the match: empty streets, and deserted supermarkets. Shouts came from the surrounding residential buildings, cheers and anger echoed from prefabricated buildings in the streets. Battle cries became the sound of the night. The country was petrified during the match vs Croatia that evening, for which reason Cherchesov said smugly to a reporter: "There was not a single team at this World Cup that had the full support of its nation. Where are you from? Italy? You were absolutely right not to believe in your team."
During the last three weeks, the "Sbornaya" has changed Russia’s image more with its performance than the World Cup alone could have done. Actually, there had been no one before the tournament who would have thought that the host team was capable of something, not even the host team itself. Even Vladimir Putin publicly distanced himself from his national team, which had performed terribly during preparation. When the tournament started, the team played in state of euphoria due to enthusiastic fans. "We believed so much in the guys," says Tatiana Rudnikova, who, wrapped in a Russian flag, is standing in the fan street. "They gave us hope."
The parallels to the German summer fairy tale are unmistakable. Here as well as there, football gave the whole nation a new impetus. While Germany was lively and joyful in 2006, most Russians, taking into consideration that unfavorable image which dominates the news in Europe and overseas, were relieved to have created a different reputation to foreign countries now. "The World Cup has been a good PR campaign for us," says Artem Eremin. "So we could show the people who came to us that there is more than vodka, beautiful women and Vladimir Putin in Russia."
The country is celebrating – and Putin is outlining facts
After the match, people in Sochi (one of the venues) returned to the routine. The tears dried quickly. People asked as before where foreigners came from and wanted to make friends with the guests. They can do it well in Russia. Also on Vorobyovy Gory where the Moscow Fan Fest took place between the Moskva river, Stalin's skyscrapers and the Luzhniki Stadium, everyone had been lying in embrace until penalty shoot outs. Only one was missing. Vladimir Putin.
As usual, the President had sent his deputy Dmitry Medvedev to this World Cup. Why the President was not at the stadium on such a day? "I suppose that Putin did not get a ticket" says Tatiana Rudnikova. The President’s absence did not surprise anyone. "Either he has something important to handle," says Artem Eremin, "or he is sitting at home watching TV and drinking beer."
The powerful Kremlin man sent his congratulations. Actually, he had something important in his mind. While the country was feverishly excited by its national team, Putin is operating with facts and enacting new laws. Among other things, he raises the retirement age and most taxes considerably. Unpopular measures are undertaken in popular times. As Medvedev said about the future of Russian football, "I am quite sure that we will definitely see football of different quality." The same applies to Russia's society.