When first applying to this program, I was not aware that the World Cup would be taking place this summer in Russia. Soccer is indeed a sport that is growing in popularity in the United States but it hadn’t quite entered my sphere of awareness. Friends of mine who have been soccer fanatics for many years, upon learning of my plans to study in Moscow, quickly enlightened me and insisted that I make an effort to attend at least one game while here. It did not take long for me to realize the unique opportunity that was being presented to me so I went ahead and applied for tickets in the lottery through the FIFA website, never knowing for sure if I would actually be chosen to attend a match. After a month of waiting, I was informed that I had indeed scored a ticket to a game. This should be fun, I thought. The only problem was that I had no idea which teams I would be watching. Being the soccer novice that I am, I only saw that I would watch team 2A vs. 1B, shrugged my shoulders, and set about in preparing for my summer abroad, not giving the game a second thought. Then I arrived in Moscow.
As soon as the games began, the city transformed. Growing up in an international city back in the United States, I had been very familiar with the wide variety of languages and cultures from around the world. However, once exposed to the soccer fans of the world in Moscow, this was taken to a whole new level. The general energy, excitement, and camaraderie of all these foreigners has been amazing. One night in a bar, I was thrilled to be exposed to the sight of a group of Australian fans raising their mugs of beer to a group of Belgian fans all the while singing Queen’s We Are the Champions. Very soon, some Russians joined in and then, of course, us Americans followed suit. An event that is so steeped in nationalism seemed to easily melt these borders and bring everyone together to celebrate each other. It did not take long for the infectious mood of the World Cup to take hold of me as well.
I quickly began wondering about which game I would be fortunate enough to attend. I began reading up on the format of tournament and which teams had a good chance of progressing into the round which my ticket was for. I lucked out! There was a good chance I was going to see Russia play! I crossed my fingers, donned a Russia jersey, and began rooting for them to advance. Fortune was on mine and the host country’s side. Russia advanced to the knockout round to play against Spain and I was going to be there in person to see the match.
The day finally arrived and I headed to Luzhniki Stadium early to get a chance to see the pre-game festivities and beat the crowd. The festivities were already well under way just as the crowd was already thronging and pumped up for the match. Walking over, it seemed on every block someone was ready to paint a flag on your face. After passing through security and many long lines, I made my way to my seat. I was surprised to find myself next a fellow American who had traveled all this way from Idaho without being able to speak the language at all. Very brave of him, but I suppose it was worth it to experience the buzz of such a unique international event – and what turned out to be an amazing and memorable match. The game was back and forth with both teams being relatively even matched. It needed to be decided by penalty shots. Chants of “Igor, Igor, Igor!”, filled the stadium as the Russian fans cheered their goalie captain on. This was there chance to take the game. The Spanish kicker wound up for the shot, fired it at the goal, and…saved! The crowd went wild. Igor had stopped the shot and saved the game for the Russian team. They were going to advance for the first time in decades and I had witnessed it! We’ll see about the next tournament in four years though, when I hope to see the USA represented…
By: Peter Wheelwright
Term: Summer 2018