Britain’s Foreign Office warned traveling fans against possible homophobic, racist and anti-British attacks one week before the World Cup finals in Russia. The English players spoke of concern over personal safety and worries over traveling family members. Southgate himself said he was none the wiser of what would happen in Russia but had concerns which were voiced to him by players and officials. How wrong they’ve been. Even the Deputy Head of the Sun, Martin Lipton, has declared the tournament “an absolute joy.” Speaking to Kremlin-backed RT, Lipton said:
“The welcome from the Russian people has been clear to everyone. The organization has been superb, the weather has been great. The football has been fantastic.”
While Russian officials may wish this to be a success for their image, the reality is that all that will be remembered from this tournament across the world is the football, because as with many tournaments that have preceded it, the drama has been enthralling and we’re only past the group stages.
More than 14 million people watched England stroll past Panama on Sunday afternoon while an average audience of 13.7 million took in their opening win against Tunisia. Despite being on the same time as Australia’s second test with Ireland in Rugby, 2.1 million tuned in down under with very few following the Rugby team’s progress. A whopping 99.6 percent of Iceland’s population even watched their famous draw against an embattled Argentina.
In the build-up to the World Cup, much of the commentary was on the political climate facing the tournament as well as a potential threat over fan-violence. What’s clear as we approach the halfway point is that fans have been left engrossed by goals, VAR, individual displays, managerial meltdowns, vibrant crowds, and plenty of shocks.
As with Argentina’s military junta coup before the 1978 World Cup or threats of crime and misused public funds in Brazil four years ago, all that can be heard in pubs and taxis is how the Germans have been banished by the South Koreans for the first time since at this stage since 1938.
Everyone knows what has happened for Russia to obtain this World Cup and how incredulously, Qatar is set to stage the event in four years time, but what the past 15 days have shown is that the football is all that fans are interested in when it comes down to it.
Much like we still think of the Brazil Germany fiasco or Mario Kempes’s superb performances to win Argentina their home World Cup, we have already been given exhilarating moments of joy, despair, and beauty.
We haven’t even gotten to the knockout stages yet where scintillating ties await between Brazil and Mexico while a basket case Argentina side attempt to make some sense of their backwards talent against French side hiccuping every time they look to find some rhythm.
German implosions against the all-partying Mexicans and combative South Koreans were extraordinary and awesome. Similarly, Argentinian despair against Croatia, prompting a minute silence from their national broadcaster, saw them come back literally from the dead when Marcus Rojo’s thunderblast flew into the bottom corner.
You can’t write this stuff. Even with some of cinema’s greatest works, you can see where the writer’s ideas come from, but this tournament creates such stunning moments that you can’t help but tune in to see what awaits on the biggest stage of all.
Nobody knows what will happen in the next two weeks. Teams seem to have the ability to transform within the space of four days has been the theme of this world cup. Colombia’s false start against a cunning Japanese team gave way to a wonderful brand of superb attacking football against Poland before stuttering again at the last, only just getting over the end line over a wasteful Senegal.
The Russians have shocked us with marathon running, while Switzerland’s game with Serbia provided some unexpected and thrilling Friday night drama to add to the previous weeks’ thriller in Sochi between Iberian darlings Spain and Portugal.
The English seem to have shocked themselves by beating the worst team in the competition by six goals to one, but what may be the real surprise now is if their predictions came through this time around. Moscow on July 15th that is. Now that would be a turn up for the books. Someone might need to tell Colombia though.
Although sometimes known for being one half of electronic music group White Collar Boy, Gavin White is a journalist who has written for the Irish Independent and extratime.ie