World Cup (2018)

In 2018, while visiting the Moscow region to give lectures at the Dubna math summer school, I attended the final game of the World Cup.

Several hours before the game I visited a so-called "fan zone", shown below, which was just a long street with many people wandering around. I did not see anything special to do there other than people-watch.

There was a restaurant in the area, shown below, with the name "No Fish - a Meat Restaurant".

The World Cup final game was France vs. Crotia, and Croatian fans were everywhere in the fan zone, wearing red and white checkered shirts.



There were a few French fans on the Moscow metro. The second photo below shows all the advertising that normally appears overhead on the metro escalators was removed.


When I reached the stadium, I found Lenin was still around. (The words along the stadium roof say "World Football Championship FIFA 2018".) I'm sure Lenin's spirit was thrilled to be a backdrop to Coca-Cola sales.

Alfa-Bank offered to let people get their picture in front of its "A" logo, but I was okay with getting a picture in front of that whole area. (On the other side of the white wall was an Alfa-Bank ATM.) I am wearing a Fan-ID, which was required together with a ticket to get into the stadium. A ticket alone was insufficient, presumably an effort to cut down on scalpers. Still, people were holding signs looking for tickets even right before the game.


Here is the view from inside the stadium when I first arrived. This was the main location of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but everything shown in the photo is brand new: the outer walls were kept but the inside was completely gutted and rebuilt for the World Cup.

Behind one goal area were a ton of Croatian fans in their usual red and white clothes, and behind the other goal area were a smaller ton of French fans (look for French flags in the second photo).


Here the teams are each practicing before the game started.

Since nobody would care to hang around in the stadium after the game and medal ceremony took place, the closing ceremony of the World Cup happened before the match. I could not tell who was singing during the closing ceremony, and found out only after the game that one of them was Will Smith.

After this was over, stadium workers had to fold up the performance surface in half enough times to carry it away.


After the team introductions, the stadium speakers blasted Ennio Morricone's "Ecstasy of Gold". You can watch it below.

This tune, if you don't recognize it, is famous for being the music in the scene below from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and I'd have this tune in my head the following week while looking for Igor Shafarevich's grave (see here).

Finally the game got underway. Each time a goal was scored, the stadium screen displayed GOAL with many images of the scoring team's flag floating down the screen. First there was one for France and then one for Croatia.


With the score tied 1-1, France got a penalty kick opportunity. Below Antoine Griezmann begins to kick the ball. (I had no idea who this was at the time, and only looked it up later.) The Croatian goalie leaped to the wrong side and the ball went into the goal, bringing France up 2-1.

This game was the first time I ever watched a soccer match (aside from short video clips). One feature that distinguishes it from the major US professional sports baseball, football, and basketball is the complete lack of time outs. The clock keeps running during goal celebrations, player changes, penalty kick preparation, players falling due to real or fake injuries, unauthorized people running onto the grass, etc. Each 45-minute half actually lasts essentially 45 minutes, unlike say US pro football, where the game technically is supposed to be only 60 minutes (four 15-minute quarters) but always takes hours since the action keeps getting interrupted. Strictly speaking, after each half the soccer referee may add a few minutes to account for some lost time due to goal celebrations and other interruptions, but that extra time is also played continuously and doesn't last long. This feature of professional soccer doesn't seem compatible with the need for regular commercial breaks if a game is televised, but I am not completely sure since I stopped watching sports on TV many years ago.

In this game a few extra minutes were tacked onto the end of each half, but although I could see the game clock on the screen during the regular playing period, it was not displayed during the periods of additional time. The only way I knew the game was over was when the French players started celebrating below. I wonder how they knew the amount of time remaining.

After the game, the Croatian players walked over to the side of the stadium with many of their fans and were applauded.

Here I am waiting for the award ceremony to begin.

Through much of the game there were storm clouds growing more ominous overhead, and they got particularly dark while the award ceremony area was being set up.

The rain finally started pouring in sheets during the award ceremony, so Putin and the heads of state of France and Croatia got soaked until their assistants could bring out umbrellas. I was seated in an area below the roof and stayed dry.


Here is a YouTube clip of the ceremony. The rain starts pouring a little before the 7:00 mark.

After the award ceremony, when it was time to leave, the fans then had to deal with the rain, jumping across puddles to reach the metro station. The name of the stadium, Luzhniki, essentially means "meadows" (the type of land on which the stadium was built) but its affectionate name is Luzha, which means "puddle". How fitting. I was reminded of a song from the beginning of a famous Russian cartoon in which the second line mentions people getting around puddles. A clip of it with (mostly correct) English subtitles is below.

After the World Cup was over, the city of Moscow sure took their time to remove signs about the tournament. The final match was on July 15th, and below you can see World Cup information still on Moscow metro cars in early August, shortly before I departed.


That's it!