MOSCOW: The exit tunnel from the Okhotny Ryad metro station opens up into a sea of colour. On the left, the Red Square is no longer red — it is yellow, green, white, blue and every other shade imaginable. On the left, there is the State Historical Museum with its white roof projecting an image of perpetually snow-clad peaks.
Marshall Zukov, the Soviet army officer who brought Hitler to his knees in World War 2 and whose statue adorns the front of that building, is no longer lonely. A group of Peruvian fans, in red and white, have made the foot of his statue their home, chanting and shouting at the top of their voices. One of them is dressed up as an Inca emperor while another has a huge red wing sprouting from his back, the message scribbled on it difficult to miss: Vamos Peru!
A little to their left, a bunch of Australian fans look on as one of the many journalists shooting videos in the Square asks one of them why there were so many Australian fans. Around them, a man clad in the white of Iran runs in circles as if possessed, holding aloft a huge Iranian flag.
Next to them, in front of the Nikolskaya Tower, a bunch of Brazilian fans are holding court. As they begin to spot a smattering of blue and white in the distance, they start belting out the greatest hits. “Mil goals, mil goals, So Pele, So Pele, Maradona cheirador.” “A thousand goals, a thousand goals. Only Pele, only Pele. Maradona’s smelling coke.”
The challenge is accepted but the four men in sky blue and white have nothing but ‘Argentina, Argentina!’ to counter it.
When a group of Chinese tourists ask them for a picture together, the chant changes. They now shout ‘China, China!’.
To the right of this scene, lies a smattering of cafes that lead to the Iconic Metropol Hotel. The few European fans who have arrived in Moscow remain here, waiting for their numbers to strengthen. An Englishman looks on wistfully as a group of Swedish girls play a drinking game. A shot at the end of every verse.
Opposite the Metropol, Moroccan fans are singing songs and beating drums, attracting the attention of half a dozen media cameras. Nearby, a group of Colombian fans, a couple of them in Lucha masks, have given up fighting the Moroccans. A huge yellow Colombia banner has been spread out on the ground and on it, a Bluetooth speaker blasts out ‘Colombia, Colombia!’.
A little ahead, a statue of a pensive Karl Marx, left alone to his thoughts for the last sixty years, now looks down upon a group of Egyptians in Mo Salah jerseys. Across the road is the Bolshoi theatre, but a steady stream of fans flow ceaselessly along the footpaths, obstructing passage.
Suddenly, that flow is disrupted. A couple of Brazil fans spot two fans wearing the blue and white Argentine flag as capes, walking towards them and change their tune to ‘Vamos Argentina’. The peace offering is accepted. A woman in a blue Panama jersey asks them for a picture together even as two Mexicans join in. Before the picture can be clicked, the cake has its icing — a man with a Russian flag that has the picture of a bear in the middle. The world’s biggest party has only started.