MOSCOW: There are no volunteers at the Luzhniki, prepping the stadium for the next match. There are no fans at Moscow’s metro stations, flashing their FanIds in frustration as officials try to explain that free rides only start five hours before the game. The Red Square is now more or less red and no longer the dash of yellow, green, blue and white it was for the last month. Vendors at the Izmailovsky flea market are wrapping up unsold World Cup merchandise and preparing to stash them somewhere dark. The 2018 World Cup is over. Thirty-two days were not supposed to pass by this quickly. But what a World Cup it was! Right from Day 1, when the hosts pumped goal after goal past Saudi Arabia, prompting chants of Ra-Si- Ya, it was clear that this World Cup was not going to bore.
On Day 2, Iran beat Morocco while Spain and Portugal scored three goals past each other. From then on, it was chaos. Leo Messi & Co qualified for the knockouts with just minutes left, losing to Croatia and being held by Iceland along the way. Iran nearly beat Portugal and nearly held Spain. For once, an England team inspired its entire fanbase. And the defending champions Germany were knocked out in the group stages with a 2-0 loss to South Korea.
The numbers talk of a tournament where dullness was minimal — England-Belgium and France- Denmark in the group stages and England-Sweden in the quarters are exceptions. Remarkably, there was only one game in the entire tournament without a goal. Nine of the winners were scored after 90 minutes. There are a lot of things the world will miss about Russia. Off the pitch, they will miss the healthy servings of borscht and rassolnik, the free trains and the ever-smiling volunteers. On it, they will miss a lot more. They will miss the spunk of the host nation’s football team as they made an improbable run to the quarterfi-nals. They will miss the magician that is Leo Messi and the force of nature that Cristiano Ronaldo was in the few games he played here. They will miss Tite standing at the touchline with his hands on his chin and Neymar rolling around in an endless loop.
They will miss Kylian Mbappe outrunning the wind, Diego Godin’s reliability and Philippe Coutinho finding spaces to pass into with the expertise of a master-weaver threading a needle with the narrowest of halls. The own goals, the penalty shootouts, the goalkeeping blunders and even the referee drawing a television with his hands and running off the ground in the middle of the match to watch a replay. They will miss the sheer grit of the Croats, running past obstacle after obstacle. And of course, they will miss the French who mastered the art of doing just enough, only to do a lot more than that in the final. Russians too will wake up in a different country in a couple of days when the last of the football fans have left their shores.
And at some point, they too will wake abruptly in the middle of the night, after having dreamt of Colombians taking selfies with Marx and Lenin, Moroccans wearing ushanka-hats, Panamanians going wild for the one in six-one, Argentinean fans banging on the roofs of their metro trains and English fans unceasingly singing ‘It’s coming home!’. Do Svidanya, Rossiya. Spasibo bol’shoy (Goodbye Russia, thanks a lot)!