World Cup '18 diary: Selecao carnival, Red Square redecorated

The sombre mood of Red Square in the shadow of the Kremlin has been transformed by the World Cup, as Brazil's show gets back on the road.

The infectious mood of football fever that has gripped Russia continues to put smiles on faces across the country.   -  Getty Images

England's last-gasp victory over Tunisia and Belgium's convincing triumph at the expense of Panama dominated the on-field proceedings at the World Cup on Monday.

But scratch beyond the surface and the infectious mood of football fever that has gripped Russia continues to put smiles on faces - local and foreign alike - across this vast and eclectic country.

 

RED, GREEN, BLUE AND YELLOW SQUARE

Visit Red Square in the centre of Moscow outside a World Cup and you are immediately aware that here certain rules apply.

Policeman clad in black patrol solemnly and tourists wander round in near-silence, fearful of attracting the wrong type of attention, worried that the giant red-brick walls guarding the adjacent Kremlin may have eyes.

Visit Red Square during a World Cup and it's an entirely different place. Anything goes!

A stroll on Monday morning found several Mexicans with hangovers, and groups of fans from all over the globe - Argentina, Sweden, Colombia, Poland, Senegal and Australia to name but a few.

The colour, the noise, the laughter, the endless selfie-sticks…

 

ROSTOV-ON-DON SAYS 'DO SVIDANIYA', SELECAO

It was check-out time in Rostov-on-Don on Monday. 

Not for us, but for the Brazil and Switzerland fans who partied hard and shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw to christen the city's new stadium.

The following afternoon, the stragglers were sharing a beer and watching Sweden versus South Korea in the fan fest outside the enormous Maxim Gorky drama theatre.

But the next wave of revelry is already en route. Uruguay and Saudi Arabia are set to clash on Wednesday.

And we were warned by a Peru fan who has made the capital of Cossack country his World Cup base to expect a huge celebration when Mexico, buoyed by its surprise win over holders Germany, come to town for its showdown with the Taeguk Warriors. 

For now, though, we're off to meet up 'under the balls', a favourite expression for locals congregating beside a monument to Red Army cavalry, their charging steed subversively adorned with disproportionate reproductive organs.

 

DANCE LIKE NODOBY IS WATCHING

When watching all the action unfold on the pitch, it's easy to forget that there's so much that goes on behind the scenes to make a World Cup not only possible, but functional.

In Russia this year, the volunteers are playing such a vital role for everyone travelling to the various host cities, providing information, organising events and just generally being the happy faces of the World Cup.

Those in Kazan are no different and, although things have been rather quiet in the Tatarstan capital today, a few French fans managed to get the local aides involved in their own little activity.

Friendly? Check. Helpful? Check. Able to bust a move? Well, we'll leave that up to you…

 

IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY...

With no activity around Samara Arena until Australia and Denmark rocks into town for its training and media days on Wednesday, there was a perfect opportunity to visit the city's space museum.

Samara has strong links with the aerospace industry, dating back well into the mid-20th century, when the city went by the name Kuybyshev and served as one of the Soviet Union's primary manufacturing bases for the country's space programme.

Easily identifiable by the huge model rocket plonked outside, the museum features several exhibits of satellites and space suits, as well as rare photographs from behind the scenes of Samara's traditionally secretive factories.

Below the ground floor, matryoshka dolls have been decorated to mark famous dates in the Race to Space, famously won by Russia's Yuri Gagarin, who broke new ground by orbiting the Earth in 1961.

The United States' triumphs are not glossed over, however, with Neil Armstrong's historic moon landing also commemorated in the form of the traditional Russian dolls.

 

NIZHNY MORPHS INTO GLOBAL CITY 

Nowhere has the global pulling power of the World Cup been more apparent than in Nizhny Novgorod.

The city, known as Gorky during the Soviet Union era, was closed to foreigners until 1990 and there would have been questions about its readiness to host so many thousands of visitors from abroad.

Those were answered on Monday. The first World Cup match in the city, between Sweden and South Korea, saw fans from China, Mexico, India and Australia descend on the stadium, along with many thousands of Russians.

The mixing of cultures was spiriting to see and will have been a source of comfort for Nizhny's organisers. The same can't be said of the brave Sweden fan who spent the day in a morph suit.

 

NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES, ESPECIALLY OLEG

Football heroes and stars have descended on Russia, fighting for the right to hoist the World Cup trophy aloft.

However, there is one person away from the pitch and behind the scenes that has left quite the impression.

Oleg – the baby-faced employee at Tulip Inn Omega Sochi – has continually shown no task is too big or small amid the influx of football press and ex-players.

Committed to the cause, the hard-working Russian dragged a barrel of beer from the back room to ensure no journalist or fan was left dehydrated amid the World Cup festivities.

Give the man a Ballon d'Or!

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