World Cup diary: Ladies and gentlemen, we are underway

Russia flying out of the blocks might have been unexpected but elsewhere there were plenty of the weird and wonderful sights and sounds that you sign up for at major tournament time. 

Artists perform during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Group A match between Russia and Saudi Arabia.   -  Getty Images

Russia got their own World Cup off to a rip-roaring start with a 5-0 routing of Saudi Arabia in Moscow. Stanislav Cherchesov's unfancied side flying out of the blocks might have been unexpected but elsewhere there were plenty of the weird and wonderful sights and sounds that you sign up for at major tournament time. Oh, and Sergio Ramos has been playing to the gallery.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are underway.


St Petersburg's glorious azure skyline and wide-open boulevards were crying out for raucous Russians celebrating their five-star display. But the most visible sight just down the road from the official FIFA fan zone was an impromptu fan party driven by the Iranian contingent, here for their Group B showdown against Morocco on Friday.

There were locals, Mexicans, Australians, Moroccans and more, but Team Melli followers were leading the charge, even throwing in their own interpretation of the Icelandic thunderclap. Right in the mix were plenty of Iranian women who are not allowed to attend games in their homeland. They will get to watch their team live at a World Cup tomorrow. We aren't here to go deep or trite on this diary, but that seemed pretty cool.


Take a stroll along the banks of the River Moskva and you will inevitably stumble across the beautifully manicured gardens surrounding the Luzhniki Stadium. It was built in 1955-56 as part of a wider sports complex designed to help Soviet athletes further their burgeoning impact on the global stage. At its heart was a statue of Vladimir Lenin – the former head of Soviet Russia and the Soviet Union.

A communist revolutionary, Lenin remains one of the most influential figures of the 20th century with his supporters championing his legacy as someone who fought for socialism and the working classes. So, heaven knows what he would have made of the circus that has moved on to his patch over the past week. Budweiser, Gazprom, Coca-Cola, Hyundai and Visa all have stalls on the avenues approaching the stadium. There's even one extolling the virtues of a Chinese dairy firm. Leninism meets rampant global capitalism. The look on his face speaks a thousand words…


While it was a quiet day outside Fisht Stadium, as the locals preferred to soak up the sun beachside and you struggled to spot Spanish and Portuguese fans, it was eventful inside Sochi's picturesque arena. Portugal were the first to front the media on the eve of Friday's Group B blockbuster and things did not get off to the best of starts when the FIFA moderator mistakenly introduced Joao Moutinho as "Coutinho". The Monaco midfielder modestly laughed it off.

Sergio Ramos and new head coach Fernando Hierro were next to enter the press room and Spain's captain was in no mood to dwell on the sacking of Julen Lopetegui. Having been asking one too many questions amid the chaotic departure of Lopetegui, Ramos likened the media gathering to a "funeral" before smiling and heading for the exit.


Joe Hart had plenty to forget about his and England's Euro 2016 campaign but his refusal to discuss who won when some of Roy Hodgson's squad played darts ranked among the more regrettable and bizarre. Fast forward two years to Gareth Southgate's England and the Three Lions squad were having the time of their lives in the Repino media centre, which is kitted out with air hockey, a bowling ally and table football. Oh, and a dart board.

Whether putting in place a facility akin to Tom Hanks' bedroom in Big will help Southgate's men to glory is anyone's guess, but it's a move to be thoroughly applauded.


When you're wearing t-shirts attempting to spell out a name, it's vital you stick together at all times. This group of hapless Russia fans may have a wonderful night in the end after thumping Saudi Arabia but they got off to a truly shambolic start. As the world's media floated round the immediate vicinity of the Luzhniki Stadium before the match got underway, attempting to sample the flavour of the World Cup, several photographers made a beeline for this rowdy bunch.

But there was a problem, a fairly obvious problem. Mr A had gone missing and had been replaced by two interlopers. We've no idea if Mr A ever returned.

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