Muscat: Russia’s win over Spain in the Round of 16 of the FIFA World Cup has once again put the country’s team on the football map, said a senior Russian official in Oman.
Alexander Pogodin, Head of the Consular Section and Third Secretary at the embassy, told Times of Oman that the entire nation was proud of how the national team performed.
“We saw some big countries that didn’t make it out of the groups and others who didn’t make it out of the last 16,” said Pogodin. “We managed to perform well in the group, and when we played against Spain, any person who understands football would say that Spain would just play their own game, and Russia would not be able to challenge them at the same pace.”
“But that is why credit (must be given to) all the guys out there on the pitch who nearly died over 120 minutes,” he added.
“Credit must also be given to the coach, because he was under stress and nobody, even those inside the country, believed in Russia before the tournament.
“He is really competitive and in Russia, we have a saying that the winner has the last laugh.
“This is football and the winner takes it all. It doesn’t matter if you are the underdogs or a first-ranked team.”
Pogodin compared celebrations sparked by Russia’s historic win to New Year festivities. “It’s one of the most prominent wins in the history of modern Russian football, I’d say, and the reaction of the people was amazing,” added Pogodin. “If you take a look on YouTube at the festivities in Moscow and other Russian cities, people went down to the streets and they were shouting ‘Russia, Russia!’ and they were supporting the guys. It looked like New Year, because people went to city centres and they were walking and laughing and hugging each other and they were blowing the horns of their cars.”
“I hope it is not the last festivity we will have during the World Cup,” he added. “You never know, because you see outsiders winning over the better ranked teams. It is football and you never know, but personally, let’s see if we get to the finals and we’ll see what happens when we get there.”
The last time Russia made it to the later stages of a major football tournament was in 1966, when playing as the Soviet Union, and they lost to eventual finalists Germany.
Pogodin said Russia’s 2018 World Cup run was worth the wait.
“It is the biggest football event which happens once in four years, and it is a great honour for Russians, because we’ve gotten the chance to host the World Cup,” Pogodin revealed. “This football event will be one of the most prominent in the history of the World Cup. Some of the countries have had certain concerns about this and some of the countries said we won this but not in the best way.” “It turns out though that after eight years, with more than half the tournament over and after we have built new stadiums and new structures, we introduced the system of Fan IDs, so that people can go to Russia easily and visa-free,” added Pogodin.
“I don’t know if any other country in the world will be able to grant this type of travel, visa-free, to all nationalities.
“If you have a ticket, you get the Fan ID, and your stay in Russia is visa-free. We made our best effort to provide spectators the most comfortable way to come to our country.”
The Russian diplomat revealed that football fans who travelled to Russia for the quadrennial tournament were treated to value-added perks. “We also took care of the transportation between the cities,” he explained.
“Some of the trains for example are free of charge so you can travel distances of up to 1,500km free of charge. We promised to do this at the time of hosting, and we are trying to get the spectators to feel as comfortable as possible.
“The organisation of airports, roads, transport infrastructure, and the building of new hotels was necessary.”
“We also made the effort to help people working on the railroads and airports, as well as police officers to speak better English, because not many Russians speak English,” said Pogodin.
“We built new stadiums and seven of them were built from nothing, while three were modernised to become world-class.”
Pogodin said he was also looking forward to the knock-on effect that his country’s World Cup hosting stint would have on Russians.
“When this event happens in your country, many outsiders come into the country, but there is also much hype and buzz generated inside the country,” he said.
“Boys and girls see the World Cup every day, they see the emotions and they see how much people support the players. They see this and they want to become something one day, so this gives them the stimulus to do so.”