As Uruguayan and French fans engaged in a sing-off at the city centre, a few metres away from the FIFA Fan Fest here, a handful of Russian fans joined them late on Thursday.
With a couple of them donning fake moustaches – one of the latest fads in Russia at the ongoing FIFA World Cup – in support of Stanislav Cherchesov, one couldn’t help but wonder how a few games of football have led to a complete turnaround in the evaluation of the national team head coach.
A few weeks back Cherchesov was the national punching bag, the butt of jokes and the target of severe criticism for the team’s international struggles, which included a seven-game winless streak prior to the World Cup. Cherchesov’s Russia were the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams when the tournament began.
Yet, with the team’s best ever World Cup showing in the post-Soviet era, Cherchesov and his boys have led to an outpouring of emotions across the country. Russia are now one win away from emulating the USSR’s performance in 1966.
There isn’t much that the fans want to talk about Saturday’s game though. “We celebrate, whether we win or lose (against Croatia). We didn’t expect Russia to come this far; even if we lose, we are proud of the team,” said Maxim.
The Fan Fest is metres away from the most popular lane in Nizhny Novgorod, the Bolshaya-Pokrovskaya Street, which has some of the city’s most famous pubs.
With thousands expected to be at the Fan Fest and at the screenings at these pubs on Saturday evening, bar-owners are gearing up for heavy business this weekend.
“We will be full on Saturday but we maybe we will remove the chairs outside (in the open-air section) and make more space for people to come. If we win, we will have hundreds more but even if we lose, we will still have many more people coming over,” said Alexander, who is a manager at one of the busiest pubs in the area.
Other cities across Russia will be watching with bated breath when the last-eight clash against Croatia kicks off at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on Saturday.
Like in their last game against Spain, the hosts will begin as the underdogs but as midfielder Aleksandr Samedov summed up to reporters a couple of days before the game, “Now there’s not much pressure.”
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