World Cup 2018 - Congratulations to France
Now that the world cup is finished and we believe that most residents of France had a very unproductive Monday morning due to an evening of celebrating their win, we figured that we would talk about the matches that we managed to see while we were in Russia.
Heading to the World Cup matches was a big part of us organizing our entire year off, and it does take a lot of time to plan it all out. Four years ago we took 10 days off and went to Manaus, Brazil and saw the England vs. Italy match there before spending a week out touring the Amazon rain forests. It was so amazing we said then that we would go to the next one in Russia, and that in 2108 we would do more then a single match. The energy really was that intense, at the stadium and in the whole city as people flock in from different countries and everyone is all excited for their teams - coming back from that trip in Brazil is the first time that we had ever made plans to do something so distant, four years into the future.
Well, we didn't make plans, but we knew that we would be going. The planning comes in later, it takes time. You have to wait for the match schedule with the cities and stadium dates, and then depending on if you care about the teams you want to see you need top wait until the groups are drawn. We didn't care that much about the teams we saw - all of the play will have the raised level of excitement - but we knew what cities we wanted to see, Saint Petersburg and Moscow. When the list of cities came out we briefly thought about maybe seeing some other cities, but we saw that Moscow had two stadiums and, in the early group play round, had games on two consecutive days and we figured that would be perfect. These decisions were made about a year ago, before we had decided to quit our jobs for a year of travel, when talk about taking the Trans-Siberian Train trip was just mentioned as something we would love to do, so the idea was to get 10 days in Russia, see 3 matches, and also be able to see the sights in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Booking tickets is done all online, it's a raffle system, and we put in for the three dates and stadiums we wanted and then we waited about a month before we had a confirmation that we had secured tickets for all that we had requested. This is just a partial release of tickets, after the draw for the groups they release more tickets so that people looking to follow their teams can purchase tickets - we don't know how those sales work since we've always just booked a date - but based on the way fans are seated around the stadium I'm presuming that there is an option to sit with other fans of your team.
It's a long drawn out process, so you have to be committed to going. First requesting tickets, your name and passports are tied to the applications, getting them, sending in to request a FAN-ID (which also works as your entry visa if you need one), receiving the tickets (This is where we had to have them mailed to a friend in China since we didn't have any actual address and you don't know exactly when they will be mailed out). One nice benefit is that by the time you're ready to go to the game you've paid for the matches almost 9 months earlier so you don't feel the pain of how much the tickets actually cost.
Enough history, let's talk about the matches we got to see, we had Brazil vs. Costa Rica, Denmark vs. France, and Serbia vs. Brazil. The way it worked out we were seeing two group stage matches of Group E, so we were guaranteed to see one team twice and three of the four in the group. We've talked about maybe booking three matches from the same group next time so we can see all four teams and just hoping to get a good draw of teams.
One thing that's nice about making the decision to pick matches before knowing the teams, you can book hotel rooms earlier then most people heading to World Cup, for example we paid $95 USD per night for our hotel in Moscow and nearer to the game dates the rates were over $300 per night. We had some frantic calls from the hotel wanting to confirm we were coming since they were overbooked and they were going to try and release the people who paid the least first, unfortunately for them we told them we were definitely going to be there.
Saint Petersburg Stadium - Brazil 2 : Costa Rica 0
This one was our first of the Russian games, we weren't really prepared for the amount of security - it's increased since we went 2014, but not in a way that's as annoying as the airport. Well, it's close. Long lines, then your FAN-ID is scanned, then the ticket, then a metal detector and bag scanner to get into the stadium grounds, and then the FAN-ID and ticket check again to enter the stadium. Not a real issue, but they took our sealed bottles of water away from us, and because I hadn't really though about it, I lost the wine corkscrew that I carry in my camera bag.
We got drinks and up to our seats just as they were starting the national anthems. We had left the hotel 4 hours before the kickoff, took the free transportation buses, and were at the first inspection check about 40 minutes ahead of time. Some of the initial delay was on me thinking we could walk, it turned out to be about 8 kilometers out, 6 left when I released that I was incorrect in thinking it was only 4 km when we first left. The transportation was outstanding, lots of buses, and lots of clearly marked signs.
The match was great, we were near a large section of Costa Rica fans, and they held Brazil scoreless for the entire match, it was only in the additional time after the 90 minutes that they scored, but once they did they were quick to double it up and make the final score look worse then the match was.
Luzhniki Stadium Moscow - Denmark 0 : France 0
We planned ahead this time and got to the stadium a lot earlier. Actually we got free pass into the subway system earlier then we should have been able to, we went in about 5 hours before the match time and it's supposed to be free 3 hours before - I think they just didn't feel like dealing with the language barrier and waved us through as we showed our FAN-ID's. We used the extra time to do a sightseeing tour of the best Moscow subway stations - Tina thinks ahead sometimes and this one really paid off.
Security was the same, I got us off the wrong subway exit and we had to walk all the way around the stadium to where we could enter, but we had time to get our faces painted for France and check out the souvenirs for sale. Some of the match day shirts and scarves are neat, but nothing that we would carry with us for another 6 months.
The match, although see exciting and great to see, was boring (I know, I know, a lot of people always say that we we talk about enjoying soccer), but these were the last set of matches from the group round and both France and Denmark had secured passage into the next round, since neither of them needed a win they didn't play with the aggressiveness one would have hoped for.
This was the biggest stadium for the matches in Russia, probably our best seats of the three matches, and as the biggest this was also used for the opening game and the final where France won it all, it was neat to have been there and able to grasp the size and orientation of the place when you see it later on the television. Same point, the 3rd place match between England and Belgium was played up in St. Petersburg where we saw our first match.
Spartak Stadium Moscow - Serbia 0 - Brazil 2
By now getting to the stadiums and through security was becoming routine, and once again we made it with enough time to get in and see a little of the stadium before the match. Security told me that I wasn't allowed to bring a pen in, this was a new one, but I showed them how I document every dollar we spend in a small notebook and the guard looked to his supervisor and he waved me through. I found Tina talking to guards learning how to pronounce the Russian word for moonshine, somehow that came up when they were doing their check to see that your phone and cameras are real - Tina took pride at all three stadiums in making them look at her photos once they made her turn the camera on.
This match was better, Serbia was hungry and needed to win but here Brazil came out and scored earlier. We were rooting for Serbia, but almost the whole place seemed to be a Brazilian crowd. This match we were once again back in the corner like we were in St. Petersburg, but about midway through the first half they sent a usher up to stand at the base of the stairs to watch for the obnoxious drunks, and her standing was directly between us and the goal.
We, and everyone in our section, would ask her to move by waving her away every other minute when play returned to our end, and she tried her best to move out of the way and duck down, we felt bad for her as there wasn't much she could do, but she really couldn't do much herself if she had seen a problem either so we weren't sure why they had sent her up to stand there.
Three matches, three stadiums, it was a great experience. The whole thing really needs to be seen to understand how amazing it all is, the fans, the feels of the cities (although Russia was somewhat less subdued then Brazil) as the world descends into cities and just creates this great energy. Everyone is friendly, you see fans of the opposing fans talking and joking, everyone sharing where they are from (Tina talked to some Germans from the small town her cousin lives in), and with the fans that follow their teams you get some really enjoyable moments. We talked to other fans in the hotel bars each night after the Moscow matches, the energy really is infectious. After the France-Denmark match we talked to a photographer from Denmark who's handler was out trying to secure hotel rooms for their next match since it was that days game that determined what stadium they would be moving to next. There was another group of fans we were talking with from Mexico, one who said 4 years ago he wasn't going to do Russia but decided that once it got close he didn't want to miss it, we said that we were questioning going to Qatar in 2022, he laughed and said "I'll see you there..." He's probably right.