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PostEdward Mears at the World Cup Final, Moscow (John Eipper, USA, 07/22/18 5:13 am)
Edward Mears writes:
This past weekend I had the good fortune to attend the World Cup final pitting France against upstart Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Although I consider myself a bit of a sports fanatic and have attended countless soccer matches, this was my first time attending a World Cup match. It was also my first visit to the Russian Federation. Both the game and the country did not disappoint.
As has already been re-hashed on WAIS by Eugenio Battaglia and Carmen Negrín, France's "Les Bleus" took down Croatia's world-class midfield in exciting fashion by a surprising final score of 4-2. Recent World Cup finals have not been known as offensive affairs: both teams are typically exhausted by this phase of the tournament, having slogged through five games a piece over the course of a few weeks. This has resulted in finals matches which devolve into goalless defensive struggles and are often decided in extra time (all three prior World Cup Finals were decided in extra-time, and only in that 2006 final pitting Italy against France were goals scored by either team during regulation).
Although the goals scored by both teams in Sunday's final (including an own goal, a penalty and a keeper whiff on a clearance) were a far cry from the level of skill seen on display earlier in the tournament (Pavard's screamer against Argentina (https://youtu.be/Ov39iGAgEn4 ) and Kloos' heroic bender against Sweden (https://youtu.be/hDMuhgabjbo ) come to mind), both teams supercharged their play for the full ninety minutes, thrilling the 78,011 fans in attendance and the millions (billions?) watching at home. Even after going down 3-1, Croatia continued to press until the final whistle and were only a few missed calls away from leveling the score. On the other side of the ball, France's Mbappe cemented his status as the sports next star with the only "clean" goal of the match, and Griezmann looked his part as the cool-handed engineer behind France's high-octane offense, well deserving of the man-of-the-match award.
The excitement of the final match mirrored that of the entire tournament, which was certainly one of the most entertaining World Cups on record--early upsets knocked perennial contenders Germany and Spain out of the tournament, while two of the game's giants--Portugal's Ronaldo and Argentina's Messi--both fizzled out in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, England's young squad made a country of continuously disappointed soccer fans believe again, and Belgium's dark horse run to the semi-finals, complete with an improbable come-from-behind win over Japan, caught many by surprise (though the Belgians would say we should have known).
The 2018 World Cup was also likely the last of its kind, as the next iteration will take place in the Qatari winter of 2022, right in the middle of Europe's professional soccer season. Given the combination of intense heat, limited fan travel, and injury risk to star players in the middle of the season, I wouldn't be surprised if much of the world's top talent decide to sit out 2022. Following the Qatari World Cup, the tournament will make a dramatic transformation as it expands from 32 to 48 teams for the 2026 NAFTA World Cup, no doubt diluting the level of play (have a re-watch of this year's Panama-Tunisia World Cup match for a sense of what the majority of pool play will look like in 2026) as part of FIFA's ceaseless quest for ever higher profits.
As for the match experience itself, the renovated Luzhniki Stadium was first-class, though I am certain Lenin is rolling in his mausoleum at the thought of bright red Coca-Cola and Budweiser sponsorship activation pavilions raking in profits for their shareholders from the sale of criminally overpriced soda and beer right beneath his statute (see picture). Although the soccer was certainly a highlight for me (as well as Pussy Riot's disruption of the match--see picture), I must confess I was a bit more excited to catch a glimpse of the hacker-in-chief, President Vladimir Putin, as he stood on the champions podium to congratulate the teams after the match alongside France's Emmanuel Macron and Croatia's Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. In a power move that would have made Trump blush, only Putin received an umbrella once the rain moved in, leaving Macron and Grabar-Kitarovic completely drenched as all three shook the hands of the French and Croatian players while the whole world watched.
My trip was unfortunately very quick (less than 48 hours total), leaving little time for sight-seeing, but I did manage to make it over to Red Square and into the Kremlin and was able to enjoy some fantastic khachapuri at a Georgian restaurant near Tverskaya. Highlights at the Kremlin were seeing Putin's helicopter fleet take off for Vnukovo Airport to catch his flight to Helsinki on Monday and passing by the memorials for Americans John Reed, Charles Ruthenberg, and William Haywood at the Necropolis.
JE comments: A tour de force, Eddie--thank you/spasibo! It was a historic tournament. Can you give us an idea of Moscow's level of price gouging during the Cup? Lodging? Tickets for the game? And how about that beer in the shadow of Lenin?
Prior to kickoff
This Prole`s for you
Members of protest collective Pussy Riot detained after storming the pitch wearing police uniforms
Yours Truly at the Kremlin Necropolis
John Reed`s grave at Kremlin Necropolis
See you in 2022!
Postscript: Paying for the Moscow World Cup Final (from Edward Mears)
(John Eipper, USA
07/23/18 4:57 AM)
Edward Mears writes:
I saw my July 22nd post this morning--thank you again!
In response to your questions:
Our pocketbooks felt the World Cup premium in Moscow the hardest when it came to lodging. Traveling with three other people and having waited a bit too long to make our hotel bookings, we were more or less priced out of any decent hotels in central Moscow (the cheapest I could find a month prior to the game which was centrally located was approximately USD 900 per person, per night for a 2-star hotel). Most places were completely booked months in advance.
We instead went with AirBnB and found a flat near Mayakovskaya station for a three-night total of USD 1,500 (split four ways, thankfully). I checked the same flat we reserved on AirBnB just this morning, and a three-night stay in September there is now going for USD 245--meaning we paid 6 times the normal rate. I had been a bit skeptical of using AirBnB given the recent purges in Japan (https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Sharing-Economy/Airbnb-removes-80-of-Japan-home-share-listings ) and elsewhere, which left travelers without a place to stay upon arrival, however the flat was very clean, recently renovated, and close to a subway station. In all a very nice experience, ceiling-mounted FSB spy cameras not withstanding.
As for tickets, these were arranged by a friend of mine far in advance. We had Category 2 tickets, which at face-value were USD 710 per ticket. Two days prior to the match, average buy-in to the Final from resellers for Category 3 tickets (USD 455 face value) was USD 2,500 according to Reuters, while certain Category 1 tickets (USD 1,100 face value) were going for up to USD 105,000 from some resellers. For comparison, face value for the cheapest buy-in ticket to this year's Super Bowl in Minneapolis was USD 950, while the average buy-in from resellers was USD 3,806, according to SeatGeek.
As for that beer, it came in at approximately USD 5 for some stale Budweiser. This is still likely better than prices you would get a sporting events in the US (I believe beers at Yankee Stadium go for at least USD 12 these days, if not more), but more expensive than in Japan, where fans are still permitted to bring their own food and drinks into stadiums or can purchase cans of beer inside the stadium for the going rate at any convienience store ("conbini")--USD 2.50.
Finally, I must mention the FIFA FanID, which was a required accoutrement for every spectator to a World Cup Match in Russia. Newly introduced for the Confederations Cup in 2017 and deployed in full for the 2018 World Cup, the FanID functioned as both a Russian entry visa and access card to World Cup venues. In order to enter any of the stadiums for a match, each ticket-holder was also required to be in possession of a FanID, applied for in advance. Several scans of the ticket and the FanID were necessary to get into the stadium, in addition to a very thorough security screening. In order to apply for a FanID, applicants were required to submit biographical information to a Russian-government operated website as well as proof of a confirmed ticket order. This made it much more difficult for ticket resellers to take advantage of the matches, as tickets were almost useless without a FanID (though you did not have to use the same ticket your FanID was originally registered for, meaning some resale was possible provided the purchaser had a FanID). Although this was primarily implemented by FIFA to prevent ticket resale and by the Russian government to closely monitor individuals coming into the country for the World Cup and attending matches, the FanID (which was free) did mean I avoided the hefty processing fees for a Russian Visa (which can be upwards of USD 200 for Americans these days), and could use my FanID to ride the Moscow metro for free on match day. The FanID also entitled a holder to free transport on the regional rail networks to other match cities (meaning you could hop on the Red Arrow for free after the semi-final in St. Petersburg to see the final in Moscow) and to major airports. In the end, the small conveniences/savings offered by the FanID couldn't quite disguise its obvious surveillance function from me, but as the NY Times reported (The World Cup's Hot New Accessory Comes With a Few Questions - https://nyti.ms/2lP5YFl?smid=nytcore-ios-share ), most fans were more than happy to hand over reams of personal data to FIFA/Russia in return for a cool keep-sake from the World Cup (full disclosure: I have mine hanging proudly on my wall).
JE comments: At least the beer wasn't very expensive. (Update: a Budweiser at Chicago's Wrigley Field costs nine bucks.) Eddie, I am fascinated by the comparative prices of travel. Color me bourgeois (or cheap), but I demand a good bang for the buck (euro, ruble, £ Sterling) when on the road. For this reason, I avoid Great Events that lend themselves to oppressive crowds and price-gouging. Other people are of the opposite mind: how can you put a price on the "I was there" factor?
An interesting item at the first link, above: Japan has cracked down on unregistered AirBnB providers, and the rules for obtaining permission to host are so cumbersome that 80% of the listings have disappeared. The obedient Japanese should take a page from Colombia's playbook. In that country, Uber taxis are strictly prohibited, yet you can still download the app and book a ride. Nobody sees the contradiction--including the government, which could presumably shut down the app.