Spanish was the prevailing language on Nikolskaya street as yellow-clad Colombians mingled with Mexican fans in green and white sombreros, while Argentina fans brandished flags bearing Diego Maradona’s face.
It comes as no surprise. FIFA have confirmed that over 2.5 million tickets have been sold for the tournament and nations from the Americas make up over half of the top ten countries at the World Cup when ranked by ticket sales.
Argentina supporters captured the world’s attention in Brazil four years ago with their catchy chant asking hosts, neighbors and rivals Brazil “how it felt to have Daddy in their home?” and proclaiming that “Maradona is better than Pele.” And over 54,000 will be travelling to Russia.
Another 60,000 tickets have been sold to Mexico, the newly-announced co-hosts of the 2026 World Cup. Many are already in Moscow ahead of their team’s opener against world champions Germany on Sunday.
About 65,000 have gone to Colombia while favorites Brazil will be backed by over 72,000 fans. But it’s debutants Peru who have so far stolen the show and put the red in Red Square.
Over 43,000 Peruvians will be travelling from the South American country to support their team in their first World Cup, and the early arrivals made their presence felt in Moscow by unfurling a huge Peru jersey in the street for fans to sign.
The excitement builds
By Thursday morning, Saudi Arabian keffiyehs were also appearing as thoughts finally turned to the tournament’s opening fixture – but green Saudi flags would be in the minority by the time the action got underway in the Luzhniki Stadium.
Chants of “Ra-si-ya! Ra-si-ya!” echoed around the ornate Moscow underground as tens of thousands of locals made their way towards the stadium. Over 871,000 Russians have purchased tickets for the tournament.
Many will have been lucky in the massively over-subscribed ballots for “Category 4” tickets – the cheapest price band reserved exclusively for Russian citizens. Others will have belonged to the more moneyed echelons of Russian society – but all proudly waved their white, red and blue flags and listened intently to Vladimir Putin’s speech.
Vladimir Putin addresses the crowd ahead of kick-off in the Luhzniki Stadium
‘Football unites’ – but not for all
“I congratulate all of you at the start of the most important championship in the world,” announced the Russian president, before taking his seat alongside FIFA president Gianni Infantino and King Salman of Saudia Arabia. “Love for football unites the entire world in one team, regardless of people’s language or ideology.”
It went down well with the 78,000-capacity crowd, but the sentiment will not have been shared by Hajo Seppelt, the German investigative journalist who has been advised not to travel to Russia after exposing state-sponsored doping, nor British human rights activist Peter Tatchell, who was arrested near Red Square on Thursday after protesting against the torture of homosexuals in Chechnya.
Russian fans cheer on their team
Not that that will have concerned all of the Russian fans singing along to Robbie Williams’ “Let Me Entertain You” as the British pop star led the opening ceremony – controversially raising his middle finger to the camera at one point, picked up by German public broadcaster ARD and Fox in the United States, although apparently missed on British television.
And it got even better for the home fans as they saw their team hammer Saudi Arabia 5-0 to put them in pole position in Group A. Denis Cheryshev’s wonder strike was the pick of the goals as he made it 4-0 in injury time, before CSKA Moscow’s Aleksandr Golovin made it five with a neat free-kick.
In the stands, Putin responded with a satisfied shrug of the shoulders – almost as if he’d expected nothing less.
But the ecstatic Russian fans could barely believe what they had seen as they headed back into central Moscow, where the South American party may take on a more Russian flavor tonight.
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