David Lee in Russia for the World Cup: Fans out in full force and in good cheer but Uruguay run out 3-0 winners

A short kilometre's walk along the scenic Griboyedov Canal leading to the Saint Petersburg Fifa Fan Fest next to the majestic Church of the Saviour on Blood turned out to be a 45-minute snail's crawl.
A short kilometre's walk along the scenic Griboyedov Canal leading to the Saint Petersburg Fifa Fan Fest next to the majestic Church of the Saviour on Blood turned out to be a 45-minute snail's crawl.ST PHOTO: DAVID LEE
The crowd was packed but orderly and fans generally remained patient and civil in St Petersburg.
The crowd was packed but orderly and fans generally remained patient and civil in St Petersburg.ST PHOTO: DAVID LEE

ST PETERSBURG - You'll never walk alone, not when it is World Cup match day, and especially when the host nation is playing.

What was supposed to be at most a kilometre's walk along the scenic Griboyedov Canal leading to the Saint Petersburg Fifa Fan Fest next to the majestic Church of the Saviour on Blood turned out to be a 45-minute snail's crawl.

Russia's unexpected perfect start to the tournament had raised eyebrows and interest both among locals and tourists, who thronged to the city centre to follow on the three big screens the action that was going on in Samara.

The Fan Fest exists in all 11 host cities. This one was built for 15,000 people but it seemed oversubscribed as the police set up barricades to control the flow of human traffic, which was packed like sardines and there was almost no way out once you are in the middle of the queue.

Elena tilted her neck and said: "We have not seen anything like this for a long time, maybe when we made it to the Euro 2008 semi-final. I'm sure the first two wins against Saudi Arabia and Egypt played a part in this big turnout.

"It is all good if order is kept, but it can be dangerous if someone falls and there is a stampede. Maybe we should head to a bar instead."

Fortunately, fans generally remained patient and civil - they made way for a fan in a wheelchair to cut to the front - and the police gradually allowed fans in through a tiny gap they opened from the barricades.

 
 
 
 

Past the mandatory security checks, energy levels were high inside the Fan Fest as strains of "Vpered, Rossiya!" (Go forward, Russia!) reached a crescendo just before kick-off as locals held up their flags in a wave of nationalistic fervour.

Even as most were focused on the big screens, the sprawling fan zone was a hive of activity with the official fan shop and beverage tents getting plenty of business from those who are thirsty for souvenirs or drinks - beer costs 200 roubles (S$4.30), and non-alcoholic ones sold for 100, 150 and 100 roubles cheaper respectively than at the stadium.

There were not just Russians and Uruguayans in the house, as Brazilians, Mexicans, Egyptians and even Australians joined in the festivities to cheer the hosts on.

"We have been very impressed by Russia on and off the pitch, and so we hope they can do well, or maybe at least until we meet in the next round," quipped Spaniard Miguel.

Understandably, the mood was a little muted after Russia went two goals and a man down before half-time.

Fyodor Smolov's introduction and Artem Dzyuba's attempts at goal raised some hopes and sporadic cheers, but ultimately Uruguay ran out deserved winners, and Edinson Cavani scored their third, the fans started filing out.

Russians are often described as realists here and Alex put things in perspective when he said: "We are not sad. Why should we be? Look, if you told us we would get six points before the World Cup started, we would have said you are crazy.

"The team have done well to qualify for the next round for the first time since the Soviet days and that is cause for celebration. Davai (Come on)!"