Singapore fans soak up Cup atmosphere

Kenny Cheong and his wife Annabelle Tan at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi. He said the highlight of their trip was watching the 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal. Below: Long-time friends Tilak Dasgupta and Richard Tan at Saint Petersburg Stadium.
Kenny Cheong and his wife Annabelle Tan at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi. He said the highlight of their trip was watching the 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal. Below: Long-time friends Tilak Dasgupta and Richard Tan at Saint Petersburg Stadium. The former said watching Argentina beat Nigeria 2-1 was "an amazing experience".PHOTOS COURTESY OF KENNY CHEONG, TILAK DASGUPTA
Kenny Cheong and his wife Annabelle Tan at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi. He said the highlight of their trip was watching the 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal. Below: Long-time friends Tilak Dasgupta and Richard Tan at Saint Petersburg Stadium.
Kenny Cheong and his wife Annabelle Tan at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi. He said the highlight of their trip was watching the 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal. Below: Long-time friends Tilak Dasgupta and Richard Tan at Saint Petersburg Stadium. The former said watching Argentina beat Nigeria 2-1 was "an amazing experience".PHOTOS COURTESY OF KENNY CHEONG, TILAK DASGUPTA

Being able to experience historic moments in Russia was well worth the effort, they all concur

Charles Cheung grew up idolising Cristiano Ronaldo, who first came to prominence at the club the 23-year-old student supports - Manchester United.

Sensing that this could be the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's last World Cup, he decided to take the plunge, saving up money from working part-time jobs in school to fly to Russia for the "once-in-a-lifetime experience".

Fortunately for him, the 6,700km journey actually turned out to be a dream come true.

He said: "I watched Portugal draw with Spain 3-3 and to see Ronaldo score a hat-trick live was unimaginable.

"The crowd went crazy. We were screaming with the Portuguese fans and we saw people hugging and kissing each other. One man was wiping his tears with his shirt at the edge of the protective fan barrier.

"I thought it would be a game with two to three goals, but to watch six goals in one of the most exciting games in the group stage just made the trip worth every penny."

Fellow Singaporean Tilak Dasgupta went to Russia and also watched history being made - albeit from a fan zone in St Petersburg and not in the stadium in Kazan.

The 43-year-old engineer and Richard Tan, his friend of 18 years, enjoyed Argentina's 2-1 win over Nigeria in Group D on June 26, saying: "It was an amazing experience to feel close to 65,000 fans rocking the stadium with their patriotic chants to push their team in their final group match into the next round."

But it was South Korea's historic 2-0 win over Germany in Kazan the next day, which knocked the defending champions out of the World Cup, that gave them goosebumps.

"We watched the game on the huge screen at the fan zone and we witnessed a stunning upset of the reigning world champions by an Asian country for the first time in history," he said.

"Even though we are not Korean, we felt so proud when Korea beat Germany."

Not only did the Korean team enjoy their time in the international limelight, but a small number of their fans also got their 15 minutes of fame when supporters of other teams wanted to take photos with them in the zone.

Asked if he was concerned that upset fans of Germany would turn nasty, he added: "We were never fearful of our safety as security was very tight."

The undeniable charm of Moscow and the World Cup did not end there for Dasgupta and Tan, who met many fans from around the world.

He said: "We found a friend's relative who had travelled from Estonia for a game and we soaked up the atmosphere and cheered on our teams together."

Interior designer Kenny Cheong was one lucky fan who picked two games to watch in Sochi and each featured at least three goals.

The 36-year-old paid US$200 (S$270) a ticket to watch Portugal's 3-3 draw with Spain and Belgium's 3-0 win over Panama and was pleased he got his money's worth.

He said: "The highlight of the trip was Spain v Portugal. It was incredibly exciting and both teams never gave up, even at the end.

"The atmosphere at the matches was amazing. There is a real difference between watching on television and live at the venue. My wife and I will never forget the experience."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2018, with the headline 'S'pore fans soak up cup atmosphere'. Print Edition | Subscribe