The hostel boss thinks I look like Mickhail Gorbachev.
‘Nyet, nyet,’ I say. ‘Nepravilna (not true). ‘George Clooney!’
Arriving in Rostov on the back of several days in Saint Petersburg puts this military city at a disadvantage. The contrast with the opulence and grandeur of the home of the Bolshevik Revolution couldn’t be sharper.
Rostov is gritty without being grotty. No great shakes. It’s 30-plus degrees. But people are smiling and relaxed. People smile, which is a huge advance on my previous trip to Russia 15 years ago when nobody managed more than a fiendish grimace..
Security is noticeably visible. In St Petersburg, clogged with tourists, foreigners are everywhere so nobody is hassled. Here, after an internal flight, police stop the bus on the edge of the city to check passports.
They visiti the hostel regularly to take away the photocopied fan IDs and passport pages. The owner says Russia 2018 has prompted frequent visits instead of one every month or two. She says I’m only the second Brit to have stayed there.
Rostov fan fest
Next to the awesome Stele monument (pic at the top) it looks like every dance troupe in the oblast (region) has sealed a gig here. As at matches, your backpacks are put through airport-style scanners. You can’t bring drinks in which means you must buy the official sponsors’ fizz, which is not overpriced by British standards.
The entertainment was a mix of cheesy and charming. But once they started performing We are the Champions I had to make my swift exit,having developed a childhood allergy to Queen after being tortured by My mate Tim – now a DJ in Poland – by Sheer Heart Attack.
* Hazard warning – contains excerpt of Queen song
Setting off from the city centre at dusk, the sound of screeching swifts swooping to snap up the last meal of the night drowned out fans. A trumpeter played Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, mounted military passed by on horses. It’s a long walk over the bridge.
Passing by on the bus from the airport, the Arena looks drab. At night the stadium, with images projected onto the grey shell of the stadium, it cuts a glamorous figure on the banks of the River Don, which I think was named after former Cardiff City legend Don Murray.
Up close, the metal panels resemble the Meccano set from my youth. You approach by crossing a huge piazza once you’ve descended from the bridge.
Bliss for the Swiss
Their boys might be favourites but if any fans DON’T deserve to win this tournament, it’s Brazil’s. Maybe they were out of gas after flying over from South America but concerted efforts to get behind their side were rare.
Iran and Morocco on Friday managed a much rowdier, enjoyable atmosphere although much of that was due to constant horns. They were proactive, as were the Swiss here. Brazilians were strangely muted.
Here, it was as if Coutinho’s goal was early proof that a 4-0 win was there for the taking. You can all go home, nothing to see here.
Fans put their feet up, selfie time, argue with your mate time, dance for the camera, spot yourself on the stadium TV and do that goldfish gawp.
The goal they conceded was the best thing that could have happened to Switzerland because they loosened up and took the game to Brazil in a manner that Brazil never matched.
Great tackling, some not-so-great cynicism but quite a lot more spirit and togetherness than the favourites showed.
Disbelief on 75 minutes when Behrami – for me, the man of the match – was pulled off by Switzerland. Though he’d just been booked his replacement was no adequate match, and Brazil had their most intense period of the game. I thought it nearly cost them.
The measure of how disjointed and uneven Brazil were was that some of us turned up hoping to revel in Brazilian brio, samba soccer etc and ended up rooting for a bunch of bankers. And all that after we’d been warmed up nicely by Mexico beating the Germs 1-0.
The Swiss won me over, as did their fans, and the draw felt right.
If this Brazil side is to win onJuly 15, several players are going to have work their backsides off, and win some tackles.
Here’s the vid anyway
And then this
At 1am, bars shut, the sound of music filled Soborniu street. No one mistook me for Gorbachev.
Local lad Ruslan was playing the piano outside a burger joint. In fact he played for an hour.
An Absolutely magical end to the day – I think I enjoyed this more than the match.
Take it away Ruslan: