Space, the final frontier – Colombia 1 Senegal 0

Space city Samara served up a cosmic cracker – the best atmosphere I’ve experienced as a ‘neutral’.

This game almost veered into sci-fi – I was half expecting Chewbacca to come on as sub for Senegal.

It was part-gig, part-sport, part-fashion show, part-performance art, part-continental catastrophe, part-national holiday.

It was a screaming, shattering, hysterical assault on all senses from the get-go.

Cosmos Arena

A long way out of town. A hell of a long way. An hour on the bus in thick traffic.

Really like the wit of this starship enterprise. Samara is renowned for its space industry and Cosmos has flying saucer sleekness and is very subtle.

Many stadiums are balls-out big, towering over the skyline demanding attention. Not this one, which even after the long bus ride requires a 15-minute walk to reach and is a surprise once you turn a corner to find.

Getting inside the ground early affords the dubious privilege of experiencing the inane blather of Russian MCs – always a young bloke and a foxy lady – entertaining, or should that be hectoring, the crowd via stadium TV.

They want us to be happy but fuck off, we’re already high as kites. We’re at one of the plum matches in this tournament. I was desperate to see this one. Travelled thousands of miles for this and got a ticket an hour before the game. I’m chuffed to bloody bits. Don’t spoil it, We’re bouncing.

They do routines in Russian and, unfortunately, English and specialise in Eurovisionesque, earnest, joke-free froth. They make Ant and Dec look like Dostoevsky and Chekhov.

Until Ms Foxy says: “Please welcome the teams out for warm-up on to the bitch.”

Russians often mispronounce p’s as b’s so at least we get an unintentional giggle.


Players acknowledge the Senegal cheerleaders before the match

Players come out on to the bitch eight minutes before kick-off. The noise is incredible. A tornado. Conversation is impossible.

The Colombian anthem is not so much sung as howled by wolves – out of tune too. Impressive and horrible at the same time, I never want to hear it again.

The South Americans open their throats and favour two chants – ‘El Tigre Falcao’ and ‘Vamos! Vamos Colombia! Esta noche tenemos que ganar’ (Come on Colombia, tonight we must win’).

They make the noise. But the Senegallois have the class.

Man they’ve got class.

An entire band of their own. Two sax players, two drummers, and a line of dancing women clapping two bits of wood for percussion.They play and dance the entire 45 minutes. The LOT.

James – pronounced Ham-ezz by his compatriots – has to come off after 30 and it’s like he’s died and we’re at his funeral. Ashes to ashes. All Colombians, healthily tanned, go white. luckily Nobody is sick.

About 25,000 are here, they paid a huge amount to come to Russia. It’s all going tits up.

They couldn’t panic more if the Orel Butchers were heading this way.

The band are fantastic, relentless. On the bitch, Senegal do all the attacking and it looks like this game will only have one outcome. But Mane is shackled quite effectively and for all the long-legged athleticism of his team-mates Senegal fail to get ahead.

Second half

The third row is awash with fans taking pictures of the Senegallois serenaders. They try to oblige but prefer to spend half-time sitting down to conserve energy in the 35 degree heat.

Players are back out on the bitch. The band get back to their feet. Toot the horns, pat the drums, another 45-minute gig soundtracks the second half.

All Colombians are emotionally unstable when their side plays, you realise. Worse than any other nation I’ve witnessed. They put Arsenal fans to shame.

Mood swings of a four-year-old. Bet there’s no Spanish word for phlegm.

Poland score in the other game, and in the 59th minute here, the South Americans go bazonkas, almost crying with joy and there’s 30 minutes to go.

It needs Senegal to boldly go but all they can do is lump it up with the Jolly Green giant Yerry Mina and co win everything.

Four minutes later and Mane falls flat on his Backside in botched attempt at a free-kick.

Then The Jolly Green Giant rises faster than Gagarin in Vostok 1. He scores with a Yerry good header and we have stadium lift-off. Nobody can hear you in space but I reckon they heard this one as Colombia goes mad.

They are a lot calmer after that.

Late on, Falcao is substituted. Against England tomorrow El Tigre will have to show cojones or he risks ending up as El Pussycat.

The whistle sparks pandemonium. While standing on my seat to film the marvellous band, a Colombian almost pushes me off while standing on the seat next to me and most of mine.

He elbows me as he barges past for a pic with a Senegal dancer and he gets one back, spilling his pint and causing him to drop his phone. It sums up the event – a dog-like, ferocious intensity pervades every action – and there’ll be 30,000 Colombians doing it all again tomorrow.

Senegal might be out but we’ve already seen the team of the tournament – it’s the Dakar groove machine behind me.

What a night. It’s football, Jim, but not as we know it.

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