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What Russia can teach us about hosting a World Cup


Hosting a World Cup – While some of the specific details still remain to be decided upon, we know that Canada will be hosting, at least part of, the 2026 World Cup. Of course, Canada is no stranger to holding international sporting events, with Montréalers reminded of the fact every time they walk down Pierre-de-Coubertin Avenue. Preparations are sure to be painstaking and diligent, but there is no guarantee that the World Cup will be seen as a success, certainly from a sporting perspective. That’s no slight on the planners behind the event, it’s rather a harsh reality of sporting events.

You see, not all World Cups are created equal, and the ones that are least anticipated can surprise us most of all. A case in point being the current World Cup in Russia. By and large, the build up to the Finals were tepid, with few Western media outlets covering the lead up to the event with as much as gusto as, say, South Africa 2010 or Brazil 2014. Of course, there are geopolitical reasons behind this, but even the coverage in the sports pages was uncharacteristically muted.

Russian belief grew after first game

And then, Russia 2018 went off with a bang. On the pitch, the hosts dazzled with a 5-0 victory in their opening game. With a distinctly average side and a lowest ever FIFA ranking, Russia were as unfancied as the Senators, 100/1 in the current betting, making a tilt at the Stanley Cup this year. But that victory sparked the team and the Russian people into life. The belief became palpable among the squares and fan zones of Russian cities.

Games were coming thick and fast, with shocks, dominant performances and surprises a plenty. To sum up the drama in the tournament, consider that 10 winning goals were scored in the last few minutes of games – twice that of the last five World Cups combined. As the tournament progressed, it became clear that the Russian public was seen as warm and welcoming, a far cry from the ‘hooliganism’ fans were warned about pre-tournament.

German and Spanish exits added to the drama

By the time the quarter-finals came around, Germany had been slayed and mighty Spain had been vanquished by Russia. The noisy celebrations surrounding the latter could be heard from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad. Eventually, the Russia team ran out of steam, losing to Croatia in a heart-breaking quarter-final. But the team’s unity and never-say-die attitude should be something the Canadian team should take heart from, even if they do end up as major outsiders in the odds.

At the time of writing, the semi-finals have just been set out in Russia. With England facing Croatia, and France playing Belgium for a place in the Final. Only the French team were truly among the betting favorites pre-tournament. Indeed, Croatia were available at odds bigger than 30/1 before the World Cup. A special mention must go to England, so often the laughing stock of major soccer tournaments. A young manager, Gareth Southgate, made them into a dynamic team, and, moreover, a likeable one.

So, what can Canadians learn from this wonderful Russian World Cup? Everything and nothing. There is, unfortunately, no small amount of serendipity that goes into make a special World Cup. But, we can also embrace the event with all the passion and warmth that the Russian public did. It was clear that they knew they would likely never get the chance again. They also got behind their team, making it more than the sum of its parts. If we can do that for the Canadian team eight years from now, who knows how far it can go?


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