To Russia, with love

2014-07-20 15:00

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As the dust settles after a memorable World Cup in Brazil, with Germany still basking in the glory after lifting their fourth title, the focus shifts to Russia.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter was generous and awarded Brazil 9.25 points out of 10, so Russia has a tough act to follow. South Africa scored 9 in 2010.

Russia will have to convince the world it deserves to welcome visitors from across the world and must have learnt a thing or two from Brazil.

The good

Equalling the 171-goal record set in 1998 proved to be the defining factor of the tournament’s success. The games were not without excitement and supporters enjoyed thrilling football. This was one of the most watched World Cups in recent times, the second largest after USA in 1994 and the largest since the tournament was expanded to 32 teams.

Altogether, the 64 games were watched live by more than three?million people. The event proved to be a social, mobile World Cup as more than one?billion fans were able to join across Fifa’s official digital platforms.

The bad

What would a World Cup be without controversy? This happened even on the last day. Why did Lionel Messi win the Golden Ball Award? Luis Suárez once again hogged the headlines for all the wrong reasons, after biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. The Uruguay striker got a four-month suspension from Fifa for his offence. Ghana’s duo of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari were acrimoniously booted out of their camp. Cameroon’s Benoît Assou-Ekotto and Benjamin Moukandjo were also involved in a scuffle, with the former head-butting the latter.

There were also off-the-field problems. Fifa’s head of hospitality for the World Cup, Raymond Whelan, is still in a Brazilian jail as he awaits trial for ticket-scalping and corruption.

Memorable moments

No one saw Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of hosts Brazil in the semifinal coming. It was the highlight of the tournament and the score will remain in the minds of the soccer-mad South American nation for years to come.

Who will forget the scenes of Brazil supporters in shock and despair after their humiliation? The Netherlands’ 5-1 mauling of defending champions Spain also ranks up there. And it was awesome to see the Colombia and Algeria teams’ reception on their return home.

Way forward

Russia President Vladimir Putin has already approved a $20?billion (R212.9?billion) budget to build new and renovate existing stadiums.

The organisers have promised free rail travel between cities and say they will open the country’s borders to anyone with a ticket, with no need for a visa.

There is still a huge question mark on how the country will deal with the perceived racism of its citizens. Racism and violence in Russia’s domestic league should be a serious concern going forward.

There were pockets of racism in Brazil, which did not go down well with Blatter. “I am not at all happy with the way we fought against racism,” said Blatter, adding that he had spoken to Putin about making the issue a priority at the 2018 World Cup.

Four years might seem like a long time – but it is actually just around the corner.

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