Welcome, once again, to the world. Eight years, $19bn and two terms in the glorious 100-year rule of Vladimir Putin in the making, the 2018 World Cup in Russia is upon us. This has been a fittingly Soviet-scale construction project, taking in eight new superstadiums, thousands of miles of new roads and 53,000 civilian volunteers trained in the arts of pointing, waving and – toughest and most Russian of all – smiling at strangers.
As ever the greatest show on earth carries its own irresistible heat before the tournament opener on Thursday afternoon. The Authentic Doug Flutie Jersey World Cup may be compromised by greed and murkiness. Fifa may have become a kind of floating corporate city state, orbiting the globe, planting its great clanking tentacles down among the ripest pastures. But as preparations thrummed up through the gears in Moscow on Wednesday there was a familiar sense of clarity, of that background hum beginning to die away.
It is one of football’s mysteries that no matter what its governing bodies throw at this great belching, burping circus, the spectacle at its heart somehow remains pure and impossibly more-ish. There will be the usual moments of beauty and outrage over the next 35 days and 64 matches. On Saturday afternoon Lionel Messi, the greatest footballer of the modern age, will take on an Iceland team managed by a part-time dentist.
On Monday the odd-job street footballers of Panama will kick off their first ever World Cup, by the Black Sea. In Rostov the aristocrats of Brazil seek revenge for the humiliation of 2014 and for now the opening exchanges of any World Cup remain a four-yearly Christmas Day, an occasion that resonates with a deeply personal excitement.
At which point, the world beyond must also come rushing in. Should Fifa’s simperingly insincere football family be here at all? When Russia’s players walk out to face Saudi Arabia on Thursday they will do so as emissaries of the world’s largest land mass, a nation with a long-standing football culture and with the will to put on a grand show.
But still the question of Russia itself remains. There will be no shortage of pop-up Moscow expertise over the next few days, plenty of just-add-water holding forth on the exact scope and meaning of Putin’s sui generis superstate.
This is not a criticism of attempts to put this spectacle in context, something everyone from Boris Johnson to Frankie Boyle (from whom this article has already stolen at least one Putin joke) has had a go at.
What really stands out is the impossibility of the task, the basic dizzying oddity of Russia and a political system the writer Peter Womens David Bakhtiari Jersey Pomerantsev has described as “a post-modern dictatorship”.
A while back Gary Lineker offered a little handy moral relativism, http://www.dolphinsshopfootballonline.com/Matt-Haack-Jersey floating the oft-repeated and deeply Russian notion that as there is corruption and murkiness in every country it is hypocritical to censure Russia for doing something similar.
While this is true in one sense, it also eliminates at a stroke the question of degree, obscuring in Russia’s case the lack of political opposition – liberal Russians sometimes refer to the system as “a shitocracy” – or the fact Amnesty International has voiced concerns about violence against dissenting voices.
Naturally the president was a visible presence in Moscow on the eve of the big kick-off, appearing suddenly on stage at the Fifa congress that would later award the United States, Mexico and Canada the 2026 tournament.
As Putin took the microphone the World Cup trophy sat gleaming on its plinth a few yards away, a mirror image of smooth golden otherworldly alpha power. Relaxed as ever, with that strange capacity to fill any room with his presence, Russia’s leader spoke approvingly of Gianni Infantino – and without a false note right up until the moment he described Fifa’s president http://www.officialcoltsfootballshop.com/Nike-Al-Woods-Jersey.html as “our front man”. Translation issues, no doubt.
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