Russia came out on top for crumbling ‘myths and prejudices’

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Russia’s hosting of the most glittering prize in world football was controversial even before a ball was kicked.

Allegations of bribery and corruption swirled around FIFA’s decision in 2010, where the Russians triumphed amongst others against a rival bid from England.

Nevertheless having secured the spoils, Vladimir Putin and his acolytes focused unswervingly on hitting their target of putting on the best World Cup ever – and laying to rest the image of Russia as an autocratic hostile state.

Even the ultra-violent Russian hooligans who targeted England fans at the Euro championships in France two years ago were put on notice to behave or else… and they have.

There were relatively few England supporters in Russia following their team in the group stages, largely because the pre-tournament publicity had focused on the likelihood of violence and a cool reception from Russians.

But it soon became clear that, for the World Cup at least, that couldn’t have been further from the truth… and the England fans began to book their flights.

Which meant at the world famous Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on the eve of the final, president Putin could reflect on his myth-busting efforts.

He said: “We are grateful to the millions of kind words that the guests of the tournament addressed to Russia and our people.

People overlooking the Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg  Russia came out on top for crumbling ‘myths and prejudices’ skynews krestovsky stadium 4361882
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People overlooking the Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg

“We are glad that they liked its hospitality and openness, nature, culture and traditions of our big country. We are glad that our guests saw everything with their own eyes and that the myths and prejudices crumbled.”

At his side, FIFA chief Gianni Infantino reached for the superlatives.

He said on Friday that Russia 2018 had been the “best World Cup ever”, adding that the whole world “fell in love with Russia” for hosting the tournament.

England fans sing songs in Nikolskaya St near Red Square ahead of tonight's World Cup semi-final game between England and Croatia on July 11, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.   Russia came out on top for crumbling ‘myths and prejudices’ skynews world cup england croatia 4359235
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England fans sing songs in Nikolskaya St near Red Square ahead of the World Cup semi-final game between England and Croatia

So was pre-World Cup Russia misunderstood or have we been hoodwinked by a slick PR offensive?

Moscow based analyst Maria Lipman says neither is true, but the real Russia and World Cup Russia are two different countries.

The World Cup is “not a watershed, not a game changer, but it will be a wonderful memory, something for people to remember when they were happy, when there were so many foreigners in Russian cities and they weren’t enemies”.

But Ms Lipman adds “the Russian government will not change its policies domestic or foreign” and she believes the World Cup will have done nothing to counter the West’s view of Russia as a malign state.



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Video:
England World Cup journey comes to a disappointing end

There is no doubt this tournament both on and off the pitch has been an eye opener – how much of that can be attributed to the host’s organisation and how much to the unpredictable results of many of the games is difficult to quantify.

But one thing is for sure – Russia might not have won the football trophy but is undoubtedly a World Cup winner off the field.

Which means Vladimir Putin burnishes his credentials as president even more and the pressure increases significantly on the organisers of the next World Cup – the first to be held in the winter months because of the heat in Qatar in 2022



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