ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia: Adly Azamin will remember 2018 for a long time to come. It is the year he turned 50, his son Adly Azizi reached 18, and together they ticked a major one off the bucket list by attending the football World Cup in Russia.
“I’ve wanted to go to a World Cup since I saw the 1978 one on TV, held in Argentina and won by Argentina,” said Azamin, who has been a fan of La Albiceleste since.
The financial planner and his son were buzzing after catching the first of three matches they’d bought tickets to - Iceland vs Croatia in Rostov-on-Don on Jun 26.
“The fans were awesome,” said Azizi. “Everyone did the Viking clap, regardless of which team they supported.”
A total of 3,241 match tickets have been allocated to Singaporeans. Also watching her first-ever World Cup in the flesh after “postponing for many years” was finance manager Zuraida, 55.
The long-time Brazil fan was delighted to be in the stands with her husband as her team beat Costa Rica in Saint Petersburg.
“I want to watch all the games but unfortunately due to work commitments, I can watch one only this time,” she said. “But I had a great time in St Petersburg - everyone is very helpful, their metro is very easy to follow and it’s been a wonderful experience.”
Across the country and in the Black Sea city of Sochi, Elamaran Natarajan and his wife watched Portugal and Spain play out a thrilling 3-3 draw that left fans of both teams chanting Cristiano Ronaldo’s name at the end.
“The good experience is definitely the coming together of fans of all over the world,” said Elamaran, who was also in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. “We took pictures and conversed with people from France, Russia, Peru, Mexico, Brazil, Portugal.
“They all had a unique take on football and it was just an electrifying and amazing atmosphere.”
Seasoned World Cup spectator Vishaal Bhardwaj, 40, also had kind words for Russia’s organisation of the quadrennial football spectacle.
Having attended the last three events dating back to 2006, he said it would be hard to match expectations with the exuberant party that was Brazil in 2014.
“But Russia is doing as well as Germany in 2006,” offered Vishaal, who was in Moscow to catch the Germany-Mexico match with a group of 11, including family and friends.
“So many locals have stopped us to ask if we need help,” he said, echoing Zuraida’s point.
“The trains and their stations are art pieces unto themselves. The cleanliness even reminds me of Singapore.”
Vishaal added it was surreal to be in Russia having fun with his parents Pushpinder Mohan, 66 and Nelam Lata, 63.
“My only gripe is the lack of accessibility for older folks,” he said, pointing to Russia’s preference for staircases over elevators both around town and at the stadiums.
Elamaran also said that, to a certain extent, the language barrier made public transport in Sochi difficult.
“There were volunteers to help fans but not enough signage and not many people are able to help us because most don’t speak English,” he commented.
Nonetheless all agreed that the experience of being at “The Greatest Show on Earth” was priceless overall.
“Between my son’s studies and my work, I’m just glad to find bonding time,” said Azamin. “Otherwise we’d just be playing FIFA at home!”