Moscow: Mexico vs. Germany

This was a tough one. Born in Germany. Love Mexico. Hate the Mexican national team. Like the German team. Hate the Mexican national team. Love salsa…

In the end, we went ‘ full facial’ for Germany….with lederhosen…and got us on Colombian tv. Turns out that oil dried quickly, peeled the skin off my eyes, lasted for three days and was not the best choice in the end.

Back to the game. This game took on epic proportions for our crew as it was split with Mexico fans and German supporters. But, for some it was more personal.

Imagine Stallone vs. Drago in Rocky IV. That was this game for our trip, which was affectionally billed as the “Divorce Game”, pitting Chris Wode and his German roots against his wife and her Mexican heritage. The winner of the game got to pick the name of their unborn baby, and Chris was nonplussed at the prospect of his child being named Javier Vela Wode…although it couldn’t have made us happier to remind him of the possibility. Nonetheless, he was confident in a victory and the resulting name of Chris Dieter, Jr.

This picture gives some insight into the baby’s name…

Wode preparing for Little Chicharito at home.

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Moscow Day 3: Argentina vs. Iceland

Iceland vs. Argentina

Iceland, the debutantes at the ball, in their first time ever in a World Cup, have brought a huge swath of their fans, and really, their country to support them. Here is their Iceland Viking Clap- their rallying cry, which, by the way, is awesome. Really awesome.

Other that the final, this was the only game that initially sold out, based on the incredible support Iceland had from their fans and from the interest they drew from other countries. We were all in for the Iceland squad, except Fabian…who chose allegiance to South America over his heart.

The Argentines, in their own supporting culture, draped banners all over the stadium: names of players, national themes…I saw a picture of a Golden Retreiver. And crying Argentines after the tie.

The game was at the Spartak Stadium which holds about 35,000 fans and was split pretty evenly between the two teams’ fans. We were in the Iceland section or an Iceland section, which was super fun to be in the middle of the Iceland cheers.

We were close to the field by the touch line, which was great for the first half while Argentina was attacking but we were pretty far from the action in the second half…which didn’t matter much since the Iceland fans were treating a tie as a win, so they were fine with the result.

Our friend’s wife wouldn’t let him go to Russia so we brought him with us…

Moscow sidebar

Quick post on my initial thoughts on Moscow and our experience…

First of all, Moscow is a huge city and the key sites seem to attract all of the World Cup visitors. We are averaging about 17,500 steps a day.

Moscow has done a great job welcoming the high influx of fans. It appears they put their collective political and social backing behind the hosting of the games: the streets are immaculate, the new sod still has the seams, the lighting on the sites are bright, the people are friendly, the volunteers all speak English; and young. It seems like the new generation has embraced English while the older generation is not as well-versed. The people are genuinely friendly and will offer assistance or guidance, as needed. The servers are great, although maybe not as expedient as the US. Overall, the people are not effusive and they almost have a reluctant friendliness or begrudging friendliness. They would offer any help but it isn’t natural.

The subways have recently added English in the cars and they have cars running continuously. At the games, there are hundreds if not thousands of young military enrollees lining the exit routes to ensure an orderly exit.

The entire logistic process has been impressive.

That being said, we still struggle at times with the exits or best routes and if it should take 5 minutes we can easily make it take 25. If it is 15, we find a way to make it 45…our intrepid navigator, Fred, has now been fondly nicknamed Fredgellan for his innate ability to take us the long way.

Moscow, while the capital, and granted we were not in the financial district, doesn’t seem to be a huge commercial center. The bakery next door opened at 8 and the streets were empty at 7 and 8…maybe they are late starters to meet the other global markets. They could learn a thing or two from us. One of our veterans loves going “full facial” with the face paint. Don’t judge, he’s only 60.

As we approached the face-painter for the Germany game, he insisted we join him in his passion.

He asked the price, which was 1,000 Rubles. He replied emphatically that it was too much and he wanted to buy four and we should get a discount.

He countered with 4,000 for four. She accepted. Trump would be proud. We are good capitalists.

Russia Day 2: FanFest

After our night of building international relations, we wanted to visit the Kremlin to check in on our new-found fame. The Kremlin hadn’t heard about us, nor were we the only tourists in Red Square for lunch.

After lunch, we headed over to the FanFest to watch some of the games. The set-up was incredible with the backdrop of Moscow State and downtown Moscow flanking the big screens.

Great Spain game…and then to a great restaurant that loved the fact that we were supporting Russia in Moscow. Gifts and vodka ensued- the vodka was housemade specialties made from bread, chiles, Ukrainian kids and fruits.

Dinner was at 1:00 AM, and we happened to go back for lunch at the same place at noon. It is the first time I have had dinner and lunch at the same place on the same day. Not lunch and dinner but dinner and lunch. I recommend the former not the latter.

Russia Day 1: Moscow

Yuri, Igor and Dmitry walk into a bar. No, that isn’t a bad joke. Those are the first three Russians we met.

Wearing Russian jerseys helped break the ice and by the first goal, 12′ in, Yuri bought us a round of vodka. By the second goal at 43′, Dmitry had joined our group and was in our group. The goal for Russia at 78′ was about the time Igor invited us to play hockey with him; the 90′ goal was when we were invited to Igor’s house for dinner and the 93′ goal was, well, just another shot of vodka.

If the Russan’s were surprised to see a group of Americans in Russia when the US didn’t qualify, they were even more surprised to see us all wearing customized Russian jerseys and leading the bar in “Ru…sss…ia” chants. I guess not a lot of Russians are coming to the US in 2026 wearing US jerseys singing “USA!”. We couldn’t walk past a group or table without taking pictures or being offered vodka. The former was ok, the latter didn’t end well for us. One lost phone, two lost people, and a lost Uber ride to Siberia were some of the casualties of the first night.

Not surprisingly, they thought we had American doppelgängers. Maybe less surprising considering Russian culture, our doppelgängers were 1980’s celebrities: Danny Devito and Jack Nicholson.

But, we found people that were our actual doppelgängers:

Russia: Day 1

Having read Red Notice and Red Sparrow, akin to reading “The People’s History of the United States”, I felt I was up to speed on Russian history and culture and ready to embark on my first trip into the Motherland. This article on Russian hooliganism also helped get acquainted with the culture… http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/23659183/world-cup-2018-russia-new-school-hooligan-culture

Following my immersion into Russian culture, I felt I needed a little soccer history, and US soccer history, as this event was bereft of our participation. This podcast https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/american-fiasco/id1389231303?mt=2&i=1000412960034 as an excellent start, even if it led me to this video of our 1990 team. https://youtu.be/fzLtF_PxbYw

The group for this year’s Cup consists of 7 holdovers from our trip from Brazil and one that went to both Brazil and South Africa with me, Chris Wode. Chris’ wife is en route tomorrow with their unborn soccer fan in tow. One participant, a holdover from Brazil and a frequent world traveler, misplaced his passport yesterday and was at the US Consulate all day trying to get a new one. He missed our flight and as of this posting, we are unsure if he is joining…

Speaking of our flight, it is an 11:40 minute direct flight on Aeroflot. So far, my initial perception is that the Russian language is impossible to understand, the service is good , the food above average and the flight attendants are superficially nice but have little patience. Maybe not so different than United or American…resting bitch face seems to be an obligatory requirement for hire.

The current itinerary is to land in Moscow on the 14th, the start of the tournament. Our first day will be to get acquainted in Moscow and head to the FanFest to take in the Spain/Portugal game.

Day 2 is is our first game: Messi’s Argentina vs. the tournament darling, Iceland. The size of Anaheim, Iceland is making its tournament debut following their surprise showing at the 2016 European Championship. This game, aside from the Final, is the only game that sold out during the pre-tournament ticket phase. To learn more about Iceland’s improbable run and team, check this out.

http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/23793289/iceland-world-cup-run-enthralled-nation

My first foray into foreign World Cups, South Africa, was comprised of both games and local tourism. Argentina vs South Korea one day, a great white shark dive the next. Germany vs. Australia one day, a safari the next two. Lion Park during the day…and Cameroon vs. Denmark at night. US vs. Slovenia was the highlight with a late tie for the US in historic Ellis Park, a famous rugby ground.

Brazil was not as nuanced…drink at the beach during the day…game the next.Rinse and repeat. Salvador and Rio were great host cities and offered insight into a quaint beach area and slave entry into South America in Salvador, and then the bustling Rio as a counterbalance.

Russia is using 11 host cities for the tournament and our tour will be covered in two host cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg. Following the aforementioned Argentina game, we will cap off our Moscow stay with Germany vs. Mexico. Coincidentally, this is our third Cup in a row with Germany. It is a coincidence, because we book our cities and buy our tickets before we know which teams are playing.

On Monday, we take a ‘high speed’ train from Moscow to St. Petersburg for the next pair of games: host country Russia vs. Mo Salah’s Egypt and the last match of our trip on Friday: Neymar’s Brazil vs. our region’s runner-up, Costa Rica.

We have two more days in St. Pete before heading back to Moscow on an early flight and then home and begin prepping for Qatar…

50 Shades of Fogo

On an unseasonably cold Sunday at Nansen, Fram was met with a resurgent side in Elite FC. I am not sure they quite understand the definition of Elite…you know, with 12 losses and all. But at least they have 0 ties. They lead the league in fewest ties. They are Elite in not tying.

As Fram was set to lineup, Coach Bill Mikkelchick worked on his tactical prep of the Fram squad. He astutely noted that Elite FC have a lot of players, so be aware of that. He then noted that they will get tired quickly so we should run a lot. Feeling prepared, Fram took the field….with 10 players. Arsene Mikkelsub, in a punitive move to bench a top striker, started Sheldon not only on the bench but in the locker room. Actually, that wasn’t Coach Mikkelcalm’s doing. Sheldon decided to change shorts as the game started. Erik was super ok with this move and happily tried to get Sheldon into the game at the first available moment. Christophe, looking confused, offered his back up tights. Sheldon said he was ok with this shorts and we were all set after a few minutes.

Adding to the concoction of Mt. St. Mikkelsen was the fact that Paul forgot his jersey halfway to the game(it was in his Uggs bag), Tim had to pitch to his son’s tee-ball team and Chirgy was just coming at half. Adding to the revolving door of Fram players, Brian, Eddie and Mauricio were leaving at half and Wode was a no-show, attending the ever-popular convention, “First Annual HavapooCon for People That Only Post Pictures of Their  Dog Wearing Soccer Jerseys and Halloween Costumes.” Somewhere, Adam Pomfret is jealous.

Fram came out and expectedly had 75% of the possession but was not creating many dangerous chances. Elite was surprisingly creating some counters against Fram but Fram was solid in defense…less a few wayward passes out of the back.

Then Fram got on the board.

Magic and Kareem. Goodman and Mackerer. Montana and Rice. Great sports duos. Once again, they came through. After Fram figured out that there was space on the wings, they began to open up Elite. After a solid build up, Fram sent the ball wide to Mackerer, who spotted a streaking Goodman. Goodman volleyed in the cross from 18 out to put the hosts up 1-0. Screams from the bench were for Goodman to improve his celebration. He said you need to act like you have been there before. But, has he? Anyway, halftime came with Fram up 1-0.

Tony Robbinssen came in to espouse positivism and reaching our potential. Here is how he asked about Brian’s hurt shoulder,”No more bad balls back there, Brian.”

Chirgy reminded us to play it early but if he gets it, expect him to take a few touches. Fram came out and had a clear cut chance but Chirgy tried to play it first time…well, he did, right out of bounds.

Fram continued to dominate and netted their second when perennial playmaker, Jeff Goodman whipped a perfect left footed cross to a streaking Todd, who hammered home on a clean finish. 2-0.

Fram almost had a third when, now left back, Mackerer blasted a one-timer that was cleared off the line by the Elite keeper. Lags, quite impressed with the attempt, added that he was too impressed to comment on the shot. Well, moments later he had the ball on Fram’s half with no one around. Lags took a birthday touch, looked around and his failing 42 year old body crumpled and led to an Elite counter. Luckily, it wasn’t elite, as half our defense was laughing out loud during the attack.

As the game wound down, their central midfielder came in with a high, two-studded challenge to Paul’s shins. Paul was gracious in the player’s apology…as he was quickly shown red. No chest or neck stomps followed.

Fram took the 3 points and enjoyed some beers in the locker room to celebrate Tony’s 50 years, Lags’42 and the fact that Brendo now brings veggie plates to the post game celebrations.

*Editor’s note: Blasted and Streaking are used generously.