A man from Steinbach has witnessed the roller coaster of emotions in Russia this month.
Chris Koop is at the World Cup on assignment with a company called Roadtrips. Having a grandfather who was born in Russia, Koop says this has been a bucket list destination for a long time and has turned into a very special experience.
When the World Cup started on June 14th, Russia sat 70th in the world rankings. But after two early wins against Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the Russian squad made it to the round of 16 and then beat Spain to advance to the quarter-finals. Koop says that matchup against Croatia produced an ebb and flow of emotions.
Russia was down 2-1 late in the match and then tied it in the 115th minute.
"The collective roar when they tied it," recalls Koop. "I was in the hotel lobby watching the game and the collective roar in the streets, just outside the hotel was just deafening."
Then, moments later the Russians would lose the game on penalty kicks. Koop says there were was no violence or riots following the loss. People were sad and crying in the streets but it didn't take long and there was a sense of pride in a team that performed much better than anyone anticipated.
"I think the country kind of rebounded and still realized that they are part of something very special at this World Cup," he says.
In fact, Koop says some are calling this the greatest World Cup of all time, from both an organizational standpoint, as well as from the upsets and the quality of play.
Koop can't say enough about his experience in Moscow and his love for that city. He refers to it as a gem that people don't quite understand. Koop says it is one of the coolest cities he has ever visited.
"It is so cosmopolitan the city and yet the people are so fiercely proud of their city and the job that they are doing hosting this World Cup," says Koop.
The hotel where he is staying is located near the famous Red Square. He says there was bedlam in the streets after Russia won its round of 16 match.
When you compare what Winnipeg Jets fans experienced this spring in their playoff run, Koop says the euphoria in Russia with a backdrop consisting of iconic landmarks like Red Square, the Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral and crowds three or four times larger than Winnipeg, it is just bigger in every sense of the word.
And Koop says it is difficult to even begin to compare the two when the National Hockey League is North American based, while the World Cup is global.
According to Koop, what we hear through the world media about Russia and what life is actually like there, don't match up. He says before leaving, people warned him to be careful of the "wild west."
"I think unfortunately our North American news media kind of takes some of the negatives and runs with them to an extreme," he says. "To be honest, in my experience anyway, it's just simply not accurate."
Koop says the people of Moscow are so proud of their city and they want the rest of the world to also love it. He describes it as having a European flair with that typical Russian architecture. He says it is the cleanest city he has ever visited and then there is the intrigue of the Cyrillic language, making it next to impossible for him to read any signs.
For Koop, this is his third trip to the World Cup, having also attended in Brazil in 2014 and South Africa in 2010. Though he had the opportunity to attend a match in Russia, Koop says he opted to rather give his ticket to one of their Russian workers. Koop says he feels good knowing someone else was able to go who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity. He adds tickets are very expensive and an average Russian cannot afford to go.