The Luzhniki Stadium morphed into a kaleidoscope of colours a few hours before the opening World Cup match between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia. It was as if all roads led to the stadium of light before the start of the biggest show on Earth.
The imposing Moscow metro was the conduit through which fans from all over the world were flushed out into Sportivnaya metro station, which is just a kilometre's walk to Russia's premier venue decked out in a sea of colour ranging from fluorescent blue to soothing white. Fans in their best bib and tucker not only joined the spectacular festival but also made their noisy presence felt, singing songs, chanting slogans of football heroes and, of course, taking as many selfies as they could. And the funnier your outfit was, the greater the attention you would get from the selfie-bees.
The Argentinians, wearing masks of Messi, Aguero; the Peruvians donning their national team dress; the Panamanians -- one of two World Cup debutants -- sporting their imposing traditional attire, and even the Chinese, whose side failed to make the final cut of 32 participants, turned up in numbers. The Russian and Saudi Arabian fans were singing and dancing together.
A volunteer sitting on a makeshift ladder was constantly alerting the fans while announcing the day's fixture. She was also welcoming fans from across the world. Upon a closer look she proved smart enough to use her cell phone as a Russian-to-English translation tool. Many of them were greeting the fans by shouting 'ole' or 'welcome to Russia!' The Russians, who only a couple of days ago were perhaps thinking that the event would not affect their peaceful ambience, suddenly felt the frenzied vibe of World Cup football. And, to be honest, they appeared more involved and started to come out of their own protected shells to embrace the travelling world.
The procession to Luzhniki was never-ending. It was so overpowering that the security staff of the facility had to divert the exiting masses through a different route. The Luzhniki seats around 86,000-odd fans at full capacity, but at least a two lakh faithful assembled around the facility without a match ticket for the opening game. The presence of so many excess fans was brought about because of emotional attachment and an endeavour to be part of the opening match of the global showpiece of the most beautiful game.
However, they were not to be completely denied as the Fan Fest zone between Vorobyovy Gory and the University, not far away from the Luzhniki, welcomed the influx of fans in a spectacular setting. With as many as four giant screen showing the live telecast of the opening ceremony, it felt like you were very much in the stadium with blinding lights and deafening noise.