Football Loss Can't Dampen Fans' Enthusiasm

APFlag-waving fans greeting Guus Hiddink and the Russian team during a concert at Luzhniki stadium on Friday.
"Only Russia and only victory," a drink-sodden football fan sang without irony as he rode the metro home alone at 1 a.m. Friday.

"Ole, ole, ole, ole! Russia is champion!" he chanted hoarsely, unintentionally echoing the jubilation that must have been spreading from Madrid to Mallorca at that very moment.

Instead of the 3 million revelers expected to flood onto city streets had Russia won, city police said 50,000 ardent fans stayed out to celebrate their team's improbable run in the tournament, which ended with a 3-0 semifinal loss to Spain early Friday.

By reaching the semifinals and playing some spectacular football along the way, the national team far exceeded expectations and notched Russia's best result ever at a major tournament. Along with the other losing semifinalist, Turkey, the team receives bronze medals for its effort.

After a stunning quarterfinal victory over the Netherlands, hope had turned to hype and expectation ahead of Thursday night's game in Vienna.

Thousands of fans packed into bars around the city to cheer on the team led by Dutch coach Guus Hiddink and playmaker Andrei Arshavin.

Ahead of the game, old women sold flags for 200 rubles instead of the usual fruit and flowers along Tverskaya Ulitsa. In an underpass near Red Square, a line stretched out from a kiosk selling patriotic memorabilia.

In a bid to avoid disturbances, the city center was turned into a dry zone as shops stopped selling alcohol between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., forcing beer hunters to head out of the center and alcoholics to beg vendors in vain. Cars were towed away without warning from central streets.

More than 4,000 police officers were deployed to patrol the streets, but despite the beefed-up security measures, isolated scuffles broke out around the city.

A law enforcement source told Interfax that a brawl involving 500 young people erupted in the South Butovo district on the city's southern outskirts and that several kiosks were attacked and beer looted early Friday. City police spokesman Viktor Biryukov later denied that there was a brawl.

About 220 people were detained for offenses ranging from public drunkenness to being too loud, the source told Interfax.

Russia's team was welcomed back to Moscow on Friday with a rock concert at Luzhniki stadium. Several hundred fans waved flags and danced to music as the team stood on a stage outside the stadium.

"At the start of the tournament we said if we got to the quarterfinal it would be a success, but we got to the semifinals," Hiddink said earlier at the airport, Vesti television reported.


Oxana Onipko / MT
A football fan watching the match.
The game stirred emotions -- and upset work schedules -- beyond Moscow as well.

At the UN headquarters in New York, Russian officials had a Security Council meeting on the Middle East postponed because it clashed with the match, Reuters reported.

In the Belarussian capital, Minsk, special police units had to be called in to protect about 50 local youths wearing red and gold -- the colors of the Spanish flag, Interfax reported.

In Yekaterinburg, the director of a local concert hall where Spanish crooner Julio Iglesias was to perform told Interfax that the concert organizers would ensure his safety with a large retinue of security guards.

President Dmitry Medvedev will meet with the Russian national team in the near future, a Kremlin spokeswoman told RIA-Novosti.

While most Russian fans conceded that their team had simply been outplayed by a superior opponent, some saw sinister explanations for the loss.

Flamboyant politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky said Russia may have fallen victim to a conspiracy involving mind-control technology developed by the Germans during World War II and the influence of high-ranking Spaniards in Europe's ruling organizations.

"The team has never played that badly," Zhirinovsky said, Regnum.ru reported. "It played better against the Swedes and against the Dutch, and all of a sudden they couldn't do anything."

n Authorities in Tolyatti have arrested a man suspected of murdering his neighbor for cheering for the Netherlands in the team's 3-1 loss to Russia in last week's Euro 2008 quarterfinal, Interfax reported Friday.

The suspect went to his neighbor's apartment and stabbed him to death with a knife on June 21, local Investigative Committee official Nikolai Chernyakov said.

He then got his brother to help him dump the body in the stairwell of their apartment building Chernyakov said.

"Before the game they were drinking and discussing the team's chances," Chernyakov told Interfax. "The victim said that the Dutch would win. His neighbor did not like that."