Just before the world cup kicked off in June 2018, FIFA released the ranking of all the countries playing at Russia 2018. Defending champions Germany were 1st, Brazil 2nd, Belgium, Portugal and Argentina completing the top five. By this morning, Belgium remains the only team that have qualified for the semifinal. But that is not the strange coincidence: all three past winners in the top five were eliminated in the same host city: Kazan.
The Kazan Arena, in the city of the same name, is the stadium of Russian premier league club side Rubin Kazan, one of the best-known football clubs in the Soviet group of republics. As a matter of fact, one of the most popular players to ever represent Nigeria, Obafemi Martins once plied his trade at Rubin Kazan.
Selecting the stadium for Russia 2018 must not have been a difficult choice for the organizers: the city had a thriving football culture that sees fans fill up the 45,000 arena every week. From time to time the resident club also makes an appearance at the UEFA Champions League, never winning but being much of a nuisance to clubs from other countries who go there to lose. Having the largest stadium screen in the world (3400 sqft) couldn’t have hurt.
Messi, Neymar and Ozil would never have thought Kazan would claim their scalps at the world cup. Yet it was there that Brazil with all their hype and flashy passes, lost out to Belgium yesterday. The so-called ‘Golden Generation’ of Belgium’s football is proving to be quite efficient at beating teams at this world cup. Their quarterfinal victory over Selecao took them a step closer to the world cup with the semifinal against France nicely set up.
It was also at Kazan that Argentina got their comeuppance (as Nigerians would like to think) against France in the second round. The Messi led side had been underwhelming in this competition and a fortunate win over Nigeria gave an opportunity to qualify from the group. France got rid of them that same week to the joy of many Nigerians. Even President Macron was thankful for the support his country got from us.
Germany didn’t even get that far. The 2014 winners had a shocking outing- so much so that ‘Disappointment at the 2018 World Cup is an entry on their Wikipedia page. After the first loss to Mexico and a win against Sweden, it was expected that the next encounter with South Korea would be a breeze. Nope! Germany were stunned 2-0 and crashed out. It was the first ever in history that Die Mannschaft were eliminated in the group stage of a world cup. It happened in Kazan.
Residents of the city would not forget the thrill of Russia 2018 in a hurry. The witnessed three former winners of the FIFA World Cup get beat in their stadium. They saw Neymar cry while Romelu Lukaku shined. They very well could have seen the rise of a new superstar- France forward Klyian Mbappe who scored two goals against Argentina. It’s just a shame that the city was granted only four games, who knew what would have happened if they hosted the final too?
England vs Sweden
Russia vs Croatia