I love attending sports events around the world, not because I am a big fan of the sport but mainly because of the passion of the fans. Sports fans are some of the most passionate crowds around, especially when it comes to football or soccer (however you call it from where you are from).
One of my friends back home asked me if I was keen about attending the World Cup 2018 and it was obvious. One factor that made it an easy decision was that it would be held in Russia. If your passport requires a visa to enter Russia, you probably know how immensely complicated the paperwork is. In my case, there is a $200 visa fee in addition to all the necessary documentations.
With the Fifa World Cup Ticket, you not only get a fan pass that gives you entry to the country but also other perks like a free overnight train ride (I used it on a trip from Moscow to St Petersburg which would have cost around $80). The Fifa World Cup Ticket I paid (for a group stage game) was around $210. No crazy paperwork, you just had to obtain a Match ticket, which are made available a balloting system since demand is high.
Getting to visit Russia itself was already a good enough reason, especially during the World Cup Season? That’s a no brainer!
Getting the Tickets
Our ticket purchase plan was to go for a group stage match and the semi finals. No luck for the semi finals tickets but it wasn’t too difficult securing a group stage one.
We got in from the early purchase rounds when the matchups haven’t even been decided yet. In essence, we had no idea which team will be playing. We simply purchased our tickets based on dates and location (We wanted it to be in Moscow or St Petersburg and not some faraway town where we still had to take extra flights).
The World Cup Theme
Arriving in Moscow from Moldova, it feels almost like a city wide World Cup Festival. You can see a World Cup Theme in areas all around the city center and popular tourist zones.
During the World Cup season, there are also exhibitions, pop up events and historical displays related to the Fifa World Cup.
World Cup Atmosphere
As the opening day nears, the city gets filled up more and more with passionate and eager fans. The streets are crowded with fans clothed in their different tradition costumes or fan jerseys. Strangers from the same country gather together as if they were lifelong friends, all bonded by a single goal – to see their national team do well.
Crowds were cheering and singing on the streets. It’s just a whole day of merry making. The matches haven’t even started yet! You can definitely feel the excitement boiling.
Sightseeing in Moscow
While the World Cup is one of the main reasons for being in Russia, let’s not forget that it is also a great country with nice attractions. Visitors are definitely taking time out to check out the city. I have met travelers who bought a match ticket but aren’t really that interested in the World Cup.
It is simply another easy way to visit Russia, without having to go through a long visa process.
I reckon one of the downside of visiting during the World Cup season is that there are now crazy hordes of tourists. There are queues everywhere for the popular attractions like the Krelim. It was 2-3 hour queue to get in if my memory served me well.
The Fifa Fan Fest
Apart from the Finals and Semi Finals, the opening game is arguably the next most popular match when it comes to ticket sales. We did not get a ticket for the opening game, and the best alternative option is the Fifa Fan Fest.
The Fifa Fan Fest is a large open space for fans to gather, and watch the matches live on huge screens. There will be beers, food and the official merchandise shop obviously. This is where most fans came to watch the opening game.
We got off at the nearest metro which is still a long walk to the fan fest entrance. I guess they really had to factor in space for the massive crowd. Pathways were blocked off to maintain a controlled human traffic flow, but no navigation was needed, just follow the crowd.
Catching Cristiano Ronaldo LIVE
It was an exciting day as we headed down to the stadium. The Metro was running very efficiently despite the crowd. I have to say I was impressed with Russia’s effort in hosting such a large scale event.
Ultimately, the matchup corresponding to our ticket slot would be Portugal v.s Morocco.
Gooooaal~ Cristiano Ronaldo scores with a header! And the crowd goes wild!
Portugal against Morocco is not the most exciting match up, especially with Portugal’s first game against Spain ending in a 3-3 goal galore. But hey, we got to see Cristiano Ronaldo live. He also scored the only goal in the match.
One would think that Portugal would dominate the match, but that was not the case at all. The Moroccan fans cheered fearlessly; you can see they never doubted their team could actually win it. And they did put up a great fight.
The atmosphere was really great throughout the match, and that is the biggest takeaway. That passion was what I was there for. You can almost “feel” the echo throughout the stadium with thundering cheers from the fans. This really made me consider attending the next World Cup in 2022. The event easily makes it into my category of bucket list experiences.
Going back after the match was more complicated as with any huge live events. Different transports options were filled people, but you can always find service booths to get directions.
Here are some recommendations I have that are probably applicable to all World Cups or even major events.
Book your accommodations early. You know there is going to a high demand for it, and prices are going to increase drastically. Book your accommodation as soon as you can and preferably with places where you can cancel for free. Secure slots at lower prices first and cancel where needed.
For sightseeing, early mornings are the best time with least crowd. Most fans will be drinking till late and will not wake up super early the next day. Take advantage of that to beat the massive crowd.
If you are planning to catch a game at a bar or pub, go early to get good seats (or even just seats). Bars have really great ambience as well. However, seats do get filled up quickly, particularly for the big matchups.
Do not carry a whole bunch of stuff when going to Live Matches or Fan Fest. You do have to go through security checkpoints so the lesser things you have, the easier it is.
For shopaholics, remember to factor in some luggage space for the souvenirs. You will likely buy a whole bunch of merchandises home.
Keep your valuables safe even while enjoying yourself. Where there is a crowd, there are bound to be pick pockets. Make sure to stash your stuff away securely and get proper travel insurance. I usually travel with WorldNomads.