MOSCOW -- There were 33,452 spectators at the Otkrytie Arena on Sunday for Chile's 2-0 Confederations Cup Group B win vs. Cameroon, and the feeling was that all of them were Chileans. According to the estimations of many with whom I spoke, about 12,000 traveled to Russia for the tournament, and they completely took over the stadium. Their emotion and pure love of football is addictive, and watching the game among them has been a remarkable experience. It was a privilege.
People of all ages came from around the globe to support the national team. Senior fans were quite noticeable. On the other hand, two named Felipe and Jimena brought their daughter, who is just a few months old. Their trip actually ended in huge disappointment, as they assumed that the baby wouldn't need a ticket, but the stadium authorities decided otherwise and declined to let them in.
Dominique and Nicolas specifically included the Confederations Cup in their schedule on their honeymoon in Europe and came to Moscow after travelling in the north of Norway. They follow the team wherever it goes.
"We bought tickets to all our games in the tournament -- not only the group stage matches, but also both semifinals and the final," said one fan called Alvaro. "We hope to go all the way, and don't care to lose money on the second semifinal, which will take place without us. We might as well give out those tickets to someone for free."
His friend Diego explained: "Chile have a golden generation now. There are a lot of phenomenal players -- Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel, Claudio Bravo and others. This doesn't happen too often, and they are not going to last forever. We must enjoy them while we can. They won the Copa America two times, and now can go even further. We are going to support them everywhere."
They were delighted with the result, but didn't like the usage of video replays.
"Those episodes are against the nature of the game," said Diego. "When the goal is scored, we want to celebrate it. How are we supposed to celebrate if the goal is allowed a minute after the ball touched the net? The emotions are not the same. The disallowed goal at the stroke of halftime could also have a crucial impact. It is a big psychological blow for the players when a decision is reversed after they celebrate. I was really scared that we would concede after the break because of that. Football is about passion and should stay that way."
Passion is the most fitting word to describe Chilean fans. They expect that passion from others too, and they can't understand why many Russian people appear indifferent to the tournament.
"Their national team won the opening game against New Zealand, but I didn't see any joy on the street. That is strange. In Chile, all the country goes mad after we win," Josefa said.
"It is surprising that people here don't even know that the tournament is taking place. They don't understand who we are and why we came here. We are some kind of weird animals for them!" her friend Macarena added with a smile.
The Chileans most certainly became a major attraction in the Moscow center. They stood out with their red shirts, unusual three-coloured hats and painted faces and were asked to take photos with many locals and tourists from other nations. A conversation with Josefa, Macarena and their friends had to be interrupted almost every minute for a session of selfies, and that was the case with every group of Chilean supporters at the Red Square.
Chilean fans clearly win in Moscow ahead of the Confederations Cup game vs Cameroon. All singing the anthem. pic.twitter.com/6yKstTI75E
- Michael Yokhin (@Yokhin) June 18, 2017
The Chilean fans don't find life in Russia easy, mainly because of the language problems. "Very few Russians speak English, and all the signs are in Russian only. I know Spanish, English, German, French and Italian, but that doesn't help me here," said Georgina, a Chilean who lives in Switzerland. She also complained that staff at the underground is unaware that the Fan ID holders can use transport for free, adding that it appeared most of them don't even know what a Fan ID is.
And yet, many Chilean fans are largely satisfied with the organization and are quite enthusiastic about it.
"I was worried that the Russians would be cold, but they are actually good people who are willing to help," Joaquin, a young Universidad Catolica fan from Santiago, said after Sunday's match. "At first it was uncomfortable to see so many policemen, but then I understood that it's a positive thing. I felt safe and secure, and that is very important for us, as that is not the case in Chile. I don't want to go to away games against Universidad de Chile and Colo Colo because it is not safe. If we had such wonderful stadiums as Otkrytie Arena in our homeland, I am sure that a lot of families would go to games and bring children with them."
Chilean fans exchanged hugs and handshakes with Russian supporters and also embraced the few disappointed Cameroon fans, many of whom work at their country's embassy in Moscow.
"There were plans to bring 500 supporters from Cameroon," one of them, Samuel, said. But that obviously didn't work out. In fact, the first African fan I met at the stadium was Frank, a Nigerian who works in Russia and felt obliged to support his continent.
Without the Cameroonians and given the lack of Russian enthusiasm, the stadium could have been half-empty, but the Chileans saved the day and provided an extraordinary atmosphere that suits a big international tournament. They have brought colour to the Confederations Cup and are certain to win a lot of friends on their journey.