MOSCOW: Latin American countries have sprung a World Cup surprise by filling Russia’s 11 host cities with tens of thousands of fans from Mexico and Colombia to Peru and Argentina.
And some of the Europeans who did show up said their friends back home told them they were crazy to go.
The contrasting cast of supporters at the biggest event in sport reflects Russia’s progressive creep away from Europe in the 18 years of President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Moscow is now embracing new allies that happen to worship football and where damning — and often exaggerated — media stories about Russian hooligans and poisoning cases are rare.
This mix and the added ingredient of a more evenly spread-out global middle-class with the means to travel the world has the streets of Russia dancing to a decidedly Latin beat.
“We didn’t expect it to be this beautiful and the people are amazing,” Mauricio Miranda said as he waved a Colombian flag on the edge of Red Square in Moscow.
“We will definitely come back,” said the 30-year-old.
Belgian public relations consultant Jo De Munter does not necessarily disagree. It is his friends who do.
“I think Europeans are a bit afraid,” the 46-year-old said while staring in the direction of Lenin’s Mausoleum.
“In Belgium, everybody told me I was crazy to go to the football.”—AFP