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Beyond its border, Russian football seems sheltered. The domestic league is scarcely televised overseas, and few players venture abroad to pursue their careers. The only time Russian players find themselves on the global stage is at a major tournament with the national team. As such, stories about how the game is played and perceived inside the world’s largest nation rarely surface.
Next summer, when #russia plays host to world football, the spotlight will burn brighter than ever. As the clock ticks down to the tournament, four men at radically different stages of their careers provide a rare insight into a #sport they are convinced is Russia’s greatest passion.THE STAR PLAYER
The depth of Russia’s affection for football can be measured by one man’s tears.
Fedor Smolov, the free-scoring Krasnodar player and Russia’s first-choice center forward, had reason to feel good about his contribution, but his team's defeat to Mexico meant #russia had been eliminated at the group stage of this summer’s rehearsal for next summer's tournament. It was another gut punch for a nation scarred by the struggles of their team, ranked an all-time low (63rd in the world), and thrashing around in the doldrums of international football at the worst possible time.
This defeat would normally have triggered another wave of recriminations, but the grave consequences of the result were all too stark and the authenticity of Smolov’s suffering as he left the field at the Kazan Arena skewered the cynicism and instigated the healing of a fractured relationship. The suspicion that the players do not care was instantaneously dispelled.
“At the time I wasn’t thinking about that, but I would like all Russians to know that we really do care about the results. We care so much,” says Smolov. “In the moment, I was disappointed because of the result, especially as I felt we were the stronger team and could have gone to the semi-finals, but I was also thinking that this isn’t just a problem for me, it’s a problem for all Russians.”
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