AMBASSADORS
AND STARS
15
The World Cup in Russia started with a majestic concert
in Moscow's Red Square. Sergey Nikolaevich gives his
account of proceedings from behind the scenes.
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The World Cup in Russia started with a majestic concert in Moscow's Red Square. Sergey Nikolaevich gives his account of proceedings from behind the scenes.
host of the gala concert in Red Square, "I'd rather dance for you later."

Netrebko's departure didn't prevent the maestro, Valery Gergiev, from sticking to his plan and continuing to rehearse until the big moment arrived and hordes of spectators flooded the boxes and stalls. He still had at least an hour and the best voices in world opera at his disposal.

How the concert organisers managed to gather all these stars in one place and at the same time is another story, and one worthy not only of a book about the World Cup, but an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. In the end, the logistical efforts of the producers coupled with a large measure of goodwill and team spirit triumphed over the ambitions and aspirations of self-proclaimed individualists.

It was hard to believe your eyes when looking at the stage. Plácido Domingo, Juan Diego Flórez, Aida Garifullina, Ildar Abdrazakov, Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov were all obediently rehearsing "Kalinka Malinka" while holding music sheets and looking like members of a club choir. In the meantime, the tireless Gergiev kept increasing the tempo and milking the musicians of the Mariinsky Orchestra for all their worth. But that is the kind of person he is; he rehearses properly and demands that the soloists sing in full voice. All of this while the wind howled around Red Square, constantly changing direction and affecting the sound emanating from the loudspeakers.

"V sadu yagoda malinka, malinka moya!" ("In the garden [there is] a berry –little raspberry, raspberry of mine!")

From the stage, central square looked like a boundless auditorium, extending along the Kremlin walls, decorated in national colours. It is a place of high culture and the venue for incredible music performed by the best artists on the planet. Everything was shaping up perfectly, even taking into account the open-air location, problematic acoustics and the unusually chilly temperatures for the middle of June.

During a short break, we visited Denis Matsuev's dressing room. He didn't show any visible signs of worry or exhaustion. He was, as always, calm and collected, energetic and focused. A gala concert in Red Square is exactly his kind of event, demanding total concentration from start to finish. He was the one who created the concert programme, gathered all the participants together and made all the necessary arrangements with the organisers. If that were not impressive enough, Denis was also an official World Cup ambassador, which entailed additional and separate responsibilities.
The international
OPERA GALA
is a wonderful
FIFA World Cup
tradition that dates
back to the historic
performance given
by Plácido Domingo,
José Carreras and
Luciano Pavarotti,
aka The Three Tenors,
at the Baths of Caracalla
in 1990
he only thing left to do was to rehearse "Kalinka Malinka". Anna Netrebko declined to sing and quickly left the stage, alluding to the fact that her hairdresser had been waiting for her for an hour already. As she rushed out, Anna told Denis Matsuev, the chief organiser, creative force and the
The international OPERA GALA is a wonderful FIFA World Cup tradition that dates back to the historic performance given by Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti, aka The Three Tenors, at the Baths of Caracalla in 1990
he only thing left to do was to rehearse "Kalinka Malinka". Anna Netrebko declined to sing and quickly left the stage, alluding to the fact that her hairdresser had been waiting for her for an hour already. As she rushed out, Anna told Denis Matsuev, the chief organiser, creative force and the
host of the gala concert in Red Square, "I'd rather dance for you later."

Netrebko's departure didn't prevent the maestro, Valery Gergiev, from sticking to his plan and continuing to rehearse until the big moment arrived and hordes of spectators flooded the boxes and stalls. He still had at least an hour and the best voices in world opera at his disposal.

How the concert organisers managed to gather all these stars in one place and at the same time is another story, and one worthy not only of a book about the World Cup, but an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. In the end, the logistical efforts of the producers coupled with a large measure of goodwill and team spirit triumphed over the ambitions and aspirations of self-proclaimed individualists.

It was hard to believe your eyes when looking at the stage. Plácido Domingo, Juan Diego Flórez, Aida Garifullina, Ildar Abdrazakov, Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov were all obediently rehearsing "Kalinka Malinka" while holding music sheets and looking like members of a club choir. In the meantime, the tireless Gergiev kept increasing the tempo and milking the musicians of the Mariinsky Orchestra for all their worth. But that is the kind of person he is; he rehearses properly and demands that the soloists sing in full voice. All of this while the wind howled around Red Square, constantly changing direction and affecting the sound emanating from the loudspeakers.

"V sadu yagoda malinka, malinka moya!" ("In the garden [there is] a berry –little raspberry, raspberry of mine!")

From the stage, central square looked like a boundless auditorium, extending along the Kremlin walls, decorated in national colours. It is a place of high culture and the venue for incredible music performed by the best artists on the planet. Everything was shaping up perfectly, even taking into account the open-air location, problematic acoustics and the unusually chilly temperatures for the middle of June.

During a short break, we visited Denis Matsuev's dressing room. He didn't show any visible signs of worry or exhaustion. He was, as always, calm and collected, energetic and focused. A gala concert in Red Square is exactly his kind of event, demanding total concentration from start to finish. He was the one who created the concert programme, gathered all the participants together and made all the necessary arrangements with the organisers. If that were not impressive enough, Denis was also an official World Cup ambassador, which entailed additional and separate responsibilities.
The only thing left to do was to rehearse "Kalinka Malinka". Anna Netrebko declined to sing and quickly left the stage, alluding to the fact that her hairdresser had been waiting for her for an hour already. As she rushed out, Anna told Denis Matsuev, the chief organiser, creative force and the
host of the gala concert in Red Square, "I'd rather dance for you later."

Netrebko's departure didn't prevent the maestro, Valery Gergiev, from sticking to his plan and continuing to rehearse until the big moment arrived and hordes of spectators flooded the boxes and stalls. He still had at least an hour and the best voices in world opera at his disposal.

How the concert organisers managed to gather all these stars in one place and at the same time is another story, and one worthy not only of a book about the World Cup, but an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. In the end, the logistical efforts of the producers coupled with a large measure of goodwill and team spirit triumphed over the ambitions and aspirations of self-proclaimed individualists.

It was hard to believe your eyes when looking at the stage. Plácido Domingo, Juan Diego Flórez, Aida Garifullina, Ildar Abdrazakov, Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov were all obediently rehearsing "Kalinka Malinka" while holding music sheets and looking like members of a club choir. In the meantime, the tireless Gergiev kept increasing the tempo and milking the musicians of the Mariinsky Orchestra for all their worth. But that is the kind of person he is; he rehearses properly and demands that the soloists sing in full voice. All of this while the wind howled around Red Square, constantly changing direction and affecting the sound emanating from the loudspeakers.

"V sadu yagoda malinka, malinka moya!" ("In the garden [there is] a berry –little raspberry, raspberry of mine!")

From the stage, central square looked like a boundless auditorium, extending along the Kremlin walls, decorated in national colours. It is a place of high culture and the venue for incredible music performed by the best artists on the planet. Everything was shaping up perfectly, even taking into account the open-air location, problematic acoustics and the unusually chilly temperatures for the middle of June.

During a short break, we visited Denis Matsuev's dressing room. He didn't show any visible signs of worry or exhaustion. He was, as always, calm and collected, energetic and focused. A gala concert in Red Square is exactly his kind of event, demanding total concentration from start to finish. He was the one who created the concert programme, gathered all the participants together and made all the necessary arrangements with the organisers. If that were not impressive enough, Denis was also an official World Cup ambassador, which entailed additional and separate responsibilities.
"Becoming a FIFA World Cup ambassador is only possible out of love. I've experienced this love from early childhood, and it'll remain with me for ever. By the way, my grandma adored football and was an ardent Spartak fan. She knew all the footballers, collected memorabilia and photos, and followed results of all the championships. She is the one who instilled in me my love for Spartak, artfully explaining that football wasn't just a game but something resembling theatre. Afterwards, I became involved in sports and played for Irkutsk's youth football team, later becoming their captain. So, as you can see, passion for football has always been an integral part of my life. First and foremost, I appreciate style in football, although many say it's unimportant and what matters most is the outcome. I'll never agree with that! Winners and winning scores are easily forgotten, but it's impossible to forget Maradona's or Pele's playing style, or the short passes and improvised plays executed by our own Fyodor Cherenkov and Yuri Gavrilov. That was truly incredible!
An outstanding
musician and ardent
football fan who has
kindled the same love
for the game among
his talented and
famous friends,
DENIS MATSUEV
fulfilled his dream
of performing
in Red Square.
DENIS MATSUEV
«WINNERS AND WINNING SCORESARE EASILY FORGOTTEN, BUT IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO FORGET MARADONA'S OR PELE'S PLAYING STYLE.»
"When the news that Russia would host the World Cup in 2018 was announced, I was ecstatic. It was then that I'd decided that I couldn't remain on the sidelines and needed to create something truly majestic. But what could it be? I can't hide the fact that from the very beginning I was inspired by the performances of the so-called Three Tenors, Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras, at the Baths of Caracalla concert, organised for the very first time to celebrate the 1990 World Cup final in Rome. It was a pioneering step into the unknown, seemingly unimaginable before then in the world of classical music. How can anyone perform Verdi or Puccini at a stadium? What do football fans and opera lovers have in common? But the fact is that the Three Tenors had won over our hearts and they became one of the most celebrated music acts of the last decade of the 20th century. They're the ones who pushed the boundaries of what's possible and increased the popularity of classical music to unimaginable – some would say stratospheric – levels. So, there was no contradiction. Everyone saw how, at their core, football and opera had something in common: a desire for full expression and beauty. Later there were equally magnificent concerts by the Three Tenors before the finals of USA 1994 and France 1998. Now, many years later, the time for Red Square, Moscow, had come! Sadly, Pavarotti was no longer with us, while Carreras rarely performs nowadays, but thankfully the third member of the trio, the incredible Domingo, was able to join us and maintain the tradition. Not just anywhere but here, in Russia! Today Plácido was performing with other solo artists, and his voice would serve as a reminder to us all that true art can transcend time!

"The group of people we gathered together was unquestionably a dream team. And even though it's easy to compare the unbridled passions and stardom showcased on stage at the Red Square gala concert to the final matches of the major football championships, we had a dream that our concert would set the tone for the whole World Cup. From its very conception we wanted the concert to have a joyful and positive vibe that we so often lack in our daily lives. All the soloists, despite their status as international stars, were incredibly friendly, fun individuals, always ready to support the success of one another. We truly hoped to create an infectious mood at every Russian stadium.

"I deliberately adjusted the schedule of performances so that they coincided with the matches in St Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi. After all, I needed to take advantage of my ambassador status and, of course, support our national team. But, most importantly, I took a long-term view that the impressive infrastructure built in anticipation of the World Cup would bear fruit sooner or later. You'll see that in the near future, we'll get to watch the next generation of football."

Denis had to return to the stage. The rehearsal of "Kalinka" had already finished, but, strangely, the triumphant fanfare from Verdi's Don Carlos was once again booming out from the stage. Apparently, Domingo was unhappy about the way his voice sounded and demanded another rehearsal. While the Spaniard was having another go at his duet with Ildar Abdrazakov, the Peruvian Juan Diego Flórez appeared backstage. He is the world's most charismatic opera tenor and none of the renowned venues on this planet can resist his charm. In that sense, he is not unlike Cristiano Ronaldo, whose mere appearance on the field can make the entire stadium go wild. Something similar happens during Juan Diego's performances. As soon as he opens his mouth, the audience begins to applaud. And when he finishes belting out an aria, everyone shouts out "Bravo!" He was more than happy to answer questions and it was obvious that the topic of football was close to his heart. After all he comes from a country where the game is cherished and appreciated
An outstanding musician and ardent football fan who has kindled the same love for the game among his talented and famous friends, DENIS MATSUEV fulfilled his dream of performing in Red Square.
"I'm happy to be here in Moscow right now, because my team and 25,000 Peruvian fans are also here. Someone has estimated that over the entire history of the relationship between our two countries, this is the first time that so many of my compatriots have made it to Russia. And it's football that has brought them here! It's still hard to explain the magic behind football. Why do people celebrate their team's win as though they just won a million in the lottery? Or mourn a loss as though a relative has passed away? Many blame our Latin temperament, saying, "Well, you're all so crazy that there's nothing but football in your soul." But that's not true! Peru is rich in many ways, including its Inca gold. Still, football is our most precious, treasured possession. Maybe it's because football is an ideal model of society where all for one and one for all is the motto. Even when you're just a spectator, you feel as though you're a part of society, whose goal is not to divide or alienate but to unite and inspire, on a wave of joy, to join hands and lend a supporting shoulder to someone next to you. It's definitely one of the best moments in life when you go and watch football with your friends and cheer your team on. It's important not to be alone then. This is important! And so is the game itself. I love football because of its unpredictability, its teams and its unifying spirit. Not dissimilar to an opera performance. To shine and win, you need a formidable force behind you, not to mention partners and those in supporting roles. The more convincing all of them sound, the better the performance by the soloists. It's an immutable law! And it applies to football too. You can't rely on just stars. There should be a team. After all, it's the deciding factor in a match along with the coach. Having said that, I still remember Diego Maradona's moves and Michel Platini's incredible passes. There was something magical about these moments, like in Maria Callas' fioriture. It's impossible to understand what some players are able to do with a football. There are things that neither logic nor words can explain. But that's the reason why we love opera and football."
A tenore di grazia
(graceful tenor),
JUAN DIEGO FLÓREZ
is one of the most
in-demand opera singers
of his generation, though
his football skills certainly
match up to his singing
JUAN DIEGO FLOREZ
«PERU IS RICH IN MANY WAYS, INCLUDING IT'S INCA GOLD. STILL,
FOOTBALL IS OUR MOST PRECIOUS, TREASURED POSSESSION.»
JUAN DIEGO FLÓREZ
received a standing
ovation for his performance
of Tonio's aria in Donizetti's
La Fille du Régiment.
Valery Abisalovich Gergiev was up next. As soon as he descended the unsteady stairs, he was surrounded by journalists with microphones and cameras. What will you perform this evening? What do you think about the tournament? Do you love football? As he was engrossed in thoughts about the complex scores of an extremely challenging concert, which he was to conduct, Valery answered the questions somewhat wearily. These kinds of televised media events were not his style. He was fully capable of handling a press conference brilliantly and could mesmerise an audience. But, now, after a three-hour rehearsal, he physically needed a break to unwind and not be in front of the cameras responding to endless questions.
A tenore di grazia
(graceful tenor), JUAN DIEGO FLÓREZ is one of the most in-demand opera singers of his generation, though his football skills certainly match up to his singing
JUAN DIEGO FLÓREZ received a standing ovation for his performance of Tonio's aria in Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment.
«PERU IS RICH IN MANY WAYS, INCLUDING IT'S INCA GOLD. STILL, FOOTBALL IS OUR MOST PRECIOUS, TREASURED POSSESSION.»
"For me, being a fan means to get wound up, empathise and connect in spirit to what's happening on the field. In the past, when I was just a boy, I supported the Georgian national team. Do you remember Dinamo Tbilisi's heyday? Then, the names of Slava Metreveli and Mikheil Meskhi sounded like music to my ears. As time went by and new opportunities appeared, I began supporting the Brazilians. There was a time when they played the kind of inspirational football that I enjoy most of all. It was artistic, brave and beautiful. I even went to the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro. And then, of course, there is Barcelona, an almost unrivalled club. As you can tell, I've had varied football-related interests throughout my life. In this respect, I'm truly cosmopolitan and not ashamed to say it. For me, one of the main advantages of football as a sport is that it easily breaks down any barriers, divisions and stereotypes that lie in its path. Nowhere do you feel more a part of our vast and diverse world as during a football match at a stadium packed to the rafters. That's why, when the possibility, however uncertain, of Russia hosting the World Cup first appeared, I happily joined the preparation efforts and made use of all my connections involving all my friends, acquaintances and colleagues. We perform on five continents, our paths regularly cross, so why wouldn't we join forces and create something magnificent together, especially in light of such a special occasion as the World Cup? Moreover, we have the whole of Red Square at our disposal and, as a bonus, a multimillion-strong army of football fans who are ready, even if for one night only, to turn into opera lovers.

VALERY GERGIEV
«FOR ME, ONE OF THE MAIN ADVANTAGES OF FOOTBALL AS A SPORT IS THAT IT EASILY BREAKS DOWN ANY BARRIERS, DIVISIONS AND STEREOTYPES THAT LIE IN ITS PATH.»
ALBINA SHAGIMURATOVA
and VALERY GERGIEV
are in perfect tune with
each other as the
soprano performs
the signature aria
from Lucia di Lammermoor
It didn't take long for me to persuade Plácido Domingo, Anya Netrebko, Aida Garifullina and the other artists to come on board. They're my friends after all. With some of them, such as, for example, Domingo, we met and became friends when I was just starting my career as a conductor. As far as some of the others are concerned, I lent my creative support since they were taking their first steps on the Mariinsky stage. It's an incredible experience when artists from several generations all gather on one stage and you are aware that important events in their life are somehow connected with yours. I'm sure that this concert in Red Square will live on in the memory. But while it ends tonight, the World Cup lasts for another month. All my thoughts are with our team. I promise to support them as fiercely and vehemently as only I can. I have only one wish for our team – that they play with absolute commitment as though each game is their last. Then, I'm confident they'll be successful."

Anna Netrebko's dressing room was nearby. Anna was sitting alone on a white sofa, resembling the Tsaritsa of Shemakha from the opera, The Golden Cockerel.
ALBINA SHAGIMURATOVA and VALERY GERGIEV are in perfect tune with each other as the soprano performs the signature aria from Lucia di Lammermoor
"Today's concert is sacred. How could I not perform? Valery Abisalovich is the conductor, Denis is playing... and the team we have is magnificent. As they say, one artist is ok, but a dream team is always better. Still, personally, I prefer plays to concerts, with multiple performers. I just can't help myself, I'm truly a child of the theatre. Today, for the first time in Moscow, I'll be performing an aria from Turandot by Puccini. The music is out of this world. It is one of the bloodiest parts from the world's opera repertoire which is rarely performed. I want to take a risk and perform something new, that no one has heard before. Everyone in Red Square is expecting a history-making performance. Turandot is my own personal achievement in honour of the championship."
ANNA NETREBKO
« … THE TEAM WE HAVE IS MAGNIFICIENT. AS THEY SAY,ONE ARTIST IS OK, BUT A DREAM TEAM IS ALWAYS BETTER.»
ANNA NETREBKO and
DENIS MATSUEV
improvise to the sound
of the Kalinka-Malinka
tune at the closing
ceremony
ANNA NETREBKO and DENIS MATSUEV improvise to the sound of the Kalinka-Malinka tune at the closing ceremony
Yusif Eyvazov shared some touching moments from his childhood, when he attempted to be a goalkeeper.

"It was a complete disaster. I let in absolutely everything and, as a result, got beaten up and promised myself to never play football again! But I do love watching big matches. It's pure joy, an adrenalin rush. I think opera and football have something in common. If you don't feel the thrill or the desire to win, it's best not to go on stage."

As two and a half hours of majestic music, passionate opera, amazing voices and even a lively dance performed by Anna Netrebko to "Kalinka Malinka" came to an end, and as the fireworks finished and the applause died down, I waded through endless cables and wires to reach Plácido Domingo's tent. Just like everyone else, he was on his feet, looking somewhat dazed and tired yet happy. Everything had worked out well after all the logistical difficulties.
YUSIF EYVAZOV
«I THINK OPERA AND FOOTBALL HAVE SOMETHING IN COMMON. FOR EXAMPLE,OUR OPERA FANS – THEY ARE JUST AS CRAZY AS FOOTBALL LOVERS.»
NIGHTFALL IN
RED SQUARE
:
The World Cup's
musical start was
powerful, spectacular
and very loud too
AMBASSADORS
AND STARS
:
Receiving the
applause of the
crowd before
the opening ceremony.
They will gather
again in four years'
time
AMBASSADORS AND STARS: Receiving the applause of the crowd before the opening ceremony. They will gather again in four years' time
NIGHTFALL IN RED SQUARE: The World Cup's musical start was powerful, spectacular and very loud too
"Señor Domingo, this whole opera-meets-football scenario, which has lasted for almost 30 years, started with you. What are your feelings after the concert in Red Square?"

"I can't believe that so many years have passed. It seems that only yesterday I met José Carreras backstage at the Teatro Eliseo in Rome and called Luciano Pavarotti to say, 'Let's help José raise money for his Leukaemia Foundation.' As you know, he had just gone through some tough treatment and needed to return to the stage. Then our historic concert at the Baths of Caracalla took place to mark the final of the 1990 World Cup in the Italian capital. All the money from ticket sales went towards José's foundation. The three of us were able to raise more than we would have managed to alone. And that's the story! Besides, we were all crazy about football. Luciano had been a goalkeeper for many years, while I played football fairly well. I'm also a seasoned fan. Since 1970 I haven't missed a single World Cup. Can you imagine! Well, for the sake of accuracy, I confess that I did miss Argentina in 1978 because I simply wasn't able to make it there. In Rome, despite José's situation, not a single sad thought crossed our minds. Quite the opposite; we laughed like crazy the whole time. Never in my entire life had I given a more fun concert. The only thing we were sure of was that our friend José had to recover, and we needed to help him. There was no other aim for us. Later the critics started writing about how a new opera craze had begun because of our concerts and about the democratisation of opera. Perhaps that was true too, but we knew what motivated us to come on stage and not to spare our voices that night. Today I sang for all three of us. No one from my generation performs on stage nowadays, especially not in Red Square or in the company of all of these young stars. Everything went fairly well. What did you think?"

"Everything was marvellous and you were incredible."

Domingo nods graciously as if to agree totally. Tomorrow he'll be attending the opening ceremony, then he's travelling to Sochi to watch the Portugal–Spain game. And, of course, he'll be back in Moscow in time for the final. A World Cup final without Plácido Domingo would be simply unimaginable!
PLACIDO DOMINGO
«TODAY I SANG FOR ALL THREE OF US. NO ONE FROM MY GENERATION PERFORMS ON STAGE NOWADAYS, ESPECIALLY NOT IN RED SQUARE OR IN THE COMPANY OF ALL OF THESE YOUNG STARS.»
PLÁCIDO DOMINGO and
ILDAR ABDRAZAKOV
enthral the crowd in
Red Square as they
perform a duet
from Don Carlos
PLÁCIDO DOMINGO and ILDAR ABDRAZAKOV enthral the crowd in Red Square as they perform a duet from Don Carlos
"If you really want something, you can get it. I learned this truth a long time ago. I had not even dreamt of singing at the opening ceremony of the World Cup, let alone with a world star. Maybe that is why I still have a feeling of disbelief: could I actually sing a duet with Robbie Williams? Did a billion and a half people all over the world listen to us? I'm sure that if we had rehearsed for a long time and prepared well, then it would have been easier for me to get used to the idea, but since there was only one rehearsal and we came on stage after barely exchanging a couple of words, I still can hardly comprehend that all this happened to me.

"What I experienced and can never forget is the amazing energy of the stadium, a sea of tenderness, love, happiness, which we felt from the very first applause. And, of course, being on the same stage as Robbie! Despite being a star and a 'living legend', he was light-hearted, charming and anything but aloof. At the same time, he was an Englishman to the core: a combination of cheerful madness, boyish naughtiness and refined artistry. When he started singing, everyone got up to dance. How I managed to resist back then at the Luzhniki Stadium, I do not know!

"I cannot say that I am a crazy football nut. But I can appreciate a truly beautiful game. At home, among my opera awards, I have a soccer ball signed by Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. And many years ago, I studied in Germany, when the World Cup was held there. The small and sleepy city of Nuremberg suddenly turned into a multilingual, international metropolis of friendship, sincerity and generosity everywhere you looked. I had never seen so many happy people in my life and remembered thinking how great it would be to hold the World Cup in our own country.
AIDA GARIFULLINA
«I STILL CAN NOT BELIEVE THIS WAS HAPPENING TO ME»
Seen here performing
with Robbie Williams,
AIDA GARIFULLINA
was the star of the
2018 FIFA World Cup
opening and closing
ceremonies
"And, lo and behold, that's exactly what happened. In the streets of my native Kazan I felt the same pride and happiness. There was a continuous carnival, an endless celebration that united everyone, regardless of their social status or wealth. I know that many of them had to save up for tickets and travel for a long time. And how important it was not to disappoint them, to provide a home from home where everyone was welcome. A year ago, when the FIFA Confederations Cup was held in Kazan, local fans drew a huge portrait of Cristiano Ronaldo that covered the entire wall of an apartment building. They say that when Ronaldo saw it with his own eyes, he was singularly impressed. At the World Cup, a portrait of Messi appeared
nearby.

"I attended the France–Argentina match and, in my opinion, both teams started rather tamely even though they were given a tremendous reception by the fans. Unfortunately, I was not able to get to the historic Spain–Russia clash. When I found out that during the first half that we'd scored an own goal, of course I got very upset. We all know what happened then, an absolute miracle, which I'm sure will go down in history, not only in terms of football, but of modern Russia as well. No matter how the tournament progressed, this moment of public celebration and happiness could never be taken away from us. Bizarrely my fans called me to congratulate me. 'On what? For what?' I asked. 'Well, you did sing at the opening
ceremony.'

"I did, that's true. 'Didn't you sing on Red Square?' I did. 'So, this is your victory also!'

"Actually, the World Cup itself is our shared victory. But naturally I'm happy to have made a modest contribution."
Seen here performing with Robbie Williams, AIDA GARIFULLINA was the star of the 2018 FIFA World Cup opening and closing ceremonies
Few people believed in his film Coach. Just like barely anyone believed beforehand in the Russian national team at the World Cup. Everyone knew Danila as an actor but what was he like as a director? I remember well how the atmosphere changed at the film's premiere: from irony to complete absorption in the story unfolding on the screen, and by the end something akin to surprised delight.

"No, look, look," demands Danila, holding up his phone, where footage from the film appears, edited by someone with original television coverage of our team at the World Cup. Here, Yuri Stoleshnikov, who Danila plays in the film, is running along the touchline, passionately waving his arms, like wings. It looks a bit like a shamanic dance, the sort our ancestors used to conjure spirits of fire and water. And here is Stanislav Cherchesov. And that same gesture! It looks as if in a few seconds he will fly above the green arena like a black kite. Or the fictitious "Meteor" team from Kozlovsky's film will perhaps be caught by a real tropical rainstorm. At the end of the game, they are all sweaty, exhausted, gaunt-looking, but they did not surrender. And then a sudden scene switch: the last seconds of the match with Croatia. The familiar faces of Dzyuba, Akinfeev, Fernandes ... And another frightening, extraordinary resemblance: sweating a lot, exhaustion, but a readiness, visible in their eyes, to fight until the very last second.

Danila predicted in his film something that experienced football pundits did not dare suggest – or did not want to: that our team would not get to the knockout stage. What prompted him to do this?

Maybe it started with an event from his childhood, when, as a seven-year-old boy, he went on foot from Sokol, where he lived, to Dynamo metro station without adult supervision. He followed the spotlights from a huge stadium, which shuddered, as if before an earthquake, with the roar from the stands. The most surprising thing is that nobody stopped him then. He got almost to the very edge of the pitch and saw how grown men were desperate to score that longed-for goal. Years passed. Danila became an actor, and in his first film he would kick a ball himself, sinking ankle-deep in the mud. The film was called Garpastum and told the story of our first football players of 1911. This film launched the star's career. A football sent through the decades reached the stadium in Novorossiysk, where almost all of Coach was shot, and Danila now finds himself in Red Square.

Amid a burst of applause, Danila poses for the photographer. He does not hide the fact that he likes the attention, and people asking him for a selfie, and the atmosphere of celebration everywhere.
DANILA KOZLOVSKIY
TO BE CONTINUED
DANILA KOZLOVSKY:
Having directed, co-written,
produced and starred
in the film Coach,
the can take any shot
"Is the World Cup not a good reason to be proud of your country? I have never felt so proud in my 30 years. And there's nothing fake or showy about that. Nobody imposed anything on anyone. The feeling happened spontaneously. So we lost to the Croats. Of course, we were upset. But a bit like after the play The Cherry Orchard when I went out on Rubinsteina Street and saw people singing and someone crying softly, we all came together and comforted one another, feeling part of this city, people, country. And what about our fans in the stands? Colourful and painted so that, it seemed, they could be recognised from space. That is a whole other story. In the past, we recognised Brazilian or French supporters that way, with friendly envy. We could not express ourselves freely and with style. And suddenly, for the first time, we saw ourselves the way we always wanted to be. Free in sorrow and joy! I think the World Cup taught us the main thing: to love each other, to not be shy to be called Russians. We will have something to remember: how beautiful and young we were, how good we were at hosting the World Cup!"

"As a World Cup ambassador, of course you have a ticket to the final. Whom will you support?"

"I do not know... I fell in love with the Russian team so when they ultimately lost, it was like something in my soul had died – even if I didn't lose interest in the tournament. This feeling was impossible 10 years ago, or even five. Before the start of the World Cup, we all anticipated that the final would be between Brazil and Argentina and did not even consider the participation of our own team. But when it became clear that we were a stone's throw from the final (well, two games in fact), all preconceived ideas went out of the window. Of course, I will go to the final, but I support the beautiful game in all its sincerity, with tears of both joy and pain. I support something I could perhaps make into a film."

"Are you saying that Coach will have a sequel?"

"You said that, not me."
DANILA KOZLOVSKY: Having directed, co-written, produced and starred in the film Coach, the can take any shot
Natalia gave birth to her son Viktor 11 years ago, the night after Russia lost 3–0 to England in September 2007 in a European Championship qualifier.

"I was really rooting for our team. I shouted so much that when I went into labour that night, they barely had time to get me to the hospital," Natalia recalls.

She was speaking following a charity match in Red Square to mark the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics, organised jointly by the Naked Heart Foundation – which she set up – and Coca-Cola.

She was wearing red sports socks and a red T-shirt, looking like a schoolgirl who had come to support her team. It's hard to imagine she is a mother of five children and at the same time one of the most popular supermodels in the world.

At the World Cup, Natalia symbolised Russian beauty, equally stunning in a sports uniform or an evening dress. During the opening ceremony at the Luzhniki Stadium, she was entrusted with bringing out onto the pitch a special case from Louis Vuitton containing the World Cup Trophy.
NATALIA VODIANOVA
«I FEARED MY HEART WOULD NOT TAKE IT»
NATALIA VODIANOVA
with her children
VICTOR and NEVA.
Big fans of Russia
forward Artem Dzyuba,
the three have perfected
his trademark salute
I asked what she remembered most from the World Cup.

"Of course, the match against the Croats. At one point, I feared my heart would not take it, so ferociously was it beating. When our team equalised to make it 2–2 five minutes before the end of extra time and the match moved to a penalty shootout, it affected me so much I was completely frozen. There have not been many moments in my life that I just could not move my arms or legs. This is saying something considering my busy active life! It seemed that I lived a lifetime during this match. But it does not matter that we didn't win in the end. The game is more important. Everything around it will be forgotten but the game itself will be remembered for a long time. I can easily imagine how many young boys and girls were so inspired by this match that they decided to seriously take up football. Including, of course, those people with special developmental needs, managed by our foundation, who should be given such a chance. Using the World Cup as a vital and powerful platform, I want to convey a simple and clear message: football is not just a privilege of the healthy and strong. People with special developmental needs have no less right to it. All it takes is putting in place the necessary conditions. As part of the World Cup's activities, the charity match in Red Square gathered together world football legends, other sports stars and participants of the Special Olympics. In addition, together with Coca-Cola, we created mini-football pitches and parks in 11 host cities. They will become a real legacy of the World Cup, ample proof
that all our efforts and the costs involved were not in vain."

"Who will you support in the final?" I asked as my final question.

"England or France, whichever of them gets there. After all, one half of my family is French and the other English. However, the way I supported Russia, I will not give my heart to any other country. A heart can beat that way only once in a lifetime."
NATALIA VODIANOVA with her children VICTOR and NEVA. Big fans of Russia forward Artem Dzyuba, the three have perfected his trademark salute