Yesterday, Russia defied all expectations by defending against the football powerhouse that is Spain. After no team scored in extra time, the match went to a penalty shoot-out where Russia ultimately clenched victory, thereby forcing the exit of Spain from international football’s biggest tournament.
But while the match is already being called the best of the 2018 World Cup so far, there were also clear geopolitical overtones that necessarily accompany Russia’s sensational and unexpected victory. Unlike the recent Switzerland-Serbia match where several Swiss players of ethnic Albanian origin committed politicised provocations against Serbia while the match was still in play, yesterday’s meeting of the Spanish and Russian teams was pure football, not least because Spain and Russia do not have a particularly hostile history. Images from the field showed that while many Spanish players were shocked by the loss to a country that isn’t known for footballing excellence, there were still gentlemanly exchanges between the two sides in a match that at times appeared endless.
Therefore, the geopolitical overtones did not fully sink in until after Russia clenched victory after winning the penalty shoot-out. At that point it became clear that a World Cup that many in western Europe and the United States wished to fail was in reality a world cup that has not only been popular among spectators due to Russia’s successful organisation of events, but also one where many world class teams have been eliminated while unlikely victories have been clenched by determined underdogs.
While Russia is one of the three 21st century superpowers along with China and the United States, the geopolitical disputes between the US and EU on the one side and Russia on the other have led to a barrage of insulting and often racist remarks emanating from western liberal media directed towards not only the Russian state but also Russian culture and the Russian people.
Far from being novel, Russia has often been demonised by European powers that seek its subjugation throughout history. This was true of Poland, Sweden, France, Britain and most recently Hitler’s Nazi Germany followed by the US during much of the Cold War. Today, the western powers that thought they had permanently crippled Russia both economically and militarily in the 1990s are in fact disappointed to see that Russia has not only restored her superpower status but is merely beginning her full reconstruction as an economic trendsetter. Already, Russia’s OPEC+ partnership with Saudi Arabia means that Moscow is now the de-facto global trendsetter in respect of oil production and consequently a trendsetter in the all important price of energy on global markets.
But in spite of Russia’s many recent successes in the diplomatic, military and economic fields, liberal western media outlets continue to heap scorn on Russia and do so not in areas where Russians agree their country can and should improve but on subjects regarding the very character of the Russian nation. Far from objective criticisms of a Russian state that should increase industrial output, worker productivity, innovation and the production of luxury commodities, western commentators instead simply write Russia off as barbaric, backward and wicked.
Because of the popularity of football in the UK, the British media has been particularly nasty, crude and racist regarding the publication of stories which clearly project a desire on the part of the British ruling elite to not only see the Russian team fail at the World Cup but to see the tournament itself plagued by disaster and shortcomings.
While the World Cup has already been a hit among fans due to its clear organisation, a plethora of exciting fan activities outside of the stadiums and the hospitable and safe atmosphere of modern Russian cities, the Russian team was nevertheless not expected to do well by most objective standards. Therefore, in beating the Spanish footballing juggernaut in a match where the only goal that the offensively skilled Spanish team scored was a Russian own goal, Russia’s footballers proved that like their country, they are able to defy expectations and prejudices to deliver a remarkable victory.
Just as Russia has been underestimated on the battle field whether against Takfiri terrorists or the Nazi war machine and just as the country was expected by many never to recover from the doldrums of the 1990s – Russia has defied the critics. In doing the same so visibly on the football pitch, Russia’s football team has unintentionally sent a clear message that Russia is nothing if not a nation whose resilience cannot ever be denied nor destroyed.