A small but hardy band of All Whites fans made the 16,000km journey from their homeland to the Confederations Cup opener in St. Petersburg, and although their team lost to the hosts, they scored a victory of their own.
“We came open-minded, and we’ve been greeted warmly,” Matt, a member of a fan group who call themselves the Flying Kiwis. They are following New Zealand, who are in the tournament as the Oceania champions.
“We had faith in the Russian people, and we have been proven right,” added Fred, another of the group, when asked if questionable publicity discouraged them from making the trip.
A column by sportswriter Kris Shannon in the New Zealand Herald claimed that Russia “did not deserve” to host next year’s World Cup due to its fans history of misbehavior.
Weeks in advance, the Flying Kiwis arranged to play an 8-a-side match at a professional football ground in St. Petersburg, and surprised themselves to beat a local team 3-0, taking the edge off their disappointment at the national team’s 2-0 loss to Russia.
Prior to attending the match at the 68,000-capacity sold-out Krestovsky Stadium, neither Matt nor Fred had ever been at a “real football ground” of that size, noting that all the soccer stadiums in New Zealand are shared with rugby teams, or worse – converted from cricket pitches.
The fans arrived two days in advance – and have had a chance to enjoy arguably Russia’s most picturesque city at an unusually spectacular time.
“The White Nights are incredible – I learned about that when the sun didn’t go down,” said Matt. “Even though we speak different languages, the people here have tried to help any way they can.”
The two now hope that the All Whites can manage to sneak through the intercontinental playoffs, and make it through to the Russia 2018 World Cup.
“If this trip is a sign of what’s to come, let’s hope that we are back next year, too,” said Fred.
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