John Duggan's World Cup Diary
It's been an eventful, exhilarating 36 hours in Moscow. Watching Cristiano Ronaldo's masterclass on Friday was a joy to behold, but you realise quickly at a World Cup that it moves very fast and tomorrow's fish and chip paper is really hourly fish and chip paper. I am just back at my hotel after witnessing Mexico defeat world champions Germany 1-0 at the Luzhniki Stadium. The still beauty of the picture below contrasts with the deafening and frenzied Mexico support which helped spur 'El Tri' as they are known to victory.
For six World Cups in a row, Mexico have reached the second round and been eliminated. They were expected to turn up today and suffer a brave defeat. No. Mexico were up for the fight, hungrier than the Mannschaft and they had their homework done, hitting the Germans on the break with pace and exploiting their opponents right channel. Hector Herrera was magisterial in midfield and although the Latin American nation lacked composure in the final third, Hirving Lozano's 35th minute goal was enough. When he scored it, most of the stadium went crazy. Beer was thrown in the air in joy, like hats at Cheltenham, a bizarre sight. All I could smell was beer for quite a while. There were Mexican fans to my left that were completely wired to the moon for the full 90 minutes. Brazilians were in plentiful supply to lend support and the Mexican section resembled something out of Rio in terms of exuberance. Germany pressed in the second half, but they lacked a cutting edge in attack and forgot to apply enough urgency and leadership to their performance. It is now possible they could face Brazil in the last 16, if the Selecao top their group, despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Switzerland in Rostov.
After the match I found myself in the centre of hundreds of Mexico fans, high on life, en route to the Metro. I am trying to think of a bigger win for Mexico, and it must be the second round game at the 1986 tournament which they hosted, when they beat Bulgaria. The songs were infectious and I ended up in a huddle as a Mariachi band played. In another circle, a baby was held aloft in a Mexican jersey. And kids present TV shows and talk to characters, as you can see below.
This celebration came 24 hours after Argentina drew 1-1 with Iceland at the smaller Spartak Stadium, further North in the capital. All attention was on the best player in the world (although Ronaldo may disagree) Lionel Messi, who didn't seem to enjoy it from my vantage point. He missed a penalty and none of his 11 shots on target found the net. Messi was sharp, but exuded sheer frustration at the end of the game. Argentina owned the ball 78% of the time, but couldn't unlock Iceland more than once. Turning 31 years of age during the finals, Messi may realise that unlike his Barcelona team, the talent may not exist in terms of goalkeeping or defending for 'La Albiceleste' to win the World Cup. The Argentina fans (below) believe and they bring the colour and the verve. Former World Cup winning captain Diego Maradona made an appearance, sporting the coolest shades I think I have seen, glistening red, as he smoked a cigar wearing two watches.
Sunday morning was spent at the Moscow Shamrocks GAA club, the only GAA club in Russia. Recognised by Croke Park, the Moscow Shamrocks are a relatively new club which train on the grounds of Russian Premier League champions Lokomotiv Moscow, often indoors during the cold winters. Chairman Alan Moore from Dublin and Secretary Aisling Kinsella from Carlow have done a great job of welcoming Irish workers in Moscow to the community, introducing new nationalities to the rules and spirit of Gaelic Games, and spreading a great brand name in a city of approximately 12 million people. No matter how big or small a GAA club is overseas, it's always heartwarming to see the bonds forged between our diaspora that share a common love. And there is always a 'Mayo for Sam' banner to be found!