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Russian Fans Celebrate Soccer Team's Unexpected Reversal Of Fortunes

Russian midfielder Roman Zobnin (left) and forward Artem Dzyuba celebrate the team's opening goal against Egypt in St. Petersburg on June 19.

Russian fans erupted in celebration on the streets of St. Petersburg, Moscow, and other cities after their soccer team staged a second, unexpected win at the World Cup the country is hosting.

State television broadcast footage of fans chanting "Russia!" ecstatically, waving flags at locations around the country, and celebrating in the streets of St. Petersburg, where Russia's team beat Egypt 3-1 in their second game in Group A.

Although Russia was the lowest-ranked team heading into the games, the win almost guarantees that Russia will advance to the second round of the world's most-watched tournament for the first time since before the fall of the Soviet Union.

The reversal of fortunes for the home team fueled euphoria for the fans. Crowds draped in Russian flags sang folk songs and whooped wildly in the St. Petersburg subway.

In Moscow, thousands celebrated through the night, dancing, chanting, and blowing car horns in the city center while lines of police kept watch. Many roads were blocked by cars full of flag-waving Russia fans.

Russian football fans celebrate after their team's victory over Egypt at the Fan Zone in Rostov-on-Don on June 19.
Russian football fans celebrate after their team's victory over Egypt at the Fan Zone in Rostov-on-Don on June 19.

The surprise win against Egypt, a higher-ranked team, on June 19 was all the more sweet to fans because it marked the return to play after an injury of formidable Egyptian player Mohamed Salah, whose talents sports analysts said were kept at bay by deft Russian defensive moves.

"The game was just crazy. Salah couldn't do anything," a man named Aleksandr, who was with his wife in a packed fan zone in St. Petersburg, told Reuters.

"Our players really showed how the game should be played," another fan named Andrei, who was wrapped in a Russia flag, told Reuters.

The win followed Russia's unexpected 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia in the first game of the tournament on June 17.

Aleksei Ivanov, a St. Petersburg company manager, told AP that the enthusiasm of the fans deserves some of the credit for the team's unexpected wins.

"When you're among your own, you're more confident," he said.

It was a major about-face for Russian fans, who went into the tournament expressing skepticism, pessimism, and spreading dark humor about their team.

By June 19, the self-deprecating jokes and mockery had turned to boasts.

"Everyone else is lagging behind us," Aleksei Zaikev, 36, who was sitting in a Moscow bar and talking over the sound of crowds singing Russian folk songs, told Reuters.

Some fans said they thought the World Cup party atmosphere would show visitors Russia is a welcoming country, despite ties with the West having fallen to post-Cold War lows.

"In the West, they're trying to paint it as if everything's bad here, but then we show them that it's not, and foreigners come and they like it here, and that's great," Zaikev said.

"Patriotism is only just starting to blossom here, and now our country is winning," Zukhra Nudarava, 25, told Reuters.

Karen Arutunian, who is about to turn 8 years old, celebrated with his family, but he told AP he isn't optimistic about the team's prospects as the competition gets tougher in upcoming games.

"We won't win. But it doesn't matter. We're making it out of the first round," he said. "It's the best feeling."

With reporting by AP and Reuters