Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow saw fans roaring as they cheered on either the French national football (soccer) team, or that of Croatia, which went head-to-head in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final game.
“It is the best World Cup ever. For this, I would, first of all, like to thank everyone, which was involved in the participation, the organization of the World Cup,” said FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who thanked the Russian people and government on July 13.
Russia hosted the cup for the first time and did its best to outshine and outpace itself from four years earlier, when it hosted the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. The month-long tournament cost more than $10 billion to build and refurbish 12 stadiums located in 11 different cities throughout the country.
Its rather expensive efforts were not in vain, as locals and guests alike witnessed a total of 64 football matches between June 14 and July 15 and saw a different side to the world’s largest country.
"People have seen that Russia is a hospitable country, a friendly one for those who come here," said Russia’s President Vladimir Putin at a meeting with FIFA President Gianni Infantino and former football players at the Kremlin on July 6.
"I'm sure that an overwhelming majority of people who came will leave with the best feelings and memories of our country and will come again many times."
Sunday’s closing ceremony was as big and bold as the games were surprising and spectacular. American actor and singer Will Smith performed the tournament anthem “Live It Up” alongside Nicky Jam and Era Istrefi during an event held just before the final game.
"This is the biggest sporting event in the world. When I was asked to be a part of it, I didn’t even have to think about it. The World Cup is a magical, global energy. I love being a part of it," said Smith at a press conference held days before the big event.
Russian opera singer Aida Garifullina performed the Russian folk song “Kalinka,” accompanied by bagpipes and a children’s choir, with fans throughout the stadium singing along.
A surprise came when the Brazilian football legend and past World Cup winner Ronaldinho made an appearance playing the bongos, joining a large group of dancers at the end of the ceremony.
The musical and dance performances at the ceremony were not the only memorable thing that happened in Russia’s largest stadium. The French national team won the World Cup for the first time since 1998, when France hosted the game, and beat Croatia in a game that ended 4-2.
Two of the five Caspian countries, namely Russia and Iran, were represented at this year’s quadrennial game. After a crushing victory over Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Russia secured a place in the playoffs for the first time in over 32 years. Against the odds, the team continued winning, beating Spain in penalties in a game that ended 4-3 and secured the team a place in the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time ever. Russia was ultimately beaten by Croatia, but nevertheless all of the team’s members were hailed as national heroes.