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Fans flock from Finland to Russia as World Cup kicks off

Football’s most prestigious tournament is happening just next door over the course of the next four weeks, and many fans are making the trip to Russia.

Jalkapallon MM 2018 fanialueen avajaiset Moskova
Image: EPA

Gabriela Nironen had no hesitation booking her trip to see Peru play Denmark in Saransk on June 16, describing the prospect of watching her country play in the World Cup finals as a "dream from my childhood."

"I was nine years old when the Peruvian team was last in the World Cup, in Spain 1982”, Nironen explains. “I have been waiting 36 years for this moment."

Niironen is originally from Peru but is now married to a Finnish man with three Finnish-Peruvian children. She lived in Kouvola and then Karhula for the past 14 years.

Qualification for the World Cup after such a long gap was hugely important to the "intense and passionate supporters" and to the nation of Peru, as Nironen describes how it has united the country behind the team.

"This is the dream of one nation. For us, football is in the blood."

Although Nironen does not believe Peru can go all the way and win the tournament, she is hopeful that her team will at least progress to the knock-out stages.

A 'huge honour'

Another Finland-based South American travelling to watch his team play in Russia is Daniel Pryjma, who moved from the city of Curitiba in the south of Brazil to live with his Finnish wife in Tampere. Pryjma entered the 'lottery' for tickets last year, and was very disappointed when he received notification that his number had not come up.

However, his sister had entered the same lottery and her application was successful - so on his birthday she surprised him with a present of tickets to Brazil v Costa Rica on 22 June in St. Petersburg.

"It's a huge honour for any Brazilian to watch a live game of Brazil in the World Cup," says Pryjma. "I really like the World Cup because of what it means in Brazil, it is one of the few things we have to be proud about. Let's see how the squad does this year, they have a lot to prove after the last World Cup!"

Story continues after photo.

Brazil fan Daniel Pryjma
Image: Daniel Pryjma

During the previous tournament in Brazil in 2014, the hosts had a huge weight of hope and expectation on their shoulders as ardent fans willed them to victory on home soil. But it was not to be as the Samba Boys lost in the semi-final to eventual champions Germany. However, as Brazil are the most successful nation in the history of the World Cup, Pryjma can still fondly recall other past tournaments.

"I do have great memories of when Brazil won in 1994 and 2002. 2002 was especially cool because the game was really early in the morning, like at 8am in Brazil," recalls Pryjma. "So we had a huge breakfast party at my parents' and over 20 people watching the game."

Pryjma is hoping to rekindle some of that feeling in Finland as he plans to watch the remainder of Brazil’s games in the company of his compatriot community in Tampere. However, he is cautious about predicting another World Cup title for Brazil.

"I think Brazil have a chance to get to the quarter finals, but it's a tough call. Plus they might get Germany after the group phase, and the last time they lost 7-1!"

Maybe next time for Finland

Unfortunately, the Finnish national team will not be participating at this summer’s finals. Drawn in a tough group that contained Iceland, Ukraine, Croatia and Turkey, Finland got off to a poor start with a home draw against the relative minnows of Kosovo before losing the next 5 games in a row - a run that led to the departure of manager Hans Backe.

With qualification no longer a possibility, Finland suddenly began to play very well - and ended the campaign undefeated with two wins and two draws. Despite the disappointment of another unsuccessful qualifying attempt, the strong end to the campaign - coupled with the breakthrough of a number of talented young players - will give the Finns renewed hope for the future.

The scramble for tickets

Finland’s absence from the tournament has not however dissuaded Finnish football fans -- as well as aficionados from other parts of the world living in Finland -- from making plans to attend matches.

Fans in Finland have been snapping up World Cup finals tickets during the three separate sales phases. The final phase - called the ‘Last Minute Sales Phase’ - opened on 18 April and will run until 15 July. That means a limited number of tickets is still available, to be sold on a first come, first serve basis.

Fans travelling to Russia must also obtain a ‘Fan ID’, a document issued by the Russian authorities that is mandatory for all fans wishing to attend matches. The document is required in order to ensure "comfort and safety" at Russian stadia, and also allows the user free use of public transport during the tournament.

Fan safety concerns

Fan safety in Russia has been a particular concern during the build-up to the tournament, especially after scenes of violent confrontations between fans - often involving Russian hooligans - marred the European Championship finals in France in 2016.

The Russian authorities have insisted they are doing everything they can to ensure there will be no repeat of such incidents, with Russian President Vladimir Putin addressing the subject at a recent Economic Forum in St. Petersburg.

"I would like the World Cup 2018 to be a celebration for everyone who loves sports – for the footballers and for our guests," the Russian President stated. "We will do everything to make sure that the fans and the specialists and the players feel at home in Russia."

Seven games in 10 Days

These concerns, however, are not deterring fans from attending the tournament.

Another fan who couldn’t resist making the trip with the finals so close is Yumi Matsumoto, who will be attending her second World Cup finals tournament - having made the trip to Brazil in 2014. Originally from Japan, Matsumoto has been living in Helsinki for 10 years and currently works as a content creator for social media, as well as a translator, copywriter, and writer.

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Yumi Matsumoto
Image: Yumi Matsumoto

Along with three friends, Matsumoto will be attending the opening game of the tournament on Friday between Russia and Saudi Arabia, and will then travel around Russia to watch seven games over the following 10 days. Although watching football will be the main focus of the trip, Matsumoto and her group hope to experience Russian food and culture too.

"I get very excited when I watch football, and there is also this sense of unity with other supporters which is so great”, Matsumoto explains. “The World Cup requires a bit of travelling and it’s a great opportunity to experience something new."

In Matsumoto’s opinion, Germany are the most likely winners and she also has a soft spot for manager Gareth Southgate’s England side. She does not however, expect her home nation Japan to progress very far.

"I think they will exit the World Cup after the group stage. This time, Samurai Japan is not that good though of course I will support them anyway!"

You can follow Matsumoto’s Japan, Pryjma’s Brazil, Nironen’s Peru and all the other competing nations on Yle TV 2 and Yle Areena throughout the tournament.

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