Evander Holyfield’s son wins pro boxing debut in 16 seconds
It’s safe to say Evan Holyfield’s pro boxing career is off to a strong, if slightly controversial start.
The 22-year-old son of boxing legend Evander Holyfield won his first career pro boxing match in just 16 seconds, with a TKO of Nick Winstead, 21, that might have been the result of a somewhat premature ref stoppage.
Holyfield went out and landed a number of shots on Winstead from the outset, eventually knocking him down with a strong left hook. Referee Robert Hoyle immediately stepped in and called the fight.
Winstead was clearly unhappy with Hoyle’s decision to give Holyfield the win so quickly, as was the crowd.
Despite the controversy, it’s hard to deny that Holyfield looked impressive in the junior middleweight bout, which was part of the undercard for Canelo Alvarez’s title fight with Sergey Kovalev.
Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr rematch date and venue confirmed
Anthony Joshua’s rematch against Andy Ruiz Jr is set to take place in Saudi Arabia on December 7.
Joshua lost his three heavyweight titles when he was stopped by the Mexican-American on June 1 in one of the biggest shocks in the division’s history.
The Brit immediately triggered the rematch clause in his contract in a bid to return the sport’s summit.
Joshua will head to Diriyah for the rematch in December, which will be worth £70m.
And he will start as the favourite, despite being dropped four times by the unfancied Ruiz.
Joshua had been a short odds-on favourite in New York and looked to be well on his way to victory after dropping Ruiz in the third round.
But he was immediately dumped on the canvas himself – and then again before the bell rang.
Ruiz then completed the job in the seventh round with a further pair of knockdowns.
Joshua made no excuses for his first professional defeat, despite rumours he suffered a panic attack in the dressing room before he walked out.
There were also reports – subsequently denied – that he was knocked out in sparring during his training camp.
The deposed champion said at the time: “Congratulations to Andy Ruiz, he has six months to be champion because the belts go in the air and he’s going to have to defend against myself.
“I wouldn’t mind if it was in New York again, I wouldn’t mind if it’s in England. New York opened their arms for me and my team and it was phenomenal. I have to correct what went wrong and get the job done in the rematch.”
Ruiz had demanded £40million for the second installment but will likely pocket a career-high £10m.
He also wanted the rematch to be held in Mexico but Joshua held the cards when it came to the venue.
Ruiz Jr said after his win: “I’ve been working really hard, man. I wanted to prove all the doubters wrong, I’d seen all the comments.
“Well, what do you know, I’m the first Mexican heavyweight champion of the world. I’m still pinching myself to see if this is real, man. Wow.
“All I need to do now is get in shape and look like ‘AJ’, I want to get in really good shape.
“I’m going to get back in the gym and work even harder; I’m actually more motivated now I’m the champion.
“Before this fight, I always said I wanted to fight Joshua because I knew I could beat him, I knew he opened up too much. My speed and movement was always going to be too much for him.”
Serena Williams Poses ‘Unretouched’ For ‘Harper’s Bazaar’, Putting Bare Legs & Butt On Full Display
Jenna Lemoncelli (Hollywood Life) : Serena Williams, 37, showed off her incredibly athletic figure on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar for the magazine’s August issue. The cover, which is accompanied by numerous, unretouched photos and a candid essay, shows the 23-time Grand Slam winner in a sparkling gold dress by Stella McCartney. Inside the magazine, Serena bares her muscular legs and perky backside in a Ralph Lauren gold cape and Christian Louboutin heels.
The new issue, which celebrates “the strength and beauty of women in their most authentic states,” is all about Serena speaking her truth. She pens a powerful essay about her memorable loss to Naomi Osaka, 21, in the 2018 U.S. Serena not only becomes vulnerable about the “excruciating” match, but apologizes to her opponent after her own reaction to the loss overshadowed Naomi’s win. Nonetheless, the tennis legend doesn’t regret using her voice to stand up for change.
“This incident — though excruciating for us to endure —exemplified how thousands of women in every area of the workforce are treated every day,” Serena wrote for the August issue. “We are not allowed to have emotions, we are not allowed to be passionate. We are told to sit down and be quiet, which frankly, is just not something I’m OK with. It’s shameful that our society penalized women just for being themselves.”
Serena took to Instagram on Tuesday, where she expressed how happy she was to write the first-person piece. “I’m proud to use my voice and words to share an essay on the raw feelings I had during a match we may all remember,” Serena wrote on Instagram alongside a shot from the photoshoot.
Politics Serena Williams’ Husband Calls Out ‘Bulls**t’ Double Standard Between His Wife and Brett Kavanaugh
Alexis Ohanian is defending his wife, Serena Williams.
“Funny how a black female tennis player is held to a higher standard to keep her emotions in check than a Supreme Court nominee,” Barros wrote, to which Ohanian responded, “It’s not funny, it’s bulls**t.”
“Beta Brett:⁰+ Played the “father card” + Cried & screamed + Insulted everyone’s intelligence with lies about the definitions of phrases anyone with Google could debunk + Argued hysterically with sitting Senators, even going so far as to threaten them,” he continued.
Ohanian also brought up the controversial cartoon of Williams published by The Herald Sun shortly after she lost the U.S. Open — which many have deemed racist — once again calling out editor Damon Johnston.
“If you’re going to be a Supreme Court Justice — a job that requires maintaining sober judgement — it shouldn’t matter what questions you have to answer in your job interview, you keep it together,” the Reddit co-founder tweeted. “I look forward to the cartoon @damonheraldsun puts on the front page about it.”
On Saturday, the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh as the Supreme Court’s ninth justice in a 50-48 vote. The confirmation came after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual and physical assault stemming from an alleged incident in the 1980s during their high school years. Kavanaugh has denied the accusations.
Meanwhile, in September, Williams lost the U.S. Open to Japan’s Naomi Osaka, but the game was interrupted by several issues between the tennis superstar and tournament officials, as umpire Carlos Ramos handed Williams three penalties throughout the match. After the game, Williams shed tears as she talked about the penalties being sexist, and she was later fined $17,000 for the violations — $4,000 for a coaching violation, $3,000 for slamming her racket and $10,000 for “verbal abuse.”
But one thing we know is Ohanian always has Williams’ back. Watch the video below to see his intense faces while cheering his wife on at Wimbledon in July.
2018 Soccer World Cup – Finally the Cup
The French national team was crowned world champions after defeating an underdog Croatian team 4-2 in the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday, capturing its second World Cup title and its first since it hosted the 1998 tournament 20 years ago. Les Bleus manager Didier Deschamps was the captain in 1998 when his team shocked Brazil in Paris, and on Sunday he became the third to ever win the World Cup as a player and coach.
Overall, the World Cup was very successful and has been seen as a triumph for Russia. There was a lot of revenue brought in by the cup for Russia, the teams and betting companies. Fans who won money through betting and fantasy soccer (see this site for more information on fantasy soccer) also went home happy! The final saw a sold-out stadium celebrate the amazing final match with the bookies favorites France winning.
In a match that featured anything you could have ever imagined, an own goal, a goalkeeper gaffe, pitch invaders and a teenager wunderkind finding the back of the net, France rolled to a convincing 4-1 lead and managed to hold on to earn its second star.
A penalty-kick goal from Antoine Griezmann and goals from Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe were enough to lift one of the pre-tournament favorites to the title, capping off a magnificent run in the group stage and the knockout stage that featured wins over Australia, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium. Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s wild final.
First own goal in a World Cup final
It didn’t take too long for this one to get going. Despite Croatia playing better in the first half, a mistake gifted the lead to France. Mandzukic headed the ball into his own goal 18 minutes in on a set piece to make it 1-0. Mandzukic became the first player to score an own goal in the World Cup final. For those counting at home, there have been 20 World Cup finals before Sunday’s match.
One of the best goals of the tourney
Just 10 minutes later, Croatia knotted things up off a lovely set piece that ended with Ivan Perisic’s rocket golazo. It’s probably one of the best goals you’ll have seen this tournament, and it’s significant because it happened in the most important game these players have ever played.
First VAR-assisted goal in a World Cup final
Unfortunately for the underdogs, it was all downhill from there. A handball on Perisic was called a penalty kick after the use of the video assistant referee, and Griezmann finished it in the 38th minute. With this being the first tournament with video assistant referees (VAR), it was the first time we saw it used in the final. Boy, did it have an impact:
Fortnite meets World Cup final
Griezmann scored from the penalty spot, which meant he did his signature Fortnite dance celebration, as seen in the popular video game. The “taking the L” dance has been a celebration of Griezmann’s for a few months, debuting it with Atletico Madrid during the La Liga season.
Pogba makes Manchester United history in World Cup final
Aside from being the first Premier League player to score a goal in the final since Emmanuel Petit for France in 1998 against Brazil (it all comes full circle), Pogba became the first Manchester United player to score a goal in the final.
The 25-year-old star midfielder made it 3-1 with this fine finish inside the box 59 minutes in:
Move over, Pele
Croatia, trailing every knockout stage match this Cup, had to do something to try and comeback but it couldn’t find the creativity in the final third. Instead, Mbappe ended it. The young Paris Saint-Germain star made it 4-1 with this stunning hit atop the box 65 minutes in.
Mbappe became the first teenager to score in a final since Pele. No big deal at all. He is the second youngest player to score in a World Cup final at 19 years and 207 days.
Goalkeeper gaffe by Lloris
Croatia was able to get one back from Mandzukic on an error by Hugo Lloris. Mandzukic capitalized on the gaffe and became just the second player in World Cup history to score a goal for his team and an own goal in a single game. The other? Ernie Brandts for the Netherlands against Italy in 1978.
Deschamps third to win as player and manager
Didier Deschamps joins Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer as the only to win the men’s World Cup as a player and manager. Zagallo was a champion for Brazil as a player in 1958 and as a manager in 1970. Beckenbauer did the same as a player for West Germany in 1974 and as a manager in 1990.
Pitch invasion in a World Cup final
As if that wasn’t enough, there was a pitch invasion during second half of the match. Approximately four spectators invaded the field before security did its best to stop them. As always, it’s a huge concern when you think of the safety of those involved but it was quickly handled and play continued. More on that here.
France moves up the list with its double
France became the sixth country to win at least two World Cups, joining Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina and Uruguay. Just eight teams have won the cup in its history, with Spain and England each having one.
Four goals a first in a final since the days of Pele
France became the first team to score four goals in the final since Brazil did against Italy in 1970. Les Bleus also scored four in the knockout stage against Argentina.
In the end, it was destiny for France and heartbreak for Croatia, who was playing in its first final. A wild World Cup concluded with a team everyone thought could win actually doing so, while Croatia’s miracle run falls painfully short. There could only be one winner, and a deserved France team managed to step up with its most convincing showing of the tournament when it mattered most.
England star Harry Kane wins Golden Boot after bagging six goals in Russia
The Tottenham striker netted a double against Tunisia, a hat-trick against Panama and a single strike against Colombia in the last-16
HARRY KANE has become the first Englishman to win the World Cup Golden Boot since Gary Lineker in 1986 after he bagged six goals in Russia. The 24-year-old proved to be influential as the Three Lions reached the semi-finals under the tutelage of popular boss Gareth Southgate.
England may have not reached the World Cup final but Harry Kane is still the top scorer of the tournament
Tottenham‘s lethal marksman netted twice in the Group G opener against Tunisia as England left it late to win 2-1.
He then banged in a hat-trick against Panama in a 6-1 rout, before scoring a penalty against Colombia in the last-16 clash.
Kane featured in six games for England at the World Cup, but failed to get on the score sheet in the quarter-final win against Sweden, and the following defeats against Croatia and Belgium.
Incredibly, Kane is now second on the list of England’s top scorers at the World Cup in his maiden tournament.
Lineker stands top of the pile with ten strikes after netting six goals in Mexico, before finding the back of the net on four occasions in 1990.
Geoff Hurst netted five goals in two tournaments between 1966-1970, while Bobby Charlton and Michael Owen both stand on four.
Kane’s tally of six goals in Russia was two more than his nearest challengers with five men scoring four goals for their respected nations.
France Vs Croatia: The Battle Between Two ‘golden Generations’ In The World Cup 2018 Final
After over a month of exciting and enthralling football action, World Cup 2018 will come to a close when France and Croatia take on each other in the final hurdle
France are one of the strongest teams in the world, and given the fact their current squad is called as their ‘golden generation’, it isn’t much of a surprise to see them one step closer to the crown
After over a month of exciting and enthralling football action, World Cup 2018 will come to a close when France and Croatia take on each other in the final hurdle. Not many heading into the tournament would have predicted these two fighting it out on the last day.
France are one of the strongest teams in the world, and given the fact their current squad is called as their ‘golden generation’, it isn’t much of a surprise to see them one step closer to the crown.
Croatia, on the other hand, are a very good side. But few would have predicted them to reach the semi-finals, let alone the final. There is little doubt about the quality they possess, especially in the midfield, where they have the ‘Golden Ball’ probable Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
So, ahead of the July 15 encounter, let’s see how the two ‘golden generations’ stack up.
They have reached the final only for the third time in their history, and no one can say they haven’t deserved it. The 1998 champions have been solid at the back, and have conceded a mere four goals in the tournament (three of them coming in the same game, against Argentina).
Hugo Lloris has been at his usual best in front of goal, and has produced some really good saves along the way. Though, he hasn’t been tested much, and that’s due to the back four in front of him.
In Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti, France have unearther a solid centre back partnership. Both the players are strong in the air, good with the ball, but more importantly, have pace. Take away the Argentina match, and the ever-present duo have let in a mere one goal in the tournament so far, which is incredible in it’s own rights. And the two have also shown their attacking threat, chipping in with a goal each.
Not many were sure about France’s full backs Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. But the duo have proved their critics wrong. While Pavard has been a rock defensively, Hernandez has been a willing runner going forward. Though, it comes as a surprise that out of the two, it is Pavard who has scored a goal. His screamer against Argentina was one of the moments of the tournament, and that backed Didier Deschamps’ decision to play him.
Take away Croatia’s midfield, and France would stake claim to have the best duo in this position. In Ngolo Kante, they have a player who will run all day long, and even after the final whistle. His tenacity and composure has brought calmness in the defense, and confidence in the attack. His displays may never create headlines, or be highlighted, but he has undoubtedly been one of the ‘player of the tournament.’
If Kante is all about tenacity, then his midfield partner Paul Pogba is the complete opposite. With a giant like figure, Pogba is full of creativity. This may not have been one of his best tournaments till date, but he is capable of producing something extraordinary any moment.
France have tried and tested Blaise Matuidi and Corentin Tolisso as the third midfield option, someone who can play on the left side. Both the players have performed decently, but Matuidi edges his compatriot. The Juventus man has legs in him, which allows him to break forward when France have the ball, and help defensively when they are out of possession.
What can you say about France’s attack. There is a tall striker, a creative attacking midfielder, and a pacey youngster. The mixture of Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe has done wonders.
While Giroud hasn’t got the goals, his off the ball running, link up and hold up play has been important. His hardwork has meant the other two have enjoyed their time in the attacking half.
Griezmann started the tournament slowly. He was scoring goals, but struggling with his performances. But once the knockout round started, he has come to life. Against Argentina, his runs and movement were brilliant. Then in the quarter-finals against Uruguay, he tormented the opposition defense. With three goals and two assists in the tournament, he ranks high in terms of the most influential players.
His partner in crime has been Mbappe. Tasked with leading the attack at a tender age of 19, the Paris Saint-Germain man has grabbed onto the opportunity. Just like Griezmann, he was quiet in the group stage, but roared back to form with a sensational match-winning performance against Argentina. While there have been moments of his immaturity and selfishness, there is no denying he is the biggest threat to Croatia in the final.
You don’t always need big names in your back line to be strong. And Croatia have proved exactly that. Their goalkeeper Danijel Subasic is hardly considered world class. But in World Cup 2018, his performances have been extraordinary. Two match winning displays against Denmark and Russia has earned him the ‘legend’ tag in his country.
The back four of Croatia have been dependable. Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida have been neat and clean, and have played to their strengths. If anything, they have performed well above their expectations.
Full backs Šime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinić, just like the centre backs, have to be lauded for their performances. Both of them have been strong defensively, but have not shied away from going in the attacking half every now and then.
‘The Best’. This sums up the midfield duo of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. In reality, both of them are attacking minded midfielders, and many predicted them to be overrun by opposition attacks. But that hasn’t been the case one bit. Rakitic has dropped deep on several occasion to play as the anchor man. But when he goes upfield, Modric is always there to cover his space. The Real Madrid midfielder has arguably been the best player in the tournament, and she his side come victorious on Sunday, he will surely be ranked high amongst the Ballon d’Or candidates.
In few matches, Croatia have gone with a midfield three, playing Marcelo Brozović. His role has basically been to form a trio with Modric and Rakitic. But there is also the option of playing Mateo Kovacic, who is one talented midfield option.
‘Tenacity, fight and will’. In Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebić, Croatia have three attacking options who will fight till the end of the day. They have creativity in them, but it is their hardwork which wins praises.
Perisic on his day can be a lethal winger. Playing on the left wing, he can either cut on his right foot to unleash a shot, or go down the wing using his pace. The other two, Mandzukic and Rebic, are sloggers, who will fight for the ball day long. Their ability in the air is also very useful.
There is always another option in Andrej Kramarić, who can give the other attackers run for their money.
Kerber stuns Serena in final while Nadal crashes out of Wimbledon
Angelique Kerber won her first championship at the All England Club beating Serena Williams 6-3, 6-3. Separately, Novak Djokovic delivered a semi-final win over Rafael Nadal in a two-day thriller that lasted five hours and 15 minutes.
Angelique Kerber became the first German woman to win Wimbledon for 22 years as the 11th seed shattered Serena Williams’ bid for Grand Slam history with a shock 6-3, 6-3 victory in Saturday’s women’s final.
Kerber avenged her defeat against Williams in the 2016 Wimbledon title match, overwhelming the seven-time champion with a stunning 65-minute upset on Centre Court.
“I knew I had to play my best tennis against a champion like Serena,” Kerber said.
“It was my second chance to play in the final. I think I’m the next one after Steffi who won. That’s amazing.”
Serena’s first time after becoming a mother
Williams had hoped to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles by winning her first major prize since becoming a mother in September.
The 36-year-old, who last won a Grand Slam at the 2017 Australian Open, went into the final as the title favourite, even though she was playing only the fourth tournament of her post-pregnancy comeback.
But instead world number 10 Kerber sprang a huge surprise, making her Germany’s first female champion at the All England Club since Steffi Graf in 1996.
“It’s obviously disappointing but I am just getting started,” said an emotional Williams after losing in the Wimbledon final for the first time since 2008.
“For all you mums out there I was playing for you. I really tried.”
Graf helped Kerber get her game on track earlier in the her career, so it was an especially sweet moment for the 30-year-old to follow in her footsteps at Wimbledon.
Weary Nadal bows out of Wimbledon with pride
Meanwhile on the men’s semi-final, Rafael Nadal said he was proud and had nothing to reproach himself for after losing a top-quality Wimbledon game to great rival Novak Djokovic on Saturday.
The two-day, five-hour-15-minute match of breathtaking shotplay and tiny margins between two giants of modern tennis ended 6-4 3-6 7-6 (9) 3-6 10-8 in Djokovic’s favour.
“Nothing to complain. I think I played a great match. I have not much more inside me. I give it my best,” the 32-year-old Spanish world number one said.
“I think I did a great work. Is difficult to come back after injuries for a long time and have these kind of results, so I am proud of myself.”
Nadal, who won the French Open for the 11th time last month, spent much of 2016 out of action with a wrist injury.
He has won the Wimbledon title twice but last reached the final in 2011 and has since struggled at the All England Club with a series of losses to lower-ranked players.
It was his 52nd match against Djokovic, 31, a rivalry dating back to 2006. Serb Djokovic leads the head-to-head 27-25.
‘I go for holidays…’
“He’s probably the greatest fighter ever to play this game. I mean, he battles every single point like it’s his last. That’s something that is so impressive with Rafa. That’s what makes him so difficult to beat on any surface,” Djokovic said.
Nadal said he regretted losing an opportunity to win another major title.
“But that’s it. Nothing else. I go for holidays proud of the things that I’m doing.”
FIFA World Cup: Final schedule, TV time and storylines for Croatia vs. France
Two years ago when it hosted the European Championships, France was upset in the final — which was played in Paris — by Portugal.
France is back in the final of a major international tournament, and once again is the favorite to win. Croatia — which is playing in its first-ever World Cup final — is the opponent, and needed penalty kicks in the Round of 16 and quarterfinals, and extra time in the semifinals, in order to get to this point. France, meanwhile, made it look easy getting to Sunday’s 2018 World Cup final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
While Croatia might be a surprise finalist, the on-field star power is still impressive. Luka Modric — a candidate for the tournament’s Golden Ball award — is the key player for Croatia. France’s 19-year-old phenom Kylian Mbappe is also in the Golden Ball conversation and the favorite for the tournament’s Best Young Player Award.
World Cup final predictions: Will France or Croatia lift the trophy?
One of the best World Cups in history comes to an end Sunday in Moscow, as France and Croatia face off at the Luzhniki Stadium with the world championship on the line.
This is the third time France has reached the World Cup final, winning it all in 1998 and losing to Italy in the 2006 championship game. Croatia’s national team didn’t officially join FIFA until 1992 – with players previously competing for Yugoslavia – and is here in the final for the first time.
USA TODAY Sports’ soccer staff gives their picks for the World Cup final and who will win the Golden Ball – awarded to the tournament’s best player:
There isn’t much to choose between these teams except for the fact they are at the polar opposite ends of the “effort expended” spectrum. Croatia has played what amounts to an entire additional game thanks to three bouts of extra time. France has the movement to exploit those tired legs.
Croatia plays incredibly well as a team, and I expect Modric and Rakitic to put on a show. That being said, France is too strong in the attacking third, not to mention the advantage at the goalkeeper position with Hugo Lloris. Olivier Giroud scores his first goal of the tournament and Les Bleus are champions once again.
If there’s a group that can throw Croatia’s heralded midfield off its game, it’s the one featuring Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. The Croats aren’t going to be able to dictate the tempo like in past games, while the speed and creativity of France’s Antoine Greizmann and Kylian Mbappe should be able exploit a tired team.
Golden Ball: Kylian Mbappe, Franc
Russia Finally Falls, Leaving a Trail of Admirers and Doubters
SOCHI, Russia — It was only a couple of minutes to midnight, and Miroslav Romaschenko did not want to leave. As Croatia’s players bounced around in ecstasy and as Russia’s collapsed, disconsolate, onto their backs, the losing team’s assistant manager sat down, frozen in place on the Fisht Stadium’s turf.
He stayed there, staring into space, as the Croatian captain, Luka Modric, leapt into the crowd, celebrating his country’s second-ever World Cup semifinal; as both teams sought out Fyodor Smolov and Mário Fernandes, the two players whose missed penalties brought Russia’s tournament to a close; and as the fans turned to leave, back to the beach, back to the bars, back to reality.
His colleagues tried to rouse him, leaning in close to whisper their commiserations, asking if he wanted a hand up. Gently, he waved the first few entreaties away. When he finally moved, urged to his feet by Alan Dzagoev, the Russian midfielder, he did so slowly, reluctantly. Once he left the field, once the clock ticked 12, once tomorrow came, he knew it would all be over. For all the sorrow and the hurt, he had the look of a man not quite ready for it to end.
Nobody expected Russia to remain at its own party for quite this long. A kind draw in the group stage raised the possibility that the host — on the eve of the tournament ranked just the 70th best team in the world — might avoid the embarrassment so many here feared it might suffer. At best, Stanislav Cherchesov’s team might have expected to survive to the knockout rounds. Aleksandr Samedov, the midfielder, said on the eve of the tournament that all he wanted was to “make the country proud.”
He and his teammates did that, and far, far more. The first weeks of this tournament felt like a reverie for Russia. At the start, as the seemingly endless crowds of Latin American fans swept into the country, an invading force wearing sombreros for helmets, the host seemed unsure of what to make of it all: welcoming, of course, and intrigued, but a little detached.
By the time Russia had dispatched Saudi Arabia and Egypt in its first two games, however, the mood had shifted: from hope to excitement and on, ever upward, to elation. A loss to Uruguay in the final group game — with qualification in the round of 16 assured — did not dampen it.
When Russia then sent Spain spiraling out of the tournament in a wildly intense round-of-16 game decided by a penalty shootout, hundreds of thousands of jubilant Russian fans, if not more, spilled onto the streets of cities the length and breadth of this vast country.
Central Moscow ground to a halt, an impromptu street party that some compared to the celebrations at the end of World War II. From Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, the nation was in thrall. “The entire Russian country is in love with us,” as Cherchesov put it.
The rest of the world benefited, too. Russia’s unforeseen success illuminated the whole tournament. It meant that the host was not just a stage for the carnival, but a continuing participant in it. By knocking out Spain, Russia also did its bit to add to the air of the surreal that, most likely, will be the abiding memory of this World Cup.
That victory was not enough to ensure Russia a place in the planet’s collective heart, however. A note of doubt, remained. It is not unusual for World Cup hosts to exceed expectations, for an average team to be spurred by a partisan crowd and patriotic pride, and advance further into the tournament than its apparent talents might suggest.
Nor is it unusual for such homegrown success to attract raised eyebrows: Witness South Korea’s referee-assisted run to the semifinal in 2002; Argentina’s controversial appearance — and victory — in the final in 1978; even the longstanding South American allegations of a European plot to ease England’s path to glory in 1966.
In Russia’s case, those suspicions came easily. It is only four years, after all, since the Winter Olympics in Sochi, in which a vast state-backed doping program corrupted the results and boosted Russia to the top of the medals standings. Russia played Saturday’s World Cup quarterfinal in the stadium that opened and closed that event; the doping laboratory at the center of the accusations sits just outside the arena’s security zone. It is a restaurant now.
Grigory Rodchenkov, the whistle-blower at the center of the Sochi case, has alleged that he was told to make sure there was “no noise” when it came to failed tests for soccer players.
The Mail on Sunday, a British newspaper, has claimed FIFA knew of cover-ups in Russian soccer 18 months before this tournament started. Travis Tygart, chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, told USA Today in the past week, “We’re fools to believe it’s any different this time around from what happened in Sochi.” Denis Cheryshev, one of Russia’s breakout stars, has been forced to deny taking a growth hormone after his own father — apparently misquoted — suggested he had.
There is no documentary evidence of any wrongdoing, of course. It is all supposition and conjecture. It would all be roundly rejected not only by the Russian authorities but by much of the Russian people, inclined to be suspicious of anything any government tells them.
But in that climate, seeing a Russian team not only surpassing its fans’ wildest expectations, but doing so by running farther than every other team here — and by some considerable distance — it is hardly unreasonable to withhold a little affection for this Russian team, to wonder if what we have seen is real.
That is the price you pay, of course — just as all cyclists are vulnerable to being tarred by the sins of the past, regardless of their own guilt, so too all Russian athletes are now, unfairly, greeted with skepticism. But that is not to say that the culpable always bear the cost alone. Presuming their innocence, they are victims here, too. They are the ones who should be receiving garlands of praise for all they have done, and not dealing with any innuendo and rumor.
From the way they responded to the end of their journey, there is no question that it has all seemed real to the players, and to the staff. They arrived here in Sochi believing, with all of their hearts, that they could sustain this monthlong fantasy for a few more days.
When Cheryshev scored yet another wonderful goal in this dreamlike summer of his, it seemed they might; when Fernandes drew the game back to 2-2, deep into extra time, forcing yet another penalty shootout, the whole stadium seemed to believe fate and fortune were on Russia’s side.
And when, in the middle of the shootout, Dzagoev urged the crowd to make yet more noise, to make itself heard out across the Black Sea and into Turkey, and in the caldron, Mateo Kovacic duly missed his spot kick for Croatia, it seemed that, once more, they were.
The spell, though, could not hold. At some point, even at the best parties, everyone has to go home. Fernandes missed; Domagoj Vida scored for Croatia, and so, too, did Ivan Rakitic. Croatia’s players raced to their fans. Russia’s players sank to the floor. And as the lights came on and the reverie evaporated, Romaschenko sat on the turf, waiting for midnight, hoping to stretch it out just a bit more.