On July 7, Russia faced Croatia in the soccer World Cup quarterfinals.
Most sports fans in Kyrgyzstan supported Russia.
At a Bishkek bar called Piratskaya Bukhta (Pirate Bay), the cheers were vocal and impassioned. Alcohol flowed freely, supporters painted their faces in the red, white and blue of the Russian flag, spectators crossed their fingers as they recalled hefty bets placed.
For many people the affinity for Russia feels natural. Kyrgyzstan’s economic and cultural ties with the old colonial master remain strong. And since their own team has never got even close to qualifying for the World Cup, Russia presents a natural alternative.
As one supporter told Eurasianet, his grandfather fought in the war for one single nation – the Soviet Union – and that is why he was backing Russia. When the Russian national anthem was played before the game began, people sang along with the words of the Soviet hymn. The music was never changed.
Some brave souls took a stand and struck an alternative pose by backing the opposition – Croatia. Such contrarians exist in Kyrgyzstan, but they are a small minority.
The game was a tight affair with neither side showing much flair. But since Croatia was broadly tipped as the favorite, it was a surprise when Denis Cheryshev put the competition host ahead in the 31st minute. Piratskaya Bukhta erupted.
Croatia equalized eight minutes later. The mood in Piratskaya Bukhta dimmed.
Then came extra time. And Croatia went ahead in the 105th minute. Disaster.
Five minutes before the close, Russia’s Brazilian-born right back Mario Fernandes pulled his side level. At the close of extra time, with the score at 2-2, Piratskaya Bukhta reveled as supporters chanted “Mo-lo-dsty! Mo-lo-dsty! Mo-lo-dsty!” (Well done boys!).
As the penalty shootout loomed, all hope now rested on Russia’s goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. He was the star of the previous game, when his heroic saves saw off Spain in another penalty face-off.
Cries of “Igor! Igor! Igor!” rang round the bar. Some used the more affectionate diminutive Igoryok.
It was all for nothing, however.
Croatia won the shoot-out 4-3. Even Igoryok couldn’t save Russia.
Piratskaya Bukhta sunk into despair. Some were bruised by disappointment, others held their heads in their hands as they realized how much money they had lost on a foolhardy bet while the most drunk customers took consolation in a valiant battle fought against a superior opposition.
Danil Usmanov is a photo and video journalist based in Bishkek.