Its 9am. The guys next to me crack open the first beer of the flight. I want to join them. It may lead to divorce. This is Ukraine (away) with the Croatians. Kind of.
So the World Cup qualifying campaign reached its climax with the final round of pre-playoff matches taking place around the world. My calendar conveniently takes me to Ukraine where I was scheduled to run a marathon (except I broke my ankle (not sure I mentioned this earlier J)), but did mean that I would get to see the winner takes all game between Ukraine and Croatia for a play-off place along with the rather hardy looking Croatian lads on my flight.
Or did it? Online ticket sales were limited to Ukrainian residents ruling me right out and forcing a trip to the stadium and the ticket office and its one elderly lady working the computers. After the man in front decided to buy tickets for half of the Donbass, I was up. My Russian is rusty, but my mistake was in my tone. I tried to use words like please and create a full sentence when an imperative, a grunt and some finger pointing were required. I quickly learnt my mistake feeling in no way threatened by the man with no neck looming over my shoulder. He was delighted when the old woman started typing in our names using the classic one finger technique. She was utterly bewildered by the word ‘Magyarorszag’: she is not alone. After that pain, UAH 100 (GBP 3) seemed like a reasonable price to pay for the ticket.
Turns out we were lucky as the game was a sellout and there was nearly 70,000 Ukrainians and a handful of Croats (aka my news mates) in the arena. And at first glance, this is some arena. Renovated to host a Shakira concert and the Euro 2012 final (in order of importance), it will also host the Champions League final next year (“Spurs are on their way to Kyiv”). On closer inspection, it is a little bit creaking round the edges. Leaking toilets, falling roof panels and the like. Still we all like a bit of grime (I fear I may have just tripped into some awful euphemism).
Ukraine needed to beat the Croats to leap above them into the playoff place. The spectators were clearly not the type that watch football regularly instead dragged along by the high-profile nature of the occasion. Screams of excitement at odd moments is always the give away although maybe they were just smashed which was highly possible given the graveyard of hard liquor bottles at the gates.
In short, Croatia were better. Modric is something else. Ukraine gave it a go, but never got too close to scoring. Croatia nicked the lead on 62 minutes through Kramaric who scored again on 70 minutes to spark a mass exodus and the end of a potential Ukrainian invasion of Russia (boooo, booo this author).
My second match of the week saw me attending the far less important match to decide whether it would be Hungary or Faroe Islands who would finish third in their group. What a treat! I was also exhausted following a late finish in Kyiv, a 7.00 flight, three hours in a public hospital to tell me that my ankle (which was broken) was now fixed and a day at work. All of these elements were not adding to my excitement at the prospect of watching some terrible, meaningless football. Why go? I naively invested in a Hungarian NT season ticket for these qualifiers and having skipped the visit of Latvia, my value for money alarm was beeping so I dragged myself to the usual scenes. The usual scenes of drunk Hungarians, hollering Ria, Ria and getting overly agitated at the referee whenever the opposition made a tackle. Plus unlike the Ukrainians, the Hungarians like to smoke in the stadium ignoring the rules as if we were in the Balkans. Oh wait…
A fair % of the Faroese population must have come to the stadium with at least 30 fans merrily chanting away. And they were right to be merry. The Faroese were disciplined and technically pretty good carving open a couple of ok chances. The Hungarians were poor. The fans made them aware of this with chants of ‘Kurva gyenge’ (‘F’’king weak’), which was a far more concise summary of the performance that this paragraph. The half-time whistle was greeted with more whistles, boos and the chants of ‘Auf wiedersehen’ (presumably directed at the German coach, Bernard Storck). As a side note Bernard Storck must be the only manager ever to survive a 0-0 draw in Torshavn and a 0-1 defeat in Andorra. It is the equivalent of me lobbing my laptop out of the window and p’ssing in the office shrubbery and being welcomed back to work. Let’s put international football to sleep for a while.