In one of the opening scenes of the 2017 Russian comedy Kitchen – Last Fight (Кухня. Последняя битва), one of the ministers of the President of the Russian Federation lands a helicopter onto the manicured lawns of a suburban Moscow home to recruit a master chef to represent the country at the World Chef Championships taking place in Sochi.
If we cannot win at football, we can at least win a cooking competition – the message from the Kremlin is delivered to the chef, played by actor Dmitry Nazarov.
As the audience laughed all night long watching the outrageous drama unfold at Sochi’s Kinotavr outdoor film festival on Tuesday night, I could not but reflect on the subtle messages of the movie. There’s a general perception in Russia that the government is always interested in the littlest events.
The 2017 Confederations Cup is the biggest football event that Russia has ever hosted. This country of more than 144million people who are passionate about sports and want to excel in every field of endeavour face their biggest challenge yet on the grand stage.
Will the dynamic Russian spirit propel them to victory when the tournament starts on Saturday or will they choke under the high burden of expectation?
Football is the biggest sport in Russia but it has not yielded as much international acclaim and success like ice hockey, biathlon and athletics. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s biggest football success has come at the European Championships where they reached the semi-finals in 2008 with that famous squad led by Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Russia has played at three Fifa World Cups without going past the group stage. Their poor campaign at last year’s Euros in France was overshadowed by fan violence and players caught up in a champagne splurge in the south of France as the nation asked questions about remorse for failure.
Many locals feel the Russian national team players are overpaid boys who won’t give their all on the pitch. But I have watched the team in recent times and I see a fighting core that could really trouble opponents over the next three weeks.
After losing 2-0 at the hands of Cote d’Ivoire at the ultra-modern FC Krasnodar ground in April, the boys picked themselves up and fought to a 3-3 draw against star-studded Belgium here in Sochi four days later.
They recently defeated Hungary 3-0 before holding Alexis Sanchez’s Chile to a 1-1 draw in Moscow last week.
Coach Stanislav Cherchesov seems to have the team peaking at the right time and they would be a handful for opponents New Zealand, Portugal and Mexico in Group A when the tournament kicks off. Still, Russia would need to find the right combination of tactics and psychological balance to face these continental champions.
In the movie, Russia prevails at the end despite all the issues that the chef faced. Russia has come under a lot of fire since winning the rights to host the 2018 World Cup as well as the aftermath of the doping allegations that trailed the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
Many times Russians believe that the world does not understand them. Like the title of that Tupac song, “Me Against the World”, Russians regularly feel there is not enough love coming from the rest of the world.
Russians want to use this competition as a signpost that next year’s World Cup would be even greater. One of the places to start is by doing well this summer and ensuring that the world falls in love with their team.
Like the audience fell in love with the movie last night, Russia is capable of drawing us closer and good football could really break down many barriers.
However, it would be difficult to see Russia lift the title on July 2.
Lolade Adewuyi attends the Russian International Olympic University, Sochi. Follow his blog about the local experience in Sochi for Goal Africa during the 2017 Confederations Cup.
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