The Russian men’s soccer team is not following the script.
It is winning games at the World Cup, soccer’s biggest stage.
Those wins soon will lead to hostile remarks from soccer fans and other people who want to criticize Russia for any success it has anywhere in the world, no matter the event, cause or purpose.
The fact that Russia also is the host of this year’s event will give its critics even more ammunition as they create their conspiracy theories.
Russia beat Saudi Arabia, 5-0, last Thursday, in the opening match of the World Cup. It followed up that victory with another on Tuesday, when the Russians beat the Egyptians, 3-1. Though Russia has not yet assured itself of a spot in the knockout round, which is akin to the playoffs, it seems certain the host country will be among the final 16 teams.
Before the World Cup, the expectation was Russia would struggle to advance out of the group stage.
The experts believed Uruguay, which Russia plays in a few days, would be the best team in a group also containing Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia. Egypt, with one of the world’s most electric players, Mo Salah, was considered the second best. Adding to the lack of optimism about the Russians was their terrible performance in several matches leading up to the World Cup tournament.
Only once in World Cup history has the host nation not made it out of the group stage. Russia seemed certain to make it twice, many soccer experts projected.
Of course, the positive results are fueling a surge of pride throughout Russia. The jam-packed stadiums filled with fans wearing Russia’s version of the red, white and blue offer one clue to the sheer joy being felt by Russians as their men’s team plays well.
Public squares and other places where Russians gather to watch the matches also are filled.
There’s no question that right now Russia is a soccer nation.
That kind of story won’t fly with many of Russia’s critics. Where you and I might smile at what’s taking place with the Russians, these critics are soon to tell you that something unethical has to be causing it
They’ll suggest, without proof of course, that Russia is winning because the soccer players are doping. Or maybe the Russians are winning because president Vladimir Putin has authorized a gigantic bribe of soccer officials to ensure Russia’s victories. Or maybe Russia is winning because the ball used during its games has somehow been tampered with to ensure it goes into the goal when a Russian player kicks it but stays out when the other team does the same.
The slippery slope from conspiracy to lunacy quickly will be evident.
To this point, there is one reason why the Russians have won: They’re playing a smart brand of football, taking chances when they become available while maintaining as rock solid a defense as possible.
There’s no other explanation, and that drives the conspiracy theorists nuts.