There is nothing like a FIFA World Cup with a successful home team. Not necessarily the one that goes on to lift the trophy, but a home team that exceeds expectations, entertains the world along the way and instills in its people a massive sense of pride. Or at the very least, a home team that gives the nation hope.
Hosts South Korea, in 2002, epitomized the thrill of a home nation going deep into the tournament. Even after the semi-final defeat to Germany, the drums continued to beat, the chants did not stop and the fireworks continued to light up the sky.
Korea’s streets buzzed with excitement during the event. FIFA estimates that 22 million Koreans in total watched their team play on giant screens on streets — inspiring the idea behind today’s ‘Fan Fests’ — and the world joined in as well to cheer for a nation it knew little about.
South Africa nearly pulled off a miracle in 2010, which, for a footballing minnow ranked 83 by FIFA, was to get out of a tough group that featured well-established nations in Uruguay, Mexico and France. The Rainbow Nation went out only on goal difference in the end and unified the country behind its cause before Africa as a whole put their weight behind Ghana — thereby keeping the spirit of the tournament alive.
The USA over-performed in 1994 too, upsetting Colombia to make it into the knockout stages as the World Cup fever gripped America too.
Russia, then, could be the first of its kind: a team that is arousing no hope or excitement among the locals before the tournament. As per experts and journalists, all signs point to the worst home performance in World Cup history. Which would be remarkable coming from a European nation.