The World Cup of 2018 Behind the scenes - our EYES insider experienced it first hand!

Check out the story of Eugenia KÁROLYI Popcev, entrepreneur, sports journalist and EYES member. 

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Russia captivated me from the moment I landed. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from a World Cup in a country better known for its political controversy rather that its passion for football. I left Barcelona on June 11th blindfolded, anxious, and alone. I flew to Moscow with “spasibo” (thanks) being, pretty much, my entire Russian vocabulary.

Sergei, my driver, was waiting for me at the arrivals lounge of Domodedovo Airport, it was chaotic and his English was probably worst than my Russian, but he made sure my perception of his country changed immediately the moment I landed. Luckily, we had Google Translator.

For 5 weeks I based out of Moscow, but traveled around the largest country on the planet quite a bit. Mexico was playing its second match against South Korea in Rostov-on-Don, a small town by the Don River in the south of Russia. Most people were taking the train there, so I said, why not? They say, “you don’t know Russia until you’ve traveled by car or train”. I spent 30 of my next 48 hours in a train... Fifteen from Moscow to Rostov, and then 15 back after the match. Slept the entire trip. Train travel in Russia, check! Not doing it again, at least not during the World Cup. At this point, I still had three weeks to go and I was exhausted.

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After a couple days back at base camp, I took a last minute flight to Samara. My friend Dimitry, who is from Moscow but lives in Eindhoven, told me Samara is “The Soul of Russia”, and I could see why. The city is located at the confluence of the Volga and Samara rivers, making it a very important part of the city’s vibe. Samara was taken over by Colombian fans who filled the streets with reggaeton and vallenato music, but the warmth of the locals, who had probably never seen such a “circus,” in what used to be a closed city until 1990, is what made Samara steal my heart.

Kazan was my next stop. A five hour drive from Samara took us to the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. Kazan is one of the largest religious, economic, political, scientific, educational, cultural and sports centers in Russia, and its beautiful Kremlin and Qolşärif Mosque makes you feel part of Disney’s Aladdin movie. The city was full of Argentinian and French fans, who came to the first match of the round of 16. Unfortunately for us Messi fans, Argentina was disqualified that day from the 2018 World Cup, but so was Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, so we were all even.

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After a quick stop back in Samara for the Mexico vs Brazil match, I made it back to Moscow. Amazed by its architecture, gastronomy, transportation, people, culture and history, I decided to stay in the capital for the last to weeks and truly explore and experience Russian life. I’m happy to say that Russia has exceeded my expectations and that this has been the best World Cup in many years.

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This is the second World Cup I cover as an entrepreneur, and it has been quite a different experience from my first one in Brazil 2014. Russia has taught me so much on a personal and professional level, and it has allowed me to see how far I’ve come since I decided to become an entrepreneur during the World Cup of South Africa in 2010, when I was still working for Pepsico. Eight years later, I am proud to have come this far on my own, and feel ready to take my business to the next level aiming toward Qatar 2022.

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