The 6th edition of Gazprom’s international social children’s programme Football for Friendship (F4F) culminated with a unique experience this year: a chance to attend the opening of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Each season the participants, who take part in a variety of events as either football players or journalists, get to attend an important match. But 2018 was a special year for the Russian initiative which organised its project to coincide with the world’s biggest football event.
Buzzing around the hotel in the lead up to the game, hundreds of 12-year-olds from 211 countries and regions prepared to make their way to the stadium in Moscow, for what was likely to be for many, a once in a lifetime experience.
“We’re going to see Russia vs. Saudi Arabia. I'm really excited,” Elizabeth Raduzky from Scotland told Euronews.
“It's my first time going to a match like this," a player from Chad added.
“Thanks Football for Friendship for taking us to this match,” was the message from Yonatan, a young journalist from Israel.
When asked by Euronews for predictions, the football fans were not shy. The vast majority shouted out in support of their Russian hosts, with the exception of one young player from Saudi Arabia who bravely cheered on his team.
One foresighted participant even predicted a 5-0 win for the home country, to which there was much disagreement at the time. Luckily for the fortunate F4F participants, this young man was proven right and they were treated to an incredible match and atmosphere.
Inside the stadium it was the first time in history that all 211 FIFA members were represented by a child, each waving his or her flag enthusiastically and joining in the chants and cheers of the 78,011 total attendees.
One participant in particluar, the representative of Russia, got a special treat when he was invited to join Russian President Vladimir Putin in his skybox. The President had wanted to hear about the F4F experience.
"I'm actually quite sad because today's the last day", one Canadian participant told Euronews, "but overall Football for Friendship was an amazing experience, probably one I'll never forget!"