Russians Celebrate Team’s FIFA World Cup Success From Ottawa

Photo credit: Liam Fox

It is 10:15 a.m. on a Monday in Ottawa, still too early for many at the Avant-Garde Bar to pass around alcoholic beverages but not too soon to share nervous glances. The dozen or so Russian patrons of the bar, located a mere two-minute walk away from the Byward Market, pack together in the direction of the wall-mounted television. Over 7,000 kilometers away in the Russian city of Samara, Team Russia lines up to defend Uruguay’s free kick attempt in the first half of their FIFA World Cup match. Uruguay star Luis Suarez strikes the ball expertly into the net’s bottom corner. There is some dejection, but the day’s match is mostly a formality. Host-nation Russia, on the heels of a 2-0 start to the tournament, will still be advancing in a World Cup for the first time since 1986.

As its namesake indicates, the Avant-Garde Bar is dedicated to avant-garde art but it is bustling on this Monday morning for something else entirely. Alex Yugin, owner of the bar, emigrated from Russia in 1998 and opened the bar in downtown Ottawa in 2004. He recalls memories of cheering on the Soviet soccer team in the 1970s. The walls of the bar are decorated with propaganda pieces from the Soviet Era for artistic purposes and as a teaching tool. Coincidentally, the nation was still the Soviet Union the last time they qualified for the knockout stage at a World Cup.

The majority of gatherers on this morning walked over from the Russian Embassy to see their home country compete, including Evgeny Khudynin. He is a secretary at the Embassy and has been living in Canada for about six months. Khudynin heard about a Russian bar in the area and thought it a fitting setting to take in the game.

“I’m not a big football fan but just wanted to support Russia,” said Khudynin, adding that he thinks the team became comfortable knowing that they still had the knockout round ahead of them.

A colleague of Khudynin with more knowledge of the sport chimes in. He cites the Uruguay defensive strategy and stars (like Suarez and Edinson Cavani) as reasons for Russia’s failure today. It is halftime and although only 1-0 for Uruguay, the match seems out of reach.

Russia opened the tournament with a 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia and followed it up with a convincing 3-1 win over Egypt. Although both opponents were considered weaker matchups, Russia’s dominance out of the gate was widely shocking because of the fact they were the 70th ranked international team heading into the World Cup. That was the worst ranking out of any team in the tournament.

Russia fell to Uruguay 3-0 in the end and played most of the game shorthanded after Igor Smolnikov received a red card. Still, laughter fills the room and why not? Friends are enjoying the communal watch party from half a world away and Team Russia has the round of 16 to look forward to.

Russia will play an elimination match against a favored Spain team on July 1st. It may be Canada Day, but many patrons at Avant-Garde will likely be celebrating something a little different. It will be Russia’s most significant match in over 30 years.