Russia on a high as World Cup wraps, Putin's problems remain

Despite a national wave of elation from the World Cup that bathed Russia in a rosy light, President Vladimir Putin will face some challenges in extending the post-soccer glow at home and abroad.

Well-organised, festive and friendly, the World Cup has shown off a welcoming and modern Russia in sharp contrast to common biases abroad that cast the country as dour, devious and a bit backward.

Putin is likely to try to leverage that Monday when he holds a summit in Finland with US President Donald Trump, and there have been strong signs the American side will be receptive.

When national security adviser John Bolton was in Moscow last month to arrange the summit, he told Putin he looked forward to "learning how you've handled the World Cup so successfully."

Just minutes after the World Cup final ended with France defeating Croatia, Trump tweeted "congratulations to President Putin and Russia for putting on a truly great World Cup Tournament -- one of the best ever!"

That admiration may not extend far enough to affect the larger questions at issue in the summit, including Russia's annexation of Crimea and involvement in a separatist conflict in Ukraine, allegations that Russia flagrantly meddled in the 2016 US presidential election and Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, among other troubles.

The summit's prospects were further clouded Friday by the US indictment of 12 alleged Russian military intelligence agents for sophisticated hacking in the 2016 election.

"There is some marginal benefit for Putin to having played host to a successful sporting competition that had a largely positive and apolitical tone ... (but) this does not give Putin any special advantage going into Monday's summit meeting," said Matthew Rojansky, a Russia analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.

Putin kept a relatively low profile for the tournament, attending only Russia's opener against Saudi Arabia and Sunday's final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, even skipping the home team's win over Spain in the knockout stage at the same venue.

Putin has seen his ratings fall significantly since the June 15 start of the World Cup. The state-run polling agency Foundation for Public Opinion found that the percentage of Russians who express moderate or strong distrust of Putin rose from 20 percent in the week before the tournament started to 32 percent last week.

The startling rise appears to come as the government pushes a proposal to raise the eligibility age for state pensions from 60 to 65 for men and from 55 to 63 for women. The proposal was sent to the parliament the day before the World Cup opened in what many believed was a gambit to minimise public dismay.

But "the World Cup wasn't able to deflect the population from the pension reform," the business newspaper Vedomosti wrote pointedly. The Kremlin is worried that the issue could seriously reduce support for pro-government candidates in regional elections this fall, the newspaper reported.

Politics aside, the tournament has been a huge boost for the self-esteem of Russians. State TV broadcasts have devoted substantial time to reporting how foreign fans were impressed with the locals' friendliness and helpfulness.

One broadcast even trilled about visitors' pleasure in travelling "platskartny" — the notoriously claustrophobic, 54-bed dormitory cars on Russian passenger rail routes: "Hundreds of thousands of foreign fans have discovered the romance of Russian trains."

Along with the unambiguous good cheer, the World Cup also benefited from what didn't happen. There weren't any major facility foul-ups and security was diligent but less intimidating than at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

There were almost no protests, though four demonstrators barged onto the field during the final and were quickly hauled away.

The Pussy Riot punk performance group claimed credit; it's the same group whose members were whipped by a paramilitary group in one of the more notorious incidents at the Sochi Olympics.


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'We are all united' - World Cup victory about more than football for France

It was a victory for all of France and the home crowd did it justice, pouring into Paris' Champs-Elysees Avenue by the tens of thousands to celebrate in an explosion of joy.

France's 4-2 win over Croatia in the World Cup final in Moscow marked the second time in 20 years that France has won the World Cup, and came at a time when the people feel needy.

"It represents enormous things," said Goffrey Hamsik, dressed in a hat resembling a rooster - the French national symbol - and a shirt with the No. 10 for Kylian Mpappe, the 19-year-old breakout star who hails from the Paris suburb of Bondy.

"We've had lots of problems in France these past years," he said, recalling deadly terror attacks. "This is good for the morale ... Here, we are all united. We mix. There is no religion, there is nothing, and that's what feels good."

People wrapped in flags and dressed in crazy hats, and one man spotted totally nude except for the tricolor, marched down the avenue where France displayed its military might a day earlier for Bastille Day.

Chris Chang leads one last round up of TVNZ's football experts. Source: 1 NEWS

Revelers set off smoke bombs in the national colors - blue, white and red - obscuring Napoleon's triumphal arch. People climbed atop every newspaper kiosk and bus stop in the area to wave flags and lead the crowds below in cheers. The national anthem, the Marseillaise, rang out, cars honked horns and cherry bombs cracks.

A young man sprayed a fire extinguisher on the crowd on a late hot afternoon.

Hundreds of police in riot gear were discretely lined up on side streets to monitor revelers. Typically, celebrations in France end up with some broken shop windows and other destruction, and Sunday was no exception. Tear gas was lobbed at one point on the Champs-Elysees. About 4,000 police watched over the fan zone - packed to its 90,000 capacity - during the match, then moved to the Champs-Elysees and neighboring streets.

As night fell, The Eiffel Tower flashed 1998-2018 to mark France's two World Cup titles.

The Arc de Triomph was awash in the national colors, lit with the rooster, the faces of the winning team and the words "Proud to be Blue," or French.

The celebrations were spread across the nation.

For all the crazy antics - and some revelers who got out of control - a sense of patriotism and unity was almost visceral.

Antoine Griezmann, the France striker who scored one of the goal's Sunday, told a news conference two days before the final, televised on BFM TV, that pride in country is in short supply.

1 NEWS Europe Correspondent Joy Reid is in Paris after France’s 4-2 win over Croatia today. Source: Breakfast

"We say it so little ... We should be proud to be French," Griezmann said.

Mahmoud Bourassi was among those taking a longer-term view and he had some sobering thoughts about France's run to the title and the festivities it has sparked.

Bourassi runs a youth center in Bondy - Mbappe's home that was among those scarred by riots in 2005 that exposed the fissures of France that have yet to heal - and he knows the teenage star of the tournament.

"All this euphoria and effervescence, it's positive but it's emotional and ephemeral," he said ahead of France's win. Bourassi said sports is a "catalyst to bring people and nations together."

But, he added, it must be built on.

"What we're seeing is magic, exceptional. But what are we going to do with it tomorrow?"

That is a question for President Emmanuel Macron, who was in Moscow celebrating with the team on victory night, and will receive the squad more formally on Monday at the presidential Elysee Palace.

Revelers celebrated the moment.

"We're happy. It took 20 years ... It's the pride of the nation. It unites everyone. It federates," Frederique Pourquet said as she and her friend left the Champs-Elysees.

The win "shows that the French people are consolidated and the work of all France," said Omar Bzi.

Hajar Maghnaoui, of Asnieres, north of Paris, said "It's a way to bring the French people together, and also the world."


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World Cup Chat: 'Clinical' France take home Football World Cup in style as 1 NEWS team looks back at highlights of 2018 tournament

After 25 match days, 64 games, 32 teams and 13 different host cities, France have taken out the 2018 Football World Cup, defeating Croatia 4-2 in a thrilling final in Moscow.

Les Bleus lift the trophy for just the second time in their history, while Croatia head home on the back of their best ever result at a World Cup.

Croatian skipper Luka Modric takes the Golden Ball award, while teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe is the young player of the tournament.

England talisman Harry Kane wins the golden boot, having scored the most goals, with Belgium stopper Thibaut Courtois honoured as the tournament's best goalkeeper, taking out the golden glove.

Chris Chang leads TVNZ's football gurus for the last time, looking at today's final, as well as a glance over the tournament as a whole.

Chris Chang leads one last round up of TVNZ's football experts. Source: 1 NEWS


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