Ballarat entourage finally gets a taste of Russia

So it’s time!

After a trek across Europe’s eastern bloc, we left Helsinki on a train to St Petersburg.

As the train approached the Russian border we noticed a distinct change in landscape and also in on-board staff before stopping for our customs check.

With our World Cup fan ID and passports in hand, we passed them over to the officials.

I had never been so nervous, waiting for the stamp of approval.

Whether it was the intense stare of the Russian customs officer or the excitement levels of getting to the World Cup, either way my heart was pumping.

Thud. The stamp went down and we were finally in Russia.

World Cup fever struck us all in that instant and nervous blank looks became relieved smiles from ear-to-ear.

St Petersburg smacked us in the face with its architecture and beauty as soon as we hopped into a cab and drove two minutes along the main embankment towards our accommodation.

After three days in this amazing city it was time to take a flight to Kazan – our main base destination for the tournament.

WORLD CUP FEVER: Corey Smith with the World Cup mascot, Zabivaka. The wolf's name means "the one who scores”.

WORLD CUP FEVER: Corey Smith with the World Cup mascot, Zabivaka. The wolf's name means "the one who scores”.

One day in and we were joined by former Ballarat Lady Strikers player Julia McGrath.

We then headed to the fan zone in Kazan dressed in full Russian attire.

Little did we know, but Russians don’t actually dress like that so we were the main attraction among 20,000 people.

After six Russian TV interviews and countless photos, our group witnessed what was maybe the most dramatic and entertaining opening match of a World Cup in decades on Friday morning Australian time.

Five goals by the Russian machine saw off a helpless Saudi Arabia.

Now the Cup is underway. The beers are flowing, the excitement is building and all our hopes now turn to the Aussie hero Tim Cahill for Saturday’s big clash against France. Aussie Aussie Aussie!

SOCCEROOS’ group draw:

Saturday, June 16: Australia v France, 8pm AEST

Thursday, June 21: Australia v Denmark

Tuesday, June 26: Australia v Peru

*COREY Smith coaches Sebastopols Vikings in Football Federation Victoria state league three.